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Comics, Potatoes, Backpacks, and Pixels: The Story Behind Glorkian Warrior

Founded in 2005 in North Carolina, Pixeljam was initially just a way for its founders to play around with low-resolution pixel art and animation. Its two founding members, Rich Grillotti and Miles Tilmann, both had aspirations to make video games and it didn’t take long for them to shift Pixeljam towards that goal. The team’s first release was Gamma Bros. A browser-based twin-stick shooter, the game was reasonably successful and earned itself a nomination for the 2007 Best Web Game from the Independent Game Festival.

Fueled by this success, the team decided to go all-in on video game development. Its next title was the hugely successful 2008 web game Dino Run, which cast players in the role of a velociraptor as it tried to escape from a wall of doom. Pixeljam soon found itself working on a variety of smaller web games for Adult Swim, which helped the developer gain more experience and fill its coffers a bit. The team’s next independent web game was the bizarre Potatoman Seeks the Troof, a platformer about a potato that goes in some very odd directions. That game would eventually make its way to mobile, but not until after Glorkian Warrior’s release.

James Kochalka, a Vermont native, has been involved in a number of artistic ventures, but he is best known for his work in comics. His simple style and ability to cut to the heart of a situation has earned him a great deal of acclaim and many awards including four Ignatz Awards, a Harvey Award, and an Eisner Award. His daily diary comic American Elf ran for more than 14 years, and his four-page Hulk vs. the Rain was so popular that Marvel opted to commission a version of it for inclusion in an actual Incredible Hulk comic.

Somewhere around 2006, Kochalka had an idea for a video game. It would feature a goofy alien with three eyes and his laser-firing, talking backpack. Kochalka roughed out some ideas for the game on paper. Pixeljam thought the idea was sound, and the two were soon working together on what would become Glorkian Warrior. The only issue was how to pay for it. Glorkian Warrior was considerably bigger than any of Pixeljam’s prior projects in a lot of ways. It was decided that crowdfunding could help, and a Kickstarter campaign was launched on February 21, 2010.

The campaign was a success, exceeding its goal and earning $11,200. With the budget sorted out, the team got to work on making Glorkian Warrior a reality. Kochalka and Pixeljam’s initial plan for the game was ambitious indeed. It was a platformer! It was a shooter! There were running sections! Some parts of the game would be low-resolution pixel art, while others would be more similar to Kochalka’s art. There was a little bit of everything in there, which is great on paper but hard to make work in practice.

At some point, the decision was made to narrow the game’s scope. The platforming elements were de-emphasized in favor of a stronger focus on the shoot-em-up gameplay. Instead of exploring strange worlds, the hero would instead be defending them against a bizarre cast of creatures. The presentation too was reined in, wisely putting Kochalka’s art front and center. Furthermore, the decision was made to launch on mobile platforms and release a little later on computers. Although many elements were pared away, some of them found new life as fun unlockables. For Kochalka’s part, he also prepared a children’s book about the main character that would go on sale around the game’s launch. 

Glorkian Warrior: The Trials of Glork was released on the App Store on March 13th, 2014. It would arrive on other platforms over the following year. The game received warm reviews for its fun gameplay, great sense of humor, and enjoyable system of progression. Additional content was added to the game over the next several months, much to the delight of players. Kochalka would create two more books in the Glorkian Warrior series, but the mobile game itself wouldn’t see many more updates until it was revitalized as part of the GameClub library.


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