RVG Interviews Mike Montgomery.


Here we have our interview with the Founder and Owner of Bitmap Brothers. Mike Montgomery founded The Bitmap Brothers company together with Eric Matthews and Steve Kelly. They released games like Speedball, Xenon, Chaos Engine and many other fantastic titles.

A Huge thanks to Mike for taking part.

Enjoy



zapiy

How did you get into the gaming industry?

Mike

By chance, actually. I was working as a retail manager when I bought a ZX81 and taught myself programming. At the time, I didn’t know anyone else who could program or anyone who had a computer. I did send some of my programs to magazines, but didn’t get any published. One day I applied for a job as a games programmer and to my amazement I got the job. And the rest is history.

Greyfox

When the Bitmap Brothers created Xenon, how long did its development take from start to finish and how did you guys integrate the ships morphing into the game mechanics so flawlessly?

Mike

It took about 3-6 months. It seems like a long time ago now and things get a bit hazy, but the morphing was all drawn by hand, I think.

Greyfox

What was it like to have worked with some great computer musicians like David Whittaker and Richard Joseph amongst others?

Mike

Having a great working relationship with these guys was great. It meant that we could experiment  a lot to make the sound as cool as we could. They also understood what we wanted in our games.

Greyfox

Is there/was there any game you wished Bitmap Brothers had created back in the 90s before anyone else and why?

Mike

Hmm, that’s a hard one. I can think of one: Dungeon Master. It was a great game and we spent hours and hours playing it when it came out. If I remember correctly, we lost about 3 weeks work playing it!

Greyfox

Will the Bitmap Brothers ever consider doing a third Chaos Engine title or a Gods sequel?

Mike

Yes, and yes!

Greyfox

Polished, beautiful and innovative games creation was always associated with the Bitmap Brothers name, is there any other software house you feel deserves the same status?

Mike

I think there have been a lot of software houses that were as good. Graftgold, FLT, Lionhead and Sensible to name just a few.

zapiy

Gods is one of my favourite games, any chance this may get an update to the newer systems. Maybe XBLA or the PSN Store?

Mike

I think we would be most likely to do a version of Gods on iOS first.

zapiy

You are obviously very proud of all your games as I have read many times of your refusal to release a game until it was 100% complete. So which is the game that you treasure the most and why?

Mike

I think every time I have been asked this question I reply with a different game - there are just so many memories! Probably Cadaver, because some of the code I wrote for it just blew my mind when it worked so well.

onthinice

World War II Front Line Command is one of my favourite games. Can you tell us a bit about how this game came about?

Mike

After Z: Steel Soldiers we were left with a gap in work and two of my staff came to me with a mock-up of WW2. It had only taken a few days to make using the SS engine and only had a minimal game design. We spent the next few weeks doing research on the war at the Imperial War Museum in London. That really spurred us on to make the game. It was one of the quickest contracts that we ever signed, but after a few months the publishers dropped the project. We a lot of faith in the project, so we managed to sell it again just a few days later.

The Laird

Tell us about your iconic graphical style, what led you to use that style?

Mike

I think the main point for us was to work with artists who were the best, and work closely with them to keep the style consistent.

The Laird

How did you come to work with Bomb The Bass on Xenon 2 and Betty Boo on Magic Pockets?

Mike

When the Bitmap Brothers owned 50% of Renegade Software, the other 50% was owned by Rhythm King records. This gave us access to the artists who recorded on their label. 

The Laird

Do you feel you should have moved into doing console games earlier rather than sticking with the ST and Amiga?

Mike

Yes, that was a huge mistake for us. We missed the boat to the point it became almost impossible for us to get into console development.

The Laird

Your ST versions of games always really pushed the machine and were very close to their Amiga counterparts, how did you achieve this?

Mike

Lots of hard work and time. But that’s what we wanted: the best on both machines.

The Laird

Have you thought about bringing back some of your classic games for the new OUYA console?

Mike

We are always investigating new possibilities.

Rogue Trooper

Speedball has seen a few attempts at a modern day version (on PlayStation 1 and more recently PC), but each time they seem to fall short. Would you say this was down to people's expectations? Or was it a case of the Speedball games just being the right games, at the right time?.

Mike

That’s a very hard question. I think each version has it merits, but the biggest problem is people’s expectations. There are three main camps: old speedball players who want no changes, old speedball players who want changes and players who never played speedball. It’s very hard to get all three right. Satisfying one camp disappoints the others. We always tried our best to balance everyone’s expectations. Of course, the original gameplay is so good, it’s very hard to make it better!

Rogue Trooper

Things like Xenon 2 and Magic Pockets have, in past years, often cropped up in 'The most over-rated games of all Time' polls and thus led to claims of (some) of your games being all style over substance. Do you feel this is a little unfair? (For the record, as an Atari ST owner at the time, I bought Xenon, Speedball, Gods, Magic Pockets, Speedball 2 and Xenon 2. Loved them all with exception of Magic pockets - technically great, but missing something in gameplay department).

Mike

While style was very important to us, we always put a lot of hard work into the gameplay as well. When you make such a wide range of different games, people are always going to have favourites.

Rogue Trooper

Is it true Jeff Minter approached you guys when you set up the Renegade label? IF so, what happened there?

Mike

That’s too far back to remember, but it could have been fun.

Rogue Trooper

Your games always seemed to be written to get the best results from the hardware, in the ST's case, as close to the Amiga version as possible. Was this due to pride in your work? A cross-platform development system? Or both? And did you feel the ST was holding your games back somewhat, or was it more than capable of delivering on your vision?.

Mike

What we did was to look at each machine and see what was best for each. Don’t forget, we worked with some of the best programmers at that time, who could push each machine beyond what others could do. Also don’t forget the artists who knew how to get the best out of each platform.

Rogue Trooper

MD Gods improved on ST/Amiga version (faster, 64? colours etc) yet seemed to fall foul of Sega Europe quality control. Any ideas what went on there?

Mike

It was a long time ago now, but as I recall it related to the increase in difficulty due to the higher speed.

zapiy

What connection do you have with Amiga Inc who have been releasing Bitmap Brothers games on the Blackberry Playbook?

Mike

We have partnered with a number of talented developers to help bring our most popular games to new audiences in their original forms. It brings back some good memories.

zapiy

What's the future for Bitmap Brothers?

Mike

Our plan at the moment is to bring back many of our classic games on new platforms. Finding the resources to develop brand new Bitmap Brothers titles or to fully update classic titles is hard in the current economy, but we are always looking for people to invest in great games!

zapiy

Do you ever think you will launch a new game under the Bitmap Brothers name that captures the same feel as the previous titles.

Mike

If we have the money and the audience then I am sure it can be done, but development costs have spiralled in recent years, making it extremely hard to produce something with that level of quality.

zapiy

Do you have any art or unreleased code that you might like to share to the community

Mike

I would have to think about that one! We did have one game that we scrapped called “Bike”, but if I let it out now you would quickly see why it was scrapped. It was one of those ideas that sounded great on paper, but just didn’t work once we played it.

zapiy

Are you aware of the continued scene of homebrew titles being release for old machines?

Mike

I think it’s great that people have continued to develop software for older machines. Just wait until I retire!

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