HBL Interviews: Bitmap Bureau.

Bitmap BureauWay back in 2016, Fatal Smarties – a fantastic horizontal scrolling shooter for the Megadrive/Genesis was born at a Game Jam here in the UK, ever since I have followed Mike and the team at Bitmap Bureau with avid interest. Here we interview the team about the current state of play with Xeno Crisis and much more.

We also interviewed the guys sometime ago on RVG HERE (first question re-used for introduction purposes)

Enjoy

Homebrew Legends

Thanks for agreeing to the interview guys, could you take a moment to tell us a little bit about each member of the team?

Bitmap Bureau (Mike)

Hey everyone, so the Xeno Crisis team consists of 5 members spread across Europe, with myself (Mike Tucker) and Matthew Cope being based in Southampton in the UK. I’ve been involved in the games industry since 1995, starting with games testing at SCi, then onto creating some of the very first mobile games at iomo. In 2008 I formed an indie studio called “Megadev” which focussed on high quality Flash games, but we also developed Adult Swim’s first Steam title, Super House Of Dead Ninjas. This paved the way for Bitmap Bureau, which I formed with Matt early in 2016 – we had previously worked together at iomo, where he specialised in cross-platform mobile technology.

For the Xeno Crisis project we wanted to work with some of the best talent around, and particularly people with Mega Drive experience. I knew that Henk Nieborg was still active and had also previously worked on “The Misadventures Of Flink”, one of the Mega Drive’s greatest looking games, so we approached him and were fortunate enough that he wanted to get involved. For those that don’t know of him, Henk is a veteran pixel artist and has been pushing pixels since 1990 with an emphasis on developing his own distinctive style – he has worked on projects such as Lionheart, Lomax, Shantae, Spyro 5, Harry Potter and Contra 4.

We also have the excellent Catherine Menabde working on cutscenes, interstitials, and key art – she studied animation at the Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography in Moscow before doing some work as a storyboard and background artist in animation, and then spending a year as a comic colorist. We’ve worked with her on two previous titles, and it’s great to have her working with us on Xeno Crisis.

Finally, there’s Savaged Regime (Daniel Bärlin), who is handling the music and sound effects – I don’t think there’s a finer YM2612 musician around, and he is determined to push the chip to its limit – in fact, we love Daniel’s work so much that we’re releasing the game’s soundtrack on both CD and vinyl!

HBL

What was the key reason for starting development on games for the Megadrive/Genesis?

Mike

There were several factors really – we’d been making retro styled games for some time (such as Super House Of Dead Ninjas, 88 Heroes and Ninja Shodown), but we were keen to make a game for actual retro hardware, and with the Mega Drive being our favourite platform, we thought we’d give it a go. We’d also made a quick Mega Drive game at the 2016 Global Game Jam, and that proved to us that it was feasible to go ahead with from a technical point of view. Also, the success of Matt Phillips’ Tanglewood Kickstarter demonstrated that it could be economically viable too.

HBL

What was it like watching the Kickstarter process, you achieved your target early but was it something you all had concerns about?

Mike

We were a little anxious when we launched the campaign on December 10th 2017 – people were telling us to avoid launching a Kickstarter over Christmas, and with it being our first attempt we weren’t too sure what to expect. I think we prepared the campaign pretty well though, but we were still amazed when we hit our funding target in just 40 hours. It was fascinating watching the progress of the campaign, but we pretty much spent an entire month answering questions about the game and the various pledges!

HBL

Can you tell us a little about the process of getting this game in physical form, ie the PCB, the Cartridge and the Box and Boxart?

Mike

It’s been an interesting challenge as although we’ve had physical releases in the past (88 Heroes), all of the physical production was handled by our publisher for that game, Rising Star Games. This time around we’ve had to deal with all of that ourselves, which has meant sourcing all the physical parts: cartridge shells, boxes, printed materials and the PCB of course. On top of that there’s also the other physical rewards such as the enamel pin badges, vinyl soundtrack, t-shirts etc. These all come from different sources around the world, and we’ve had to reject several items as they just weren’t up to the standard we were looking to achieve. It certainly adds a considerable amount of time on to the project as a whole, but we believe that Mega Drive and Dreamcast players are going to be impressed not only with the game but also the physical products too.

