Interview: Deep in the [Stuff] With Bullet Bros’ Jason Stokes

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From the bold opening line of the trailer that immediately articulates the level of excrement the brothers-in-arms constantly reside in, Bullet Bros wears its guts on its sleeve. The game features two mercenaries who can link together for some outlandish and original manoeuvres, as well as hook cars, choppers, and other vehicles together for maximum devastation. Unfortunately, the project did not find much love on Kickstarter, collecting pledges for only a third of its $80,000 target. Warp Zoned caught up with creator Jason Stokes in the bloody aftermath of his criminally-overlooked campaign.

Andrew Rainnie, Warp Zoned UK Correspondent: Hi Jason, welcome to Warp Zoned. You were seeking $80,000 in your Kickstarter campaign for the co-op shooter Bullet Bros. Explain the concept of the game in the length of a tweet.

Stokes: Bullet Bros is a modern day Contra-style shooter with an emphasis on vehicle linking and over the top game-play.

WZ – Andrew: The concept of Bullet Bros’ over the top action harkens back to the heyday of Stallone and Schwarzenegger, who have also been enjoying a recent resurgence. Were you consciously trying to tie in to this modern day macho movement?

Stokes: The initial spark for the idea came when I was showing my nephew some classic games from my collection. Most of the games were fun for about 10 minutes but we both really got sucked into the Contra games, specifically Contra III for the SNES. After that I realized that the formula still held up and I wanted to create an homage to Contra and my other favorite games.

WZ – Andrew: Unfortunately the Kickstarter campaign only reached a third of its target. Is there anything you wish you had done differently before, or during, the campaign? Any thoughts as to why it did not catch on?

Stokes: I have a tendency to throw myself into situations without being completely prepared. I think the biggest mistake was not building a community before launching the campaign. Now I have the start of a great community so I don’t regret doing it for a sec.

WZ – Andrew: The game looks like so much fun to play, I am genuinely gutted it did not reach its goal. Even though the Kickstarter campaign has folded, is there still hope the game will be completed? Will the Bullet Bros ever shine in the light of day? And will you seek more crowdfunding, or alternative financial avenues?

Stokes: The extra funding would have really helped speed up development but I will continue to make the game. Honestly, working on the project has been the highlight of my games career and I will do whatever it takes to get it out there. The Kickstarter campaign was all consuming so I think right now I’m going to focus on involving the community with development rather than launching another crowdfunding campaign.

WZ – Andrew: How long exactly have the Bullet Bros been “knee-deep in the shit?”

Stokes: There’s really no way to tell, but judging by the stains on their knee pads, I’d guess at least 10 years.

WZ – Andrew: Is there anything resembling a plot in Bullet Bros? Or is it just a proper excuse for a gun-toting, helicopter chopping shoot ’em up?

Stokes: Actually yes. The Bullet Bros have been elite mercenaries for the past 10 years. Normal everyday killing has lost its luster and now they prefer to kill their targets in wacky and creative ways to avoid combat boredom.

They have recently been commissioned by MicroTrans Corp. to settle a labor dispute near the base of their headquarters. MicroTrans has encouraged the Bros eccentric fighting style and gifted them with a fully-outfitted hangar for training and mechanic purposes. The Bros also use the hangar to work on vehicles and build crazy new machines that they can later use in battle. Midway through the campaign, Micro Trans Corp. decides to start charging the Bullet Bros for the life regeneration procedure (Continues) and the Bullet Bros realize that they have pretty much given all of their contract money right back to MircoTrans.

The Bros do not abide and decide to head towards the MT HQ corporate tower to have a talk with management.

WZ – Andrew: So Bullet Bros’ biggest inspiration is Konami’s excellent Contra series, but I also got a hint of the Metal Slug games and Smash TV in terms of over the top violence, action, and humour. Were there any other inspirations behind the project?

