Cyber Shadow Developer Talks About The Work That Leads To Pretty Pixel Art

By Joel Couture . January 28, 2017 . 11:30am

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Cyber Shadow will have players cleaving through a machine-filled future, acting as a cyborg ninja that will gain new powers and abilities as it devastates its enemies and frees the shadows of its long-lost clan.

 

Featuring a striking pixel-art style, Siliconera reached out to the developer of Cyber Shadow to learn about the work that goes into creating these detailed images, as well as the story behind a ninja in a mechanical future.

 

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Ninjas make for rad video games, but what prompted you to put one in the future? Why have ninjas and robots clash? Why ancient techniques against futuristic technology?

 

Aarne Hunziker, developer of Cyber Shadow: The setting of the game came from how I enjoy drawing by flow, putting down pixels that come to mind without much logic. This method rules out modern day settings since drawing known things is more methodical and not as enjoyable.

 

The story is about exploiting carefully nurtured ancient knowledge with logic. The ninja feel their way through life, while the antagonist calculates. Feeling vs. thinking, human vs. machine, ancient vs. futuristic.

 

Can you tell us about some of the characters and creatures players will meet as they play Cyber Shadow?

 

The world is mostly devoid of humans. You meet reprogrammed robots and logged messages. You are mostly alone. The people you do meet are memories given form.

 

You get to know the antagonist, or who he was before, in side quests, before his obsession to save a life corrupted him and the world around him. I say corrupted only in comparison to how you and your clan are: pure, feeling, and human. For some of your clan, even you are corrupt, because your life was saved by turning you into a cyborg.

 

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What abilities will players be unlocking in the game? How do they work, and what do they do?

 

Gaining abilities come naturally for the ninja, so that’s why you’re one. You learn from fellow clan members or by meditating and entering a memory. The skills are executed by button combos similar to fighting games.

 

The skills split into offensive, defensive, and movement types. Offensive skills give new directional or area attacks vs. enemies above/below/around. Defensive skills such as parrying are required for enemies with overkill attacks. Movement skills let you walljump or phase through enemies to get behind them.


What thoughts go into designing enemies and bosses that will work well with the powers the player can use? In designing powers that will give players opportunities to be creative in combat against enemies?

 

Most enemies are designed to be weak against multiple skills. There’s no easy win even with the right skill, but you can increase your odds by being creative. An advanced combo could be something like parrying an overkill attack, sticking an explosive kunai on an enemy, then shadow dashing through them. Bosses won’t have attack type weaknesses, but rather your skills will increase chances and frequency of your offence.

 

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Judging from several of the screenshots, the player will be fighting huge bosses. What thoughts go into creating a fight between a small player character and a larger enemy? How is that design different from combat against regular enemies?

 

Bosses bigger than you are often slower and have much more attack power than you. Big bosses underline how your agility can overcome the odds. Humanoid bosses are about your size, but are faster and require good reflexes along with careful observation and planning.


Cyber Shadow somewhat feels like an homage to Ninja Gaiden. What drew you to such a play style? What other games inspired it, and how?

 

Games like Ninja Gaiden, Shadow of the Ninja, Contra, Shatterhand, and Castlevania were among my favorite NES games. I used to like how you can progress at a slower pace to learn the game, then play the same game again at "maximum" speed by holding the directional button forward and nailing each enemy as they appear.

 

When I was young I used to modify NES rom graphics to customize games for myself. Because of that I really enjoy drawing NES tiles and sprites. Also the NES palette has very distinct colors, which makes it easier to use while slightly colorblind.

 

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Your pixel artwork is very detailed. How much work goes into the creation of a single enemy? A boss? A Stage?

 

A complete tileset for a level takes a total of a few days, but spread out among other things. I work on whatever feels nice in that particular moment. I can complete a single screen worth of tiles, background, and sprites in about a day. Bosses can take a few weeks in total including animations, coding and sound effects. Major chunks of time are spent in fine tuning everything in the pixel and frame level. I play the game in slow motion to make sure each frame change goes as they should.


Can you tell us about the process of designing the pixel art for an enemy? From when you conceive it to when it’s a finished sprite?

 

Designing an enemy is a very organic process. I imagine the situation where the enemy will be used, then scribble something random(sometimes my eyes closed) and see if there’s a shape that can be extracted. Sometimes a sprite comes out that doesn’t fit the location that well, then I try to feel a better placement for it. Most sprites find a home eventually.

 

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You said you would be following NES limitations "but not religiously". What sort of limitations do you mean, and what makes you break from those limits?

 

The game started out as something that could run on NES hardware. Eventually I increased the resolution to make the game widescreen. Also, some color limitations don’t apply at all times in order to give more variety in enemy palettes. Parallax effects required a lot of tricks on the NES, so I opted to make mine more advanced for a faster workflow and better looking effect.

 

I follow rules like 4 palettes for backgrounds and 4 palettes for sprites with 3 colors + transparency for each palette. The main reason for following the rules is that it’s quite fun, like a puzzle. In a nutshell, I want to make the game NES-like, but forget all the not-fun features like flickering and slowdowns.


Any idea on when you may release the game? Or put out a demo?

 

As for the release schedule of the game, I can only tell how much of the game is done so far for certain. Working on the game alone means that any kind of change in my schedule will result the game getting pushed forward. It’s 40% done currently. I’m planning on sharing a demo at 50% completion with a select few people who can offer feedback. The public demo depends on how that goes.


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