A Pixel Story

words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by Lamplight Studios for PC, originally released in 2015.
A Pixel Story is a puzzle platformer starring a single pixel that is somehow ejected from his own world and into a more complex one with more colors and higher resolutions. The new world is split into four generations, each more detailed and complex than the last, and the pixel must make use of his magical teleportation hat in order to solve puzzles and save The System from an evil operating system.

The pixel originally inhabits a world where he is the ball in a Pong-like game before glitching out and bouncing through a number of more detailed environments. He is then captured in a beam of light and transformed into a bipedal being more in line with the sprite detail of the new world. Despite the fact that the pixel came from a more primitive pixel world, he finds that the new world is called Generation 1.

The pixel is accompanied by a hovering robot named Search, who periodically appears to provide tutorials or exposition. From the start of the game, Search is extremely loquacious, continuously popping up to give advice and provide background information, and this is representative of the game’s entire structure.

Before moving forward in any environment, Search explains the scenario and points the player in the right direction, after which the player must speak with an NPC to be given a quest, which also opens the path forward. Then the player must locate and retrieve the quest item, bringing it back to the NPC to open a new route that allows continued progress. Each bit of progress is marked by extensive dialogue sequences, with a bit of light humor and allusion spread throughout, making the overall pace of the game quite slow.

The player has an inventory screen to keep track of quest items, a journal to track the status of the current quest, and a detailed map that always points him in the direction of his next objective. The interface also keeps track of the number of memory bits collected - which are used to open bridges to the other three generations - as well as collected coins that are used to open special challenge areas to further test the player’s abilities and award additional memory bits.

Search's first order of business is to grant the protagonist some clothes, since his formerly naked single-pixel self is now inappropriate in the more detailed world of Generation 1. His clothing consists of overalls and a red hat, not unlike that of the world’s most famous platforming hero… but his hat is immediately stolen by a seagull, and the player spends the opening level chasing after the gull in hopes of retrieving it.

The pixel has a 1.5x nonvariable jump, but unlike Super Mario Bros., there are no enemies to be defeated in the game; rather, the player must contend with dangerous objects like spikes, spinning saw blades, and bottomless pits... all of which spell instant death when touched. After a heavily tutorialized hat retrieval, the pixel gains access to his primary ability – teleportation – which is used to navigate around various obstacles and solve most of the game’s puzzles.

The player is able to drop his hat and warp back to it with the press of a button. This opens up time-based challenges where the player must flip a switch to clear out some spikes or open a passageway, and then get through the area before everything moves back. The player can also cancel teleportation at any time by pressing another button to recall the hat.

Players may also use the hat as a makeshift checkpoint by dropping it in a safe area and moving forward, warping back to it if they run into trouble, or they may place the hat near a locked door, go forward to find a key, and then warp back to the door to open it. This also allows the player to collect coins and other pickups at the bottom of suicide drops by jumping off a ledge, collecting items on the way down, and then warping back before hitting the spikes at the bottom.

Puzzle solutions get more difficult as the game goes on, much of which has to do with the fact that your momentum and trajectory are preserved when emerging from a teleport, allowing you to perform some Portal-esque moves, like dropping the hat, jumping on a springboard, and then teleporting back to the hat in order to reach a higher platform.

Springboards and other bounce-able objects are somewhat problematic, however, as they often launch the player character a great distance, and the player must often push against his momentum in order to land on narrow platforms. This often leads to overshooting or undershooting targets, for which the penalty is usually death. Checkpoints are frequent, so very little repeated gameplay is needed, but many of these challenges may only be completed through trial and error.

More complex puzzles see the player placing his hat on moving platforms that carry the hat around the environment, requiring precise timing in order to avoid lasers and saw blades. Others feature bouncy beams that work like larger springboards, but the player must often use these to make multiple teleportations to drastically increase his jump height and clear obstacles. Later challenges see the player recording his actions and then sending out a robotic clone to repeat them in order to perform simultaneous actions, like pulling two switches to open a door.

The pace of the game is broken up from time to time, with the player being tasked with completing escape sequences under strict limits. In one example, the pixel falls down a deep pit and must move to the left and right to avoid spinning saw blades. In the early part of the stage, he just needs to fall in line behind another character, but he is eventually left on his own to get through some high-speed narrow passages.

In another example, the pixel is at risk of being deleted as a recycle bin is emptied, and he must outrun a beam of light that is rising up beneath him. This sequence requires multiple successful teleportations as well as several sequential long-distance springboard landings, which further highlights the imprecise nature of using midair direction change as a primary control element.

Environments are completely open, allowing players to move forward and back as they like, and there are lots of areas that are accessible only by using advanced tactics. Players are free to warp between level checkpoints, as well as warp back to the hub world, which is themed like a gamer’s bedroom. As new generations are opened, they appear as gateways within the bedroom, allowing the player to place his hat on a hook in one area and change the whole bedroom over to that graphical generation.

Also of note is the fact that A Pixel Story arrived on the market within a couple of weeks of Adventures of Pip, a game that offers a similar premise, albeit with a different execution. In Adventures of Pip, the player begins the game as a single pixel on a journey to save a 32-bit world, but the hero absorbs pixels by defeating enemies, allowing him to evolve into a more complex sprite with new abilities. Also released at the same time was BiT Evolution, featuring a low-resolution character that evolves into more complex iterations and explores environments inspired by different eras of gaming history.

A Pixel Story was developed by Lamplight Studios, a studio based in Manchester, UK and founded in 2012. The studio was founded by a group of graduates from Salford University after the team created a prototype for the game over the course of nine weeks for a competition called Dare to be Digitial, which they won. The game was published by Channel 4.