Checkout.com - Bitmap Brothers Interview
Posted: Tuesday, 05 October 2000
Bitmap Brothers Interview
The creators of Z, Speedball and countless classics discuss their past and future
I'm probably betraying my age by divulging that the Bitmap Brothers, a UK-based development team, has always been one of my favorite gang of coders. Back in the good old days when I had an Amiga 500 planted firmly on my desk, any game by the Bitmap Brothers was cause for sleepless nights. So many awesome games, including Speedball, Speedball 2, Cadaver, Chaos Engine, Gods, Magic Pockets, Xenon and its amazing sequel, Xenon 2. Their last title was Z, a real-time strategy game along the lines of Command & Conquer, released back in 1996 to much acclaim, thanks to its tongue-in-cheek humor and addictive gameplay. Over four years later, there has been a noticeable absence of the Bitmap Brothers. Fortunately, they haven't disappeared. Soon enough, two new games will emerge in the form of Speedball 2100 and Z2. As it turns out, the Bitmap Brothers have been very busy working on new technologies and the fruits of their labor will be unleashed over the coming years. In anticipation of the return of the Bitmap Brothers, I was able to corner the father of the company, Mr. Mike Montgomery.
What the hell have the Bitmap Brothers been doing the past few years?
Since the original release of Z (PC) back in 1996, we have concentrated our efforts in two distinct areas. Firstly, a significant amount of time and resources have been spent developing our internal 3D engine for use in future products and secondly, the production of our next releases, Z2 for PC and Speedball 2100 for PlayStation.
Back in the good old days, the Bitmap Brothers essentially ruled the Amiga platform. How difficult was it to shift gears to the PC platform after Amiga imploded?
Well, like any new platform there is a learning curve and this takes time. We had in the past done PC conversions, so the curve was not so big this time round. The biggest problem with the PC is that the goal posts keep moving -- almost every month new hardware is released and this makes projects take longer. But, at a point towards the end, we say "stop," from then on we don't allow ourselves to be seduced into incorporating features for new hardware.
What are the features of the Amiga you really miss?
The thing I miss most is the community. When working on the Amiga we all kept in touch and spent a lot of time together, drinking and bouncing ideas off of each other. Now though, we tend to just phone each up or communicate by email -- it's not the same.
Where did the idea for Speedball come from and were you surprised to see it become as successful as it did?
A few of the "Brothers" had gone to see a publisher about doing a game based on tennis. After the meeting we went to the pub for a drink (as was the norm). During the evening and several drinks later, we came up with a concept for a futuristic sports game. Using the innards of a ripped open cigarette packet, as we didn't have any paper with us, we wrote down the key points of this brand new game -- and that was how Speedball was born.
I don't think any of us thought that it would be anywhere near as successful as it was, especially as we were new to the games industry. Sure there are a few other Amiga/ST games that people remember playing but nothing like the memories people have of Speedball -- it's really nice to know that people thoroughly enjoyed playing the game and rate it as one of the all-time greats.
With Speedball 2100 nearing release, is there some concern that a whole new generation may have never heard of the original Speedball series?
Not in the slightest, if they don't already know about it they soon will. : ) Speedball has and always will be about gameplay -- that's what gamers want.
Are there any plans for a PC version of Speedball 2100? Which of the console platforms will you be supporting?
At this time, we are only developing the game for PlayStation, which, by the way, has now been approved for production. Many people, including a great number of computer games journalists from all over the world, have been bombarding us with emails and phone calls, begging us to produce other versions.
A PC version seems to be at the top of most people's wish list although we have no firm plans to produce any other versions. PS2 and X-Box now seem to be the preferred platforms but you'll just have to watch this space!
What are some of the significant changes/additions to Speedball 2100?
Obviously the graphical quality has dramatically improved and the whole game, including the menu system, is now in 3D. We consciously worked towards keeping the game as faithful to the original in terms of the way the game plays, because it was perfect in the first place. We've made a great number of modifications to the way the AI works, although these were refinements and not re-writes. The game's depth has also been increased to provide an even longer play-life; the player can now customize their team by changing team and player names, team logos, the color of the team's strip and even the skin tone and hair color for each player.
Looking back on your many years in the industry, what are some elements of this business you really enjoy and which elements leave you less than happy?
Well, when I started programming it was a hobby, which was great fun. Now it's big business with too many accountants running the show and much less creativity.
How is work on Z2 progressing and which platforms will you be supporting?
Z2 is coming along really well. Prior to ECTS we'd been very secretive about the game as we wanted to limit its exposure. It was the perfect time to show off what we've been up to and the reaction we got when people saw it for the first time was excellent. We're only working on a PC version, although next-generation platforms would be ideal for Z2.
Which next generation consoles are the Bitmap Brothers planning on catering to? X-Box, PS2, GameCube or Dreamcast?
I would say that PS2 and X-Box are the favorites but you never know what might happen.
What are a few games that you've really admired over the last few years and why?
Zelda 64, do I need to say why?
Homeworld, due to the fact that it managed to integrate some genuinely innovative game elements into a true 3D game world and managed to keep its gameplay within a truly cinematic environment.
Half-Life, because it finally brought the genre back on track by adding a genuine plot and gave the player a real identity and purpose within the game world, not to mention the way in which the game architecture has spawned so many Mods (although Half-Life itself came from Quake II). I just wish I could stop my staff playing Counter-Strike!
I'm assuming Z2 will support Internet multiplayer; how will players go about finding competition and linking up?
We are currently in negotiations with a well known company in this field so watch this space!!!
Your games excluded, what were some of your favorite Amiga games?
For me, it has to be Dungeon Master. As soon as I picked it up I was hooked and I couldn't do anything else. I couldn't even work until I'd finished it. This is the game that inspired us to do our own RPG, called Cadaver, back in '90.
The Bitmap Brothers have been around for a long time, longer than most design houses. Does this experience make the task of creating a game easier for the team?
It does make it a little easier -- you know the pitfalls of software development and you use your previous experience as a reference. This is particularly valuable as software development is always pushing forward into new territory and doesn't stay still for very long. Experience of the developer/publisher relationship is also vital to ensure that you work with and not against your partner and therefore get the best results for both parties.
If there is one thing you could change about the gaming industry, what would it be?
It's getting harder by the years to make any money. I think the government should help us out, seeing as we export a lot. We need growth, but it's getting harder to do.
What was the most challenging project the Bitmap Brothers ever undertook and what was it about that game that proved difficult?
The next project is always the most challenging. Years ago it took only a few days to get a deal. Now it takes months and a lot of hard work before you can even start talking to publishers, then months to do the contract, all at the developer's risk, so we need to make sure that it is bullet proof.
Taken from Checkout.com
Bitmap Brothers pages
Official Speedball 2100 Site
Official Z: Steel Soldiers Site
Speedball 2: Brutal Deluxe
Z: Steel Soldiers
EON Digital Entertainment
Take 2 Interactive