“Eastward” Wows With Pixel Art

It’s 2015, and 2D art still rules. Well, it certainly doesn’t dominate the AAA scene like it used to, but it remains trendy in a flooded indie market. Critically acclaimed Shovel Knight is a perfect example of this phenomenon. It’s charming, it’s nostalgic, and aside from the art - it’s fun.

img_5643217d088f6Since of inception of video games, 2D gaming fans have wanted larger sprites, more colorful pixels, and innovative art styles.The industry has reached such a point that 2D innovation is difficult. Games like Shovel Knight rely on simple, 8-bit charm, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. But one has to notice when the developers at Pixpil try something new with upcoming indie title Eastward.

Pixpil is 3-man game studio based in Shanghai. They describe Eastward as a combination between Zelda and JRPGs. I spoke with studio founder Tommo Zhou in an interview. He explains that the idea for Eastward was a simple pixel project drawn by the talent of pixel artist Hong Moran. The game was originally much simpler.

“We are fans of rouge-like games, so we tried to work in that direction,” says the 32-year-old Zhou, “After a month, we found the work our artist had done looked better for a game with narration. So we decide to change the direction and make it an RPG.”

While the genre may have changed, the focus is clear: art. Eastward draws you in with an impressive combination of retro art and 3D lighting. The hybrid is seamless and gives the style a fresh, yet familiar feel. And of course, it’s pretty to look at.

The setting is a post apocalyptic world where the human population is dwindling. Pixpil has hinted that Eastward will tackle some environmental themes. In such a desolate world, the team’s goal is to suck players in with the art style.

“The initial aim of the art is to bring some feeling of old Japanese animations into pixel art,” says Zhou, “Because it’s a post-apocalyptic theme, we need to add a lot of detail to the graphics to make it look aged.”

He cities classic anime such as Metropolis, Tekkonkinkreet, Akira, and Studio Ghibli as influences for the art and style.

Eastward has been in development since March of this year. For now, Pixpil is focusing on getting the game on Steam first, though console releases remain a possibility. An English translation is also in the works. Because the game is still in early development, Zhou estimates that the release is still over a year-and-a-half away. For now, fans will get to enjoy the pixel art and follow progress on Eastward‘s devlog.