Volume Interview: How Mike Bithell Is Bringing His Childhood Passion To Life

Thomas Was Alone developer Mike Bithell talks about his next venture to GamingBolt.

After the spectacular success of Thomas Was Alone, Mike Bithell decided to take a different approach with his next project. Combining two childhood passions – Metal Gear Solid and LEGO – there was a desire to create a stealth puzzle game wherein players could remix their settings at will. Thus was born Volume, which is due to arrive on the PS4, PS Vita and PC, and looks to bring a merry band of mischief to the future of walk-throughs and Let’s Plays.

GamingBolt had a chance to speak to Bithell about the game, it’s story and setting, and even managed to find out a few details regarding its release on PS4 and PS Vita.

Ravi Sinha: How did you make the transition from a platformer like Thomas Was Alone to this arcade, stealth adventure game which you’ve described as a combination of Metal Gear Solid meets LEGO?

Mike Bithell: The thing was for me, there really were two games that I was designing. One was a story based indie platformer, the other was the stealth game since I was 13. And basically, I had to make the decision about which game I could do first and it just would’ve seemed much simpler in terms of the characters, in terms of the code and the art, everything really.  It was more of a process. This was me training myself.

Ravi Sinha: Volume is about stealth but there’s also this strong emphasis on making and editing your own levels in the game. How exactly do you go about creating and sharing your levels and having them rated by the community?

Mike Bithell: Yes, we have the toy box and toy set for people who don’t even like stealth games, and it’s quite the fun thing creating stuff. The basic process of building is…it’s kind of…like LEGO. I’m massive LEGO geek. So essentially you have this environment which is like 31×31 square grid.

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You play as Robin Locksley, who is a young thief who basically discovers a training system which is actually for guards and military folks and decides to use it to simulate some crimes and look to rob the richest people in the country.

Ravi Sinha: Is there anything that you can tell us about Volume’s story or the world it’s taking place in?

Mike Bithell: So the story is Robin Hood basically. I loved the traditional stories of his character. It was only latter generations that decided to place the story and context. I kind of want to do a near future kind of retelling of the Robin Hood legend. You play as Robin Locksley, who is a young thief who basically discovers a training system which is actually for guards and military folks and decides to use it to simulate some crimes and look to rob the richest people in the country. He doesn’t go off and do that himself, what he essentially does is Let’s Plays. He streams online, he shows the world how to do it and becomes an internet celebrity which is basically the idea of the game. It’s a cool story.

Ravi Sinha: We’ve heard that you might have some plans for co-op. Will we see Robin Hood’s band of Merry Men make an appearance?

Mike Bithell: We’ll be playing with some stuff, like where the Merry Men come from and who they are and kind of sowing some seeds and hope people like it.

Ravi Sinha: You can use sound in the game to distract guards and sneak past them. We know that you’ll be able to create your own ripples and remix but is there any function that sound can play?

Mike Bithell: Right now, it’s used as a distraction system. We’re going to play with some of the stuff, there’s lots of gadgets and what you can do with those types of things. Some of those sounds…one thing sound can also do is also deafen. One sound can also overcome other sounds so if you want to temporarily not be heard, you can make a really loud sound which doesn’t distract guards but deafens them for a period of time. Some type of audio only stuns them. It’s audio based and it’s visual based as well with abilities like invisibility and disguises, those kind of things. At this stage, we’re just experimenting, and trying to throw as much stuff into the game, seeing what’s fun, what’s not fun.

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I was really terrified I’d steal something (laughs). I haven’t played Monaco or Gunpoint yet despite being very excited about both of them. It’s too much constant contamination so don’t want to rip them off. I probably will later.

Ravi Sinha: Did any games like Monaco or Gunpoint serve as inspiration or as a guide for the stealth mechanics?

Mike Bithell: I was really terrified I’d steal something (laughs). I haven’t played Monaco or Gunpoint yet despite being very excited about both of them.  It’s too much constant contamination so don’t want to rip them off.  I probably will later.

