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China is probably best known for its piracy, online games and fast cloning. Chinese game industry is a harshly regulated business environment, which doesn’t grant a lot of freedom to indie developers. You are either working for a big company, or you are making a mobile game. There’s no such thing as indie dev, in the European or American sense of the word. Yet there are exceptions, like Pixpil Studio.
Pixpil Studio is a tiny game company from Shanghai (one of the biggest hubs of game development in the country). The studio is being run by three people Tommo Zhou, Hong and Feng. Together they are building Eastward – an inspiring pixel art game, which is supposed to become one of the first Chinese indie titles for modern game consoles. Hong is actually the artist behind the amazing pixel art style, which really helps the game stand out. The peculiar thing about the looks of the game is that 2d pixel art here work together with complex lighting. This gives the picture an unprecedented warmth and really helps to make things warm and fuzzy.
Lighting is one of the most peculiar features of Eastward. It makes the whole game literally glow, working great with the chosen color pallete and updating that old-school Final Fantasy look with a modern touch.
Zhou confirmed that Mother 3, Ghibli films and Tekkonkinkreet were huge influences on the development team. The team was also inspired by modern post-apocalyptic games, including Fallout. There’s a lot of urban decay in the screenshots, but it doesn’t mean the game world is a barren wasteland. On the contrary, it is filled with details and countless objects.
Eastward is being created with the help of the proprietary framework, based on MOAI, which will become open source in the nearest future. It’s highly unlikely that their lighting system will be available to the general public (because of its complexity it requires a lot of tinkering and will not work with any game out of the box). The games’ tech is pretty modern and it even provides ways to simulate SSAO effects, blurry CRT filters and add LUT texture method, which makes the colors so much softer. As for the art-tools, everything is done with Photoshop.
Unlike so many indie games, Eastward actually has a chance to be released. In February 2016 Pixpil Studio got a nice investment from an undisclosed party. This helped the small team to grow a little and rent a nice big office in one of the high-rise buildings. Right now there are 8 people working on the project.
Due to the game’s emotional story and old-school pixel art looks, Pixpil Studio had to hire some experienced animators to help bring their vision to life. Animation is super important for a game like this, which has a ton of moving elements in the environment and beautiful lively characters. In the center of the story is a duo of an older man and a younger woman, something you might have seen in Last of Us.
Last month, Pixpil Studio announced that Joel Corelitz (composer) and Hyperduck Soundworks (sound design) are going to help with the game’s audio. Joel helped to create music for Unfinished Swan and Hohocum, so we should expect something pretty extraordinary.
It’s not clear when the game will be released, but we’re quite sure you’ll be able to purchase it directly through Steam. So there’s definitely going to be an English version. Make sure to check out the projects official blog for development updates.