23. Daisuke Amaya, “Pixel” – Popularizing Indie Games


/ by Menashe

Daisuke Amaya

Daisuke Amaya


“Pixel”

Daisuke Amaya, affectionately known as Pixel in the gaming industry, is a quietly unassuming person. From his reclusive and subdued nature you wouldn’t guess he was the sole creator of a game that sparked a revolution in the independent gaming scene.

Born and raised in Japan, Amaya hasn’t played many new games this past generation. Even with all his retro NES-love, he doesn’t own a Wii or a DS. He’s still playing the recently purchased Mother cartridge his brother bought him on the NES.

Ikachan

Amaya is a bit of an enigma. When he began game development he didn’t have the necessary programming skills to create the game he envisioned. But, he was an artistic and musical soul and he wanted to put his creativity into game design. So, Pixel began making a few small experimental games to gain some programming experience. After a few of those small time, “guinea pig” projects, he began to make his first game, Ikachan, about a squid who swims around in an underwater cave, meeting other creatures and helping them. The gameplay was simplistic and the only “waves” Ikachan managed to create were from swimming around in his cave.

But, that was just Pixel getting warmed up for his real vision: Cave Story. With his game programming skills advancing, and his artistic sketches ready as ever, all that was needed was software to help with the background music. To that end Pixel wrote a piece of software called Organya (.org files) that produced chip-flavored traditional BGM with a distinctive low tech-sound. As you might have surmised, Daisuke Amaya is a very talented jack-of-all-trades. This would be a core characteristic that helped prove the viability of indie development.

But, Pixel wasn’t limited to just artistic and programming skills, rather, he had yet to show his truly masterful understanding of game design. One of the feelings people feel after completing Cave Story for the first time is, “Was this masterpiece really made by just one person?”

Cave Story

Over the course of seven years Pixel would manage to squeeze in time to keep up development of Cave Story. Eventually he completed it but didn’t pursue a commercial model. He was constantly inspired by freeware games and decided to do the same with his brain-child, Cave Story. Essentially, he released a game that would become a classic, for free. While Cave Story didn’t have an enormous impact from day one, it did snowball across the indie gaming world as word of it spread. Eventually, the whole industry came to recognize it as a game on par with the best of Metroid and Castlevania.

Cave Story

The concept was a new one and people had to wrap their heads around it. A game that was as polished as any commercial game, but it was created by one person- and it was free!? Until then most indie games were of a smaller nature, and mostly experimental. But Cave Story had the scale of a big-time developer and the retro sensibilities that made it a love song to video games of old. It taught the world that anyone can make a game on par with commercial games and share it with the world as long as they have the skills and dedication to see it through to the end.

Since then, the Western indie scene has been a burgeoning, rapidly expanding environment. The Indie Games movement has risen as a viable, inspirational, and exciting form of gaming that constantly challenges the superficial bloat of the commerical gaming market. Indie games are free or cheap. They are made by individuals, not by corporations. And they are not afraid to take risks nor to try something new. But, mostly, indie games come from an unadulterated love of gaming.

The Indie Game Scene owes a big debt of gratitude for its growth due to the spark generated by Daisuke Amaya. After Cave Story was released, Amaya couldn’t quit his job as a salaryman, creating large-scale printing equipment. He had a wife and kids and wasn’t sure he could support himself solely from developing games. While it took some time, Pixel finally managed to train in a replacement, and with the release of Cave Story for WiiWare and DSi, he made his transition to full-time game development.

Pixel has a sequel to Cave Story somewhere along the pipelines, but he won’t say when it will happen. But for now, we’re happy this modest but influential game developer is still creating new game experiences for us to play.

Fun Facts

+ Pixel got his design inspiration for the popular boss character in Cave Story, Balrog, from a bar of soap

+ Pixel doesn’t eat snacks while playing video games because he doesn’t want to get the controllers dirty

+ He doesn’t watch TV or anime much, but his favorite animation isn’t anime, anyways; it’s the 3D animated movies of Pixar

+ Before the announcement of the DSi version of Cave Story, the LiveJournal Cave Story fan community began a homebrew DS port of their own. When they heard that Pixel didn’t own a DS, they laser-engraved the Cave Story characters onto a black DS and sent it to him, loaded with their homebrew port of the game.

“I still have it,” Amaya said. “I want to use it, but you know, when you use the device, it could break or something, so I just keep it in the box.”

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