A small RPG & video game company

Name: Pixel Critters
Version: 1.0
Author: Dennis Payne

Party Favors

For my oldest's birthday one year, I made a Lego mini build. I ordered enough pieces for everyone invited and printed instructions. The kids loved it. I lost my design freedom afterward since my kids requested specific things for the builds but it's been fun.

My youngest's birthday was coming up so I asked what he wanted for a mini build and he didn't know. He wasn't as interested in Lego as my oldest. He had recently purchased some Pokemon cards so I suggested making our own cards instead of a build. He loved the idea.

My plan was to use DriveThruCards. I had never used the site but have extensively used DriveThruRpg. Quick search on the site showed people selling individual cards for $0.35 to $0.50 that included some profit but for simplicity I figured ten to twelve cards to keep it under $5.

Originally I thought we could look at Pokemon cards and tweak some stats for our cards. But the kids collected the cards and didn't play with them. Due to the pandemic we were not having a physical party but Lego builds could be done together through video chat. Pokemon like cards didn't have any activity to do online. I decided to design a quick game that could be played with the cards remotely.


I figured we would work on artwork together but my son added a wrinkle to my plan. My son wanted pixel artwork for the monsters. He asked me to setup a new image on gimp for him to work on. I grabbed the image size from the drivethrucards site. I showed him that the image was huge. Looking up Boss Monster, I found they used 32x32 images. I suggested we go up to 64x64. He didn't know how to make pixel art and my work has been very limited. The results weren't pretty

The easiest solution would be to find artwork on opengameart but part of fun with these party favors was making it personal. I watched some videos about making pixel art and grabbed some inspirational images from opengameart. The first creation was Crawlbite inspired by a worm creature. My son was thrilled with the monster.

Crawlbite Card

Not every creation worked. The original slime creature was based on the slime in the same art pack as the worm but it didn't come out very good. Google images provided many reference images for creatures. It was important not to copy images. They were simply used to get the general shape of the creature. In some cases they inspired a new creature like a turtle with lego wheels.

Game Design

Back in elementary school, I remember people making cards with traits. The game played like war except the winner of the last round picked the trait to use. It doesn't have a lot of depth to it but I've never tried to design a card game before. The kids didn't care about energy cards or item cards so the design space was limited.

I decided to add randomness to the game. The idea came from the Legends of Grayskull trailer that I watched. Each trait would be a die from six-sided to twelve-sided. Instead of instantly winning, the player who rolled highest won. For traits I went with Strength, Speed, Magic, and Technology which were basically the same as the Legends of Grayskull game.

Each card was also given a special ability. In an ideal world you would playtest the special abilities or mathematically analyze the effectiveness. Limited time prevented such exploration.

Card Design

The cards needed to be attractive to the kids as well as easy to understand. I wanted a background, the monster, a name, the traits, special ability and some flavor text. DriveThruCards have various templates to design cards with included using the open source Scribus. I tried Scribus but decided to use their beta software which allowed you to upload an image.

I started assembling the pieces. For backgrounds, I found three suitable ones. They needed to be shrunk a little. Two of them worked perfectly. The third required some modification to look good.

For traits, I wanted an icon instead of text. I found some icons and put them inside a different colored circle for each trait. The icon set didn't have a gear for the Technology trait so that had to be found separately. My original thought was a die image for each die type but I didn't find any images I liked. Instead I used symbols based on an icon set I found.

Instead of capturing the creatures in balls, I thought the old floppy disk would make an interesting storage device. Maybe the people wore a glove that sucked the creatures into a disk drive. I decided to make the back black with green lettering like a monochrome monitor. The green on black lettering was also used on the front.

For the first card, I added guides for what should be cut off. I increased the size of the background until it covered as much as possible. The monster image was increased by the same amount. The icons and text were added. At this point I could have moved onto the next card. However if I placed all the backgrounds and all dice in every trait on different layers, I could easily implement other cards. It took longer to implement that first card but the others were very quick.

DriveThruCards recommended the images upload as jpeg files using the cmyk not rgb color format. Gimp did not output cmyk jpeg files. I didn't find any open source tool to output that type of file. ImageMagick might be able to do so but I haven't found the right combination of arguments. Eventually I used an online site for the conversion. I do not know if the results would be better or worse if they were uploaded as rgb jpeg files.

Physical Cards

The beta card upload had some issues when I first tried it. It took a little time but their team fixed the system. For the first test I had ten cards. The card came out great. The contrast on the icons to the backgrounds could be better. The text for the special abilities is smaller than I'd like. I redid all the cards to have a slightly larger font for special abilities but it probably should be even bigger.

The final cards printed and arrived quickly. They were slightly lower on the card but still looked fine. All of the run came out exactly the same. The two additional cards I added didn't have any issues. I definitely recommend DriveThruCards for printed cards.


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Last modified: 2020-12-31, 19:24

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