Thursday, 25 November 2021

Full Circle

(Game designer/developer Ben talks about GDLX)

Last weekend found the good ship Bullion docking at the inaugural GDLX: Game Dev London Expo.

Game Dev London is a rapidly-growing developer community, with one of its key administrators being our very own ex-crewmate Stuart DeVille. Stuart pretty much re-invented the look and feel of Bullion's enemies, including giving us our first boss battle, and it was a real blow when changing life circumstances meant he had to step down from the team. So GDLX was a great chance for us to catch up with him. It also gave us a chance to put Bullion in front of a whole new audience: instead of the families and retro-gamers we were used to from the Play Expo shows, most of the people attending GDLX were connected to game development in some way.

The show was held at the Samsung KX hub: described as an "innovation space", the main area comprised of a sizeable auditorium for the various talks that were scheduled through the day, surrounded by various stands that would normally used to showcase Samsung devices and technology. Which meant that rather than the plain table we were used to, we ended up setting up on a desk that looked more like someone's home office, complete with house plants! But it was a decent enough space, so we cracked out the roller banners, the stickers, the treasure chest - everything we usually have on the stand - and settled in. And then things started getting slightly surreal...

If only the boss could see what really went on in the home office!

We had plenty of players during the day. But we also had people asking us about how to market their games. About how to position themselves to break into the industry. Pitching their skills to us. Even asking whether Leda Entertainment was offering internships. And suddenly it began to dawn on us that we'd come full circle: back in 2013 at Leda Entertainment's first show, we'd watched with no small amount of envy from behind our barely-decorated table stand as the team opposite us, with their banners and big monitors and other highly visible promotion material had attracted a continual flow of players. And now, here we were - while most of the other teams had crammed themselves together in a relatively small space which left little room for any kind of promotional display, we had our posters and pirate hats and give-away stickers and pirate gold chocolate... it was a bizarre Vader-meets-Obi-Wan kind of moment, especially given the people-oriented ethos of the Bullion team!

A great day of networking while watching other developers fighting each other...

But this also turned into a delightful opportunity. Game development is a hard industry to break into, especially straight out of education, and we've heard many tales of broken dreams over the years. So to a number of the would-be developers who came to talk to us about internship or job opportunities, our part-time team approach and the idea of building a skillset that would widen their employment prospects while at the same time improving their abilities as game developers seemed to come as something of a revelation.

With a little luck, we may see a number of other "grassroots" game studios springing up in the coming years.

Wednesday, 27 October 2021

Raise the Black(pool) Flag!

It's moments like this that throw into sharp relief what Bullion is all about.

This weekend gone, we were at Play Expo Blackpool - our first show since COVID sent the world careening off the edge of the map and into "here be monsters" territory. The Bullion team are no strangers to turmoil - over the course of development more than one of us have faced life-changing events which we have navigated successfully. But, just like the rest of the world, COVID affected all of us in ways we could never have prepared for - so to be back at a show, demoing Bullion to people who love playing games, was a much-needed re-kindling of our enthusiasm.

From vintage cabs and rare consoles to modern PCs...

From vintage cabs and rare consoles to modern PCs...

The impact of COVID showed in a number of ways: attendance was lower than we had seen in our previous visits to Blackpool, and we had a number of quiet periods at the stand. But despite this, the overall atmosphere seemed even more friendly and passionate than previously experienced; probably because this was the first chance for many to attend an event of this scale since the pandemic hit. Equally obvious was the increased sense of nostalgia that has arisen during this time, and this was reflected in the indie zone, with a strong presence from the ZX Spectrum Next team, plus new homebrew titles for the vintage Gameboy handheld (AsobiTech's D*Fuzed) and NES console (Lowtek Game's Flea! and Tapeworm Disco Puzzle), leaving both Ben and Paul H yearning for the Atari STs!

It was also a chance to catch up with old friends who we hadn't seen since pre-COVID times: Badger (from Stoffel Presents), TristaBytes, AsobiTech's Quang and Jim Bagley from the ZX Spectrum Next group, and of course, Andy, Simon and the rest of the Replay Events team.

