The Story Behind the Creation of Bloxels Star Wars

By Rob Bennet, Pixel Press CTO & Co-Founder

A behind the scenes look at Bloxels Star Wars™, video games that YOU create!

It is with great pleasure that Pixel Press announces our latest installment in the Bloxels ecosystem, Bloxels Star Wars. In partnership with Disney, LucasFilm Ltd. and Mattel we have taken the simplistic game-building power of Bloxels and melded it with the most beloved and recognizable fictional universe, Star Wars!

 
 
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To Purchase Bloxels Star Wars, visit our online store here.

 
 

Through the mass adoption of Bloxels Builder in 2016, we grew close to our fans and players and kept our ears and eyes glued to the feedback, listening and watching as players and builders made out-of-this world creations we had never thought possible. Whether from teachers in the classroom or kids at home, we learned what people loved and what people wanted to push the platform forward.

 
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Something we saw a lot of right away was our players reimagining their favorite games and heroes within the platform. Some amazing custom characters and games were being created, re-telling stories from fictional universes we all love and adore. Thanks to our partnership with Mattel back in 2016, we were able to attract the attention of our personal favorite universe, Star Wars, thus forming an alliance that would make for some great game-building experiences. 

The game box art for one of our early inspirations, Super Star Wars for SNES

The game box art for one of our early inspirations, Super Star Wars for SNES

After some team sessions of sifting through a ton of Star Wars books and watching Super Star Wars play-throughs on YouTube, we began formulating how we could bring the Star Wars universe into the Bloxels ecosystem in a smart and engaging way.

How cool would it be if kids could reimagine classic Star Wars characters and planets into their own storylines?

A large part of this journey was not only coming up with cool and unique ways to incorporate the Star Wars stories, but also push the Bloxels Builder platform forward with new tools and experiences.

 

Using Our Own Tools

Something we decided early on with this product was the concept of a campaign, something we had not done in previous versions of Bloxels. 

 
Selecting between the light and dark  Story Mode in Bloxels Star Wars.

Selecting between the light and dark  Story Mode in Bloxels Star Wars.

 

With a campaign mode or “missions” we were able to show off the various character attributes, themes and block configurations in a progressive way. Another important part of the Bloxels Star Wars Mission Mode is the fact that we used the Bloxels Builder system to build all of the assets and worlds. With only a few variants, all of the content is based on the same 13x13 configuration, which gives this pixel art platformer that Bloxels feeling. All backgrounds are made with the 2197x2197 pixel dimensions of the Background mode in Bloxels Builder. Terrain, Coins, Water, Hazards, Enemies, Story Blocks, Power-ups and Action Blocks are all made in the familiar 13x13 pixel art style.

 
 
A look at the design process behind the Jabba's Palace story level.

A look at the design process behind the Jabba's Palace story level.

 
 

By using our own tools and self-imposed constraints, we were able to fully realize where Bloxels Builder and the Bloxels ecosystem needs to expand to in the future. For example, with the Bloxels Star Wars project we needed to expand our color palette from the current NES-based 64 color palette to a custom 256 color palette to accommodate all of the great Star Wars pixel art our team created. This also lead us to not hindering creativity through the 8-block color register and have the ability to have each 13x13 board take full advantage of the 256 color palette, something a lot of our players have asked of us for future updates and products!

 

Around the Office

Building Bloxels Star Wars was a lot of fun, and a lot of long nights. Below are a few photos taken during the production process.

 
 

Click on any image above to view it larger.

 

Sound and Music

All art, mechanics, technology and gameplay were created and programmed right here in St. Louis, MO and in keeping it “in the family” we worked with local music composers, Fat Bard, to bring the Bloxels Star Wars sound to life. We are particularly proud of the theme song variation they came up with and can’t wait for everyone to hear it! We wanted to keep it lo-fi in the vein of SNES. Not quite as simplistic and hardware based as the NES, but chiptune in nature and bit-crushed to bring those familiar songs and sounds into the Bloxels ecosystem.  We put a heavy emphasis on music and sound in this game and plan to keep that moving forward into new and exciting experiences coming in the future.

 

New and Improved

The story editor in Bloxels Star Wars

The story editor in Bloxels Star Wars

We took a lot of feedback to heart over the past year and brought a lot of it to light in the new Bloxels Star Wars game. You might have noticed I mentioned Action Blocks previously and if you are familiar with Bloxels Builder, you would know these as orange blocks. Previously just a destructible block, orange has been reinvented as Action Blocks. You can now assign multiple configurations to orange blocks, including Destructible, Exploding, Doors and Air Jets! Air Jets work similar to spring launchers and allow you, the creator, to make machines in your game. You could have an advanced configuration of Air Jets that bounce the character all over the world. Another big introduction this time around are Keys and Doors. Using orange blocks as doors and placing a pink block as a Key power-up, players can now create puzzles and storytelling elements not previously available in the Bloxels ecosystem.