HBL

What would you guys say has been the most challenging part about making this game a reality so far and why?

Mike

We’re severely limited by the number of tiles and sprites we can throw at the screen, so we have to make sure that we don’t go over those limits – essentially this means that the development process is more laborious than on modern machines where you can pretty much do as you please and not have to worry too much about the efficiency of your code. The physical side of things has been a challenge too, but we’ve pretty much taken care of that now and can concentrate more fully on the game’s development.

HBL

Your game is shaping up to be one of the finest looking games to hit the Megadrive/Genesis, are you feeling the pressure to make sure the game play matches the visuals and how are you achieving that?

Mike

I wouldn’t describe it as “pressure” as such – I just do my best to make sure that I enjoy the game first, in the hope that other gamers out there will enjoy it too. I spend a lot of time looking at similar games though, seeing what they got right and wrong, and thinking about what we can do different to improve on the arena shooter genre. Working with Henk Nieborg does of course mean that the visuals are top notch though, and we want every aspect of the game to be of similar quality!

HBL

Will you use Kickstarter again for the next project, one would assume that process has started already as the completion of Xeno Crisis is near?

It’s quite possible that we’ll be launching a Kickstarter campaign for our next title, but for now our focus is on completing Xeno Crisis, particularly the Mega Drive version, which is the most challenging. We often have several ideas on the backburner though, and we’re certainly giving some thought as to what our next game should be.

HBL

Any cheeky exclusives as to what this game may be?

Mike

We like to keep people guessing and don’t want to give anything away in case someone wants to get the jump on us, so you’ll just have to wait I’m afraid. 🙂

HBL

You and some of your team have played active rolls in game jams, can you and your team tell us why you entered these and is there any games on your drives you guys may be willing to share?

We’ve been participating in game jams for about 8 years now with various other artists and musicians – we find it’s a great way to try creating something you wouldn’t normally consider, although certain game jams can be quite restrictive in a bad way! Generally though they’re a lot of fun, and it give us a chance to meet other developers in the area – for example we went on to hire Mike Clark, an excellent chiptune artist, based on his performance at a game jam we entered together a few years back. We must have over 10 game jam titles in various forms spread across various hard drives and source control repositories, and we’ve always said that one day we should release them as a compilation, so perhaps we’ll make that happen some time!

HBL

Any thoughts on porting Xeno Crisis to the Amiga, or SNES?

Mike

I’m a massive Super Famicom fan, but Xeno Crisis was always intended as a Mega Drive title from day one, and everything including the gameplay, controls, visuals, music and sounds have been carefully designed with the Mega Drive in mind. The game could probably work on the SNES, but it would be a whole load of extra work for us as developing for the SNES is quite different to developing for the Mega Drive. I guess Xeno Crisis would be technically feasible on the Amiga, but we’re really focusing on console development at the moment.

HBL

You’re developing a Dreamcast and Megadrive/Genesis version side by side, what are the major differences within the core aspects of the game between the two systems?

Mike

We’re aiming to keep both versions almost identical, mostly because we don’t want Mega Drive players to feel that they’re getting an inferior product. 🙂 Besides, we think the quality of the visuals, audio and gameplay will still stand up on the Dreamcast. We will however be adding new control schemes to take advantage of the various controllers available for the Dreamcast, including the twin stick, and we may add some tiny cosmetic differences such as bullet cases, blood particles etc.

HBL

The preview music tracks you have released really sets the tone for the game, can you tell us the process in dreaming up these fantastic tunes?

Mike

The soundtrack is being written by Savaged Regime (Daniel Bärlin), and he’s going for a progressive metal / djent sound – to be honest, we just let him do his own thing as he’s so good at what he does!

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