Mike Bithell

The creator of Thomas was Alone and his new game, Volume.

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON August 19, 2015

Discussion

Mike Bithell@mikebithell · Game Designer
Hi, I’m Mike Bithell. Game Designer of Volume and person who spends too much time on twitter. Once upon a time I made a game called Thomas Was Alone, which went on to sell over a million copies. Yesterday I launched Volume (http://www.volumegame.net/), which has not yet gone on to sell a million copies. Maybe you could help that along if you’d be so kind.
Russ Frushtick@russfrushtick
@mikebithell Hey Mike, congrats on the launch! Few questions for ya: 1) As the indie games space gets more and more crowded, what do you think people can do to rise above the noise (beyond just making an awesome game). In short, is 50% of a game's budget to marketing such a crazy stat these days? 2) Metal Gear Solid's VR missions seemed like an obvious inspiration for Volume. Any other stealth games you dig that may have pointed you in the genre's direction? 3) What is one genre that you think is currently under-exposed that you'd love to see more games play with?
Mike Bithell@mikebithell · Game Designer
@russfrushtick hehe 1) My feeling on marketing spend, is that, much like game dev, smart planning and taking advantage of the right opportunities, very directly saves money. We've certainly spent some cash on Volume's marketing side, but no where near half. That said, the game's aesthetic polish and easily packageable content is certainly made with an eye to how that can be utilised in a marketing context 2) Hehe, yes, a few people have pointed out a definite aesthetic similarity, but I'd say that the game pulls a lot more strongly on Thief, Hitman and Pac Man, than it does on MGS specifically. 3) I'm always looking for genres that are becoming more attainable on a budget. Weirdly, with the improvements and price reductions in high quality video production and mocap, I'm expecting a swell in performance central games. Her Story, for me, feels like a sign of a potentially refashionable genre
Russ Frushtick@russfrushtick
@mikebithell re: MGS...yeah, I think I just see vision cones and the top down camera, but you're right, there are a lot more directions that Volume seems to go in. Totally appreciate the Pac Man nod. The original stealth game!
Mike Bithell@mikebithell · Game Designer
@russfrushtick first and best :) .. and tbf I put a fair few MGS references in, I'm a big fan :)
Jacqueline von Tesmar@jacqvon · Community at Product Hunt ⚡️
Hey Mike! Great to have you on LIVE. Can you discuss the overall budget of Volume? Did you essentially pour all of the Thomas money into this project?
Mike Bithell@mikebithell · Game Designer
@jacqvon hehe, no, not quiet, but I tried!
42stepstohell@42stepstosheol · Freddie Rive, Random person
@mikebithell *eyetwitch*
Jeff Meier@jeffmeier87
@mikebithell Hi Mike, congratulations on the launch of Volume, I started playing last night and already love it. Two quick questions: 1) I've seen your Twitter follower count balloon in size over the last few years, and it seems like your name pops up in the mainstream more often these days. I would say you've (sort of) made it now! What has it been like as you have to deal with the pressure and responsibility of becoming an indie superstar, both personally and with regards to the development of your games? 2) I notice you and Duncan Jones exchange comments and pleasantries now and then. He's one of my favourite directors, Moon and Source Code were simply excellent. Do you guys know each other outside of the internet? Any plans to collaborate? Thanks again and best of luck with everything that's happening!
Mike Bithell@mikebithell · Game Designer
@jeffmeier87 1) yeah, it's werid, twitter went from being a place for moaning about movies I hated, and sandwiches eaten, to a place where I was broadcasting, I guess. Yeah. Very strange. I use facebook for moaning now ;)
Mike Bithell@mikebithell · Game Designer
@jeffmeier87 2) He's a nice chap, and I'm a fanboy of those movies too. I'd love to work with him at some point, but for now, we're just internet buddies.
Matt Hargett@syke · FU
I know Just Add Water is handling the Vita port, but can you go into some of the technical issues that makes the VIta uniquely challenging for performance optimization? Is it mostly alpha, memory bandwidth, small caches, tile-based rendering, old toolchain that doesn't use SIMD/prefetch as much as it could, ...?
