The pixel art of Joe Pendon

The pixel art of Joe Pendon

Legacy of the Copper Skies Isen and Tir work together in Pendon’s pixel art style.

Pixel art had always appealed to Joe Pendon, though he has dabbled in three dimensions before and hopes to again. Right out of school and looking for work in Toronto he saw a demand for 2D pixel art from some of the local game companies and so it made sense to him to follow his passion down that route.

After focusing on building a pixel art portfolio he applied to the one local Toronto studio looking for a pixel artist and got the job. With that Pendon notes, “My career in gaming began. Pixel art got my foot through the door and I continue to strive to get better at it every day.”

A fan of Super Nintendo RPGs he’d been exposed to some of the industry’s high watermarks for pixel art. Even today he’s excited when talking about when I ask him about his favourite games, “Earthbound, hands down! It was my first RPG and a game that I still play at least once a year. Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI are close seconds.”


An image from The Pocalypse II, a game set in The Pocalypse, a pixel art Flash web comic created by Pendon.

Next he created Green Pixel, a game development turned freelance pixel art company, and the long running Flash web comic The Pocalypse which he still maintains. To teach himself coding he created the game The Monolith which as seen success on web and mobile.

The prospect of new challenges drew him to join Horrible Unicorn Game Studios.

“I’m most excited about creating all the worlds that the game (Legacy of the Copper Skies) takes place in. Having multiple worlds with very different aesthetics lets me play around with varying styles and techniques. I’m also excited about all the modern effects we can utilize that will visually complement my pixel art,” he explained when I asked him what he was most interested in about the work he was doing.

“Oh, and robots, I’m always excited to design robots,” he added.

First Look: Dynamic Lighting in Legacy of the Copper Skies

First Look: Dynamic Lighting in Legacy of the Copper Skies

As Tir approaches the Mother Statue he is cast in a strange light. Three glowing orbs orbit the statue’s outstretched hand each representing a different world within Legacy of the Copper Skies. Blue for Grimstad the home of fellow adventurer Isen. Green for his world of Ebura. Yellow for a world that the studio’s marketing department won’t let him talk about yet. He continues his approach as the light is dynamic cast about by technology beyond his ken yet suitably impressive for a 2D adventure game from an indie studio.

One of the main development goals for Horrible Unicorn Game Studios’ first game was to take a genre of game that we all had a great fondness for (the 2D adventure game) and bring modern development techniques and design aesthetics to it. While a large part of that is focused on the story and how developed our characters will be fleshed there will be also technical chances for us to show off how far games have come since Link was told that it was dangerous to go alone.

Bringing dynamic lighting helps make the worlds of Grimstad, Ebura and [redacted] feel more alive. The fantasy worlds of Legacy of the Copper Skies may not be real places but the depth of the world is enhanced by artistic aspects like lighting that reacts to in-game situations. This also helps to further enhance the already stellar beauty of Lead Artist Joe Pendon’s pixel art vision.

A new perspective for Legacy of the Copper Skies

A new perspective for Legacy of the Copper Skies

Among the tools in a game developer’s tool-kit, one of the most complex is feedback. It’s seductive to think that your first idea is your best idea, and hearing that some people prefer things another way can often be hard. Yet insightful feedback can help make games better, and as much as everyone would like to think they’re a genius, nobody gets everything right.

A screenshot of the original perspective of Legacy of the Copper Skies.

A screenshot of the original perspective of Legacy of the Copper Skies.

Up to this point everything we’ve shown for our first game Legacy of the Copper Skies, has been shown from our original design of the game which was going to be an isometric perspective. Our thoughts behind this were that this perspective helped to distinguish the game in an immediate visual way from the adventure games that had come before.

We are justifiably proud of our strong showing during this year’s Square Enix Collective’s feedback phase. Indie game fans seemed to find what we had planned for the game was something they wanted to play. Along with all the excitement and compliments were suggestions on how we could improve the game and one of the most frequent was a suggestion to change the game’s perspective to a more traditional top down one.

As we reviewed all the feedback we’d received from the voters and fans, a change in perspective seemed to make sense. Though we are certainly inspired by the great pixel-art adventure games that have come before us, there is so much new and different about Legacy of the Copper Skies that helps it stand out from what’s come before that we felt comfortable going with a traditional view.

The new top-down perspective for Legacy of the Copper Skies.

Exploring this new perspective lead us to see the advantages of the change on the development front chiefly that we can now iterate quicker and respond to feedback and changes in a more agile way. We’re also loving how great it looks now and we feel that it’s going to allow players to focus in on the story, control and gameplay elements that we’re bringing to the adventure game, rather than just a tilted perspective.

Another look at Legacy of the Copper Skies’ new perspective.

Once again we’re grateful to everyone who took the time to vote and give us feedback during the Square Enix Collective’s feedback phase. Feedback is a great tool and we’re thankful that it’s already making Legacy of the Copper Skies better.