 
Early concept gameplay screenshot from Bloxels Star Wars.

Early concept gameplay screenshot from Bloxels Star Wars.

 

We have also included a more immersive story block UI where you can assign text to blocks, as well as configure checkpoints and end flags. Not to mention a custom Builder interface just for Bloxels Star Wars! Map view, zooming, decorating, configuration and test iteration have never been easier!

 
A screenshot of the title sequence in Bloxels Star Wars.

A screenshot of the title sequence in Bloxels Star Wars.

 

We've always loved the iconic characters and settings from the classic trilogy, and have labored to bring them to life in this "13-bit" world. Players can build and play with themes like Hoth, Tatooine, Endor, and the Death Star. The characters are unique and play differently, whether it be Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker with their lightsabers, Emperor Palpatine's Force Lightning, Chewbacca with his Bowcaster, Leia, Han Solo and Greedo with their speed and agility, or Boba Fett with his Jetpack. There is a ton to explore in the Bloxels Star Wars characters.

 
Early and final Darth Vader art concepts.

Early and final Darth Vader art concepts.

 
 

The STEM Connection

Something we were truly excited about was bringing Bloxels Star Wars to students and early and often. We wanted kids’ feedback and reactions to the experience, characters, story and to help us find the fun

 
 

Over the last 2 years we have found enormous adoption by teachers and students in the classroom, something we didn’t quite anticipate at first, but fully embraced once we saw the energy and excitement. Bloxels Builder has grown into a fully functional STEM tool for educators and we love that. Empowering kids to be video game creators is something that we are very passionate about. The tangible play that Bloxels Builder embraces through the board and blocks inspired a lot of educators to use Bloxels in the classroom and other educational environments such as libraries, maker spaces and after-school programs. Educators are using the tools in a plethora of ways whether it be through enriched story-telling, art and design, code paradigms through configurable blocks or collaboration in character building and story-arcs.

We decided quickly that we wanted to take Bloxels Star Wars to the classroom and see what these 13 bit builders could come up with. We were amazed at not only the excitement they displayed but also the awesome critical feedback they gave us to help make the product what it is today. 

Through our partnership with Mattel, we’ve been able to reach a wide audience in the commercial consumer space. This has allowed our internal team in St. Louis to focus on product development as well as the development of our relationships with educational institutions, teachers, librarians, maker space coordinators and more.

Students testing Bloxels Star Wars.

Students testing Bloxels Star Wars.

We not only get to collect feedback and experiential data from the commercial consumer side of the industry but also from the educational side and this two-pronged approach has allowed us to bring our products to a larger audience. Educators are smart and thus the maker movement and STE[A]M movements have gained a ton of momentum in recent years. If a player is excited about a product in the classroom as well as at home and it happens to be educational, this is glorious marriage that few products have been fortunate enough to take advantage of. We at Pixel Press feel extremely fortunate that we had the relationships built in the educational space to host Beta Testing sessions with these kids at these schools. 

The educational products are actually consumer products and this has allowed for educators to trust other consumer products like Bloxels Star Wars to come into the educational space, which gets kids excited about STE[A]M and ultimately learning. 

A big thanks to The Wilson School in St. Louis and Orchard Farm Elementary in St. Charles, MO for being such a big part of our product testing process.

 

What’s Next?

So what’s next for Bloxels? We have a huge release on the horizon with Bloxels Star Wars and we cannot wait to support and gather feedback for our next line of products. We have a lot in the hopper and our 2018 product roadmap is rich in supporting materials. Recently we released our Challenge Card and Story Card decks.

 
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We have also recently unveiled our Educator Hub (EDU Hub), an online portal for educators to login and manage student accounts, gain access to materials and resources and follow our Bloxels Ambassadors. 

With Bloxels Builder still in full swing and Bloxels Star Wars now live, we have a lot to be excited about but that doesn’t mean we’re slowing down any time soon. In the coming months look to see deeper storytelling tools and coding tools in the form of supporting materials (work books, card decks, etc…) as well as all new software where we’ve taken all of your feedback and our learning to create what we believe will be a whole new chapter in the Bloxels story.

To Purchase Bloxels Star Wars, visit our online store here.

Robin Rath

St. Louis, MO