Interview With Millipede Creative Development’s Wil Monte

Chances are you know Millipede Creative Development best for their bull-busting physics puzzler, Bullistic Unleashed. However, it turns out this team from Down Under are no new kids on the block! We chat with Wil Monte to find out more about what led up to a work of such edgy digital carnage.

Let’s start off by learning a little about Millipede Creative Development. How long has the studio been in business, and have you always had a multi-pronged focus, or did you start out in one multimedia field and kind of branch out as you went along?

Millipede started in December 2005 as hardcore Flash developers. We worked on anything from websites to games – anything that had more of a technical requirement. We started programming for iOS in its very early stages. Not because we saw it as the death of Flash; we saw it more as an avenue to be able to push our service offerings in a more game-oriented direction. I guess we dodged a bullet as the demand for Flash development has plummeted since the smartphone and tablet explosion. We loved Flash and were/are damn good at it, but we are enjoying developing for iOS, Android, and Unity3D so much more. So, to answer your question in a very roundabout way, we branched out as we went along, and will continue to do so.

It was really interesting to find out you’ve done a lot of work in the field of edutainment. From your perspective, how heavily have videogames shaped the schooling process – have you noticed educational games chewing up a progressively wider share of the primary or secondary school curriculum? Is there a growing sense that education has to actively compete with mainstream games for kids’ attention?

Probably not what you’d expect after playing Bullistic? I’m a firm believer that education can be fun and games should play a huge part. People learn so much more when they are enjoying themselves. They remain engaged for longer and they’ll retain more information. There is no question that games compete for the student’s attention, so instead of fighting for it, give them what we know works. “Serious games” are a way to stop the fight for attention. Any topic in the school curriculum could be augmented by a game to reinforce the subject learning objectives. And I guarantee, if you throw in even a small competitive aspect, students won’t stop playing until they win… I mean, learn.

On that note, I wanted to touch on Before the Storm, an app Millipede created for the Australian Emergency Management Institute if I’ve got it right. How did such a cool opportunity come about, and how much creative control were you given while working with a government agency?

We have worked with AEMI before. They engaged us to produce something for the App Store to “test the waters.” We were provided with the key learning areas they needed to hit, and left us to it. They were fantastic to work with in that they gave us complete creative control and an awful lot of trust. Naturally, we kept them involved and up to date as to what we were doing along the way. We had to be sure that the game was going to satisfy all of their requirements and keep all of their stakeholders happy. The result was a Machinarium-inspired adventure game, where players control a cute robot (iGor) working for a mad scientist and preparing the house for an approaching severe storm. We are really pleased with how it has turned out. It was a fantastic initiative and AEMI deserve every success for being brave and looking to gaming as a learning tool.

I can tell from Millipede’s Facebook posts that you’re heavily enmeshed in the field of “gamification.” Could you explain what that is to those who aren’t in the know? How is it transforming marketing nowadays, and what opportunities might it open for iOS developers who are looking for contract work?

“Gamification” is applying game rules and techniques to tasks or activities where they previously didn’t exist, as a tool for competitive engagement. Gamification has always been around, it’s just that some clever exec (probably in advertising) gave it a name. Remember when a spoonful of food became an aeroplane coming in to land in your mouth? Ever said, “race you to the car?” Ever completed chores on a To-Do list so you can earn points and achievement badges? These are gamified experiences.

The world is getting pretty crazy. Now not only do we look at ads, we participate in them! There have been some incredible gamified campaigns, from real world treasure hunts, to behavioral changes for a healthier lifestyle. The process is simple: create task, add rules, add reward, encourage competition. However, to execute it properly is actually really difficult. People specialize in the area — studying everything from user experience design to human interaction and thought processes, all the while striving to create an incredible campaign. iOS/mobile developers are in a great space as smartphones are becoming integral to the modern gamified campaign. Smartphone apps, along with social media, are generally the essential tools for players being involved and remaining updated while participating in a campaign.

Okay, so here’s the million-dollar question. After producing all these sugary sweet apps for kids and advertisers, where did you get the inspiration for the themes in Bullistic Unleashed? Was there all this pent-up frustration with having to make your products family friendly until now, and all this X-rated stuff just poured out when you finally had more artistic freedom?

I think you nailed it! All of our work prior adhered to exceptionally strict rules. Government guidelines, brand requirements, style guides, curriculum, accessibility guidelines, BLAH! Bullistic Unleashed is exactly the opposite of anything we have done and we had a fantastic time doing it! We wanted to break the rule that casual games should be family friendly. Our heroes are absolute bastards. We wanted to push this game as far as we could…while adhering to Apple’s rules.

Bullistic is meant to be a cheeky and naughty release for its players. We designed it to be laughed at. We want you to feel a little naughty playing it and enjoying it. This game is for adults, so you don’t need to worry about the children this time. Relax and have a damn good laugh at the stupid stuff you used to find funny when you didn’t have so many cares and responsibilities. Run amok, then stick it back in your pocket. No harm done.

What was Millipede’s approach to designing the gameplay for Bullistic? Did you find yourselves downloading every physics puzzle game on the market and drawing up a list of things that hadn’t been done yet in the genre?

No, actually. Of course there’s the obvious masterpiece that the launch mechanism was inspired by, but we were looking at Bullistic from a platformer perspective and added the physics puzzler around it. Remember those amazing moments in Sonic when he would fly through a network of pipes, in a burst of colour, lights and rings? Or remember landing in a barrel in Donkey Kong Country, aiming and timing your shot into the next barrel to cross a chasm? We wanted to fuse those moments into our game along with a pinball machine. The result is a game where sometimes you are in complete control, but there are moments when you aren’t. All the while you are breaking stuff and causing absolute chaos. Sounds like fun to me!

An awful lot of work went into the level design. There have been a few reviews saying that you just randomly shoot and hope. Wrong — you’re just too used to looking for little green pigs! Every single level has a method and a sequence to it. And in every level 100% damage can be achieved. You just need to sit back and forget about the other slingshot games you have played and figure out how the level works. If I hit that spring, I’ll get in that elevator, which will shoot me across the top to that barrel. As puerile and unintelligent as the humor is, the gameplay actually requires thought. The theme is just a guise for what we believe is a very well thought out and quite advanced puzzle game. Sorry, the learning curve is steep, but you’re an intelligent adult. Use your head.

Dare I ask whether you had any gameplay ideas that didn’t make it into the final release?

Yes. Sometimes I embarrassed myself with some suggestions. However, only a little, and I haven’t ruled them out for a possible update. Consider this release “testing the waters.” I’m pretty sure our next attempt will be rejected, but we’ll wait and see.

Now that Bullistic has been unleashed into the App Store, what’s on tap for the Millipede team next?

We have to return to our client work to raise revenue and pay for more Bullistic development! We are working on a few great titles for clients now, one is about to launch and others are due later in the year. Hopefully we sell a few copies of Bullistic and can update the game with new and exciting venues to demolish, as well as roll it out to other platforms. It’s been six months of amazing fun and we couldn’t be happier with the resulting game. We hope our passion and laughter filters through to the player’s experience. If it does, job done.

Big thanks to Wil for taking the time out to answer our questions about Millipede and Bullistic, and to Chris at Surprise Attack for facilitating. If you recently became a Bullistic fan, be sure to keep an eye on Millipede’s website, Facebook page, and Twitter account for the latest news!