Futurepoly’s Jason Stokes recently took some time out of his hectic work schedule to speak with us. Why would we want to talk to him? Jason isn’t just the guy behind a great looking school for game artists, he’s also the creator of Bullet Bros, an over the top Contra meets Bionic Commando style platformer. Bullet Bros is heavily influenced not just by Contra and Bionic Commando, but by Super Mario 3 and Blaster Master. That right there should sum up what Bullet Bros is all about : side scrolling co-op mayhem. It’s got dozens of vehicle types, grappling hooks, some hilarious looking physics, off the wall bosses, some really unique co-op elements, and a ton of utility items. So far everything is wrapped up in a graphically beautiful package that would make some big name studios green with envy. It was easy to recommend Bullet Bros in the November edition of Budget Backer; but it also means it’s that much more frustrating to see it struggling to hit it’s Kickstarter goal.
What did Jason have to say about the game and it’s funding? And what sort of bro-inspired haiku did we pull out of him
Cliqist : Do you even lift, bro?
Jason Stokes : I don’t go to the gym as often as I should but I do play a lot of Beach Volleyball if that helps my Bro cred. In fact the whole Bro dynamic came from Beach Volleyball. Last year a friend and I were watching a match and this scary looking dude with prison tats and terminator glasses was yelling out “Come on Bro” every single play. It cracked us up and that’s why every-time you press the link button it plays a random “Come on Bro” when you link up with your buddy.
Jason Stokes : I do really like that retro look but I wanted to do something a little different and closer to my personal style. I really enjoy doing concept art and digital painting and with a 2d game there are a lot of unexplored techniques that I wanted to experiment with. Specifically getting away from a strict tile system and being more loose with the sprites, doing things like overlaying large brush strokes over areas to help break up the noise. The game is also very early so I really plan on pushing the loose textural quality of the backgrounds and smooth out the character animations.
Cliqist : There are tons of Mega Man style games out there, but very few Contra and Bionic Commando ones. Why is that?
Jason Stokes : I’m not really sure, but I think people might have forgotten how much fun it is to sit on the couch with a friend and play through an old school co-op game. Also, with remakes, the developer needs to be doing it for the right reasons, if it seems like they’re just trying to cash in on nostalgia without really caring about the game then the fans pick up on that. Mega Man 9 and 10 are great examples of how to do it right because you can tell they made those games out of love.
Cliqist : Your Kickstarter mentions the possibility of 50 – 100 playable vehicles. That boggles my mind a bit, how do you plan on pulling that off?
Jason Stokes : The combination of 2-d and a physics engine makes creating the vehicles rather quick because I can just make smaller sub component that each with their own physics properties. Then I can mix and match them to create larger vehicles. The time consuming part is going to be testing and balancing all of them. It’s also great because anytime I want to create a new vehicle from scratch I can just take a screenshot from the game and paint a new vehicle concept on a fresh layer in Photoshop. Since it’s a 2-D game I can then import the concept as a sprite back into the game. This quick workflow is the main reason why I’m sticking with a 2-d engine. I can implement a new vehicle in about a day where as the traditional 3-d pipeline might take 2-3 weeks.
Cliqist : You seem to be very ‘go with the flow’ with your design style; referring specifically to the inclusion of some of the wackier physics in the game. This would seem to go against what I would expect from an educator. Do I have teachers all wrong, are they not all so square?
Jason Stokes : I’m definitely a nontraditional teacher and I think its a result of being an artist first and an educator second. Being an artist in the games industry is very competitive so I really stress to students that you have to love what you’re doing in order to get hired. I don’t grade students, instead I just tell them if I think something is ready for their portfolio or not. If It’s not, then I will give them a digital paint-over of what can be improved so that it becomes tangible feedback rather than a boiler-plate critique.
Cliqist : I realize this is a bit of a broad question, but can you tell us more about FuturePoly? What inspired you to get it started? What are the benefits of enrolling?
Jason Stokes : FuturePoly is an Art School geared towards video game development that I started 4 years ago. I felt that the traditional art school system was failing and leaving students with a huge dept and an outdated skill set. I realized one of the main problems is that in order to teach at these larger schools they require instructors to have Masters degrees but the degrees can be in any area of expertise. By having this requirement it prevents most of the professionals in the industry from actually teaching. I realized that if I created a school that just focused on the portfolio and work flow rather than a degree then I would be able to have really great instructors. The formula has worked well so far and we have placed many students at studios like Bungie, ArenaNet, SuckerPunch, 343, etc. One of the great benefits of enrolling is that you are actually networking with instructors who currently work in the games industry. If you are kicking ass and making great progress then there’s a chance the instructor will notice and give you a recommendation at their studio.
Jason Stokes : Well, we definitely have felt it slow down this last week and it can be hard to stay optimistic during that period. I’ve been working on getting a stable build together to get out to the “Lets Play” community and I think once people get their hands on it the word will spread much quicker and hopefully we will get a surge of funding at the end.
Cliqist : Not to be morbid, but what if you miss your funding goal?
Jason Stokes : I realize that we have a lot of ground to cover and if Bullet Bros doesn’t make its goal then I will have to look into other sources of funding. I’m not going to give up on this project by any means, but It would take much longer to complete without the extra resources.
Jason Stokes : I really hope people see that I’m making Bullet Bros because I love games and I want to contribute to the games industry rather than dilute it. I truly believe the game will be the most ridiculous, over the top, fun, run and gun shooter on the market.
Cliqist : Can you close us out with a Bullet Bros inspired Haiku?
Jason Stokes :
A stale battlefield
the volcher’s circle ellipsed
a fresh canvas primed
Thanks to Jason for taking the time to answer our questions!
Head on over to the Bullet Bros Kickstarter page for tons of info on the game. If you like what you see, hurry up and back it, there’s only two days left!