Late last year, Big Bucket software released its second game, Space Age. First previewed at XOXO Festival in Portland in 2013, the iOS and Mac adventure title is the result of a four-year, trans-Pacific collaboration between just two people.
Neven Mrgan, a designer at software studio Panic in downtown Portland, drew the game's artwork in his free time, while programmer Matt Comi built the game engine from scratch in Perth, Australia. (Panic's founder, Cabel Sasser, stepped in to compose the game's soundtrack.) Years ago, Mrgan and Comi met online and bonded over their similar tastes in games, resulting in their first game in 2010, The Incident. The two have only met in person twice.
"Our timezones could not be more out of sync, which actually works well," says Mrgan. "In the morning and at night, our ships pass and we brief each other. And then we work while the other person’s asleep."
"I talk to him often enough," he adds. "It doesn’t feel weird. I feel like I know him as a person."
For Space Age, Mrgan and Comi stiched together a pastiche of retro video game tropes. The large bird’s-eye maps and small, isometric artwork come from old PC strategy games like Command and Conquer. The cartoonish style, puzzle solving, and sense of humor evoke point-and-click LucasArts adventure titles like Day of the Tentacle, Monkey Island, and Sam and Max. The result defies easy genre categorization.
"I’m not a big gamer, which surprises a lot of people," says Mrgan. "I don’t have any of the current-gen consoles. I appreciate coming at this from a naïve, outsider perspective. If I were coming at it from inside the gaming community I would gravitate more towards games that are obviously successful, and obviously popular."
The game is not, he says, retro for the sake of being retro.
“Obviously pixel art in the 80s was just a necessity,” says Mrgan of the game's pixellated art style. “But enough time has passed that now people are using it—I’m using it—as an aesthetic. It has many advantages, and many things that are appealing to me. One is that you can say a lot with very few pixels. Our animations are just a few frames long. If a character is speaking or turning his head, it’s a change of a few pixels. I like all the restrictions, and I like that it’s highly stylized.”