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Pepper Grinder dev on inspiration, the game’s graphics, and more

Posted on March 30, 2024 by (@NE_Brian) in Interviews, Switch eShop

Pepper Grinder interview

Pepper Grinder, the latest notable indie title for Switch, just released on the system this week. It was one of the standout games during Nintendo’s November 2022 Indie World Showcase. While it took a bit longer than expected, it certainly seems to have been worth the wait.

We’ve now dug a bit deeper into Pepper Grinder as part of an interview with developer Riv Hester. He spoke about the game’s inspirations – which include the likes of Ecco the Dolphin and games Nintendo fans will recognize – as well as how the graphics came together and more.

Here’s our full discussion:

What was the most challenging aspect of creating Pepper Grinder?

Keeping things fresh content-wise without biting off more than I could chew was a pretty constant challenge. I wanted to have at least one unique mechanic or combination of mechanics in each stage, but doing that in a way that minimized the amount of work it would take to swap things around in any given stage if something wasn’t working or needed to be moved took a lot of planning. I’m not working completely solo, I have Xeecee handling music and MP2 games doing ports and dev support, but everything else is just me. As a result, Pepper Grinder isn’t a big game by necessity, but I think we’re all happy with how dense it is in terms of variety. All driller no filler!

What inspiration, if any, did you draw from other games and media when putting together the world of Pepper Grinder?

The initial thought was just Dig Dug plus Ecco the Dolphin, but there’s a lot of Donkey Kong Country 2 in there along with Super Mario World, 2D Sonic games, Drill Dozer, all sorts of stuff. And from other media there are influences from Tank Girl, Gurren Lagann, Time Bandits, and who knows what else I’m forgetting right now.

When going for the pixel art approach to graphics, were there other styles you experimented with? What was the deciding factor for the presentation?

I knew from the beginning I wanted it to be sort of loose and painterly by pixel art standards. No outlines and big blobs of color in a modern, unrestricted palette. That way I could easily produce large animated characters for things like boss fights by rendering 3D models at pixel art resolutions and cleaning them up by hand without it being a ton of work. I also just wanted to do something a little out of my comfort zone in terms of tone. Most of my work isn’t this bright and bubbly!

How do you feel about the game being so close to release?

Relieved! I first prototyped this game around seven years ago now, and while it was only in active production maybe half of that time and not all at once (it’s basically been rebuilt from scratch in the last two years), it has been a long road to get this thing done.

Were there any features that were surprisingly easy to implement?

We haven’t actually brought this up anywhere yet, but there are cosmetic options in the game to customize Pepper’s hair and dust cloak colors. I hadn’t been planning on anything like that, but enough people asked for it after trying the demo that I squeezed it into a patch we have scheduled for release day and it took maybe four hours total to get it working bug-free. Just one of those things where it sounds like a lot of work until a solution clicks for you and it turns out to be a breeze.

With such fluid controls, a wonderful world to explore, and riveting gameplay, would you be wanting to expand the world of Pepper Grinder with a sequel, or will this likely be our plucky pirate’s only adventure?

Hard to say! For now I definitely need a long break and then to do something else for a while, but once I’m in a place to look at Pepper Grinder with fresh eyes again I might feel it pulling me back in, you never know.

Are there any other creative endeavors of yours we need to be looking out for in the future?

Absolutely, but it’s too early to say what it is! You can’t work on one game for this long without at least putting other ideas into writing. I think I have to take what I’ve learned from Pepper to make sure the next one doesn’t take so long, but apart from that there are a lot of different directions I might want to go from here!

Pepper Grinder is now available on the Switch eShop.

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