Dev Talk-Twisted Pixel Games

Deep in the fiery reaches of Austin, Texas breathes the flames of indie dev studio Twisted Pixel Games. Onlookers of this ever-growing cult may have heard of their titles which have debuted on the digital distribution services  Xbox Live Arcade and Valve’s Steam: The Maw and more recently, Splosion Man which is a XBLA exclusive. Both have met with commercial success and received favorable reviews. It’s been some time since their last performance, but Twisty P. is already looking to get their third fill with the upcoming Comic Jumper: The Adventures of Captain Smiley. Some time back, we took the opportunity to poke into CEO Michael Wilford’s brain, just because he allowed us to, and what we got was nothing short of a rainbow catastrophe. To put it bluntly, we came away slightly disturbed, but maybe that was a good thing. Read on!


Hello! Can you please introduce yourself and give a brief description on what exactly it is you do at Twisted Pixel Games?

Hi! My name is Michael Wilford, CEO of Twisted Pixel Games. I do biz dev, production, marketing, and even a little programming here and there.

What got you interested in working with video games?

I’ve been into games ever since I saw Pong and then ultimately Super Mario Bros, but I didn’t realize I could make a career out of it until I started modding Doom, which I did night and day for many months. I realized then that I wanted to make games, I just didn’t know how yet.

Twisted Pixel Games sure make some twisted games with lots of them pixels. It’s bonkers! Where do you guys get the inspiration for this kind of stuff? Does the look of your games necessarily dictate on how diverse you want to make them play?

Hahah, thanks! Most of the time, our ideas for the gameplay come first, followed by ideas for the art style. Usually when we’re riffing on “what would be cool” we end up getting an image in our head of what the game would look like. Our art director, Dave Leung, is a master at breathing life into concepts. The game ideas themselves come from everywhere. Typically they start with something we find hilarious and we keep tacking ideas onto them until they become ridiculous.

What was one of the hardest things you ever had to contend with while working on a project? Have you ever had one of those days where someone busts into your cubicle, shouting on the top of their lungs and say, “Mike, this can’t work! You’ve crossed the line, and God isn’t pleased about it!”

I wish! That’d be awesome! Like if we designed something too awesome for the laws of physics to contain, and we’re in danger of tearing a rift in space, Star Trek style. And we shout down to our lead programmer Scotty to tell him to make it work anyway, and then he does and the Borg show up… and Whoopi Goldberg. No, sadly, that has never happened. Yet!


What was it like working on ‘Splosion Man compared to your previous work? Lots of similarities drawn or very much different from the get go?

The Maw was a fully 3D puzzle / adventure game and Splosion Man is a 2.5D fast-paced platformer. On paper, they appear very different, but we were able to leverage a lot of functionality from The Maw in Splosion Man. In our Beard Engine, we use Lua for all of our gameplay programming, which makes it super easy to share code between projects and add on what we need. We altered our Razor Editor to be able to design levels in a 2D grid, and next thing we knew we had Splosion Man running around a level in just a couple weeks. It was nice to be able to focus more on polishing the gameplay and less on building the underlying tech that we needed.

Big-name companies have been pushing out their own downloadable content via Xbox Live, Playstation Network and WiiWare. Do you view these attempts as a sort of infringement on a territory that has proved more viable in your situation? For that matter, does it make sense for Twisted Pixel to bother developing games and have them sold through normal retailers as opposed to just digital distribution?

I think it was inevitable for the “big boys” to come play in our “indie” sandbox eventually. Business grows where money is being made, and digital distribution is gaining lots of steam. I don’t view it as infringement, though. Those bigger companies bring big overhead with them, which makes it hard to make small budget, short schedule, highly creative games. And I’m all for raising the bar, anyway. If a bigger company makes a stellar downloadable game with high production values, that just means we all have to make better games.

As for making retail games, we might do that. We have dozens of concepts internally, some of which make more sense for retail. But as a company, our priority is digital distribution because it’s more rewarding to us as a developer and to our fans. It’s such a new delivery mechanism for console games, and it’s growing so fast that I see it going through a lot of changes in the next few years and we want to be there for it.


Speaking of PSN and WiiWare, does Twisted Pixel have something planned in the future?

We’re a small studio, so focusing on one platform at a time has its advantages, but we are interested in all of them. XBLA and Steam have been very good to us so far. Time will tell if we will find the opportunity to utilize the other digital distribution channels.

How about them boys from Microsoft? Nice, clean, supportive chaps or backstabbing demons from the forsaken negaverse?

I can’t speak for all of Microsoft, but the people at Microsoft Game Studios, specifically the XBLA team, are definitely nice, clean, supportive chaps. I’ve worked with many publishers in my day, and I always prepare myself for the worst when I start a new project, but Microsoft has consistently surprised me with their support and trust.

Okay, here’s the most important question…Boxers or briefs?

Why does it have to be either? or Maybe I wear both at the same time!

Ack, that took me by surprise… 😉 Voltron or Megazord?

The original metal Voltron is standing on my desk next to me right now, so I got to go with Voltron.

Thanks for your time!

You bet! Anytime!

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    Short story: My friend and I ended up creating ‘Splosion Man costumes for last Halloween. We took some funny pictures and sent it to the Twisted Pixel guys hoping they’d get a laugh or two out of them. They ended up sending us a full thank you email and some really nice free stuff. It was a moment of pure awe when we got that stuff, I mean, how freaking cool! Then, a Game With The Developers night showed up on XBL and I got to play with Mr. Wilford. Let me tell you, these guys are incredibly nice and friendly, as well as super talented at making games. I was surprised by The maw when it first released and hooked the day I bought ‘Splosion Man. Keep ’em coming!

  • Krishna

    Indie talk ftw , cause I think they do more innovation in game design then your average AAA titles

  • Wdeath

    Thanks for this interesting interview hope to see more such indie talks!