Mike Bithell@mikebithell · Game Designer
@syke hey Matt. The Vita is a lovely device, and like any device, it certainly has its own set of challenges. The things one optimises for PC / home console performance (draw calls, AI loops) are slightly different than where you need to work to get the best out of Vita (image post process, and physics).. but it really is specific to each project.
Matt Hargett@syke · FU
@mikebithell I meant what were the specific issues you had to optimize in Volume specifically for Vita. people talk about simplifying collision geometry and pre-calculating/eliminating alpha as the most optimizations versus console, but I'm curious what specific things you ran into with Volume. were there any profiling tools/techniques that were particularly helpful/insightful?
B-Man99@bruanstuckwool
@mikebithell I couldn't help but notice the "staff picks" tab. Obviously the community involvement is exciting, I'm really glad Volume has a level editor. Anyways... what are you looking for in terms of good community levels? Having made the core levels, how would you describe what makes a good level?
Mike Bithell@mikebithell · Game Designer
@bruanstuckwool opportunity. Creating levels which allow the player to do something cool that they'll tell a mate about the next day. Or something beautiful and weird that they'll remember next week. It's all about that player centric experience :)
Mike Bithell@mikebithell · Game Designer
Right folks, I'm heading off to finish these patch notes. Thanks for the great questions! Follow me @mikeBithell, and find out more about Volume at VolumeGame.net
Jourdan Cameron@jourdan_cameron · Editor-in-Chief, Blackman 'N Robin
@mikebithell Hello there, and thanks for holding this chat! I'd like to ask, if you had to go back to the start of developing Volume, what advice would you give yourself?
Mike Bithell@mikebithell · Game Designer
@jourdan_cameron I think the game, weirdly, could definitely have worked with less content. It's got a lot of mechanics, and we spent a lot of time on them, that's an area I think we could have saved some time on :)
42stepstohell@42stepstosheol · Freddie Rive, Random person
@mikebithell is project three planned to be more like TWA or Volume?
Mike Bithell@mikebithell · Game Designer
@42stepstosheol I suspect it'll be like neither. ;)
Jeff P@eldernewb
@mikebithell Hi Mike!! Congratulations on Volume!! I loved, loved, loved Thomas Was Alone and I'm looking forward to playing Volume. So.....when is it coming to Xbox One?
Mike Bithell@mikebithell · Game Designer
@eldernewb thanks for asking, it's available now on PC/Mac and PlayStation!!
Suleman Khan@cyriilabs · Erso
@mikebithell What was your main focus when you first built "Thomas was Alone"?
Mike Bithell@mikebithell · Game Designer
@sporthubbb getting a game finished. Seriously. That was the main goal, to start, develop, and ship a game. I'm glad it turned out ok :)
Greg Stoddard@gregstod · grad student
Two questions: 1) What are your top 5 favorite games? What are the games that have influenced your game creation the most? 2) How do you feel about things like the Humble bundle? Is it a net good or bad for the indie game biz? What about the devs that participate in it?
Mike Bithell@mikebithell · Game Designer
@gregstod 1) Deus Ex, Hitman Blood Money, MGS2 (a quirky choice, I know), Half Life and VVVVV
Mike Bithell@mikebithell · Game Designer
@gregstod 2) I think that any price point can work in the right circumstance, I've certainly done very well out of being flexible with Thomas Was Alone :)
Ryan Hoover@rrhoover · Founder, Product Hunt
@mikebithell we have very similar taste in games... although MGS2 is an unexpected choice. 😊
Evan Sims@evansims · Founder, Rogue Helix
@mikebithell Hey Mike, I picked up Volume yesterday and I'm really enjoying it! I love the whole vibe of the game. What inspirations did you draw from for the concept and design?
Mike Bithell@mikebithell · Game Designer
@evansims For me, this one was all about game feel. It had to be smooth, and you had to feel good moving in and out of cover, and around guard's site. The rest of the game kinda grew from there.
