When I was fifteen, and playing arcade games at the local community center, I couldn’t have told you where India was on a map if you gave me a hint. So you can probably imagine how envious I am of Mridul Bansal and Mridul Pancholi, two fifteen-year-olds from India who, under the name Vague Pixels, have just released their first video game, Alter Army, which you can get for PC and Mac on Steam here.
Let’s start with the basics: What kind of game is Alter Army, how do you play it?
Mridul Bansal: Alter Armyis a fast paced 2D action platformer game.
Where did you get the idea for Alter Army and how different is the finished game from that initial concept?
MridulPancholi: When we decided to make games together, we thought of making a game just for practice, and decided that the game should be completed in one month. Before that, I always wanted to make a game like Risk Of Rain and Broforce, so we started working. But then a month passed by and we were still working, and thought the game was looking good, so yeah let’s just keep on doing what we’re doing. Two months passes by and, I don’t even know why we named it Alter Army — yes it took around two-to-three months to name this unnamed project of ours — now the stuff just went on for a couple of months and we got greenlit and a lot of support from the community all over the country.
There’s a huge difference between the finished game and the game’s initial concept; it’s like two different games. We redid a lot of things several times, so it’s like we made two or three different games in the process of making one.
What games do you see as being the biggest inspirations for Alter Army, and in what ways?
Pancholi: I would say Risk Of Rain and Nuclear Throne were the biggest inspiration for the game. The beautiful monster art in Risk Of Rainand the fights and the game feels of Nuclear Throne and Vlambeer’s other project, Luftrausers. We also wanted the goof of Broforce in the game.
And what do you think sets Alter Army apart from those games?
Bansal: Well, frankly, at first I didn’t really know what set it apart. As Mridul [Pancholi] said before, it wasn’t going to be a serious project, it was just for practice. So we borrowed a lot of the stuff from things that we liked. We had this vision of making this game a parody, but as the game grew, we redid everything in the game at least three times, polished the combat system, and redid every animation. I think the combat system and the humor with the wide variety of monsters sets it apart.
Now, Vague Pixels is just the two of you. Why did you decide to do Alter Army on your own, as opposed to bringing in another friend or two? Is it because you didn’t know anyone else with the name Mridul?
Bansal: Heh, it is quite a weird coincidence that two of us have the same name, considering our first name is also not that popular.
Anyway, we met in 8th grade — I was a tech geek and loved gaming, and Mridul [Pancholi] was learning to make games — and after two years we decided to make Alter Army.
Fun fact: A lot of our game dev friends suggested us to change the name of the studio to M&Ms.
Uh, yeah, I wouldn’t do that. Anyway, Bansal, what is the best thing Pancholi brought to Alter Army?
Bansal: I guess the game feel part that people are liking so much.
And Pancholi, same question for you about Bansal?
Pancholi: He has been constantly playtesting and balancing the stuff, so the overall feel of the game that wouldn’t be possible without him. Plus, the art, code, and design is also criticized by him a lot, which acts as a filter for my shit ideas.
Ha! Now, you guys are both 15. How often has someone said something about you making a game that’s clearly inspired by games that are older than you are?
Bansal: It is quite often on the Internet but not really often in person. We attended the biggest conference in our country and quite a few people saw the inspirations behind Alter Army.
Have your parents played Alter Army? And did they like it? Or are they like my parents, and told you they liked it but didn’t understand it?
Bansal: Well, parents were a big obstacle at first, they always are in our country. It’s a big cliché and a quite a popular meme. Game development in India is in its infancy, and they didn’t completely get this little hobby of ours at first, but slowly their resistance towards us making games faded away. Now they are cool with it. They do understand the bits of it, but only on the surface.
How about your schoolmates, what do they think about the idea of you guys making a video game?
Pancholi: Our friends at school are quite chill with this. Some of them always ask me whenever I meet them “When is that game launching, you told me eight months ago that it will take another week…” But yeah, they quite respect the stuff we do and are really supportive.
Alter Army is currently available for PC and Mac. But are there any plans to bring it to consoles or mobile devices?
Bansal: We are still skeptical if we will be launching this on consoles or mobile devices as the engine that we are using, Game Maker: Studio, is not really decent when it comes to launching on other platforms, the process is quite tedious.
So what is the endgame for you guys? Are you trying to start your own studio, or are you hoping you’ll get headhunted by some big company so you can make AAA games like Call Of Dutyand Assassin’s Creed?
Pancholi: I don’t really know what we will be doing like ten years later, but I do know that we will be making some more indie games for few years more. It may sound preachy but we want to create our own masterpieces, like Journey, Hyper Light Drifter, or Dark Souls.
And what is the meaning behind the name Vague Pixels? Does that mean you answer every yes or no question by shrugging your shoulders and being like, “Eh, whatever”?
Bansal: It doesn’t mean anything. We didn’t even think of giving the name some deeper meaning, it just sounded cool. Isn’t that the case with almost every indie?
Finally, if someone enjoys Alter Army, what other relatively new PC game would you suggest they play and why that?