Mike Bithell

Mike Bithell

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

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON August 19, 2015

Discussion

Mike Bithell
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
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
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
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
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
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
Mike Bithell@mikebithell · Game Designer
@jacqvon hehe, no, not quiet, but I tried!
42stepstohell
42stepstohell@42stepstosheol · Freddie Rive, Random person
@mikebithell *eyetwitch*
Jeff Meier
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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@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
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
42stepstohell@42stepstosheol · Freddie Rive, Random person
@mikebithell is project three planned to be more like TWA or Volume?
Mike Bithell
Mike Bithell@mikebithell · Game Designer
@42stepstosheol I suspect it'll be like neither. ;)
Jeff P
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
Mike Bithell@mikebithell · Game Designer
@eldernewb thanks for asking, it's available now on PC/Mac and PlayStation!!
Suleman Khan
Suleman Khan@cyriilabs · Erso
@mikebithell What was your main focus when you first built "Thomas was Alone"?
Mike Bithell
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
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
Mike Bithell@mikebithell · Game Designer
@gregstod 1) Deus Ex, Hitman Blood Money, MGS2 (a quirky choice, I know), Half Life and VVVVV
Mike Bithell
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
Ryan Hoover@rrhoover · Founder, Product Hunt
@mikebithell we have very similar taste in games... although MGS2 is an unexpected choice. 😊
Evan Sims
Evan Sims@evansims · Cofounder, Droveio
@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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Mike Bithell@mikebithell · Game Designer
@stride_lee you may want to check out today's blog post on volumegame.net ;)
Corley
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
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@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
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
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)
Suleman Khan
Suleman Khan@cyriilabs · Erso
At this level with Game Design, what takes up the most time? And what's the most fun aspect of it?
Mike Bithell
Mike Bithell@mikebithell · Game Designer
@sporthubbb honestly, a lot of my time is spent on running the team, pulling everyone's work together, and trying to keep the project on track. Sneaking off to work on some story stuff, or tweak a level, is always the highlight of my working day :)
Video Chums
Video Chums@videochums · Game Website
Hello. If you were to choose one reason why you create games, what would that be?
Mike Bithell
Mike Bithell@mikebithell · Game Designer
@videochums I suck at plumbing.
Video Chums
Video Chums@videochums · Game Website
@mikebithell Maybe that's Mario's story, too... hmm...
Luke Botham
Luke Botham@vazzan · Quest Designer, Guerrilla Games
@mikebithell Hey Mike, Congrats on what looks like an incredibly strong launch! I imagine the teams heads are still spinning a little bit. Obviously Thomas Was Alone to Volume was a rather large increase in team size and resources, might be too early to say but do you feel like this is something that will repeat itself with your next project?
Mike Bithell
Mike Bithell@mikebithell · Game Designer
@vazzan I've certainly developed a taste for being surrounded by talented people. But it's far too early to start thinking about the next game yet ;)
PixelPodium
PixelPodium@pixelpodium
@mikebithell Do you find reviews comparing Volume to Thomas Was Alone to be frustrating? Do you think it is unfair that they compare the two, even though it would seem Volume isn't trying to be Thomas Was Alone, and instead is trying to be its own game?
Mike Bithell
Mike Bithell@mikebithell · Game Designer
@pixelpodium I welcome all criticism, and have enjoyed reading all the reviews. I guess my one surprise is how much Thomas Was Alone is being invoked in relation to critiquing a stealth game. I get the link, I understand the thought process, but I was nevertheless surprised.
Matt Sephton
Matt Sephton@gingerbeardman · Former Apple Technology Evangelist
One more from me. On both TWA and Volume, how did/does your work ethic or office manner differ? Are you using the same methods of keeping productivity and focus high? If not how have they changed and scaled with your org? #businesshead
Mike Bithell
Mike Bithell@mikebithell · Game Designer
@gingerbeardman umm, the main difference is the org bit. TWA was a hobby, basically.. so I've had to hit the ground running as a *whisper* manager. I've not always got it right, but damn has it been an interesting learning experience. I guess the biggest difference is that I'm not the central person anymore, so productivity and focus are not directly tied to my mood.. it's more about navigating fuzzy human relationship stuff. Fascinating.
Faizyr
Faizyr@thefaizyr
@mikebithell what is next for you? do you have a basic concept for another title? and if you do what genre would it be?
Mike Bithell
Mike Bithell@mikebithell · Game Designer
@thefaizyr it's a game about dodging AMA questions. You have to maintain a chill persona, while actively avoiding saying something that draws you into a corner, as your last project came out 40 hours ago and you don't know what the hell is happening yet.
Karen Marie Mason
Karen Marie Mason@karen_marie_mason · Founder of Artist Launch label services
Can you speak to the role and relationship of music and gaming and where it may be headed?
Mike Bithell
