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Kickstart This! Anniversary Interview: Chewing the Fat With Bacon Man Director Neal Laurenza
It is perhaps somewhat ironic that Bacon Man appeared in July 2014’s Common Creative Wealth Edition of Kickstart This! While athletes from around the world competed in the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, the developers at Skymap Games were hard at work campaigning for their project, which stars an anthropomorphized version of the fatty foodstuff in a surreal Earthworm Jim-style platformer. The game achieved its funding target of $20,000 (with an extra $1,280 to spare), and is expected to be released for the PC and Xbox One before the end of the year.
Neal Laurenza, Managing Director at Skymap, recently sat down with us to share a slab of bacon and to discuss Bacon Man. While we pondered if the breakfast staple proves the existence of God, we also talked about the game’s Kickstarter campaign, how bad emails can do good things, and other sizzling topics.
Andrew Rainnie, Warp Zoned UK Correspondent: I remember when I first saw Bacon Man, it conjured up thoughts of Earthworm Jim and its kind of quirky humour, which is often missing in platformers. But what spoke to you as an inspiration for Bacon Man?
Laurenza: Oh man, that question is pretty loaded! We’re inspired by so many different forms of media it’s really hard to pin down. I can say the quirky humor is a result of our college days… late nights watching anime and playing every platformer we could get our hands on. Games like Earthworm Jim [were] definitely inspiring because they ooze style. That kind of aesthetic is something we strive for.
WZ – Andrew: Bacon Man was featured in our Kickstart This! column in July 2014. Did you design the the game with Kickstarter in mind, or did you pursue other funding avenues before crowdfunding became viable?
Laurenza: We didn’t really design the game with Kickstarter in mind, but the possibility of running a campaign bounced around in conversation every once and a while. When our computers were no longer cutting it for development, we evaluated all of our options and figured that it was a viable way to raise funds. [Kickstarter] was our first choice since we are already self-funded by contract work.
WZ – Andrew: British comedian Al Murray has a great sketch where he argues that bacon proves the existence of God. What do you think?
Laurenza: A while back I did an interview with Wil of A Bit of Geek & Nerdery on this exact sketch. It’s super excellent.
Bacon is a blessed meat… maybe.
WZ – Andrew: Even though funding for the game was only locked a year ago, its already out in demo form on the PC and Mac. How hard have you been working to get it ready so quickly?
Laurenza: Super hard. Bacon Man is a really ambitious project for a team of four people. Not many small teams go for a 3D project with this much content. Just the demo can take over 30 minutes if you’re decent at platformers.
Since the demo contains most aspects of the core gameplay, every time we push out an update there’s always a Kickstarter backer helping us to find bugs. It’s really awesome getting help from the community.
WZ – Andrew: You announced last month that the game is also coming to Xbox One. Is it coming to PS4 too? What is developing for a new-gen console like compared to other platforms?
Laurenza: The Xbox One is a really awesome console to work with. Microsoft has done a great job at making their tools easy to use. Bacon Man is currently running on Xbox One at a very high frame rate and excellent graphics settings.
It’s really nice working with consoles because you know what you’re getting. With a PC or Mac, the hardware varies greatly. There have been times when we’ve had issues because of a specific graphics card or an underpowered processor. It’s a bummer for the gamer because they want the best experience possible, but not everyone has a nice computer.
I can’t comment on PS4, but you never know what the future holds.
WZ – Andrew: You are based in Boston. What’s the local game community like there?
Laurenza: We recently opened a new video game co-working space in Manchester, New Hampshire called Game Assembly. Alongside our friends from Robot Loves Kitty, Retro Affect, and others, our goal is to turn Manchester into a hub for game development.
Being in the Boston area is great because the community is tight-knit and well organized, but the problem is the price. Up here in Manchester, we have excellent office space on a street filled with great local businesses, and we’re only an hour from Boston. We’ve also started an IGDA (International Game Developers Association) chapter, and the community is growing rapidly.
WZ – Andrew: Back to Kickstarter. How important was the Kickstarter community to you? How did you go about spreading word about the game?
Laurenza: Our community is fantastic. We have regular email conversations with our backers, and they often contribute to making sure the game is the best it can be. It’s like we have our own QA department. To the backers reading this: Thank You.
WZ – Andrew: Before our interview, you mentioned that a bad press release helped save the project? What’s the story?
Laurenza: Marketing is a funny thing, because you never know how word is going to spread. I used a press release service to distribute information about the Bacon Man Kickstarter, and an error got us our biggest backer. When I submitted the release, they scanned it and determined is was not for video games, but for the restaurant and hog farming industry. As a result, we got on all of these weird farming blogs, food blogs, etc.
I still haven’t confirmed if this is exactly how they got word of us, but shortly after that release Denny’s Restaurants messaged us, and backed us at the highest tier right around the end of the Kickstarter. It ends up Denny’s has a savvy social media team who saw the game and wanted to help. As you can imagine, it was a grand slam.
WZ – Andrew: Kickstarter and other crowdfunding sites have changed the face of gaming forever. Do you think it will continue to be a creative hub for gamers and game developers, challenging standard conventions, or do you think it will diminish as the years go by?
Laurenza: It’s pretty hard to tell right now. Funding games is hard, and as a result developers are always looking for new and innovative ways to fund their projects. Kickstarter is cutting edge now, but there’s always something new around the corner. Who knows what the future holds?
WZ – Andrew: Bacon Man is your first project as a studio. I know the game is still in development, but do you have any idea what Skymap Games might do next?
Laurenza: Ideas we’re playing with right now… big open areas, monsters, some kind of hub.
WZ – Andrew: What games do you play as a gamer?
Laurenza: Lately I’ve been playing Bloodborne. [Hidetaka] Miyazaki is an exceptional designer. The whole team at Skymap loves his work. Some all-time favorite past games include Myst, Lumines, and The Last Express.
WZ – Andrew: Our thanks to Neal and everyone at Skymap Games, and we wish them good luck with the rest of Bacon Man’s development.
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