Welcome to the next part of our Indie Showcase, where we interview the very best from the Indie Games community. If you missed our previous interview with Nikkona Hildebrandt, do check it out! This time its the turn of Pixelbomb Games, a studio based in Manchester in the UK who are currently working on their first title, Beyond Flesh and Blood.
Battle Misfit: For those that aren’t familiar with you, tell us a little about yourselves and your work.
Phil Muwanga: So, this is the official blurb: “Pixelbomb Games was founded in the UK’s second city back in 2011 as a collective of developers looking to do one thing: make awesome games. Since then we’ve grown into a strong team of developers, driven by beautiful visuals, challenging mechanics and adrenaline inducing experiences.”
We’re a fresh team of developers based in Manchester creating a game called Beyond Flesh and Blood. It’s our first title. It’s also set entirely in Manchester City Centre only, a few hundred years from now.
BM: You have over 10 years experience within the video games industry before joining forces at Pixelbomb. How did you guys meet and when did you know that you were all the perfect fit for each other?
Lee Blacklock: I guess collectively we have about 50! That’s not a real number, it’s like when companies say ‘Oh, we have 125 experience in this industry together’ when they’ve only been going since 2005. Nuts.
Jane McConnell: No idea. We’re all loveable oddballs?
BM: With only being a small team do you find it hard to reach the quality you are striving for when you develop your games? Or do you guys think there is a greater benefit with sticking to smaller teams?
LB: We’ve not really had difficulties, but it’s more about the amount of choices we’ve got, we’ve got to keep narrowing it down. Like Phil said, there’s lots of themes we’d like to explore but it’s a case of just how many of these we can effectively explore in the timeframe.
PM: The hardest bit that we’ve had is trying to squeeze all of our ideas into this game. It is a combat-focused game, so we want the gameplay mechanics to tell most of the story, rather than have a lot of expensive cutscenes and FMVs.
Those two fields do not have to be mutually exclusive; we do have a story that we want to tell, but we are focused on making a fun, enjoyable gameplay experience. At the end of the day, we are a small indie studio, we’re not a big triple-A studio who can afford to hire all the animators it takes to do your cutscenes.
BM: In your own words tell us a little about your latest game Beyond Flesh and Blood
LB: Interestingly, when people ask us what the genre of the game is, we say that it’s a third-person action shooter, which is different from your typical mech shooter. Beyond Flesh and Blood is third-person, single player game, you just happen to be controlling mechs. In Manchester. We always wanted to create a game that was set in our respective home cities. We all live around here.
BM: Does it engage your creativity basing the games location in a familiar setting?
LB: It’s very helpful! A quick wander outside and you’ve discovered something new. They say you’ve never seen Manchester until you’ve looked up, as in, the complexity and the age of the buildings. There are lions, bees and gargoyles carved into almost everything here.
BM: When we managed to get hands on with the game at last years Play Expo, it quickly became one of Matt‘s favourites of the expo. It must be encouraging to get such great feedback from people like ourselves and members of the public?
PM: Yes, that was a wonderful Expo. It was nice to do an Expo in our home town with a game that’s based in Manchester, we really did get a lot of positive feedback.
There are a few big shows that we’d like to take it to, but we are mainly focused on just finishing the final thing now. What will be quite nice is that once we’re closer to release we’ll have a more stable build, so we won’t have to spend quite so much time getting a build ready to tour at Expos. It is important to get the game out and to talk to members of the press so that people can hear about it.
The game is designed as a single player experience with a solo campaign and a lot of people are calling for a multiplayer. We do want to do this, just let us do well with this first one, first!
BM: Is there anything in particular that influenced the gameplay, plot or characters? Maybe another game? A film? Fellow developers in the community?
LB: We’ve got a big love of anime and mechs, and being a dev company in Manchester, we wanted to set the game in a post-apocalyptic version of our city. We thought that a combination of these two things would be quite a playful scenario.
PM: We do a lot of in-house comparisons to Starship Troopers…
PM: I know I know…and together we all have a huge love of dystopian films, games, novels…Dizz (Concept Art Lead) is a big Stephen King fan while Josh (Level Design) is probably Manchester’s very own Marvel oracle.
LB: We absolutely love robots and all forms of them, from the Japanese ones to the big stomping western mechs, so things like Steel Battalion were a big influence.
BM: Would you be open to working with a publisher to help with any future projects you have? Maybe someone British like Team 17?
LB: Big question! We’re in the process of sorting something out; Jane handles that side really, but as it stands at the moment, we’re modelling ourselves as a developer-publisher with the excellent support from next-gen consoles and our home is on Steam, really.
