So 2018 is here and we are back with our lastest RVG Interviews, this time its none other that the latest Megadrive homebrew dev, Bitmap Bureau, this are the guys behind the awesome Fatal Smarties and the amazing looking Xeno Crisis.
Here are our questions, enjoy.Zapiy
Thanks for agreeing to the interview guys, could you take a moment to tell us about each member of the team and how you got to this point in making your Megadrive/Genesis games?Bitmap Bureau
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!Shadowrunner
Your Kickstarter for Xeno Crisis was a huge success. Did you have any idea it would be so popular?Bitmap Bureau
To be honest, we were quite apprehensive about launching the Kickstarter - we weren’t really sure how many people would get behind the game, and we’d also been told that it wasn’t wise to launch a Kickstarter over the Christmas period. We were hopeful of hitting the target near the end of the campaign, but amazingly we were 100% funded in just 40 hours and were blown away by the support from the retro gaming community from all over the world!Shadowrunner
Do you have a date in mind for when you would like to have the game finished?Bitmap Bureau
Well the Mega Drive was launched in Japan on October 29th, 1988, and we would like to have Xeno Crisis in the hands of Mega Drive owners on or before that date, to coincide with the system’s 30th anniversary.Zapiy
What made you guys enter the 2016 GGJ?Bitmap Bureau
I’ve taken part in many game jams over the years, particularly at the University Of Portsmouth - the UOP Game Jam lasts for 5 days and you’re expected to work between 9am and 5pm from Monday to Thursday with the competition wrapping up midday on Friday, so about 35 hours in total. The Global Game Jam has a very different feel though - you have far less time (if you intend on sleeping!), and it’s pretty intense. The first one I took part in was the 2015 GGJ at Southampton University, where the theme was “What do we do now?” - having turned up late I didn’t realise this though - someone told me the theme was “A question”, which it was of course, but I didn’t realise it was “What do we do now?” until an hour or two later! As soon I knew what the theme was an idea came to me immediately, and the end result was a manic top-down multiplayer game called “Funky Boys In Whack Times” which went on to win the event thanks to the awesome visuals from Jon Davies and audio from Mike Clark:
So yes, following this success I was of course keen to take part in the 2016 GGJ, but this time my old colleague and good friend Matthew Cope wanted to join us. Matt always loves a challenge though and insisted we make a Mega Drive game - neither of us had any previous experience of developing for the system, so we were truly throwing ourselves in at the deep end! Progress was pretty slow as I was wrestling with C and couldn’t just throw things around the screen as easily as I could in AS3 or Haxe, my preferred languages, but we managed to put together a reasonable little horizontal SHMUP called “Fatal Smarties”, named by Jon after I injured myself opening a tube of Smarties on day one; it wasn’t until a few days later that I put the connection together - that’s how hectic and tired things are at a GGJ! Anyway, although very few people at the jam itself were particularly interested in what we were doing (I think the average age was below 20), we were really encouraged by the positive reception the game received online, and it would of course spur us on to start work on Xeno Crisis in 2017.Zapiy
Is the name Bitmap Bureau in any way a homage to Bitmap Brothers?Bitmap Bureau
A little inspired, yes - I played many of their games back in the ‘80s / ‘90s, particularly Speedball 1 and 2. The use of the word “Bitmap” was mainly because we wanted to get across our speciality in 2D games with strong pixel art, and the word “pixel” had already been used by thousands of indie developers.Zapiy
What’s next for you guys, any sneak peaks?Bitmap Bureau
Given the success of the Xeno Crisis Kickstarter campaign and the great feedback we’ve received, we’ll almost certainly be looking to start work on another Mega Drive game title towards the end of this year, but we’ve yet to settle on a genre!Zapiy
What are the real draw backs to creating games for the Megadrive that you have found so far?Bitmap Bureau
Not sure there are any draw backs - we love it!