Kyle Doherty@mlcodest
@mikebithell Hi #MikeBithell. Congrats on the very successful launch. As a fan of you since seeing on the NLSS, what's your opinion on Youtube/Twitch coverage and how do you think it will impact Volume in the short and long term?
Mike Bithell@mikebithell · Game Designer
@mlcodest I think the opening screen of Volume makes my feelings clear ;) TWA was a hit because of YTers and Twitch streamers, and I think Volume will work out the same way. I am very, very happy to see folk starting to get into streaming the game. I enjoyed watching inTheLittleWood yesterday. He's sneaky.
Mike Bithell@mikebithell · Game Designer
2) He's a nice chap, and I'm a fanboy of those movies too. I'd love to work with him at some point, but for now, we're just internet buddies.
Matt Sephton@gingerbeardman · Former Apple Technology Evangelist
Hi Mike! Two questions... 1) Which game is the one that makes you say "I wish I'd made that" 2) Which is your favourite game on Nintendo platforms and why? Cheers!
Mike Bithell@mikebithell · Game Designer
@gingerbeardman 1) I think I dropped Her Story into conversation earlier, that's definitely the game I played this year which I wish had my name in the credits ;) beautiful, elegant design
Mike Bithell@mikebithell · Game Designer
@gingerbeardman 2) I ADORED paper mario 2.. primarily for the fantastic localisation and writing. Is that cool enough?
Matt Sephton@gingerbeardman · Former Apple Technology Evangelist
@mikebithell 2) Works for me (though I've never played it I know what you mean about the localisation/writing). Thanks
Matt Sephton@gingerbeardman · Former Apple Technology Evangelist
@mikebithell 1) I usually stay clear of anything recent that hasn't had time to bed in and prove it's worth, but if that's your choice then that's fine by me. Or if you felt like choosing an older game, prior the current generation, that would be cool too.
Lee Stride@stride_lee
@mikebithell bit of a long one: Have you thought about adding a new game plus/ 'adventure' mode to volume in which there are no checkpoints (and possibly story elements removed) that unlocks upon completing the story mode? Sort of with a focus on the mechanics and speed running element of the game? If not would you consider adding playlists to the game made up of highly rated user to content to fit the same purpose?
Mike Bithell@mikebithell · Game Designer
@stride_lee you may want to check out today's blog post on volumegame.net ;)
Corley@corleyh · COO @ Product Hunt
@mikebithell great to have you here. What's the word on the Vita version? Can you go into detail on the delay? I know some folks had doubts that the platform could support a game like this, so I would imagine you may have run into framerate issues? THANKS!
Mike Bithell@mikebithell · Game Designer
@corleyh I can't go into too much detail on the process there, but I can assure you the platform can support a game like Volume :)
Haoose@haoose · ZoG Forum Team
Dear Mike Bithell, We admire your game Volume. Our team (http://www.zoneofgames.ru) is eager to make its Russian localization. We hope on your understanding to our desire of making the Russian version of your game. We can later send the Russian localized version to you so you can add it in the game officially. With great love to you and your game, ZoG Forum Team.
Mike Bithell@mikebithell · Game Designer
@haoose we've already got Russian localisation, just going through LQA to get it into the game now, but thanks for the offer! :)
@mikebithell HI Mike. You may vaguely remember me as the guy who said his in real life initials were TWA, on twitter. (My first name is actually Thomas to) Well, I basically submitted for a review copy as a joke and you actually sent me one. I feel bad about it now, and I promise once I've beat the game I'll write a review and attempt to get it to as many people as I can reach. (Just beat level 35 and I'm enjoying it so far, and I'm not the biggest fan of stealth games in general) But I appreciate the steam code, and I'll probably end up buying it again on PS4/Vita when it goes on sale or something. Sorry if this isn't actually a question but I wanted to say thanks. PS. Thomas was alone was awesome as well.
Mike Bithell@mikebithell · Game Designer
@twa556 sir, your stealthy sneaky skills have earned you a place in the game, and reminded me to slightly tighten up our key approval system :) Enjoy the game! (also, on PlayStation)