Formed in part by the famous incubation process at the Execution Labs in Montreal, the team has are just coming into their own and as an outside spectator it has been interesting to watch Pixel Crucible’s roller coaster like journey.
In less than a year Pixel Crucible have achieved rapid success, even landing themselves and their game a guest appearance on one of Canada’s most famous French-language television stations; MusiquePlus. Progress like this isn’t made without a love for the craft, something which the founders; Alexandre Moisan, Mathieu Dumont, and Remi Lavoie have in spades.
I got a chance to speak to the talented trio about life post (game) launch as well as their opinions on the climate of the industry.
Brian Sharon: I want to start by congratulating you on the launch of your debut title MacGuffin Quest in September on iOS. How has the reception been since you’ve sent it into the wild?
Alexandre Moisan: Thank you! The reception was good, as expected among our peer group, which are right inside our target audience. We have had a reasonable amount of downloads for a first title from basically unknown developers, that is for a title which is still unavailable worldwide as we are still in soft launch. We had a small hiccup when we launch which also might have played against us.
Brian Sharon: You may of experienced a hiccup but you have also benefited by the fact that Rogue-like games seem to be the genre of choice in the current climate of the industry. Why do you think players and developers alike are gravitating to the mechanics offered by a rogue-like design?
Remi Lavoie: Interesting question. Rogue-likes have the advantage of offering a lot of replayability just by their very “randomness”. One of the mentors also mentioned recently that games like Spelunky (which is an inspiration for the game) are also greatly appreciated by other game developers, and generate a lot of interest and friendly competition.It also fits very well with a free-2-play model.
Alexandre Moisan: I’d guess it’s because the mobile platform is largely populated by titles which don’t offer a lot to more hardcore players, and rogue-likes are very good at delivering challenging experiences.
Mathieu Dumont: I agree. I feel the combination of harder gameplay (compared to the more casual market we currently see on the App Store) and shorter games of the Rogue-like genre usually provide works well for an audience like hardcore gamers (who are) looking for entertainment on mobile platforms.
Brian: Given the sheer number of Rogue-like titles on the market, how have you managed to differentiate Macguffin Quest from the pack?
Alexandre: On of the aspects that I have a hard time enjoying in games is content that takes itself too seriously. That’s one of the reasons we went for a humorous take on the genre to provide a lighter, more fun experience. From the visual standpoint, I wanted to make high quality, highly detailed assets to show that mobile doesn’t need to deliver “cheapened” experiences. I think we have a modern, viable core loop which should monetize correctly as a F2P game. Not to mention the great touch controls.
Remi: Well we have 3 playable characters you can switch between at any time. We also have a unique escape mechanic when you pick up a MacGuffin, which is reminiscent of Indiana Jones escaping after picking up the golden idol. And, we tried to make things funny and interesting for the user by having a lot of crazy gear to unlock, most of which are references to pop-culture, old-school movies, and of course, video games. It’s a tough game, but it’s all presented in a very light-hearted way.
Mathieu: A comment we heard a lot was that “It looks cute, but it’s pretty hard.”.
Brian: MusiquePlus is a staple of French-language programming in Canada. What was the experience like being a guest on the show M.Net, being visible to both friends and family?
Remi: It was great! The staff was super friendly, and it was just like having a conversation with a group of like-minded gaming geeks.Plus it really helped our visibility. As you can see in the App Store, we have a lot of reviews in French, and a lot actually mentioning seeing us on M.Net. I grew up watching M.Net also, so was fun to be a part of it now. I’d do it again in a heart-beat.
Mathieu: Even if I wasn’t on the show, all my family couldn’t stop talking about it.
Alexandre: They (M.Net) were super warm and friendly, they love showing local devs and helping them get some visibility and it shows. We had to ask Remi to shave his handlebar moustache though, that was tough. Brian: As a studio you are currently enjoying the success of your hard work but anyone who knows even the slightest thing about indie development knows that it can be a long road. Could you share a bit about the formation of Pixel Crucible?
Alexandre: Remi, Mathieu and Martin Guay (who left during development) applied to Execution Labs as a group, I applied by myself, and we were “matched” by Execution Labs. We ended up meeting to see if we could work together and since it seems we were like-minded people, we teamed up together.
Remi: Mathieu, Martin and I worked together at DTI Software ( before moving on to other companies. But during the last year, we were secretly meeting every week to discuss plan for our own games, and our own studio. We hit it off with Alex, and the rest is history.
Brian: You’ve also been heavily involved with the now famous Execution Labs in Montreal headed by Jason Della Rocca, what has the incubation process afforded you as developers that you may not have had otherwise?
Mathieu: Working part-time on a project is very draining. You have your regular job get home and you still need to work a couple hours every day on your project, it’s extremely draining. Of course we had access to a whole lot of mentors, great visibility and more, but for me, the most important thing XL gave me was time to work on my game.
Alexandre: Access to experienced mentors, which we might never have met otherwise (like Eric Zimmerman), which helped us better ourselves in the aspects were were more inexperienced as developers and business people. It offered an opportunity to really develop a product in a professional mindset, with some of the best people to learn from. It’s also a grueling test environment. If you can go through the process, you are made stronger by the whole experience. I had been ready to go indie for a while when Execution Labs just showed up out of nowhere, and provided me with what I think is the hardest part when going indie: finding a team of capable people ready to forego the comfort of a well-paying job for a high risk adventure.
Remi: A lot! Most importantly, visibility. They allowed us to attend conferences and conventions like GDC, and Casual Connect, Ottawa International Game Conference, Startup Fest, and more. Also, (they provided) a shared workplace with other indie teams, where we can share our stories. They also put us in contact with a lot of folks in the industry, potential partners and the likes. And all the mentors that come share some of their wisdom and give precious feedback our your project.Plus they provided a talented artist (Alex) for us haha.
Brian: As a whole the video game industry has shifted much of its focus to the indie community. What is it that indie games are able to achieve that has made them so in demand?
Remi: Originality, flavour, and uniqueness. Most large companies make the safe bets, aim for a wide audience, and satisfy themselves on making sequels. Indies are able to make something that is a bit more niche, but at the same time, since indies get so much attention now, it can reach a lot of people. Some of the best stuff I’ve played recently are indie games.
Alexandre: I think indies provide more “personal” content. Personal content connects a lot more with people than the wider-targeted products from large studios that tend to stay in the safe zones, which is by definition opposed to innovation.People are getting more game-literate and tend to stay informed about the hottest, most impressive experiences out there, and those experiences tend to be offered by the people who take those creative risks, and right now, indies are the ones who push the envelope.The technology allowed the medium to be more democratized, and sometimes people just show up with messages and content that would simply not be possible to create out of the DIY environment of indie game development.
Mathieu: I believe indies can take a lot more risks than bigger companies like EA or Ubisoft can. Back in the days of Doom and Civilization gaming was pretty much all indy. They took risks and basically invented an industry. I think indies were always a big deal, or at least they always pushed the industry forward in terms of gameplay, story, etc. For players that have been around since the 80’s, the same old thing like a space-marine FPS is still interesting, but it’s not enough anymore, but at the same time, big companies can’t afford (or so they think) to try something unproven. If EA (would) just put maybe 10% of it’s annual budget trying things, they could really create amazing stuff.
As I mentioned earlier MacGuffin Quest is currently available on iOS but you are also bringing it to Android platforms. Is there a window in which fans can expect the game to be released?