This week we had the opportunity to sit down and have a conversation with Ste Wilson of Bare Knuckle Development about his game, Super Mega Space Blaster Special Turbo. And we are very excited to bring this interview to you as a result.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself? Your history with video games and the path that led you to create Super Mega Space Blaster Special Turbo?
I’ve been an avid gamer as far back as I can remember. I grew up in the ’80s and ’90s playing on loads of systems from the Amstrad CPC-464 and the Amiga 500, to the Sega Mega Drive and the SNES and later the PlayStation. Games like Wonder Boy, The Galactic Plague, Dizzy, Sonic, and Super Fantasy Zone really inspired me and made me dream of one day making a video game of my own. I have a pretty creative family my mum’s a programmer and my dad’s an artist and graphic designer. My mum taught me to program in Basic in the ’80s and I spent quite a while making small text-based games with my brothers. I remember looking forward to grabbing a copy of the ‘Amstrad Action’ magazine from the newsagents and typing in the ‘Type-In’ game they had that month. My brothers and I would mess with the code, changing simple details like fire-rate or move-speed. This experimentation really helped me learn how to code.
In the late ’90s and early 2000s, I got into object orientated programming with Java and ActionScript in Flash. I developed quite a few websites and Flash games. I was still gaming away on my PS2. Games like Time Splitters, Shadow of Memories, Final Fantasy X, and Ico really inspired me but I still lacked the confidence to believe that I could make a full game. It wasn’t until I discovered Unity in 2014 that I started to think that my dream of making a game may one day become a reality. At the time I was working as a teacher in Thailand and over the following few years, I taught myself Unity and how to code in C# in the evenings. I used online videos, free courses and a load of books to develop my skillset. I made numerous small games that will never see the light of day but helped me hone my skills. Eventually, the concept for The Flawless: Art’s Tale was born.
The Flawless: Art’s Tale is a juggernaut of an indie game; it’s massive and way over scoped for a game developer to develop in their evenings. I created a prototype for it in Thailand and then moved back to the UK to work full-time on the actual game. Once in the UK I really wanted to have a game out there, to learn about the full release process and if possible learn about the console development process. That was why I set myself a 4-week challenge. Create a simple, fun game in 4 weeks and release it on PC. This was the original Super Mega Space Blaster Special. After it received a lot of good press I then went on to create the massively expanded ‘Turbo Edition’ for consoles.
In modern video game development, successful solo projects are pretty rare. Can you talk about your experience working on this by yourself? Did you run into any specific difficulties?
With Super Mega Space Blaster Special Turbo I made sure I stuck to what I knew. I used Unity and Visual Studio to develop the game, Photoshop, and Illustrator for graphics, and Cubase for sound. I could use all the packages without thinking and this really helped streamline the development process. I also used Trello to keep track of my numerous tasks and prevent me from forgetting to do something. The original game, Super Mega Space Blaster Special, was made in only 4 weeks for Steam(Win/Lin/Mac). After it received positive reviews I went on to create the expanded ‘Turbo Edition’ in another 4 week period.
There were a few difficulties in porting the game to numerous console platforms each with different features and specifications. These difficulties were generally easily overcome and the porting process for all platforms took in total about three months. The hardest thing I have found as a solo dev is constantly changing hats. One hour you’re a graphic designer, the next a programmer, the next a sound person, suddenly you’re doing an interview… It really takes it out of you, but I absolutely love it and wouldn’t want to do anything else.
I’ve been so busy working from rise until fall on a coffee drip that I haven’t had a lot of time to digest what I have actually achieved. The game is definitely a personal success, as releasing a video game on a major console like PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, or Xbox One has been a dream of mine since I was a kid. I’m really proud of what I’ve created; it’s a super fun, mega addictive retro space blaster with loads to unlock and it has couch co-op (my favorite way to play games as a kid). It’s certainly not a ‘triple-A’ game or even a ‘triple I’ game like Hollow Knight or Limbo, but it is a really enjoyable space blaster. The development process has given me a lot of valuable experience which will really help me in the development of Bare Knuckle Development’s much bigger Metroidvania action-RPG, The Flawless: Art’s Tale.
You have a background in coding. But was working on this game your first experience with working on sound design and art direction?