BM: Touching on the working with other people subject again, would you like to see the bigger Developers and Publishers help the smaller guys like yourselves? Maybe Rockstar or EA etc could create something like Microsoft’s ID@Xbox program or Sony’s XDEV program…
PM: You kind of answered your own question! Yes, it would work for gamers as a whole. It pushes up the standard for developers, and in turn the big boys get the pick of the crop, as it were, for new IP. Not that we massively approve of that, but it does mean that there would be better opportunities. Unreal and Unity are galloping ahead with different incentives and let’s just say one platform’s support of indie gaming surprised us, given the usual perception of who’s ‘the most pro-indie’…
LB: That’s as much as we can really say on that at the moment. Steam are at the forefront of pushing indies and while we’re yet to put ourselves up on their shelves, they’re supposed to be the most pocket friendly. You know what I mean!
BM: Is there anyone else you interact with in the Indie community? Maybe to get fresh eyes on your product or bounce ideas off one another?
PM: It’s usually at Expos when we get the chance to catch up finally.
LB: Otherwise we’ve got our heads down and working!
BM: Is it more important to you for a game to craft a story that people will remember for years to come, or would you rather keep gamers happy with a unique style of game play?
PM: The interesting thing is that you can’t die in this game. You’re in a space station in orbit, so if you’re suit is killed then they just send in another suit from orbit. It is not a big deal for them. The United Global Remnant, that’s the in-game faction you play for.
We try to tie this mechanic into the gameplay of the world – these soldiers on the ground, because they can die, they will comment on the fact that you’re not really there or that it all feels like a game to you. These are some of the areas that we wanted to explore in this.
We have to balance the needs of the story around new game mechanics
BM: Who or what inspired you to get into the Video Game industry? Do you have any advice for aspiring Developers who want to follow your lead?
PM: The games I loved playing inspired me. There are different ways in and they’re all difficult! It’s that phrase, if it was easy everyone would be doing it. You could start out making a mod, create social profiles to get word out there and never stop learning.
BM: Now for the mandatory fun questions! A friend of yours approaches you who knows nothing about video games and wants to get started. If you could choose one game and one console from any point in history for them to begin their gaming journey what would you choose and why?
LB: This is a difficult one to answer for a game developer or even just a committed gamer, I could write a paper or an essay on this! So I will just go with the 1st step of guidance for this friends journey then quickly outline the rest of the journey in short, assuming a few things about this friend. I would start them out on Tetris and the original Gameboy, my thinking is that Tetris is easy to pick up and play and not too consuming or daunting.
Also the idea of starting out with a handheld game is that they could play Tetris whenever and wherever they get a spare couple of minutes, there is also the novelty of the Gameboy itself being a very old piece of kit that might appeal. That is the very 1st step…after that I would try to slowly graduate them on to other games, perhaps Puzzle Bobble, and up through gaming, making large leaps through history. So Super Mario World and the SNES would get a look in, and I would pick games that then would evolve the friends gaming knowledge, moving on to games consoles that had more buttons and games that utilized more buttons such as the introduction of the analogue stick, then twin analogue sticks
The Wii would definitely have to get a look in, and also the PC and the likes of Half Life 2. I would end with something recent that has been my favourite gaming experience of recent years in The Last of Us, then I would try to show them what is on the horizon like the possibilities that VR can bring to a gaming experience.
BM: If money was no object, what game would you want to create? Maybe a remake? Or a sequel to a classic game? How would you market it? Maybe have Michael Bay direct an advert for the game or have an all star cast for the Voice Cast…
LB: If money was no object…now that makes my mind wander! I am going to go ridiculous with this one and reach beyond current technology haha. If money was no barrier I would put billions in to the development of a full body virtual experience, think The Matrix or Total Recall, and Existenz. I would develop a game, if you could call it that, that would allow the player to participate in a show instead of just watch, I am thinking of actually being a part of the team in Fringe or a pilot in Battlestar Galactica.
BM: Finally, If there was one game from history that you wish you could have created, which one would you choose and why?
LB: OK my mind divides in two on this question, I will split this in to soul and wallet. Soul – Probably something that has advanced the industry and had a profound impact on its audience, I struggle to stick to just one game here…I will say Final Fantasy 7, The Last of Us and Half Life 2. Wallet -There are times when I see a simple but very well executed and addictive game that sells millions of copies making the developer a fortune, so I would say perhaps Angry Birds, Minecraft or Pokemon! These games have now grown beyond the bounds of just games and make tonnes of money through merchandise, bring me the money printer!