Self-confessed country lad of Millipede Creative Wil Monte tells us about his first full game — the irreverently potty-humoured Bullistic, launched just this week — and how it came about.
Can you tell us a bit about Millipede? Who are you, and how did you get into mobile gaming dev?
Hi! I'm Wil, and I started Millipede in late 2005. We started out as advanced Flash developers, building everything from websites to educational resources, but always pushing towards games. We started developing for iPhone very early on, and have since been able to position ourselves as web-for-hire mobile and game dev outfit. We work direct to client, and contract for large ad and digital agencies working on big brands. We use the revenue raised from our client work to fund our own IP and drinking habits.
Is Bullistic your first game? Can you explain a bit about it — what is it about, and what does the player do? And I'm dying to hear more about the sense of humour behind it...
Bullistic Unleashed is our first original "full" production game; however, we have made smaller promotional-type games to show off the company's skills. Bullistic actually started out as one of these promotional games. As a bit of a joke and present for our clients, we built Bullistic in response to us continually getting asked to build "something like Angry Birds". It happened so frequently, we started to put a notch on wall in the studio marking each time Rovio's masterpiece comes up in meetings. (We gave up, because we can't count that high.) The game was rough as guts, had only five levels and didn't perform all that well, but it proved our point, and we got a laugh out of it. We injected our own personality into the game in the "Bull in China Shop" theme, the intrusive metal soundtrack and the bull's nuts jiggling to the device accelerometer in your face at the end of each level.
Problem was, though, it got featured and downloaded a truck load of times — which is a good problem to have. Looking at the numbers, we decided to polish up the game and add more levels. We added special bulls as in-app purchases, intending that they would finance us to build more levels and keep the game free. Unfortunately, as we didn't make them a requirement, nobody bought them! So, due to having no revenue to continue development, Bullistic was shelved.
I still really believed in the Bullistic idea, and applied for Film Victoria's development grants with the idea of giving it one last go and doing the job properly. Bullistic Unleashed is the result of lost of hard-learned lessons, and knowing that if it didn't work this time, it was never going to work. We wanted to put everything we could into this game. It has been a pet project for so long, I wanted it to be a true reflection of who we are and what we do, and ensure there were a bucket of laughs along the way.
Bullistic Unleashed is a physics puzzler, with a platformer and sometimes pinball-machine feel. The levels are huge, detailed, violent and full of humour that is so bad it's good. Players fling our very socially inept bulls at innocent consumers and consumables, with the intent of bringing the whole establishment crashing down. The game is aimed at adults who want a "naughty" release. Those who will think, "that's gross, but hilarious". We didn't create this game with the usual App Store family-friendliness in mind — there are plenty of other games out for kids. This one is for the more "mature" player out there.
We love to laugh at our studio. The puerile humour and d*** jokes are a pretty good indication of the atmosphere in which we work (which is mostly my fault ... I'm from the country). If we are having fun and laughing while building a game, it will hopefully shine through, and our players will laugh along with us. I am also a huge Jackass fan. A lot of the humour and craziness has been inspired by them. I wish I were in Jackass, much like a million other idiot guys. I want Bullistic to do for mobile gaming what Jackass did for television. How far is too far? When is something not funny anymore, and just mean? When does an anti-hero become just a complete prick? I hope we get the opportunity to keep pushing until we are told to stop.
There's massive competition in the mobile gaming market. What does Bullistic offer that other games do not, particularly with so many other slingshot games available?
Bullistic is so much more than your typical slingshot game. You don't simply aim, shoot and watch — your shot will keep going for quite some time, and require your continued control (... if you do it properly!). Levels are filled with bumpers and springs similar to pinball machines, elevators take you to new areas and barrels blast you around the level at your discretion. All the while, you are causing destruction, death and mayhem, with the goal of destroying 100 per cent of the level and ultimately demolishing the entire mall.
Not many games have such an emphasis on the crude and puerile humour found in Bullistic, especially in the physics category. There is also an incredible amount of detail in the game. It remains to be seen whether the cost in adding some of the features were worth it, but it all adds to the overall presentation of the game. It's the little things I love — you dismiss your helpers by poking them violently in either the eye or the crotch; the screen eventually becomes smeared with blood and s***, which you can wipe off with your finger; the ode to Street Fighter in the bonus level; the F Card service, whereby you can send our own special blend of e-card to a friend; the cut scenes showing your overall progress; the effort one of our devs put in to the cow-humping motion — I think it all makes for a really great package as a whole, and not just your typical list of 8000 bland levels that have no depth and take 10 seconds to complete.
What has been the biggest challenge for you so far? How did you overcome it?
Early testing revealed players didn't realise that the goal was to destroy the entire mall, and not simply unlock all levels — which is the norm. We designed these levels to be revisited as you unlock new characters and become more skilled. Unlocking the levels is only half the game. You need to destroy as much as you can to build up your overall damage and destroy the mall. To do this, we developed a unified goal system — consistent icons and gauges that appear throughout the game to inform players of what they need to aim for. We also included a reward system in adding the cutscenes. The whole time, you are reminded that this is not just a checklist of challenges with three stars; you have an ultimate goal to achieve and complete the story.
This and watching the development cost skyrocket because I couldn't stop adding features, detail and polish. How did I overcome this? I haven't. We just ran out of time. We had to get the game out before I sent us completely broke.
What do you think is the essential ingredient in a truly awesome mobile game?
And designing to the device. You need to remember that although people can enjoy your game as much as a console game, and it could be as good as a console game, they aren't playing it on a console. They need to be able to pick it up easily and leave it just as easily. Load times can't be excessive and controls need to be simple and intuitive. There are some spectacular games out there for iPhone, but some I just get frustrated with due to not having a controller and a 50-inch screen.
What is the best thing about working in mobile gaming development? What is the worst?
Working on games for sweet devices — what's not to love about that?
The worst? The aforementioned massive competition the mobile gaming market! The App Stores have opened up development and distribution to the masses, which is both a blessing and a curse. One would hope the cream rises to the top, but with such a flooded marketplace, there are probably loads of absolute gems out there that have simply gone unnoticed.
The standard of titles in the charts has improved incredibly in recent times. People are demanding quality now, and a level of polish that is really expensive to include, especially for those independents just starting out.
Do you have any advice to offer aspiring mobile games developers?
If you have developed a game (for mobile or anything) and poured your heart, soul and all of your cash into it without leaving a budget aside for marketing, you have wasted your time. If you are dreaming that your game will be somehow discovered and will go viral overnight, maybe keep dreaming. The chances of this happening are tiny, and shouldn't be relied on — ever. Give your game and hard work the best chance it deserves, and get someone to look after marketing the game for you. We are a small development agency and have no in-house marketing, which is common among independents. So we have left marketing to those that actually know what they are doing. Does it work? Well, you wouldn't be reading this now if it didn't.
What's next for Millipede?
Retirement. However, should we fail to achieve the download numbers we need to do that, we intend to release Bullistic on a few other platforms, and, all going well, add more venues to inflict carnage upon. I have so many ideas — all brutal and hilarious. We'll also continue building games for anyone who cares to throw cash at us, using the profits for our next crazy game idea. We love our work and hope to continue doing it for a while yet ... failing early retirement, of course.
Bullistic for iOS (AU$0.99)