Editor's Note: At the outset of the Dojo Showdown project, our primary concern was finding a game development studio that was willing and able to take on the enormous challenges ahead. Fortunately, we were able to work with some of the best people in the business by partnering with Squarewave, a local studio that's had its hands in just about everything digital for the past 12 years. Dave SanAngelo, their versatile animator/illustrator, was kind enough to work up a blog post for us on what designing Dojo Showdown was like from his perspective.
When Tom and Alex from Almighty walked into Squarewave to talk to us about building an 8-bit video game to promote Minimus for New Balance, they wanted us to build the game but needed an illustrator who had worked in an 8-bit style before. I had, and conveniently enough was already here at Squarewave. Also, as Tom pointed out, I was wearing New Balance shoes, so it must have been a sign. So I got the awesome gig of illustrating the entire game and it was mint. (Yeah, I just typed "mint" because that's what we said back in the 1980s when things were totally radical.) Anyway, I had a blast! Mike Wislocki (the game programmer and co-owner of Squarewave) did a great job of building the game to be fun yet challenging and very nostalgic.
The Minimus Power sequence was one aspect I really got into. We wanted the action of getting the shoes to be a big moment, and early on we all talked about how cool the animatic-like interstitials in the classic game Shinobi were. So we wanted to emulate that feel for the Minimus sequence.
The most challenging aspect design-wise was creating the limited 16x16 pixel ground tiles to link up in a way that appears to flow naturally when placed together. I loved designing everything, from the bamboo tiles to the floating dragons, but I really got into the backgrounds — the cherry blossom trees in level three being my favorite. All the levels have a certain vibe to them and the musical composer (and co-owner of Squarewave) Andrew King nailed the video game sound. The score throughout really has great atmosphere.
The process of creating the illustrations was simple: draw everything pixel-by-pixel in Photoshop while watching nothing but 80s movies for inspiration. Try it yourself. Watch blockbusters like Top Gun or cheap dreck like The Order of the Black Eagle — as long as it came out in the 1980s, it works well. Certainly an Illustration Degree from art school, years of animating professionally and studying up on Asian landscapes and dojo architecture help but honestly, drawing and tiling these pixelated sprites to the metal-on-metal sounds of Connor MacLeod sword fighting with the Kurgan in 1986's Highlander is what made the game what it was visually.
I loved having the opportunity to illustrate a game similar to my all-time favorites: Super Mario Bros, Punch Out!, Legend of Zelda, and Metroid. In fact working on the 8-bit Minimus shoes reminded me of the high jump boots in Metroid, which, when found, made the game so much cooler.