Xeno Crisis has been tantalising taste buds since the (successful) Kickstarter was launched. As everyone knows, we’re big fans of the Mega Drive (and Atari Jaguar) homebrew scenes and Xeno Crisis looks to be spawning a Dreamcast and a Neo Geo version in addition to a MD/Genesis version. All very exciting, and with the launch imminent our Adrian (with the help of Anthony) sent a lot of questions to Bitmap Bureau’s Mike Tucker who thankfully sent us back some great answers. For anyone looking to buy the game – head here. Time to get HYPED:
It’s a pleasure conducting this Q&A with you Mike. Please tell us a little about yourself and your fellow team. How did Bitmap Bureau. Ltd. come about? Tell us what the routines you and your co-workers do on a daily basis.
Thanks for having us! I founded Bitmap Bureau with my friend Matthew Cope some three years ago now – we’d previously worked together at one of Europe’s most successful mobile game development studios, IOMO (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IOMO), although when that studio closed down in 2008 we went in different directions. However, Matt got back in touch 3 years ago asking if he could help me out with the game I was the working on (88 Heroes), and thanks to his technical expertise we were able to take what was an AIR game very quickly over to Unity, allowing us to bring the game to PS4, XBox One and Switch, so I’m very thankful to him for that!
As for our daily routines, myself and Matt generally work together in our office in Southampton, England most days, although we both have kids so there’s times when it’s more convenient to work at home, particularly for me when I need to take my daughter to school and pick her up afterwards. I guess we roughly work 9 to 5 ish, although I’m something of a night owl and feel more creative beyond 9pm (don’t ask me why), so there’s times when I just get stuck into something at home and will work until 1 or 2am. I’m not really sure about the other people we work with – we generally just tell them what we need and let them work on it as and when it suits them! 🙂
Is Xeno Crisis the first game you have worked on?
It’s the first full Mega Drive title I’ve worked on, but I’ve been lucky enough to have been involved in the videogame industry from the age of 19 back in 1995 (the glory days of CD-ROM gaming…), and so I’ve worked on around 80 titles in various capacities including tester, designer and programmer. Many of those were fairly simple mobile phone games (black and white ones!), but I guess they all count! 😉 I don’t think Matt’s worked on quite so many as he’s more of a technical programmer than me, and has worked with many different types of hardware such as the Nintendo DS, the Sony PSP, and probably every mobile phone you can think of – he even wrote some software that could take Java code and cross compile it to run on a multitude of systems – it’s all very clever and you can read a bit more about it here if it’s of interest:
Xeno Crisis looks intriguing. Would you be able to give a brief description for those that are unfamiliar with this title?
Xeno Crisis is a new game developed originally for the Sega Mega Drive, and takes inspiration from classics such as Smash TV, Contra, The Chaos Engine, Out Zone, Mercs, Shock Troopers and several others. Your mission is to head to a distant research colony which has suddenly become overrun by hostile alien lifeforms, engaging the enemy and rescuing any survivors you come across. The core gameplay is quite similar to Smash TV in that you must destroy every enemy before you can exit the current room, although we’ve made some key changes such as allowing players to dodge roll, throw grenades and also upgrade their marine between areas. On top of this you also have to collect ammo occasionally, so you won’t be able to hide in the corners for too long!
What inspired you to create this type of game?
When Matt suggested we create a Mega Drive game, a top-down arena shooter came immediately to mind – I’d made a few top-down games at game jams over the previous few years, but I had yet to release a commercial title using that perspective. So we already had an engine in place and I knew I could very quickly come up with a compelling prototype. On top of this, I felt like Smash TV on the Mega Drive could be improved upon, particularly if the game was designed for the Mega Drive from the outset, with the 3 button controller taken into careful consideration. Given the Mega Drive’s colour palette and gritty FM sound, an “Aliens”-esque theme seemed entirely appropriate, so we put the idea to the legendary pixel artist Henk Nieborg (https://twitter.com/pixelhenk) and he very quickly came up with an amazing look for the game!
The Kickstarter for Xeno Crisis was backed by funds of 362% That’s an astonishing percentage for a new game. Were you and your team expecting it to be at this large of a number?
We were somewhat anxious when we launched the Kickstarter campaign in December 2017, fearing that it was too close to Christmas, but we were hopeful that we might at least get the £20k we were looking for. To hit that target in just 40 hours was a real surprise, and it meant that we had to very quickly consider stretch goals! To eventually hit 362% funding was a massive boost to us and the project, and we’re extremely thankful to everyone who’s got involved!
You mentioned some earlier but which games mostly helped inspire Xeno Crisis?
