By Quentin H. / April 28th, 2023
At GDC 2023, I sat down with Ana Ribeiro, the creator and director of the Pixel Ripped franchise; Ricardo Justus, the founder and CEO of ARVORE Immersive Experiences; and then later on David Lowey, the senior director of games, sales, and distribution at Atari. In the first part of our two-part interview, we talk about how ARVORE’s partnership with Atari came about, what classic Atari games are included in Pixel Ripped 1978, and more.
You can wishlist Pixel Ripped 1978 on Steam and on PlayStation now.
I also demoed Pixel Ripped 1978, and you can check out my thoughts on it here.
You can visit Atari at their official website, on Twitter, on Facebook, on Instagram, and on YouTube.
You can visit ARVORE at their official website, on Twitter, on Facebook, on Instagram, and on Discord.
You can find out more about Ana Ribeiro on her Linktree and about Pixel Ripped on its Linktree.
Please return Friday for Part Two of our interview!
This interview has been edited for content and clarity.
Operation Rainfall: My name is Quentin H. with oprainfall, and you two are?
Ricardo Justus: I am Ricardo Justus, and I am the CEO and co-founder of ARVORE, the studio behind Pixel Ripped.
Ana Ribeiro: I am Ana Ribeiro, the creator and creative director of Pixel Ripped.
OR: Can you just briefly tell us what Pixel Ripped 1978 is about?
AR: It’s a love letter to the history of gaming. It’s the third episode in the series – we’ve released two games. The first was 1989, which was about the GameBoy [and] 1995, which was about Nintendo versus Sega Genesis, 16-bit, the release of PlayStation One. And 1978 – it’s about the origins of the series, how Pixel Ripped’s world was created. So we had to be in the Atari-era. This was the first time that we actually partnered with a big company. So, we are doing it with Atari. We are referencing – not just homages – we have Atari cartridges such as Food Fight on the Atari 2600. So these episodes – you are actually playing as the creator of Pixel Ripped [who is] a developer who works inside of Atari.
Pixel Ripped is all about you playing a 2-D game while you are being distracted and influenced by the world around you in VR. Different from other episodes, we did this game much bigger – for the first time, you’re able to go inside the game in first person and interact with NPCs, have combat. This is super exciting because we’ve wanted to do this for a long time, and we’re final able to because of this partnership with Atari. Not just using their IP – but to make a bigger game. When Ricardo met them, we were already one year in development of this game. We were able to, with the investment, have another year of development in the game. And with many features that were cut, we were able to put it into the game.
So, in comparison to the previous episodes, which were around three hours-ish, this one is around five to eight hours, depending on the player.
RJ: There is a lot to explore. There are a lot of Easter eggs, a lot of things to find.
“Atari gave us a significant amount of creative freedom. They let us play around with their games and do glitched versions and stuff like that. And even talk about the crash, which is a major plot point of the game.”
OR: And we’re going to touch on that in just a moment. You mentioned a partnership with Atari. How did that start, and what has it been like working with Atari?
RJ: Like she mentioned, we were one year into development. This was last year – I was at the DICE Awards, because we were nominated for our previous game – the game we launched in 2021. I was there for the event, and I sat down. It was a very serendipitous connection.
We were already one year into development, we had the teaser ready, we were ready to announce it. We were planning to launch it last year. And then I sat down for lunch at a table at DICE, and people with Atari T-shirts sat down in front of me. I said ‘[a]re you from Atari?’ and it was Wade Rosen, the CEO of Atari. We started talking. I said ‘I gotta show you the game we are making.’ And I was initially asking them if we could license the IPs, if we can actually use the consoles and the brand and all of that – and the games. And he was like ‘[t]hat’s easy, but we want to actually publish the game.’ They are now doing a lot of game publishing and are bringing back classics and such as that. And I said ‘[y]eah, let’s talk’ and the conversation evolved from there.
And we cancelled our announcement plans, obviously, and that actually, through their partnership, added a year extra of development on top of what we were already doing. We were just doing Pixel Ripped homages to the titles. It was still ‘Atari,’ in our world, but [by] a different name. And now we’re able to reference Atari, and on top of that, they gave us a lot of references. They showed us what an in-production cartridge looks like, they gave us access to a list of games – even games that were in production that were never launched-
AR: -and posters-
RJ: -and logos-
AR: -the office-
RJ: -the Atari computer on your desk [that] you use. All that cool stuff. We just incorporated all that and made [the game] much bigger and cooler.
OR: One of the biggest surprises for me is that you choose the year 1978. To provide context for the readers: that is after the September 1977 launch of the Atari VCS and two years before Atari obtained a license from Taito to develop a home version of Space Invaders that launched Atari into the atmosphere. Why the year 1978 and why VR?
