Last September, Studio Pixel Punk released Unsighted, a top-down action RPG with a unique time limit on the life of its NPCs. It quickly garnered high praise from critics, including RPS' own Katharine Castle who named it one of the Best Games You Missed in 2021. To find out more about this indie gem, I got in touch with Studio Pixel Punk's pair of developers Fernanda Dias and Tiani Pixel to talk to them about its inspirations, turning off its timer, and the true meaning behind the game's name.
“We worked really hard on Unsighted, and having it resonate so much with people and seeing it get this kind of recognition and praise is amazing!” Dias tells me over email. Dias and Pixel collaborated closely on Unsighted. It was their first project together, and the two of them made everything from scratch, including its soundtrack. Dias described its development as "a learning experience", but adds that it was still "a very positive one".
In case you also missed the release of Unsighted, the game centres around a seemingly human-free world run by automatons, and a deadly disease making such robots “unsighted,” meaning feral and violent. Dias and Pixel explained that the game world can mean many different things, and they didn't want to reveal too much about it in case it diminishes the appeal for fans who like to let their minds wander and fill in the blanks.
“It's related to how [the automata] disappear from existence, go missing, even if their physical form is still there. Sometimes they literally go missing - those who try to hide before going unsighted to not hurt other automatons,” says Dias.
Talking to them about the origin of their studio's name, Pixel explains that, although the pair are big fans of punk rock bands, the studio name is more about the meaning of the word 'punk'. “Although [punk] had many different meanings throughout history, it was always tied to the subversive and anti-status quo, even if sometimes used as an insult. We have strong beliefs that differ greatly from what you will usually see in the mainstream AAA games/studios, and we want our voice, and the voice of many other marginalized people to be heard,” she said. “This is probably our greatest motivation to make games, and that's why it's in the name of the studio.”
On Dias’s Bandcamp page you can find the gorgeous, often haunting original soundtrack composed by both Dias and Pixel. Dias explained that she used a couple of different approaches for creating the sounds of the game, and that while “most are digital instruments, some [are] sample-based and some [are] entirely synthesized”. For example, in the track Urban Ruins, which plays in the perpetually rainy streets of Arcadia's Downtown district, the piano sound is a mix of both. As you listen to it, the sound resonates neatly with the themes of the game - the natural warmth of humanity and the digital, synthetic lives of its robots.
Unlike Katharine, I played Unsighted using its Explorer mode, which turns off the game’s countdown timer and also gives you the option of making yourself invincible during the tense and difficult combat sections. I asked the Pixel Punks what, in this post-Dark Souls world of gitting gud, inspired them to create such a wealth of player possibilities? Pixel explained that although they had originally balanced the game for its default ‘Action Girl’ difficulty (which does include the countdown timer), they don't believe there's a single ‘intended’ way to experience a game.
“Every player plays the game differently and thus has a different experience. We wanted to give options so each player can find a way to play that is suited for them.”
It turns out that another motivation behind the Explorer mode was for speedrunners. “Usually when practicing for speedruns, you'll find ways to modify the game so you can experiment with it and see all the possibilities,” Pixel explained. “Players will do it no matter what, so we just decided to include some of these options in the game, so it's a plus for this crowd as well.”
Finally, I was also interested in why they chose the name 'Unsighted'. Dias and Pixel explained that, although they don't discuss it much publicly, they both have visual impairments that affect their daily lives - but English is not their first language, and it took them a while to find out the other potential meanings of the world.
“We don't like to explain much about it, because we like to keep things mostly open for interpretation, but since this can be a sensitive subject we'd like to speak more clearly," says Dias. "In the game, the word means ‘missing’ or ‘disappeared,’ the automatons that go unsighted are missing from their lives, from their communities. Their minds are gone and you can't see them for who they are. And even literally some of them go missing to not hurt the others around them as they lose their consciousness. That's what we were thinking by naming them, and the game, Unsighted. In this case, we thought of ‘sight’ more about ‘how they are seen,’ than ‘their ability to see.’"
Pixel continues: “Although we were uncomfortable for a while after discovering the other meanings for ‘Unsighted,’ nowadays we like to think of it as another way in which the game is a reflection of us, the devs, more than we could have predicted, since it's something we both deal with in our daily lives. It's similar to how the Meteor Dust (and the lack of) was interpreted by many as the hardships of getting medical treatment as a trans person, which is also something both of us have to deal with daily.”