Interviews// Mike Bithell

Posted 8 Oct 2013 12:00 by
Mike Bithell started out at Blitz Games as a Designer where he worked on Dead to Rights: Retribution and Invincible Tiger: The Legend of Han Tao. He moved on to Bossa Games and was Lead Designer on Monstermind. All the while, however, he toiled away on his own title Thomas Was Alone, a game that was to propel him into the independently developed video game firmament.

The success of Thomas has allowed Mike to strike out on his own, whereupon he has begun his next title, that was until very recently known as 'Project2' and is now referred to as Volume.

There is a preview of the game here, which we encourage you to read before ploughing on to this interview, as Volume is the primary subject matter of this chat. We caught up with Mike at Eurogamer Expo 2013 where he was showing off Volume to the public for the first time.

SPOnG: You're here at the Eurogamer Expo to show off Volume. Could you tell us a little bit about the game?

Mike Bithell (MB): Right now it's a stealth game that's a bit of a departure from what people are used to. It's definitely faster, it's designed to be more arcadey and has a focus on occlusion rather than shadows. So, the player is hiding behind things rather than being in the shadows. There is a real intention of removing the ambiguity you often get in stealth games. I want the player to be aware of their surroundings, to know what's going on and I don't want them to be unsure of whether they're in shadow or not or something like that; I like to be very clear. So that's the objective right now.

SPOnG: So has that led to the art style of Volume, with its very simple and crisp smooth lines?

MB: That's the thinking. I mean, we're still obviously developing the game, so the art style may shift a little bit before it comes out. But it really comes down to how can we communicate to the player the situation they are in best and also to make it look pretty! So I think right now we're keeping that balance quite well.

SPOnG: So there is function, then form, but also aesthetics, all wrapped into one?

MB: That's it, that's what you get with a Mike Bithell game. A lot of pretentiousness thought about all areas of the 'cube experience'.

SPOnG: Volume has a lot of obvious inspirations. The first one that leapt out was Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines.

MB: You can tell a lot about the person by whether they say Metal Gear Solid or Commandos. I tend to like the people who say Commandos a little bit more. But yes, Commandos was a game I was obsessed with, as well as Metal Gear.

SPOnG: Commandos had multiple layers of stealth, with the enemies having lots of interactions just as Volume has. The enemies in Commandos were really intelligent and they would do all sorts of things to hunt you down.

MB: That's very interesting you say that about Volume. It is actually much simpler than Commandos as it's nowhere near the complexity, although in fairness we are going to keep adding gadgets and objects to build on the experience, but it's not quite the same level of depth as the Commandos games. This is because we're trying to make it a faster experience. But that said, yes I think it's very interesting in stealth games almost how little you have to do to create that much complexity.

I always use the Ian Malcom speech from Jurassic Park about a drip of water falling onto someone's hand to demonstrate Chaos Theory. Now I know it's flawed and it's a really bad explanation of Chaos Theory, but it's Jeff Goldblum delivering and the dude is cool so he gets away with it. However, it's a very good explanation of stealth games because you go into a level and the AI are very stupid, they have a specific routine as it's little more than a series of switches. But there are an infinite number of possibilities, that's where the interesting depth comes from in the game that leads to interesting situations. I just like watching over people's shoulder and seeing the different messes they get into

SPOnG: It's not just Commandos that inspired Volume is it? There is also a hint of Thief: The Dark Project about it too. This is a game that sadly has zombies in it that are impossible to sneak past.

MB: There are a lot of Thief influences in Volume but I can confirm that it has no zombies in it.

SPOnG: The obvious reference to Thief is the inclusion of the Blackjack.

MB: It's a little nod and it also ties quite nicely to a certain element in the story, which I can't go into right now, but yes I had to have a Thief reference in the weaponry and I love those games. I'm very excited by the new one actually. It's streamlined but so far from what I've seen of it, it actually looked like Thief. I saw a gameplay demo of it earlier today and it feels like Thief. I can't put my finger on it, but they've captured something there, which is fantastic.

SPOnG: So will we hear guards calling the player a 'taffer' in Volume then?

MB: We've not written the script for the guards yet, so we just put things in to let the demo player's know what's going on. For example the guards say, "I see you" in the demo and stuff like that. But we're going to have a wide variety of dialogue for the guards and yes there will be references to other stealth games. So yes 'taffer' will make it in.
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