Skip to main content

Pushing pixels with Paul Robertson, the artist behind 'Mercenary Kings' and 'Scott Pilgrim: The Game'

Pushing pixels with Paul Robertson, the artist behind 'Mercenary Kings' and 'Scott Pilgrim: The Game'


"I just like ridiculous and extreme things."

Share this story

If you buy something from a Verge link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Paul Robertson - Super Burger Time
Paul Robertson - Super Burger Time

You might not know Paul Robertson's name, but there's a good chance you've seen his pixels. Robertson made his first big splash with the animated short Pirate Baby's Cabana Battle Street Fight 2006, a 12-minute-long black-and-white movie depicting an amazing, though sadly fictional, side-scrolling action game. Since then he's gone on to produce art and animation for a number of terrific games, including Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game and Wizorb.

More recently, he teamed up with Tribute Games for the Metal Slug-style shooter Mercenary Kings, which just launched through Steam's Early Access program and will be coming to the PlayStation 4 later on. We took a few minutes to talk to Robertson about pixel art, the new game, and whether Pirate Baby will ever be something we can actually play.

What attracted you to pixel art in the first place? When and why did you first get into it?

When I was young I always liked drawing and cartoons, and one time my friend gave me a DOS animation program and I just started messing around with it, and making little films, and it grew from there. I didn't really think of it as "pixel art" at the time. It just had a low resolution and limited palette so it just turned out that way.

What classic game inspired you the most and why?

I'm not sure if any one game is my inspiration. Growing up I played a lot of Taito games like Bubble Bobble, Rainbow Islands, Liquid Kids, etc. They had really colorful, bright palettes and lots of cute characters so I was pretty into that. As I got a bit older I started getting into SNK and Capcom games. In the mid to late '90s they really started pushing pixel art to the limit so games like Metal Slug, The King of Fighters, Street Fighter III, etc. were pretty huge for me, too.

"You really don't need any fancy high-end tech to make pixel art."

What's your process like and how has it evolved or changed with new technology and such?

Actually it hasn't changed that much, it's just become more refined and I think I have a better sensibility as an artist. But I still use old programs and classic pixel techniques. I'm just faster and more efficient with them. You really don't need any fancy high-end tech to make pixel art.

Not many pixel artists are known by name. What do you think it is about your style that makes it stand out?

I don't think I have a particularly special style, there are loads of pixel artists more skilled than me. My stuff is largely inspired by video games and pop culture so there's already a big crossover audience that can relate to it.

There are some themes that are common through a number of your pieces, like really sexualized females, disturbing monsters, and vomiting. What is it about this imagery that makes you keep going back to it?

Whenever I make a piece I always try to make something that I'd want to look at. I just like ridiculous and extreme things, so that's what I try to create. I always try to push my art as far as it can go. Even if it's a stupid idea, something awesome and ridiculous can still be made out of it.

What was it like working on Scott Pilgrim? Were you a fan of the books already?

It was actually a pretty stressful experience. We worked on it for about a year, with the first half at Ubisoft Montreal where we were very poorly managed, with a mostly unqualified team and inappropriate tools for what we were trying to do. The game got postponed for a while and then cancelled and then revived and finished in China at Ubisoft's Chengdu studio. I went back home and did the rest of my work remotely. It's pretty surprising it came out as good as it did.

How did you get involved with Tribute Games? What was it about them that made you want to work with them?

Tribute games is made up of ex-Ubisoft guys that I met while working on Scott Pilgrim. We had a similar taste in games and had talked about making stuff together so it was just a natural progression from there.

What are your plans now that Mercenary Kings is out? Will you be working on more games in the future?

Not sure yet. I'd like to keep working with the Tribute guys on whatever they do next, but we'll see what happens.

What are the chances of Pirate Baby ever becoming a real game?

I'd say there's approximately zero percent chance. I want to do something new, and zombies are way too played out these days anyway.