From competitive Counter-Strike player and government employee in Brazil to a graduate student in game design at the National Film and Television School, Ana Ribeiro has traced a unique path on her entry into the VR industry. What began as a DK1 demo and student project has since evolved to a full-time Game Director position at São Paulo, Brazil-based ARVORE—the narrative-driven VR/AR studio behind Step to the Line—and a fully-fledged adventure arcade experience. And today, we’re excited to share that Pixel Ripped 1989 is now available on Rift!
We sat down with Ribeiro for the inside scoop on this metafictional celebration of 1980s gaming and childhood.
What was the inspiration behind Pixel Ripped 1989?
Ana Ribeiro: The inspiration was my own story of being a gamer in the 1980s and growing up playing games. Throughout my life, games have always been there, and I’m sure a lot of people can relate to that special feeling of remembering the games you used to love.
What can you tell us about the game’s narrative? How did your own experiences come into play (pun intended)?
AR: Pixel Ripped 1989 is set in the ’80s and tells the story of Dot, a video game character who sees her game world threatened by the evil Cyblin Lord, a villain able to break through the video game screen and invade the real world. In the game, the player inhabits Nicola, a second grade student who must help Dot save both realities by facing challenges in the 2D world, all while distracting the cranky teacher and escaping from the furious headmaster in her own 3D world around the school.
It was a very fun process to create this zany, magical story while at the same time bringing in my childhood roots as a gamer and many references to games I love.
How has the game changed since the early Pixel Rift DK1 demo days?
AR: That version was very different from what we have now, especially since we restarted the game entirely from scratch to create Pixel Ripped 1989. That original game was only 15 minutes long and would only represent a fraction of the first level of the current game, which has four levels that each have their own unique boss fight. Also, that version didn’t have many fun features—you couldn’t even distract the teacher—and it didn’t have tracked controllers to move the “Gear Kid” console around because hadn’t even been announced yet. The game has evolved tremendously from those early days, but seeing the response people had back then was what initially gave us the strength to keep going and improving the project.
Speaking of, how would you characterize the community response thus far?
AR: The development process was long, and I was so lucky to be able to show the game to a lot of people as it grew and evolved over the last four years. A lot of funny and crazy things happened at events and places where we were showcasing the game—people going nuts when the 2D world characters invaded the 3D world in the game, people apologizing to the teacher as if she were really there, all sorts of strange and fun reactions.
Any highlights in particular?
AR: There was a little kid who didn’t want to stop playing and actually peed his pants! His dad took him to clean up, and 10 minutes later, he was back to play some more. A guy at an event asked for my hand in marriage when he found out I had created the game. Once, a guy took off the Rift and started crying his eyes out, telling me that he had been ready to give up on games entirely, but that Pixel Ripped had rekindled what he liked and remembered about games from his youth. All these reactions and moments are great fuel for long nights of coding and bug fixing.
Why do you think nostalgia and metafiction are such a natural fit for VR? Would this type of game have been possible in a different medium?
AR: This game was born in VR and made entirely for VR. I don’t think it would have been possible or even made sense in another medium. The point of the game is to transport you through time to special moments that a lot of us share from our childhoods. That, and the whole design of the game within the game, would simply not work the same way on a computer or TV screen. Also, having to focus on something you’re used to doing in real life—like playing a 2D video game—while in a unique VR environment heightens the immersion a lot, as that layered experience makes you quickly forget you’re actually in a headset.
Who did you work with on the soundtrack? What was that experience like? What influenced the overall sound design?
AR: The original music was created by Terence Dunn. He came from a film background, and this was his first game project. I think he nailed it—not only the nostalgic style, but also the adventurous gaming feel. What’s interesting is that everyone who worked with sound in the game had an opportunity to work in two universes and soundscapes at the same time: the 3D world with real-life sounds and music to evoke a very nostalgic feel of the 1980s, and the 2D world with its retro-game sounds and music that could only be played on an 8-bit console, created solely with synthesizers that could have been used at the time. A lot of people who play the game think the game within a game in Pixel Ripped was actually a real game that existed in the ’80s because of how authentic the sounds are.
If players take one thing away from the game, what do you hope it would be and why?
AR: I’d like them to remember what it was like to play games as a kid, the same way I remember my own childhood. I put a lot of my own story into this game, but I believe this sort of memory is shared by many people who grew up at the time. Even people who didn’t grow up in the ’80s will bring their own childhoods and the games they grew up with them when they step inside the game world. I want each person to remember their past but also make fun new memories playing this game.
How, if at all, does Pixel Ripped build upon your previous work in VR? What lessons learned would you share with up-and-coming developers looking to enter the space?
AR: I think the main lesson is to watch people playing the game as you make it. Test it and test it again with as many people as you can. VR games are a new thing, and no design decision should be taken for granted—there are no rules that are set in stone, so try out things with as many players as you can. The reactions are always unexpected. Simple things will cause people to react in ways you never imagined. In the early days, there was a scene where I darkened the room and people would start screaming almost as if it was a horror game, while other things that I expected to get a strong reaction would go by unnoticed. You have to forget all the pre-established rules and watch people play.
What’s next for you? Any exciting projects in the works?
AR: I’m now part of the team at ARVORE, so I’ll work with them on many cool original VR games that we have in our pipeline. Also, we want to make Pixel Ripped into a series of games, so we’ll create new installments of the game, each in a different era of the history of gaming, like Pixel Ripped 1995 with the 16-bit era, Pixel Ripped 1977 with the even earlier days of video games, and more.
In fact, players who get to the end of the game can help us choose which era to focus on first. There’s a selection screen at the end of the game where you can vote for where you want Dot to go next!
Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Ana—we can’t wait for the Rift community to dig into the game and relive their own childhoods.
Step inside Pixel Ripped 1989 today and help determine the direction of Dot’s future exploits on Rift!
— The Oculus Team