Stokes: Yes, one of the original concepts was to throw in as many classic gameplay mechanics as possible and let the player decide how they want to get through the levels. Obviously the grappling hook from Bionic Commando, the vehicle combat from Blaster Master and Silk Worm, the level design and overworld from Super Mario Bros. 3, the wackiness from Happy Wheels, and the painted quality of the new Rayman games.

WZ – Andrew: The awesome grapping hook feature allows the vehicles to snag onto one another, creating mechanical monsters of mayhem. What was the ingenious thought process behind that?

Stokes: Well, I always loved grappling hooks in games but I was also annoyed with designers limiting its use. Why not let players grapple to everything? As a player I’m never gonna get angry when a game lets me play how I want to.

WZ – Andrew: There are also ‘Bro Links’ where the two characters pair up in a number of odd, slightly sexual, positions. Explain The Moustache Ride?

Stokes: The Moustache Ride is an advanced military manoeuvre that allows for optimal bullet coverage. If enemies are approaching from each side of the screen one of the Bros should hop onto the other in a reverse shoulder ride position. Unfortunately the bottom player’s visibility is hindered slightly by the top’s “crotchal” region, but extreme situations call for extreme measures.

WZ – Andrew: I hear Seattle gets more rain than my home country of Scotland. True or false?

Stokes: Based on my one minute of research I’d say Seattle averages 38 inches of Rainfall each year while Eastern Scotland averages 34 so it’s very close. The Western Highlands of Scotland is a different story altogether, bringing down 180 inches annually.

WZ – Andrew: You said in the Kickstarter campaign you would consider a Wii U version if stretch goals were met. Is this still a possibility? Would you target any other console platforms?

I’m talking with a few potential engineers to figure this out. I would love to have it on as many platforms as possible but right now Steam is the first step.

WZ – Andrew: You have been working in the gaming industry for over a decade. What’s your proudest achievement to date?

Stokes: I’m most proud of Bullet Bros even though it’s early in development and the Kickstarter didn’t succeed. In the back of my head I’ve been thinking about doing indie development for years, but I always was at the mercy of finding a programmer to team up with. Then one day I just decided to learn it on my own and I was completely sucked in. With YouTube and forums you can learn anything these days. Our washing machine broke last year and my girlfriend watched a few videos and said, “Oh, we just need to open it up and replace the clutch.” I was like, “Eh, I didn’t even know they had a clutch.” She fixed it and now my clothes don’t smell like mildew!

WZ – Andrew: So when you’re not busy watching your girlfriend work up a sweat fixing white goods, what do you play as a gamer?

Stokes: I was definitely sucked into the Grand Theft Auto V vortex when it was released, but lately I’ve just been buying up old NES and SNES games that I used to play as a child. Right now I’m on a Genesis kick because I never had one when I was young and it’s been fun playing through some of those classics.

WZ – Andrew: Your campaign was pretty flawless in terms of content and reward tiers. Do you have any advice to give to prospective game developers seeking crowdfunding cash?

Stokes: Yes, really build up your community and have all of your updates pre-planned. I was developing content and running the campaign at the same time so I always felt like I was behind the eight ball. I also think that Bullet Bros is a console game at heart and my console releases were very far away on the stretch goals so that might have deterred some people. Other than that, go into it with the mind-set that the worst thing that can happen is that you build a community of great fans and learn from the process.

WZ – Andrew: What lies ahead for you beyond the Bullet Bros? Do you have any other future game ideas you wish to share?

Stokes: I have a number of other game ideas I want to do but right now it’s all about the Bros.

WZ – Andrew: Once again, thank you for your time Jason, and good luck with the Bullet Bros.

Stokes: Thank you Andrew, It’s been a pleasure!

This entry was posted in Features, Interviews, PC, Previews, Top Story and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

In addition to being Warp Zoned’s UK Correspondent, Andrew Rainnie is a screenwriter and filmmaker. You can email him at andrew AT warpzoned DOT com or you can, if you’re inclined, visit his personal website.


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