It’s a great challenge and a real buzz when you fire up a Mega Drive and see your game on an old CRT. The biggest actual draw back is probably the efforts required in terms of manufacturing and hardware production that come along with the Mega Drive title. We’re so used to easy digital releases that it’s easy to forget the efforts involved for a physical release.Zapiy
Have you created any special tools to help you create your games?Bitmap Bureau
We’ve written a few custom tools to crunch and process the tilesets and maps. We’ve also written a custom video processing pipeline much like the work shown by Jon Burton’s amazing Gamer Hut channel used in Sonic 3D
We also have quite a powerful set of cross platform engine technologies, so we can target multiple platforms efficiently. We hope that will improve and extend through into the retro consoles we’re working on throughout development.Zapiy
Is there any discussions on bringing some of your work or new work to other systems? (SNES or Amiga).Bitmap Bureau
We’re looking into developing for other systems, but we don’t have anything to announce just yet.TrekMD
Your Kickstarter was originally for Xeno Crisis for the Genesis/MD but you got funding to support the Dreamcast and other systems. How difficult is it to port the game to these other systems? Will the game have added features for the more advanced systems?Bitmap Bureau
We’re actually developing Xeno Crisis on the PC initially, prototyping each element before it’s then ported over to the Mega Drive version - the reason we do this is because we can try out something like a new enemy in just a few minutes on the PC prototype, but on the Mega Drive we have severe limitations particularly in terms of RAM, VRAM and ROM space, and everything generally takes much longer, so we need to ensure that we’re 100% certain about whatever it is we’re adding to the Mega Drive version before we go ahead with it.
We’ve used our game engine in three other projects, which easily allows us to export the game to all modern platforms - the Dreamcast port will be more demanding, but we’ve already had experience with the system and don’t anticipate any major problems. The Mega Drive is the lead version of the game, so we’re not looking to add too much to the other versions, but there may be subtle tweaks and refinements where we are less technically constrained. Ultimately we’re looking to scale the graphics by non fractional scalings either 2, 3 or 4 times to fit the screen, and then we might need to draw more map tiles around the outside of each room depending on the aspect ratios. Of course, we’ll be providing different control options as most modern platforms make use of controllers with 4 face buttons like the SNES, so that’s one small difference, but the game plays great with just 3 buttons anyway. There has been talk of an enhanced soundtrack too, but really we think people will be blown away by Daniel’s music direct from the YM2612.Zapiy
Are you guys shocked at the current resurgence in retro related gaming?Bitmap Bureau
I guess the NES and SNES Mini have both helped with the recent resurgence, but I’m a firm believer that great games are timeless, as is great pixel art and music! Also, particularly with 8 and 16 bit systems it’s just nice being able to flick the power switch and start playing almost immediately - that’s something that put me off modern consoles from the Wii onwards which seem to take an age to boot up, then there’s updates, non-skippable cutscenes, enforced tutorials etc. There’s the social aspect too - there was no online play for the older systems, which meant that if you wanted a 2, 3 or 4 player game then you’d have to get your friends round - it’s hard to beat that feeling of playing games like Bomber Man, Mario Kart and Golden Eye with a bunch of people in the same room, and that’s still true today.
Looking beyond that, there’s many games which near-on perfected many genres back in the ‘90s, such as Super Mario World, Super Metroid, Arkanoid, Bubble Bobble, Castlevania: SOTN, Streets Of Rage 2 etc, and although there’s been a lot of modern imitations, I think more people are starting to realise just how good those old games were.Greyfox
What systems do you guys own and which was your favourite?Bitmap Bureau
I’ve been a fan of consoles since importing my Mega Drive from Japan when I was about 12 and went on to get a Super Famicom, PC Engine, Super Grafx, Neo Geo CD, Neo Geo AES, Sega Saturn, N64, Dreamcast, PS1, PS2, Gamecube, Vectrex and even the woeful Jaguar and PC-FX! I was also lucky enough that my parents got me an Amstrad PC1512 when I was 11 via hire-purchase - it was a lot of money, and I think my parents struggled for a long time to pay it off, but it was a great machine and no doubt played a big part in my career in the games industry. Myself, Henk and Matt also own a range of JAMMA boards too - emulation of most systems is very good these days, but there’s nothing like playing on the original hardware.
