PyxelArts: Reaching the maze’s end

 

Anmynor Puzzles is a deceptive game. At first, it couldn’t seem more welcoming: you’ve got a cute cartoon “golem” who needs helps overcoming some spatial logic obstacles to reach the level’s goal. But before long, things start to get tricky. There are six elemental golems, each able to solve different problems – the Water golem can cross bodies of water, for example, while the Air guy can hop over gaps. Things get more interesting when the player begins combining golems. Lead the Water and Air golems to collide with one another, and you get an Ice golem, able to freeze those bodies of water, allowing other golems to cross. And that’s just one of the ten combinations. The player begins to feel like a mad scientist, exploring the possibilities allowed by all the new hybrids.

It’s at that point when the simple puzzles give way to a host of terraforming options, and the game’s real challenge begins. The ingenious ambition here is that Anmynor Puzzles has appealing gameplay for both casual puzzle audiences and serious challenge-seekers alike. Anyone can be drawn into the game’s appealing world, and before the player knows it, the puzzles have become irresistibly clever – and require some real thought. As PyxelArts CEO Rafael Espinosa de los Monteros Iglesias put it, “Anmynor Puzzles is suitable for everyone, but make no mistake – hardcore players will face true challenges.”

PyxelArts was established in 2009, and having just finished Puzzles as their first release, the Spanish game developer is still young in the eyes of gamers. Already available to buy through publisher Strategy First and Gamersgate for PC, Mac, and Linux, Puzzles just hit Steam Greenlight earlier this month, and Monteros Iglesias tells me he’s confident that it’ll earn the user support necessary to see the light of day on Valve’s digital storefront. Distribution through EA’s Origin service is also a possibility, and we’ll be seeing mobile versions on both Android and iOS. “Those versions are quite finished,” Monteros Iglesias told me. “The game should be widely available on all these platforms by the end of February.”

A multiplatform release like this is a strong start for a freshman developer – but that’s not the whole story. PyxelArts have been busy since 2009, and they have much more to show for it than a bunch of cute cartoon critters.

In fact, Anmynor Puzzles is a spinoff of PyxelArt’s earlier effort, simply titled Anmynor. Featuring more brutish and combat-ready versions of the same golems, Anmynor was a multiplayer-focused game of strategy and spellcasting – not unlike the “MOBA” genre popularized by DOTA and League of Legends. The game developed some following in closed beta, and then went on hold in favor of Puzzles.

“With Anmynor we targeted a very specific and hardcore target audience,” Monteros Iglesias said. “It is not that we consider this an error, but it is true that for a small development company, to focus on such a niche audience with a project requiring so much human effort to perfect is not the path to success. That’s why we decided to open that target audience, but at the same time, we loved the idea behind Anmynor, the concept, and above all, the characters. We decided to ‘transform’ the characters, make cartoon versions of them, use the same rules and put them in a game suitable for wider audiences. We’re pleased with the results.”

It’s rare for such a young game company to have the financial freedom and creative flexibility necessary to change gears the way PyxelArts did. It’s all too common to see a new studio ride an ambitious project out to sea, only to end up going down with the ship. PyxelArts warded against such an outcome with an intelligent three-pronged business strategy: they deal not only in game design and game technology, but also in R&D, with a project they call Technology Transfer. “We use our technology not only for games, but also for other kinds of projects. This way, we can let the people outside videogame industry know about this technology,” said Monteros Iglesias. “Such cross-pollination of industries is relatively commonplace in the USA, but here in Europe videogames technology is still unknown, and a lot of companies we work with become fascinated by what we can do with videogame technology. We have been involved in simulators, motion capture systems for theaters, IA software of videogames for security companies... That is why R&D is so important for us.”

PyxelArts’ list of clients for Technology Transfer is almost as diverse as the golems of Anmynor. They’ve worked on simulators with the defense industry, such as the British Army’s AW159 simulator. On the other side of the spectrum, they’ve used Microsoft’s Kinect technology to assist a theater company with their special effects, during a production of “The Wizard of Oz”. When Kinect captured certain motions from the actors on stage, it would deploy the appropriate special effect – innovatively eliminating the need for a human being performing the job live. PyxelArts make a strong case for the wider applicability of the technology used in games.

What’s next for the company? Monteros Iglesias sounds eager about the future. “We want to continue support Anmynor Puzzles, by creating new levels. We’re also interested in bringing Anmynor back – probably after rethinking the technology and the game itself. Besides that, we have several well-defined projects in mind. We’ve still yet to decide which one we’ll proceed with first.”

In this brave new world of crowd-sourcing, you can help PyxelArts by giving Anmynor Puzzles a thumbs-up on Steam Greenlight, or, of course, you can simply purchase it from the source. Keep an eye out for PyxelArts in the future – they’ve clearly got the chops to meet their ambition.

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