*****Interview conducted March 2018*****
It’s not often we get to interview a SNK stalwart but when they come along, my are they worth the wait! He’s helping bring back all of those classic KoF games to Steam and also played a huge part in programming a certain PS2 Arcade Attack favourite, The Getaway. It’s a pleasure to introduce Adrian’s chat with Jim Bulmer, now fully resident and loving life in Japan. To say we’re jealous is quite the understatement.
How did you get the opportunity to work in Japan and how different is the gaming scene and culture to the UK?
Well I was learning Japanese while at a company I was working at in London and visited Japan a few times and fell in love with it. Eventually I took the plunge and moved out here and started teaching English (as most foreigners do when they come to Japan!).
The gaming scene is quite different here compared to the UK, as arcades are still fairly big things here, although they are mainly UFO catchers and music games, you can still find fighting cabs as well as older retro cabs.
Most people play games in one form or another and nearly everyone is playing something on their commute whether it’s mobile or on a 3DS. Steam is not that big yet, but it’s growing.
Gaming seems to be more mainstream, with lots of TV ads, TV programmes, even channels dedicated to gaming.
The Japanese are rightly regarded as being the best at making video games across the globe. What are your views on this statement and have you learn a lot since working in Japan?
I think that definitely used to be the case, but then they seemed to lose their way a bit, but they seem to be getting back on track. The style of game dev is definitely different, with a lot more documentation and meetings, lol. Also studios seem to prefer making in-house engines as opposed to commercially available engines like Unity or Unreal, although this is changing.
How did you get the opportunity to work at excellent SNK Corporation and can you give our readers a little background of your work at SNK?
I ended up working at a small games company through a friend from the London company who was also there. They went bust, but thankfully just around the corner were SNK, and one of the foreigners there, reached out to me through my friend and got me an interview, and here I am.
At SNK, initially I helped out on the KOF XIII Steam port, I came in at the end after my colleague had done the hard part, lol. I just helped with the last push and getting it out the door.
From there I went on to be the shader programmer on KOF XIV and other titles.
Have you always been a fan of SNK’s amazing back catalogue of classic titles and do you have a personal favourite SNK game?
Actually I wasn’t that aware of SNK growing up, I realise now I had played some of the SNK games on the ZX Spectrum like Ikari Warriors, but at the time didn’t know who they were. I later got into Metal Slug, especially Metal Slug 3, which is my favourite SNK game and probably my favourite game overall.
As you mentioned earlier, you have worked on a number of the most recent and very well respected King of Fighters series of games. Did you initially feel a lot of pressure or excitement when given this amazing opportunity?
I might get crucified for this but before coming to SNK I had never played a KOF game. 2D fighters weren’t my thing, I was more into Tekken Tag and Bushido Blade back in the day and more recently DOA.
I soon felt a lot of pressure once we started getting feedback from the FGC during the KOF XIII Steam Beta though. Lol.
They can be very…vocal and “direct”.
Do you have a personal favourite King of Fighters character and can you explain why?
Hmmm, I love the design of Kukri, he appeals to my gothic sensibilities. lol, and I love the humour in Meitenkun too.
During development of XIV I usually played Kyo so I guess I know him best.
While growing up I was always fascinated in the NEO GEO console – but alas my dream owning this powerful beast never materialised. What were your views of the console while growing up and do you ever get a chance of playing on these classic consoles and games while working at SNK?
Well, as you know the NEO GEO console was incredibly expensive back in the day, so I never even saw one as a kid.
Last year we got a few arcade cabs in our reception area so we can play on the classic games there. I sometimes play a bit of Metal Slug 3 or Samurai Shodown before I go home.
I don’t know if we have any consoles in the office, I’ve seen cartridges but not an actual console.
We are huge Metal Slug fans at Arcade Attack. Are you a fan of these games and would you like the opportunity to work on any new sequels?
Oh yes! I have a big collection of Metal Slug paraphernalia at home, including a Metal Slug slot machine (me want – Ed).
Would I like to work on any sequels? I bring that up in my yearly appraisals every time, but no luck yet. I’m still pushing for it though…
I purchased a lot of SNK classics from the Virtual Console on my Wii console which allowed me to finally play the I dreamed of in my teenage years. Do you remember the first ever SNK game you played and what ere you instant impressions?
The first time I played an SNK game, that I can remember (other than Ikari Warriors I mentioned earlier), would have been Metal Slug First Mission on the NEO GEO Pocket which I bought off ebay nearly 20 odd years ago I guess. Then I got into the other games in the Metal Slug series. I was hooked immediately! Metal Slug 3 soon became my favourite.
What advice would you give anyone looking to get into video game programming and even work in a whole new country and culture?
The whole industry has changed from when I first got into it 20 odd years ago, so not sure my advice would be relevant lol.
We are recruiting programmers at the moment, and I get to see the applications from the non-Japanese applicants, so my advice would be to show some kind of demo reel, or a game you’ve worked on. It doesn’t have to be a published game, just something you’ve done in your spare time. I always ask applicants to demonstrate what they can do. Whether it’s something they’ve made in Unity or Unreal or their own engine.
It’s good to be able to show you can think out of the box, as Game Dev involves a lot of sometimes pretty unique problem solving, and these problems need to be solved at 60FPS lol.
What are your top three video games of all time and why?
Tricky. If you’re asking my personal top three, then I would say Metal Slug 3, for the action, humour, countless hidden paths and Easter eggs, etc.
Then something like Galaga or Galaxian (I love shmups). I love the simplicity of them, and it’s all down to you and your reactions. I always go back to those to unwind if I’ve had a stressful day at work.
And my favourite game before MS3 was always JetPac on the ZX Spectrum. Although not sure how that would hold up now lol, probably shouldn’t be in the top 3 of all time (we’ll allow it! – Ed).
Well Jim, it’s been great having you here at AA. A final question before you go, if you could share a few drinks with a video game character, who would choose and why?
Lol! I would probably say Lara Croft. She’d have some great stories to tell, and seeing as she’s so wealthy and independent, I bet she’d get a round in or two.
I bet! Thanks for giving us your time Jim, has been truly fascinating! Thanks also to our friend Anthony Durso who introduced us to a few of the SNK guys. If you want similar articles to this, please follow him on twitter and check out his Atariage forum Neo Geo thread here.