For the first time, we paid attention to the Ukrainian project Erra: Exordium from the studio Fair Pixel sometime in the summer of 2022 when they tried a demo version of the game. This combination of Sumerian-Akkadian motifs with a dieselpunk setting looked too unusual. Once again, the game appeared on our “radars” during the judging of Indie Cup Ukraine’22. The representative of Mezha voted for this game and it is nice that the other members of the jury supported our opinion, and as a result of the competition Erra: Exordium received the Critics’ Choice Award. So we decided to have a chat with Fair Pixel. The screenwriter of the game, Vladyslav Kozlovskyi, answers the question of Mezha.
Good afternoon, gentlemen. Let’s get to know each other. Please tell us about Fair Pixel. Who you are? Where are you from? How long have you been developing games and how long have you been developing games together?
Good afternoon. Let’s. It is difficult to start with something concrete. The main “bone” of the Fair Pixel team is 50% from Kyiv, 50% from Mykolaiv. In fact, no one had fully developed games before this project. All had related professions. The artist had already worked on various games in the casual genre, but his soul wanted something of his own. Team leader programmed and did projects in his company. The designer worked with the leader and implemented an interesting visual style in applications and web services. For example, I wrote reviews of movies and games. It was always interesting, because for as long as I can remember, I played and developed a passionate love for video games. And we also have two cool animators who joined us about a year ago. From time to time we work with freelancers. So this is how we make our Erra: Exordium with such a small team.
Are indie games your main job or a hobby? How long has Erra: Exordium been in development and how is it being funded?
This game is our main job for everyone. Together, we are trying to make a completely independent project, without buying assets (these are game objects created by other developers and which can be obtained for free or purchased on special marketplaces – ed.), without reusing assets to make it a kind of creative flight. As much as it is possible at all. We have been developing the game for four years already, if 2022 can be considered a full year at all (the game’s Steam page was created in the fall of 2021 – ed.). We have a private investor, that’s all I can comment on.
Erra: Exordium caught our attention during the Steam Next Fest, and then during the Indie Cup Ukraine’22. And first of all, with its unusual, to put it mildly, setting. If we still remember a couple of Iranian games based on Sumerian mythology, the Sumerian-Akkadian civilization in the era of dieselpunk is a bit unexpected. As we understand, you chose an unusual setting on purpose. How did it happen? Voting, drawing, something else?
We really didn’t choose the setting at random, it was a review of many ideas until we all came to the same denominator. In 2019, we were inspired with the idea of making a cyberpunk project. But we understood that, most likely, when Cyberpunk 2077 is released, the love of this genre among players will decline a little. And at that time, our designer was studying Sumerian mythology for a general perspective. It is interesting, not too rich, but it has its own cultural layer. The artist brought dieselpunk aesthetics and “here you go”. The team saw something in this, some momentum and an unusual approach was felt. Something that no one has seen and no one has played. We ourselves were dying to play something similar and see such a game on virtual shelves.
In October 2022 you launched Kickstarter campaign with a fairly modest goal of £5,000 and raised £7,855. What was this Kickstarter for? Should this be enough to finish the game?
First, Kickstarter was needed to make a statement in this way. Secondly, we had a ready-made content plan for it. And thirdly, it is enough to add some unique elements to the game. Improve the state of animations, balance, add music, and I would like to have voiceovers for some elements in the game. Yes, there will be enough money to complete the project and improve it.
Erra: Exordium uses pixel-art graphics. Is this a conscious decision from a stylistic point of view, or are you trying to simplify development and save money this way?
No. In our case, pixel-art graphics are the cornerstone. We have traditional animation, which is done by two people and there are no 3D elements in the game. That is, it is not just a Pixel Perfect filter that was thrown on top, all animations in the game must be perfectly connected, all transitions between states and so on. So, since we have a more “traditional” path, like Cuphead for example, this is somewhat reflected in the speed of our development. On the one hand, we don’t have several 3D animators, and we’re trying to start with simply making a good, high-quality game. On the other hand, we can afford to use the money saved to improve other aspects of the game.
Among our readers, there is a rather large sect of RTX witnesses who believe that pixel-art graphics are terrible and players are already a little tired of it. What can you say to them?
I used to be like that too. Until I started making levels, drawing them schematically in the editor, and playing other very powerful and diverse 2D projects that squeeze all the juices out of the gameplay. Indie, it seems to me, is primarily about experimentation. You see teams trying to do something new. Experiment with form and mechanics. To do something that will be exactly to their liking and will not be supported by an army of marketers with their metrics, player retention and total control. 3D is beautiful, but 2D also has a lot of beauty in it. All you need is to give these projects a chance and you will change your attitude towards them forever. It’s the same as with movies and music – as soon as you remove the genre framework for yourself, you plunge into a fundamentally new world.
How big will the Erra: Exordium campaign be? Are there metroidvania elements here, or are the levels mostly linear?
We’re aiming for 7-8 hours of gameplay. Unfortunately, there are no metroidvania elements. The levels are mostly straight forward, but at some points we make forks to give the player a chance to “breathe” a little. I wish there were more options and people to do a lot more, but the lack of reuse of drawn 2D elements is still noticeable.
From the point of view of gameplay, Erra: Exordium is quite hardcore, that is, you will have to die often. Aren’t you afraid to scare some players away?
After the release of the demo version, we made some conclusions, rebalanced the game and made it a bit simpler, but globally it is still the same. Although our team gently “loves” (Vova, hello!) Dark Souls for its gameplay difficulty, we are not doing Soulslike, but we want to make the player think and be ready to fight back against the enemy. Because it’s actually cool when people try to understand what they’re interacting with. Patterns, behavior, surprises that even and opponents can give. It’s all very satisfying when you see that the elements that are brought into the game work exactly as we intended.
And finally, the main question. When is the release?
By the summer of 2023, we want to release the game. But in reality, everything can still change, as it still needs time to adapt to the console platforms – Xbox One, Xbo Series X/S, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5 and Nintendo Switch. The registration process there is so confusing, you would know. So we hope that not too many factors will stand in our way. The main thing is to live to this moment.
Thank you for the answers. Best wishes for a successful release. And regarding the latter, we believe in the Armed Forces of Ukraine!