As well as coding I have a lot of experience in sound design and music creation. I’ve always enjoyed recording music and have recorded various bands and artists in my time. I released an album under my music maker pseudonym ‘Electric Fan Death’ back in 2009 whilst living in South Korea. I’ve kept the name ever since and have made soundtracks for a few games, including this one, as Electric Fan Death. Writing and recording music is a passion of mine and I hope to be involved in soundtrack creation for all BKD games. The artwork side was a little more difficult, but I used the skills I developed as a web-developer to help me create a look that was simple, retro and fun. Because I was trying to make the game in a very short time period, I couldn’t push my abilities too far. I tried to enhance the look with cool particle effects which add a bit of firework inspired depth to the game.
Super Mega Space Blaster Special has received great reviews. What is your personal history with the shoot ’em up genre? Have you played a lot of them? And are there any specific titles that inspired you?
I was really pleased(relieved) with the reviews for the first game. I knew that the game was a lot of fun if players gave it a chance, but I wasn’t sure if reviewers would play it for long enough to give it a fair trial. The majority of reviewers have given it a good playthrough, and it received scores from 7/10 to 9/10 which I am super mega pleased with. Hopefully, the new ‘Turbo Edition’ will get a similar reception.
I’ve been playing shoot ’em ups since the ’80s. Super Mega Space Blaster Special Turbo is inspired by loads of amazing shmups from the retro to the modern, you can check out an article I wrote for Bare Knuckle Development’s blog about it here [https://bareknuckledev.com/retro-roots/smsbst-retro-roots/]. One of my all-time favorite shooters is Super Fantasy Zone on the Sega Mega Drive (Genesis in the US). Me and my brothers would take turns as kids trying to help Opa-Opa take revenge, on the minions of Dark Menon, for his father’s death. When I was in Japan I found a Super Fantasy Zone arcade machine and lost a day of my holiday reliving my childhood. I paid tribute to the game by making the boss have a Super Fantasy Zone look to it. Other shooters that inspired the creation of this game include Asteroids, The Galactic Plague, Robotron 2084, Geometry Wars, Super Stardust, Bit Blaster XL, and Resogun.
Now that Super Mega Space Blaster Special Turbo is complete, you’ve said that you are returning to work on the Metroidvania game, The Flawless: Art’s Tale. What can you tell us about that?
I’m looking forward to getting back into development on The Flawless: Art’s Tale. I’ve been living in shmup-land for quite a few months now and definitely need to do something a bit different. The Flawless: Art’s Tale is a massive game compared to the Space Blasters and it’s a little daunting going back to it as the majority of the development, programming, graphics, and sound work will be done by myself. It’s also exciting because the game has a really deep plot to lose myself in and I can spend a lot more time on graphical elements as we are not rushing the release. Before starting work on the first Space Blaster I’d just finished coding the isometric world-map logic. It’s going to be a lot of fun designing and drawing the full map and I can’t wait to show you more.
We always like to ask designers this one. If you had a chance to work on a game from an existing franchise, what would it be and why?
What a question… There are so many amazing game franchises from over the years I’d love to work on. I’d love to help develop a game for the Souls series, Final Fantasy series, any game with Hideo Kojima, or a shmup with House Marque (creators of Super Stardust HD and Resogun). If I had to chose one it would be working on a game with Team Ico. I love all their games from the exploration and puzzle-solving in Ico, to the boss battling madness in Shadow of the Colossus, to the story of friendship and trust in The Last Guardian. Even though they are not a true franchise the games are linked by both the team that created them and the emotional experience they deliver. I love Team Ico’s ethos. They make games that contain truly experimental gameplay like indie developers often do, that vastly differ from other triple-A titles. They are not afraid to try something different and always fill their games with mystery and an atmosphere that draws you in. This is what we strive to do with The Flawless: Art’s Tale but obviously with a lower budget and in 2d.
We want to thank Ste Wilson for taking the time to answer our question. It was a real pleasure speaking with him. If you’re interested in Super Mega Space Blaster Special Turbo, you can find it on PC, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch. It’s a great game that we thoroughly recommend you give a go.
Brian Cowan loves playing video games, football, Magic, and pretty much anything else that he can use as an excuse to waste time. When he is not doing the above or working, he is usually writing or reading.