It's all about families and friends

It's all about families and friends

All together now... Volcaaaaaanooooooo!

All together now... Volcaaaaaanooooooo!

Players from 2019 loved the latest features

Players from 2019 loved the latest features

But the jewel in the crown was undoubtedly our players. The enthusiasm and overwhelming positivity with which Bullion was received was a balm for the twenty months of uncertainty wrought by COVID. Better yet, a number of them remembered trying the game previously at the 2019 Play Blackpool show, and were delighted at seeing not just how the game had progressed, but also that suggestions that they had made at the time had been taken on board in its development since then. We even ran our very first official tournament with players competing throught the weekend in voyage mode, trying to gain the highest total treasure for a specially-built voyage and win a plushie of Captain Long John Silverside (provided by Sew 8-bit).

Eventually, of course, the show had to close - it was time to pack everything up and make the long journey back home. Except there was still one last surprise to come...

One of our players had asked for a photo with Ben (who he had played against). That photo was waiting in the Leda inbox when we got back, accompanied by the simple statement: "Loved it today. Great game - will definitely be getting a copy."

An amazing final surprise to end a great first show back

An amazing final surprise to end a great first show back

Over five years development time, and twenty months since our last show. Worth every second of it.

Tuesday, 21 September 2021

Get Ship-Shape!

Saying that we have been... "sporadic" in posting updates about how things have been going for Bullion - both on here and our social media channels - would be being incredibly generous, to say the least. In fact, we are more than willing to admit that we have been "downright lousy" at it.

This stops now.

Things are a-changing on the Bullion front, and we owe it to everyone who has encouraged us since development started to get this ship ship-shape. And with the COVID situation finally improving AND it being International Talk Like a Pirate Day on Sunday gone, we felt it was the perfect time.

So first of all, something we know that those who have been following us have been waiting to hear for some time: we are very pleased to confirm that Bullion will be released for Nintendo Switch and Xbox One, and we are aiming for a launch at some point in the second half of next year. We are also looking at Steam as another option - we're still not 100% sure how many local multiplayer players there are on PC, but this option that Steam offers that allows a local multiplayer to work online is definitely worth looking into. So that leaves Playstation: sorry guys, but Sony's requirements to even enroll on their indie scheme are horribly complex and expensive when compared to the other platforms, and too great a risk, given our part-time, low-budget status. Of course, this may change if we get a sufficient return from the other platforms... so if you want Bullion on the Playstation, your best bet will be to get all your Switch and Xbox (and potentially PC) owning friends to buy it!

While we may have been utterly rubbish somewhat lax about updates, the same cannot be said for the game itself! We have a load of new features (including the much-requested "bull rush" dash move), a new arena (with a second well on the way) and a new boss battle that we're looking forward to showing everyone - and now that large events are starting to pick up again here in the UK, we are on the look-out for opportunities to get back out there and let everyone try them out.

We've also completely re-vamped the website! Yes, another long-suffering casualty of neglect while we try and fit everything in and adjust to the crazy place the world has become over the last year and a half, we finally got round to giving the poor website a much-needed makeover. If you didn't come in that way, go cast an eye over - we think you'll agree, it's a huge improvement! And we'll be keeping it updated with latest news and video footage as we go, so make sure to check back in there. Same goes for our social media - facebook, twitter, instagram... yep, we're serious about getting our act together!

Lastly - and if you thought that we were bad at keeping this blog updated, then we've been even worse at this! - we would like to (re)introduce the crew of the good ship Bullion as it currently stands, as some of these amazing individuals have not been given nearly as much credit as they deserve:

  • Chloe McCann: Enemy and support character modelling and animation, environmental hazard modelling
  • Matthew Isteed: Player characters modelling and animation, environment modelling
  • Paul James: Environment design and modelling, visual effects and enemy character modelling and animation

... and of course, Ben and Paul are still on board, doing the coding and other bits and pieces round the edges.

Let the voyage continue!