Anyway, it’s almost impossible for me to pick a favourite system, but it would be between the Mega Drive, Super Famicom, PS1 and Saturn, purely for the quality and range of games on each of those systems. The PC Engine with the CD-ROM add-on is a thing of beauty though, and the Neo Geo has a coolness and brashness about it that no other system can match. I was pretty disappointed with the N64, despite playing Mario 64, Golden Eye and Mario Kart 64 to death, but my biggest regret was buying the Jaguar - even the excellent Tempest 2000 couldn’t save that system!Greyfox
What games and genres were your favs?Bitmap Bureau
I’ve always been a huge fan of Japanese games with Capcom, Konami, Sega, Namco, Taito and Data East producing many of my favourites. I’d say Super Street Fighter II Turbo and Initial D Arcade Stage Version 3 are my games of all time though, and the two games that I’ve put more hours into than anything else. Other than that I used to play games across all genres - these are some of my favourites: Pilotwings (SF), Descent (PC), Unreal Tournament (PC), Ultima V (PC), Starflight (PC), Pool Of Radiance (PC), Tatsujin (MD), Super Shinobi (MD), Strider (MD), Final Fight (ARC), Neo Turf Masters (NG), King Of Fighters ‘96 (NG), Daytona USA (ARC), Ridge Racer (ARC), Sega Rally 1&2 (ARC), Goemon (SFC), Actraiser (SFC), Parappa The Rapper (PS1), Bio Hazard 1&2 (PS1), Bard’s Tale (PC), Snatcher (SCD), Super Monkey Ball (GC), Sim City (SNES), Dodonpachi (ARC), Rogue (PC)...I could go on.
If I had to settle for a favourite genre then it would probably be racing or fighting games, but I was a huge RPG fan in my teens - these days I don’t have the time or patience to play those kind of games. Greyfox
Who in the industry did you idolize when you was starting out?Bitmap Bureau
I think one of the first game industry “celebrities” that I knew of and admired was Roberta Williams, who wrote the fantastic King’s Quest series - she always featured on the back of the King’s Quest boxes, which was unusual back then, and it was even more unusual to see a woman at the forefront of a game studio. I still play King’s Quest with my 6-year old daughter now.
After that, Richard Garriott really stood out to me - his work on the Ultima series was incredible, and he sounded like an eccentric character. Ultima V really is a masterpiece, and it’s even more impressive that the whole game is crammed onto 4 floppy disks. Equally impressive was Starflight, and I would often look at the dev team’s photo in the manual and wonder how they’d created this huge galaxy filled with adventure in such a tiny space!
I was also lucky enough to meet Brian Fargo (the co-creator of Bard’s Tale) when he visited SCi’s office in Southampton in 1995 to check out Carmageddon, and I’ve also bumped into Shigeru Miyamoto a total of three times - one time he was directly behind me eating breakfast at the hotel we were staying at whilst attending GDC! He was one of the few Japanese names that you’d read about in game magazines in the UK, along with the legendary Yu Suzuki, and Yuzo Koshiro, the great musician, all of whom I looked up to in a big way - was there anyone cooler in the games industry back then than Yuzo Koshiro?! Zapiy
Your modern releases have a retro vibe, can you tell more about the decision to go do this route?Bitmap Bureau
As you can probably tell, as a studio we’re all fans of older games, and we always strive to reproduce the “feel” of those classic titles from the ‘80s and ‘90s, which I class as the golden era of gaming. In terms of aesthetics I think we did a pretty good job with Super House Of Dead Ninjas back when we were “Megadev”, but with Xeno Crisis we’re going full-retro of course. There’s a lot of people making “faux retro” games (ourselves included), but we thought, “Why not do it properly?”.Zapiy
Will you be selling Xeno Crisis once you have completed all the KS pledges so those that may want to still buy it can?Bitmap Bureau
Yes, we’ve already opened a pre-order ‘store’ on IndieGoGo InDemand, and we’ll soon be opening a BackerKit store too. Naturally though, the Kickstarter and Collector’s Editions are no longer available. Here’s the IndieGoGo link:https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/xeno-crisis-for-sega-genesis-dreamcast-and-switch#/Greyfox
Do you have any other unfinished projects for retro titles that you might share?Bitmap Bureau
We have several prototypes for various games and also a load of game jam projects that we could potentially unearth, but nothing for the Mega Drive or any other retro systems. That being said, we’ll almost certainly be looking at starting on another Mega Drive game when Xeno Crisis is completed.Zapiy
Any chance of a physical release of Fatal Smarties?Bitmap Bureau
We don’t plan on revisiting Fatal Smarties from a development point of view, but we are toying with the idea of releasing it physically for those people that are interested. It was only ever intended to be a game jam game, but it turned out pretty well given the very limited amount of time we were able to put into it.
Thanks for the great questions everyone, and we hope you enjoy Xeno Crisis!