I would say Smash TV is the biggest influence on the game in terms of the basic structure and flow, but I would also add Shock Troopers for the controls, roll function and grenade attack, Mercs for the overall pace and also the shop seen in the Original Mode, Out Zone for the visual style in places, but then there’s also elements of Zombies Ate My Neighbours (the ammo counter and hostages), Alien Syndrome, The Chaos Engine, Skeleton Krew (additional controls), and many others I’ve probably forgotten about. 🙂
You have an excellent taste on choices for Xeno Crisis to be played. The Mega Drive/Genesis, Dreamcast, Nintendo Switch, Steam, and even Neo-Geo? That caught those off guard in the community. How did the Neo-Geo become part of the lineup?
For us it made a lot of sense to bring Xeno Crisis to the Neo Geo from the Mega Drive – they both share the same screen resolution and also CPU (more or less), meaning much of the code can be ported over without too many headaches – this is more Matt’s area though. 😉 I also think that aesthetically it’s a great fit for the Neo Geo too – it does loud, gritty action games very well, in a similar vein to the Mega Drive – more so than the Super Famicom or PC Engine I’d say. The Neo Geo version almost certainly wouldn’t have happened without the help of HPMAN though, who did a lot of the groundwork for us!
Not many indie developers are currently developing games for the Neo-Geo. The Neo-Geo is known for being part of a niche market since the beginning of it’s release almost 30 years ago. Did you at Bitmap Bureau have concerns for it since the games are known to have a much higher than usual production cost and the MSRP prices for the consumers to go along with it?
Producing the PCBs, cartridges and cases certainly is very expensive, and we can understand why few people are doing it. Given the popularity of Xeno Crisis though and the similarities between the Mega Drive and Neo Geo, we thought we should go for it.
Are there any graphical or gameplay differences between the different versions of Xeno Crisis?
We’re planning to add a number of enhancements that just aren’t technically feasible on the Mega Drive version be that due to lack of ROM space, CPU performance or other Mega Drive limitations.
These enhancements will include an arcade attract mode, the ability to join in as the second player at any point, extra sprite frames, colour depth, palettes that we couldn’t quite squeeze in on the Mega Drive, more speech, sound effects, as well as full integration with Neo Geo hardware for features like coin/credit support, memory cards etc.
What are your future plans after Xeno Crisis?
We have several options on the table but can’t say too much just yet!
Where is the best places for our readers to get the latest info and updates on Xeno Crisis and other future projects?
You can follow us on social media here:
When do you hope to get Xeno Crisis released?
The initial platforms (Mega Drive, Dreamcast, Switch, PS4, XBox One, PC, Mac and Linux) should all be released more or less simultaneously in Q1 2019, with the Neo Geo version following in Q2 dependent on manufacturing times.
Are you also working on other projects at the moment?
Mike finished work on Xeno Crisis some weeks ago and has moved onto a new project which we’re keeping quiet for now – Matt’s totally focussed on completing work on the Mega Drive and Dreamcast ports though.
What are your favourite game consoles and top 3 games of all time?
My favourite consoles would have to be the Sega Mega Drive, Neo Geo AES and PlayStation 1. Top 3 games…the first two are easy – Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo and Initial D Arcade Stage Version 3 (both arcade). The third…possibly Ultima V on PC. 🙂
If you could be transported into any one of your video games, and live there for a day, which game would you choose and why?
That would probably be an old Flash game I made called “Knightfall”, as you actually start the game in the “Home Tavern” which is the pub that myself and my colleagues would head to some evenings after work in Eastleigh. So yes, I’d probably just stay in the pub – the game itself is full of all sorts of nasty creatures which I wouldn’t want to encounter! 😉
What is your advice for newcomers that are thinking about establishing their own independent game development company?
I would say forget about the company until you’ve got a solid demo under your belt which you’re happy with – then get other people to play it and see if they enjoy it – ideally people you don’t know! The games industry is very tough to break into these days, particularly if you’re looking to go independent. With hundreds of games being released each month across so many devices, it’s harder than ever to get noticed, and I think you have to do something special to stand out. You don’t necessarily need to create something unique (that’s almost impossible these days), but your game needs a hook to draw people in. So yes, I’d be more concerned about making a great game before even thinking about creating a website or renting an office, and in fact I would seriously consider talking to publishers too – you need all the help you can get as an indie these days.
If you could share a few drinks with any video game character, who would you choose and why?
It would have to be the bard from the original Bard’s Tale – I’m sure he would have a few fine stories to tell, and I’ve heard he likes a drink! Would be great if Guile could make it too. 😉
Thanks for all the info Mike, we can’t wait to get our hands on the game! Readers, place your orders here.
Adrian & Anthony