Quick update: I’m back in Seattle and working for 17-Bit’s US office again!
Upon returning to 17-Bit, it became obvious that there were some rumblings going on with the guys from Indiebox, and that Galak-Z had been chosen for its own limited-release boxed copy. To work on this was a dream come true — after all, how many more boxed games am I going to work on before I die? (As a frame of reference, I hadn’t had a shipped boxed game since 2009). I was dead set on designing as much of it as humanly possible.
One of my favorite elements of Galak-Z is that it’s supposedly based on an anime that came out in the late 80s, and we try to invoke that nostalgia of sitting in your parents’ basement watching crazy Japanese sci-fi cartoons as much as possible. There’s a production bible we use that goes over the complete history of Galak-Z the (fictional) cartoon, the production teams involved, the American distributors, the Laserdisc releases that were only available as fansubs in the USA, the extreme cheapness of Kurokawa Films (spoiler: it’s directly linked to the Skulls of the Shogun fiction) — all of this makes it easy to create a meta-fiction that extends to make the Indiebox totally “in-universe.”
I really wanted to make something that would bring back the memories of buying a game back in the 1980s. You’d walk into an actual computer software store, make a beeline for the games section for the computer that Dad put in the living room, and then figure out what to spend your allowance on. Now, you’d look at the screenshots on the back, and sometimes they were from a different computer system, so it was hard to judge — man, the Commodore 64 version’s got more colors than the PC CGA version but it looks blockier, the Atari ST version looks pretty good, but holy crap the Amiga one just smokes everything, I wonder if it’s better than the Apple IIgs one?
The first game I ever purchased with my own money was Thexder for the Apple IIgs, in January of 1987. My wizened 10-year-old eyes fell upon this box:
Holy crap, it’s a game about a robot that transforms into a jet, and it’s from Japan, making it instantly exotic. Plus they’re totally using the Eurostile Extended font, so it’s clearly from the future.
And as for the back of the box…yeow!
I AM SOLD. This is masterful bombastic selltext, formulated to get your blood pumping faster than a Sharper Image catalog. In Japan game design is an art form. This is the game by which all others will be judged. And it reflects the maturity and refinement of almost two decades of arcade playing. Dad! You gotta let me buy this!
But wait, what is that at the bottom corner —
JAPANESE NINJAS MADE THIS GAME! DAAAAAD!!!
Not only is that a great box, but the game is legitimately face-meltingly awesome, and represents some of Game Arts’ best work. I definitely wanted to channel some of that vibe for the Indiebox.
Another thing I was obsessed with as a kid was GI Joe; nothing was better than the combined transmedia juggernaut of the toy line, the cartoon, and the surprisingly adult-themed comics written by Larry Hama. Nothing beat waking up on Christmas morning to unwrap one of these bad boys, and pay close attention to the action figure peeking through at the bottom right:
So I went to the Indiebox guys and sheepishly asked, uh, do you think we can do this, this, and this?
Their response was always “yes,” and a few months later, we have this on my shelf:
The back of the box is real silly! It apes the late 80’s style as closely as possible, presenting the game as a challenge for the 1990s…and beyond. Note the “If in doubt, consult your computer dealer” bit under the minimum specs — I saw that on the back of a British PC game and found it ever so quaint.
Hey, more screenshots from popular 1980s microcomputers! That’s the Atari ST version on the top, the Apple IIgs version next, and the Commodore 64 version on the bottom. Note that all of the screenshots are properly palletized down to their target hardware’s color depth/resolution and use their correct system fonts, because someone is gonna notice that and complain if you get it wrong.
Bust open the box and you’ll find three Astro Points, redeemable for something, somewhere, presumably.
If you’re some kinda weirdo and open the box from the bottom instead, you get secret art printed on the tabs!
Here’s the first thing you’ll find inside! Yes, this is an actual audio cassette tape, and yes, the soundtrack is indeed on it; if you have a Walkman, boombox, or 1996 Honda Civic, you totally have the ability to listen to it.
The biggest laugh I get out of watching unboxing videos is when people get to this and they have no idea — they’re like “What is this? Is this some kind of USB drive? Wait! Is this a cassette tape? I’ve heard of these! How do I use this? Oh god! How am I ever going to listen to this?” (Of course, we included the soundtrack on the actual USB stick included in the box, too.)
Some other folks were shocked that we could get an actual cassette manufactured in this day and age. Apparently there’s one factory left that does this kind of stuff, and lots of recording artists will do limited-edition cassette runs, so I thought people knew this was still a thing!
The factory lets you either print a proper CMYK color label, or screen-print. We went for the screen printing for 80s nostalgia’s sake. Note that there’s Side A-Tak and side Beam! Wocka wocka!
It’s so awesome that we were able to get both the mech and the ship in the box. Both are hand-painted, and are gorgeous reproductions of the original 3D models by Callen Wagner and Jake Kazdal.
The USB key with a DRM-free copy of the game is based on the Hammerhead enemy ship. Looks great!
I got to write the manual, too — it’s all in-universe, with the game’s characters yelling crazy things at you. You’ll learn a ton about your shipmates; did you know that Admiral Akamoto loves preparing lutefisk?
We also filled in the “Notes” page for you! About the illustrations: during our morning meetings, we’d always have a stack of 3×5 cards and Sharpies on the desk, so we’d always start doodling uncontrollably. (That’s an actual Jake Kazdal saying on the lower left; Studio Manager Raj Joshi is depicted on the lower right.)
..And here’s a cool poster for good measure designed by the Indiebox guys.
So there you go! People seem to be really enjoying it; Geek.com called it “the best Indiebox yet,” and you can watch my favorite unboxing here:
Oh, and remember the ninjas from the back of the Thexder box? We’re not quite at their level yet…but we are luchadores.
See you next box!