Going from a troubled Kickstarter to an award-winning title after launching last July, Pixel Ripped 1989 feels like a well-deserved happy ending for creator Ana Ribeiro. But with a continued run on the festival circuit at places like IndieCade and SIGGRAPH, winning the New Face Award at the Japan Media Arts Festival, and the award for Best Innovative Game at the BIG Festival, an upcoming physical release, and a sequel in the works, the game continues to gain momentum.

Pixel Ripped 1989 celebrated the one year anniversary of its launch with an ongoing showcase at this year’s SIGGRAPH.

From Government to Pies to Game Design

“It started interestingly enough as a school project,” said Ricardo Justus, CEO of Pixel Ripped 1989 publisher Arvore.

According to PC Gamer, after leaving her government job and side business selling pies, Ribeiro moved from her home in Brazil to study game development at the U.K.-based National Film and Television School.

Justus said Ribeiro later re-envisioned her academic assignment as a commercial project.

A Meeting in Brazil

Like Ribeiro, Arvore is from Brazil. Justus said the publishing company started in 2017, with a focus on VR and interactive experiences.

“There are not many VR events in Brazil, but we met in Brazil,” Justus said. Explaining how he first came into contact with Ribeiro. That proved to be the beginning of their collaboration.

“We gave her the team to finish the project,” Justus said. “Full-on co-developed the game.”

Game Within a Game Within a Game

Pixel Ripped 1989 was nestled among other VR games available for SIGGRAPH attendees to play. In addition to a carnival-themed arcade setting, players received tokens and tickets to use as admission for each game.

After swift VR setup, players were sent to a literally multi-layered world in Pixel Ripped 1989.

Arvore CTO Carlo “zED” Caputo showed the different layers in Pixel Ripped 1989 during a postmortem talk about the game on a SIGGRAPH panel.

Caputo mapped out and color-coded the different areas that the game explores, which included locations like the world of second grade student Nicola, and the world inside the game she plays. The development team even kept track of the physical world of the player sitting down with controllers.

He listed countless other sublayers such as Nicola’s own thoughts, which takes her to an imagined arcade at one point during the game.

“Quite hard to make everyone understand,” Caputo said. In response to this, he said there was a lot of playtesting to make sure the game was coherent enough for players.

It seems like people not only understand the game, but are entranced by it.

Just One More

“Interestingly enough, people get so immersed in the game, they play it in one sitting,” Justus said.

Caputo noted that’s partly due to intentionally making the gameplay experience overwhelming. He pointed out that the main flow of Pixel Ripped 1989 revolves around helping Nicola play an in-universe hardcore game from the ‘80s while in a busy classroom, and while avoiding the teacher’s attention.

The VR game follows the hero, Dot, in her quest to defeat the Cyblin Lord. Or, rather it follows Nicola secretly playing as Dot during class. Things eventually take a strange turn when it seems like the Cyblin Lord escapes the game to plague the real world. Or Nicola could just be daydreaming. 

“They feel really immersed because it’s too much for them to process,” Caputo said.

Evoking and Multiplying Nostalgia

Pixel Ripped 1989 is definitely another game that taps into nostalgic throwbacks. However, it appears to approach the concept differently due to its game-within-a-game nature. 

Like Shovel Knight draws much from classic Nintendo platformers, Caputo noted that part of Pixel Ripped 1989 is based on Mega Man. But then the game goes a step farther when it recontextualizes this Mega Man-inspired gameplay as a handheld title being played by a child during class. 

Pixel Ripped 1989 not only explores nostalgia for Mega Man, but nostalgia for the time when you’d rather be playing games than focusing on school. Siliconera acknowledges that the game is “about the joys of sneaking a little bit of time playing video games.”

Like the layered worlds in Pixel Ripped 1989, players seem to be struck by nostalgia from multiple angles.

“It’s a retro challenge, goes back to those 1980s games that were actually hard to play,” Justus said. “It resonates with me; I’m the same age as Ana [Ribeiro], I played the same games—so it resonated a lot with me.”

According to Caputo, enhancing the illusion was a part of the game’s development. He shared that the game focused on emphasizing nostalgia while making things so overwhelming that players were quickly immersed.

“When you bring the user to the point where they want to be there, easier to buy illusion we are selling,” Caputo said. “It’s very different from a horror game, where people tell themselves it’s not real.”

Heading to 1995

Though developing Pixel Ripped 1989 was an involved process, Ribeiro had ideas beyond finishing it. According to Justus, she had always planned for a series exploring the different eras of video games. 

Justus shared that Ribeiro is now a partner and creative director at Arvore, helping with all of their projects while still focusing on the growing Pixel Ripped universe.

“She’s an amazing talent, an explosion of ideas,” Justus said.

According to Justus, the sequel will be set in the ‘90s.

“Right on the transition of 16-bit to 32-bit,” Justus said. “[The Pixel Ripped series] is a love letter to gaming.”

Having the ‘90s at the heart of the next installment makes sense—especially chronologically. However, Justus explained that there was more behind that decision.

He said that actual players chose the time period of the next game. According to Justus, the end of Pixel Ripped 1989 involves a time machine mechanic that allows players to pick a date. It turned out that 1995 was the year most players chose. The team used that information to decide where to set the next game.

“And also it’s a very fun gaming decade, the ‘90s,” Justus said.

He also shared that Pixel Ripped 1995 should cover “new game dilemmas,” like trying to keep playing while your mother wants you to go to bed. Justus added that the sequel would feature new locations too, like a video game rental store.

Caputo invited SIGGRAPH attendees to write down their ‘90s game memories after trying Pixel Ripped 1989. Their experiences might even show up in the next game.

Alyssa Wejebe
Alyssa Wejebe writes about games, reads about games, and plays them too. RPG, hack-and-slash, and fighting games are some of her favorite genres. She loves nonhuman characters. One of her earliest gaming memories center around battling her grandmother and younger brothers in “Super Bomberman 2” on the SNES.
Alyssa Wejebe

@AlyssaWejebe

Freelance writer/editor with a focus on games, and other areas in arts and entertainment. Bylines at @Cliqist, @NewNormative, @TechRaptr. Editor at @BagoGames.
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Alyssa Wejebe