“Every time they got a call from the leper hospital to pick up a body Jack Delaney would feel himself coming down with the flu or something.”
These are the opening lines of one of the best Elmore Leonard’s novels, “Bandits”, written in 1987.
It is strange but even if many people love “noir”, just few of them really know what it is. The fact is that the “noir” genre is quite hard to define and maybe this is one of the reasons why videogames usually stay away from it. Too tricky, too dangerous…
So when, many months ago, I heard for the first time about Pixel Noir, I was really surprised and intrigued.
Now that the game is in good shape I’ve decided to shed light on this mystery (!?) and ask some questions to the developers.
Here is what they told me…
1st Turn) The story contains strong horror elements but also a bit of humor. The main character, in particular, seems to have sometimes an ironic approach to his misadventures. He reminded me, somehow, the protagonist of a comic book – very famous here in Italy – named Dylan Dog. Can you tell us what were your inspirations? Is there any connection to the omnipresent Lovecraft?
We were inspired by various RPGs from the 90s SNES era like Chrono Trigger and the Mother series, which uses humor or irony in many interactions.
2nd Turn) The game has very nice pixel art, which remembered me somehow the old Shadowrun game for SNES. I like really like but it is also true that on the market nowadays there are a lot of pixel art videogames (some of them really beautiful). So my question is: aren’t you afraid of your choice?
We feel that a game that has good pixel art doesn’t mean it’s a cheap game. We aren’t afraid to make pixel art games since it calls back to nostalgic roots for most RPG fans. Why should developers be afraid of using stylistic pixel art when you have Square Enix games like Octopath Traveler or the newest Dragon Quest game for the Switch where you can choose to play the 2D pixel art version of the game? Square Enix has recently showed that pixel art games are still popular and they still appeal to most RPG players to this very day. We don’t really see a stigma against RPGs that are based in an older visual style.
3rd Turn) One of the most interesting and innovative features of Pixel Noir seems to be the “Investigation mode”. Can you tell us a little bit more about it?
Investigation mode is a sixth sense that the detective has as a result of the lab accident he was in at the beginning of the game. When used in the later chapters it helps in finding out information around town, hidden paths/items and even to trigger different story points and side quests. Different color glows around objects / NPCs are used to indicate a priority that will either give you clues to progress the story or just give the player something to interact with regardless of story beats. Red shows the player something critical or someone who will most likely result in a battle or progress the story. Green lets the player know that the interaction will be friendly or helpful. Yellow means the interaction will be neutral or not particularly helpful. And blue indicates a hidden item or switch interaction. When in investigation mode a player can scroll to a particular glowing NPC or object on the screen to either listen in or making an observation of some kind without actually interacting with the subject outside of investigation mode.
4th Turn) Ok, now let’s talk about the fights! The game seems to adopt the combat system used in some of the most well-known (and old) Jrpgs, but many (uh…probably just me) turn-based lovers don’t like very much this system because often the fights are repetitive and it doesn’t leave enough space to strategy. How do you think to make it interesting?
Some of the turn-based aspects of our game could be a little faster. Like the time between taking turns could be eliminated OR the battle style could take from Graindia’s style of combat where it’s pretty much real-time until it’s time to command a party character. However, overall we’ve found that turn-based games have a large appeal around the RPG genre. If you want to play more of an action-based game then it’s likely that RPGs aren’t your preferred genre of choice.
5th Turn) How “big” will be the game in its final state? Besides the main storyline, will there be side quests and/or secondary cases?
The whole game will be seven chapters, each chapter a little larger than the last. As you progress through the game you’ll be able to take on different side quests or “cases” as a private eye for extra cash and experience, introspective on your own party members, or to learn valuable battle skills. Some cases are simple fetch or bounty hunt cases while some will open up new areas to explore adding to different story beats. The opportunity to actually acquire different cases may open and close between certain chapters or decisions you have made either in the main story or a semi-related case. This makes the decision process in dialog choices very important as this contributes to different cause and effect scenarios.
6th Turn) Unlike many other recent RPGs, mainly focused on the combat phase, in Pixel Noir seems to be enough space for adventures, where you have to think rather than fight. We can expect just simple interactions (like take this object and bring it to an npc) or – as I suspect and hope – there is something more?
We wanted to make interactions hold more weight than actual battles in Pixel Noir. As in real life, you are more likely to go through a series of choices or conflicts before you get into an altercation of some kind. There are complex cases where you have to gather the right info and/or present that info in a way that either gets you a reward like the party getting some experience points or failing to get the reward which will give you the info you need to move on but won’t earn you anything extra.
For example in the first chapter when you are a cop on the force you a presented with what seems like a simple suicide case that you can either not really be too detailed in your search/clue observations or can come to find that the wife actually murdered her husband. Depending on the amount of clues you interact with at the crime scene before presenting your evidence you will have more or less dialog choices when talking about the clues with your partner. Some of the evidence will be really useful in order to earn that reward while other clues will lead to dead ends.
This pattern of gathering clues and presenting them to unlock a reward (or something else) is featured throughout the game intern making you the player actually want to read and explore every corner of a given environment to get that reward or secret event later on. This is a running theme throughout most strategic interactions in Pixel Noir rather than a “hey, it’s time to fight because battles are awesome” outcome.
7th Turn) If you had to place your game on an imaginary shelf, where would you put it? Between Open World RPGs or between Story-driven RPGs?
Probably more toward Story-Driven- while there are open-world aspects to our game, they are limited from chapter to chapter until you get closer to the end where every area of town is open to you.
8th Turn) Will there be a system of “choices and consequences”? And if so how this will impact on the storyline?
As I said in an earlier answer- the decision process in the various dialog choices throughout the game is very important as this contributes to different cause and effect scenarios. This adds to Pixel Noir’s replay value as you can choose differently in a number of interactions and not have the same result of events after committing to a choice.
9th Turn) Why a modern Rpg instead of the usual setting with our dear knights and dragons?
We felt there are way too many of the “dear knight” RPGs and wanted to make something more realistic, relatable and unique than a trouped filled theme that everyone is already familiar with. We also felt that making a game that touches on the social/political aspects of real-life would help the game stand out as an experience unlike any other in all RPGs
10th Turn) Can you tell us when do you think the game will be released?
The development process for our game is really slow as it is not only our first game but tackling a game genre as robust as an RPG takes a lot of trial/error/testing than any other game genre. We’ve been in development since 2015 and we plan to be finished with development by mid-2020 so we hope that we can release by the end of 2020.
11th Bonus Turn) Before leaving you, just a bonus question. Which is the latest turn-based game you’ve played or still playing?
I recently picked up the SNES pack on Switch and I’ve been playing through Breath Of Fire. I remember beating it when I was a kid but I haven’t picked up again until recently. Pure classic 16 bit RPG goodness..!
I thank very much the developers for this interview and wish the best of luck to Pixel Noir!!