Best Buds vs Bad Guys is a run ‘n’ gun shoot ‘em up currently being developed by Richard Hill-Whitall and his eleven-year-old son, Lucas. With the help of Claire Hill-Whittall, who is in charge of business and marketing, and Steve Howard, the “coding genius” behind Best Buds vs Bad Guys—the team has dubbed themselves Super Icon, a game development studio of four based out of the UK.
Super Icon has been running a Kickstarter campaign for Best Buds vs Bad Guys since June 21st, and it’s wrapping up funding in the next two days or so. Its funding goal is £4,500, and the team needs about £1,500 to close that final gap, which they hope to do in the campaign’s home stretch. In the Kickstarter comments section, Rich has voiced concern about the game’s lack of press coverage, stating, “we have contacted a lot of press, with next to no pickup.” It’s been equally difficult for them to connect with fellow game developers who have run successful Kickstarter campaigns, as “apart from a couple no-one has responded.”
With that in mind, I thought it would be a great idea to reach out to this intriguing father and son duo—both of whom happen to fall under the autistic spectrum—to share their stories of how autism and their special bond affects/enhances their game development process.
Rich began developing games in 1991, on Commodore’s Amiga PC, and since then he’s moved onto much less clunky machinery. He’s still got the vibes for retro titles though, be it video games or old school flicks—and it most definitely translates into his modern-day craft. His son Lucas exhibits as thunderous a passion for game development as he does for playing them; everything from the Lego series to Minecraft, Sonic and beyond.
And that’s how Best Buds vs Bad Guys came about, a constantly evolving learning environment where “Lucas could let his imagination free and where [Rich] could create lots of different pixel art environments and enemies.” On top of that, they definitely wanted to sneak in allusions to the throwback games they so dearly love. As mentioned previously, both Rich and Lucas deal with Asperger’s on a day-to-day basis, and they wanted Best Buds vs Bad Guys not only to be a totally badass video game, but to also put forth a positive message about this disorder.
Autism has a profound effect not only on Rich and Lucas’ daily lives, but also on their game creation.
Autism has a profound effect not only on Rich and Lucas’ daily lives, but also on their game creation and development process. For one, Rich tells me it “gives you amazing focus and single-mindedness,” which no doubt helps one hunker down for hours on end and just grind things out the way they need to be done. It’s also helped him get through rough financial budgets for many of the 40 plus games he’s developed in his career. On the other hand, the disorder is deeply detrimental to his social skills, “a big negative,” in his own words—and at times, he has even suffered from severe depression. However, he still believes the “autistic aspect of [his] personality” has been a “driving force” behind his rollercoaster of a career as a game developer.
Rich and his son Lucas don’t just share a love for all things pixelated, they also both indulge in a fair amount of cartoons and comic books, and talking about ideas and content that they could create together. They started the concepts for Best Buds vs Bad Guys roughly a year and a half ago, and Rich notes that his son has grown a heck of a lot taller since then—he might even need to “redo the sprites as he is growing so fast!”
Not only has Lucas grown physically since he began working with his dad on Best Buds vs Bad Guys; his artistic ideas and concepts have “grown” dramatically as well. At Super Icon, he’s in charge of all the “level, enemy, weapon and power-ups concepts.” Together, Rich and Lucas write up all the ideas for the game, while Lucas sketches out all the enemies and build them up using Lego bricks. Keeping in the theme of the classic arcade machine art style, which the two decided on together for its “colourful and detailed pixel art” à la “classic Capcom, SNK, Data East coin-ups,” Rich then begins to put things onto the screen. First he works on the level backgrounds and tiles (sort of like Super Mario), and then he puts the enemies together, pixelating and animating them to virtual life. After the levels are added to the game and a few things are tweaked here and there, Lucas play-tests the levels, providing feedback and criticism while also keeping an eye out for bugs.
[it’s an] amazing experience creating something with your children
It’s definitely something else to work on a project you’ve been dreaming up with a friend—let alone a sibling, or even a son or daughter! Rich tells me it truly is an “amazing experience creating something with your children,” and if you’re ever presented with the opportunity he recommends you seize it—it’s “such an enjoyable and rewarding process.” Rich has worked on dozens of games in his twenty-something year career, and he admits that Best Buds vs Bad Guys is “quite unlike any other game [he has] developed, from the very beginning until now.” He goes on to state that it’ll be a game that he and his son will look back fondly on and he hopes that Lucas will reflect on this experience “with pride and good memories as he gets older.”