Xeno Crisis: An Interview with Mike Tucker from Bit Map Bureau
How was Xeno Crisis born?
Xeno Crisis came into existence thanks to several things really - firstly, my colleague Matt is a great programmer and has years of experience in porting games to many devices, and he had been keen to create a commercial Mega Drive game for some time.
Secondly, the Mega Drive is probably my favorite console of all, and a previous game we made (Super House Of Dead Ninjas) even had a Mega Drive aesthetic to it in terms of the palette and sound design. So back in 2016, we thought we’d have a go at creating a Mega Drive game at the Global Game Jam, where you have just 48 hours to put something together, although when you consider sleep, travel and setting up, we probably only spent around 20 hours or so on development!
The result of our efforts was a side-scrolling shooter called “Fatal Smarties” which turned out pretty good given the time restrictions, and that gave us the confidence to go ahead with the development of an entire Mega Drive game backed by a Kickstarter campaign in December 2017 - Xeno Crisis.
What was development like?
The game’s development was generally pretty smooth - I did most of the prototyping work on the PC version using our custom engine ahead of then porting it to the Mega Drive. The biggest problem we faced though was when Matt sustained a serious head injury in our office whilst we were in the process of moving his Frogger cocktail cabinet!
He smashed his head on the bottom corner of an open cupboard door and suffered heavy concussion for several months - even now he still has the odd bad day. It was extremely bad luck, and it just goes to show that no matter how good a developer you are and how well you schedule your projects, sometimes things just happen that take you entirely by surprise and can massively affect your schedule.
Luckily Matt’s over the worst of his injury, but it was a worrying time for him and his family, and we’re thankful for all of the support and understanding we’ve received from our backers and followers.
What did you learn about yourself through this game?
Ha, well I’m 43 now and I’ve been part of the games industry for 24 years, so there’s not much I don’t know about myself! ;) Developing Xeno Crisis has renewed my passion for game development though, and it’s refreshing going back to basics - limited colors, resolution, file size, control schemes, and of course the 4:3 aspect screen ratio, which feels so much nicer than 16:9!
What makes this game so special?
I wouldn’t say it was special really (the likes of Konami and Capcom made truly special games), but we hope that it gives Mega Drive / Mega Drive fans something to get excited about - it might be our first Mega Drive game, but we think we’ve done a great job with the team, budget and time scale that we had.
We wanted to make a game that looked, sounded and played like a true Mega Drive game, and one that fans would have loved back in the ‘90s, and hopefully also today.
How does the sound play a role in the game?
Many of the games I develop start with a music track - I tend to get most inspired by music and can quite easily listen to a piece of music and come up with a game on the spot. :) So I generally design a game with a piece of music in mind and I like to get that music into the prototype straight away to help set the pace and mood of the game. For Xeno Crisis I’m pretty sure I used a track from Outzone and another from Thunderforce IV:
Outzone - Soldier Barrels Along
Thunderforce IV - Metal Squad
For me, the soundtrack is as important as the visuals, and with Xeno Crisis I would say that Henk Nieborg’s pixel art and Savaged Regime’s soundtrack are both superlative, especially given the constraints they were made under.
What games influenced this one the most?
Smash TV is probably the main influence in terms of the game flow, but the controls are more like Shock Troopers’, and the overall feel/theme was influenced by Mercs, Outzone, The Chaos Engine, and Alien Syndrome. You’ll probably notice elements from other titles though such as Granada, Zombies Ate My Neighbours, Alien Breed, Robotron, Contra, Doom, Resident Evil, Skeleton Krew and many more.
What do you think has created the fantastic quality level of new aftermarket MD/GEN games?
I think people such as Matt Phillips and studios such as Mega Cat have raised the profile of modern Mega Drive development and showed that there’s still a lot of love for the machine out there.
Do you think preserving older gameplay mechanics in new games is important?
I’m not too bothered really - things change! Modern games largely feel very detached from what I grew up playing, and the current generation of gamers are more likely to play something on a phone or tablet where game mechanics are of course wildly different on the whole.
I’m glad that there’s still a lot of people out there who remember that ‘80s / ‘90s golden era and want to play more games in a similar vein, but that audience won’t be around forever. VR and AR will eventually become the “norm” when they find a way of making it more seamless and immersive, but I’ve got no interest in it at all right now.
I’m quite encouraged that my daughter (who’s currently 7) isn’t too bothered about playing games just yet, although she has played quite a bit of Sim City and Street Fighter 2 on the SNES, and she loves watching me struggle through Toe Jam & Earl on the Mega Drive. I’ll introduce her to other games as she gets older, but I’ll understand if she has no interest in them.
Many game mechanics will no doubt be around for a long time yet but I think many genres have been done to death now, or were perfected many years ago and just don’t need to be revisited over and over again. Would be great to see some new genres and gameplay mechanics emerging, but it’s a very difficult task coming up with something truly original and refreshing these days. Whenever we tackle a new genre we try to add our twist to it, so I hope that Xeno Crisis will feel familiar but also fresh at the same time!
What's your favorite memory as a gamer?
It’s very hard for me to pick out one, but I’ve had some great times and made a lot of friends through playing video games over the years - many from the council estate where I lived where we would get together and play 2 / 4 player games such as SF2, Bomberman, Golden Eye, Unreal Tournament, Worms, ISS, Bishi Bashi, Rocky Hopper, Super Monkeyball, etc.
College was great too - we were lucky enough to have a SF2:CE cabinet in the leisure center at our college where many of us would hang out and skip lessons just to have another go on Street Fighter. I still remember being in awe at the first arcade games I came across in the early ‘80s though, such as Xevious, Yie Ar Kung Fu, Commando, Sinistar, Nemesis, Gauntlet, Defender, etc. I would often walk miles just so that I could play them. Playing 8-player Descent during my lunch break when I was a tester at SCi was also intense and a lot of fun!
Who will enjoy this game the most?
We hope that it will appeal to many Mega Drive fans, particularly those that enjoy arcade-action titles, great pixel art, and the Mega Drive’s YM2612 sound chip. Anyone looking for a challenge should enjoy it too - it’s tough but fair. It’s also a 2-player co-op game, so if you enjoy playing games with a friend then it might also appeal to you.
Bottom Line, why must someone play this game?
To see what the Mega Drive has to offer in 2019! :)
How do you want this game to be remembered?
We’re hoping that it will be remembered as one of the great Mega Drive games in terms of gameplay, art, and audio - we realize there’s some stiff competition from Konami, Capcom, Sega and Treasure though!
We’ll be developing more titles for the Mega Drive and Neo Geo but don’t have anything to announce just yet - right now we’re fixing the last few bugs on the Mega Drive version of Xeno Crisis and then we’ll be finishing off the Dreamcast and Neo Geo versions.
Anything else you'd like to add?
Developing Xeno Crisis has been immensely fun and we’d like to thank everyone who has supported us along the way - we’ll soon have the game in your hands! And for anyone who hasn’t heard of us before but would like to know more then please check out our website or follow us on social media:
Want to see the game in action? Check out the Mega Drive/Genesis footage here, or the trailer for modern platforms here!