Ravi Sinha: Volume is going to be timed exclusive for the PS4 and PS Vita, and it’ll also be available for the PC and Mac later. With Microsoft’s indie policy being more open in the past few months – with self-publishing and allowing just about anyone to develop for their console – will this change influence Volume coming to the Xbox One at any point in the future.

Mike Bithell: I’d never say never. Basically, I picked a few platforms to start with and if the game is successful and people like it and it feels like there are consumers on the other platforms, I’ll explore it then. But for now, we have no plans for Volume on other platforms.

Ravi Sinha: Have you had any exposure to the Xbox One in the past few months?

Mike Bithell: I’ve tried the Xbox One. I’ve chatted with Microsoft, they’re very good guys but…I haven’t got my hands on an Xbox One yet.

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Concerning the touchpad, I’m sure we’ll do something with it andnot using it just because it’s there. Like Thomas on the Vita, we tried to do a lot of stuff to take advantage of things like the back touchscreen because it would be different. It’s nice, because Sony don’t force me to use all this stuff because it’s there.

Ravi Sinha: When you go about making a game – taking Thomas Was Alone, which started as a Flash game that made its way to the Vita and PS3, and with Volume that is targeted as the PS4 and Vita  – do you go in that direction that you’re going to create the game to fit the console or that you’re going to create what you want and see how the console caters to it?

Mike Bithell: Yeah, I’m always going to make the game I want to make. The Xbox One and PS4 are functioning very similar so there’s no real differences. For me, actually interestingly for a stealth game, it’s been very interesting as I’ve developed to a point just how suited and comfortable it feels on a game controller or on the keyboard perhaps. It’s actually been a struggle to get the game to feel good on the mouse and keyboard.

Ravi Sinha: Speaking about the PS4 alone, what are your thoughts on the unified architecture and the new features offered on the DualShock 4 touchpad and Remote Play with the Vita?

Mike Bithell: The hardware itself I don’t get my hands on. I will say the controller is fantastic. Just far better than I expected. Concerning the touchpad, I’m sure we’ll do something with it andnot using it just because it’s there. Like Thomas on the Vita, we tried to do a lot of stuff to take advantage of things like the back touchscreen because it would be different. It’s nice, because Sony don’t force me to use all this stuff because it’s there. But if something comes up and feels right for these things,  such as with the touchpad…we will discover things for sure but I’m not going to force them.

Ravi Sinha: As for the PS Vita, Sony has given a very big focus to it at E3 and Gamescom but the sales haven’t exactly translated well. There haven’t been many AAA games released but there has been a big push for indies. Do you think it would elevate the system since it was designed to run PS3 level games, to go from being a scaled down PS3 to the place you play indie games?

Mike Bithell: I think it’s a very cool time for Sony. It’s the way my relationship with them started with Thomas Was Alone. I think it serves a lot of very useful processes. One is obviously indie games which are already cheap for content to get what you want. I think more importantly it’s built on these relationships, so yes, Thomas Was Alone on the Vita didn’t push the hardware to any degree. It was not a PS3 graphics game. Volume’s getting closer. We’re building these relationships with indies on earlier projects. Visually, there’s a jump up which is great to witness from Thomas Was Alone to Volume. So I think it’s a long-term investment.

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Games feel better at 60 FPS so I’m going to do everything I can to hit that.

Ravi Sinha: Are you aiming for 60 FPS/1080p resolution for the PS4 version of Volume?

Mike Bithell: Honestly, I’m going to aim for 60 frames per second and 1080p. I’m actually developing the game on a four year old laptop. So I think and I’m pretty confident that we can hit that. Games feel better at 60 FPS so I’m going to do everything I can to hit that.

Ravi Sinha: What are your thoughts on the recently announced SteamOS, Steam Machines and Steam Controller from Valve?

Mike Bithell: I’m interested. I’m very interested. The controller itself is fascinating and the idea of touchpad thumb sticks is intriguing. In terms of as a business strategy, I think it’s going to be an interesting one to watch. Valve is very clever. I think  they  won’t just jump the gun and try something. Valve have the constitution and they’re willing to do it so I’m quietly confident and excited.


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