RJ: So, this game actually takes place – it’s different from the other Pixel Ripped – because there is time travel. If the story wasn’t multidimensional and complicated enough, we added time travel to the game. The game actually spans from ’72 to ’83. The sections in the office take place in ’83. The game goes through the entire Atari era up until the crash. So – we chose ’78 for the title because it invoked that kind-
AR: -that is a bit spoiler if we say exactly why, because you travel a lot. You travel many years, and the whole plot is that you’re going back in time to fix the memory of the developer-
RJ: -Satalord is corrupting the memories of the creator of Pixel Ripped, and you’re going into different stages of her life across the seventies that inspired Pixel Ripped. There’s a big significance of ’78 in that context, that decade also invokes that aspect of it.
AR: Yeah, it’s really important that – we can’t really say why, it’s a big spoiler. But it’s not the year that you spend the most [in]. Like in the previous Pixel Ripped, you spend entirely in that year, in 1995 [and] in 1989. In this one, you go through so many years. It’s the first game in that we are doing time travel, and other dimensions.
RJ: And Pixel Ripped is not a history lesson. It is about invoking an era. ’89, we were invoking the end of the 8-Bit era and GameBoy and all of that. But the year is just to set your expectations. In ’95, we condensed all of 16-bit which was actually the end of that era. ’95 was the launch of the PlayStation. We condensed all that. We’re taking some liberties to put you back in those periods. But in this game, there is actual time travel where you’re jumping into different points of the 70s and early 80s.
AR: There’s even an adventure game at some point. Video pinball in ’72. An RPG-
RJ: -yeah, there’s a level with RPGs because Dungeons & Dragons was born in 1974. So, we’re touching on all of that and the name has a significance once you’ve played the game. But it’s more about invoking the era.
OR: What games are included to be repaired, and how did you select which games to include?
AR: *laughs* That was hard to select.
RJ: There’s games you actually play Pixel Ripped to find versions of, there’s games you go in, there’s games we’re referencing new Pixel Ripped-ified versions of. But a lot of the Atari classics are in there like Pong, Break Out, Centipede-
AR: –Missile Command, Asteroids, Haunted House, Food Fight, Crystal Castle–
RJ: -Revenge is a big one. There’s a bunch of references. There’s even small references to non-Atari games at the time.
AR: Like we did in the previous games.
RJ: We just touched on, because we couldn’t not reference certain games of the time. But we’re trying to invoke all of this, but we’re not trying to emulate these games. This is sort of a Pixel Ripped alternate history of it, where Pixel Ripped is an Atari classic. So, we’re playing around with this. And that was one of the benefits of this partnership; Atari gave us a significant amount of creative freedom. They let us play around with their games and do glitched versions and stuff like that. And even talk about the crash, which is a major plot point of the game.
AR: Yeah, a feature – what he said about choosing the games – it was really hard for us because, also, we tried to choose games that fit with the narrative because we didn’t know about Atari until the game was one year in development. We had these missions where we had characters, NPCs – before, we had characters that kind of looked like this person, and there were not many characters in the Atari era [that were] recognizable characters. So, we kind of looked and tried to find the most interesting and charismatic characters of those games, and mentally, the one that stood out was from Crystal Castle, [Bentley] Bear – so we have this world to go into, and they [encounter] Bear. So, we actually created cartridges from games set in those worlds. You grab a cartridge – imagine you own an Atari, and you are doing a sequel from those games. We didn’t want to just copy.
RJ: We also tried to transcend – there’s a Centipede cartridge you play around [with].
AR: The glitch ones – we chose the ones that kind of fit with the gameplay, because there is a moment where your friend – the one with the donuts [in the demo] – she asks you to fix some bugs and comes for each mission with a broken cartridge – like [she comes with] Food Fight, and Food Fight is broken. And we felt Food Fight was great, because we actually have to throw pizza to cure the bugs.
RJ: The bugs actually come out in pixel art fashion out of the screen, and you’re actually throwing pizza. So, you’re actually throwing food in Food Fight. It’s very meta.
AR: In Centipede, we also made [it] with bugs. It’s kind of like ‘What if these games were broken with bugs?’ Atari was supercool: ‘Can we break your games and put bugs in them?’ And the three games we chose were Haunted House, Food Fight, and Centipede–
RJ: -for the bugs portion.
AR: The games, I feel like – we wish we could have done all of them. Missile Command, we tried but it didn’t really fit. We have to do this VR gameplay while playing the game, but all those games are referencing posters or dialogue.
RJ: There’s a reference to lots of games. Some of them we touched gameplay aspects, some of them we referenced with gaming.
AR: Some of them we went deeper. Definitely made sure we used them up, because there were so many classics. And the posters were amazing- the art from Atari at that period was incredible. It was an honor to be able to use those posters.
You can check out Part Two here now!
You can wishlist Pixel Ripped 1978 on Steam and on PlayStation now.
Have you played either of the prior Pixel Ripped titles? What do you think of the upcoming title set in the 1970’s?
Let us know in the comments below!
Ana RibeiroAtariDavid LoweyGame Developers ConferenceGDCGDC 2023Meta QuestPixel RippedPlaystationPlayStation VR2PSVR2Ricardo JustusSteamSteam VRvirtual reality