Mike Bithell@mikebithell · Game Designer
@karenmariemason I love working with my composer Dave, and I think he's done great work on Volume. I love the emotional power that great music has. Good sound design makes game graphics look better. And also improves the controls. It's witchcraft.
Badly named twitch
Badly named twitch@phill_jenkins · Badlynamedtwitch
Congratulations to you, Mike. I was wondering if when making TWA and now Volume you gave a sequel a thought? Do you plan for such things and have you left yourself any space to do another, or have you not thought about sequels at all.
Mike Bithell
Mike Bithell@mikebithell · Game Designer
@phill_jenkins the key consideration with sequels, is the status of the acronym. I will not be developing Thomas Was Alone Two.
Noah Mittman
Noah Mittman@noahmittman · sputnik7.com/RESFEST alumnus
As someone familiar with the up & down rollercoaster ride of software development, what discovery during the development of Volume surprised you the most?
Mike Bithell
Mike Bithell@mikebithell · Game Designer
@noahmittman I think my biggest surprise (and frankly, after 7 shipped games, I should have known better) is just how slow that last year goes. Polish is less exciting than adding features, but boy am I glad we took the time.
geraint rees
geraint rees@adalaar0905 · twitch streamer
I know jim sterling had a cameo in volume will you have more cameos from others in the journo/streamer in future games?
Mike Bithell
Mike Bithell@mikebithell · Game Designer
@adalaar0905 if I think they have cool voices that suit the game! Or, as in Jim's case, if they get drunk and harass me on twitter in front of tens of thousands of their fans. He's diabolical, that one.
Matt Hargett
Matt Hargett@syke · FU
have you thought about being involved in an HD "remaster" of one of the games you previously shipped at a former employer? I'd love to see an HD collection of the Tak series, for instance.
Mike Bithell
Mike Bithell@mikebithell · Game Designer
@syke feck I'd love to redo my levels in Tak. Wow. Good wikipedia fu btw.
Daniel Becker
Daniel Becker@danisboring
What rig do you use to make your games?
Mike Bithell
Mike Bithell@mikebithell · Game Designer
@danisboring wow, credibility about to be lost: I'm on a souped up 27inch iMac. I maxed it out during a particularly exciting moment in a TWA steam sale ;)
Hey Mike, one serious question hidden between two not so serious ;) Whats are your favourite PlayStation One games? Are you able to share any details on sales on TWA iOS? really curious to know how you got on at the price you listed (noticed it dropped quickly a quid or so) and whether you think mobile markets are sustainable for indie devs with 'premium' games. Finally, as I'm watching them now, what do you think of the x-files? - Josh
Mike Bithell
Mike Bithell@mikebithell · Game Designer
@devjsc PS1 - easy, MGS, duh. iOS sales, nope, can't give specifics, but it certainly paid for itself, and helped fund some cool parts of Volume. I think 'premium' games can do well, but need the platform's support. Success elsewhere, helps with that. And I loved X-Files. They're about to ruin it, aren't they?
Luke Botham
Luke Botham@vazzan · Quest Designer, Guerrilla Games
Do you have a favorite level? Are there any levels which you've seen done in really inventive ways which you didn't consider at first?
Mike Bithell
Mike Bithell@mikebithell · Game Designer
@vazzan hehe, during playtesting I saw so many cool solutions. In Circulation is the one I nerd out over, because of the simplicity and elegance the level designers achieved. But I'm also a big fan of the last run of 10.. they do some fantastic riffing.
Empires Of Creation
Empires Of Creation@eoc_game · RazorSharpGamer
@mikebithell Hey Mike, absoluteley love the game! :D Quick question, I'm doing PR for a game at the moment and it isn't very popular right now; best advertising advice?
Mike Bithell
Mike Bithell@mikebithell · Game Designer
@eoc_game honestly, my best advice isn't to ask folks like me, we came up under very different circumstances.. I'd look to recent breakout successes, steal all their ideas.
Empires Of Creation
Empires Of Creation@eoc_game · RazorSharpGamer
@mikebithell but is there not a certain way you promoted Thomas Was Alone? Thanks.
Luke Botham
Luke Botham@vazzan · Quest Designer, Guerrilla Games
Which conferences/game events that you attend or have attended did you enjoy the most? Any specific events which felt like a winner because of Volumes impact at them?
Mike Bithell
Mike Bithell@mikebithell · Game Designer
@vazzan erm, in terms of 'business done', I'd always point to GDC, simply because everyone is there. In terms of my enjoyment, I find GameCity in Nottingham a lovely annual recharge. Great community there :)
Adam Goss
Adam Goss@goss2326 · Senior Software Developer
@mikebithell Hi Mike. Many congrats on the launch of Volume. I still remember seeing your presentation at Rezzed a couple of years back and falling instantly in love with it, and I've already had some fun playing, so kudos! Now that this is finished, I imagine you already have your next project planned. Do you see this as being another "indie" game, or can you start thinking of yourself as having reached the next step? (I think there must be an in between an indie and AAA with the way the industry has gone). Also, can we expect any VR from yourself, be it Oculus or Morpheus or whatever? It seems like the first wave of those type of titles are going to come from smaller devs rather than big AAA studios.
Real Men Report
Real Men Report@realmenreport
@mikebithell any update on ps4 review codes :(?
Ren the Unclean
Ren the Unclean@rentheunclean
@mikebithell Hey Mike, loving the game so far! Thanks for doing this AMA!
HashtagFreiheit
HashtagFreiheit@hashtaqfreiheit
@mikebithell 15w34a!? Why?
steinang
steinang@kappekoff
@mikebithell Any plans for a official linux version of volume?