Earlier this year, I had a chance to talk with some of the developers behind the upcoming Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back. Those folks are Black Forest Games, who previously had worked on Giana Sisters. This means, the folks who worked on a reboot of an IP that was originally so blatant a Mario rip-off it was sued off the shelves are now working on a Sonic descended platformer, for one of the most infamous characters in gaming.
TechRaptor: Before working on this project had anyone on it previously played any of the Bubsy games? If so, what were some memories they had of it?
Black Forest Games: Actually, no one here played the original Bubsy back then when it was released.
TechRaptor: How did Black Forest Games end up working on Bubsy?
Black Forest Games: We’ve been approached by the resurrected Accolade. They loved what we did with our own platformers like Giana Sisters and Roguestormers. We came together and immediately had the feeling that this would be a perfect match. The chemistry between them and us was just right.
TechRaptor: When looking at Bubsy's previous games what were the key elements you took from them?
Black Forest Games: Among the character and game-defining qualities were T-Shirts as power-ups, a quite unique style of Voice Overs, speedy sonic-like gameplay and of course the character himself. We tried to essentially adapt and modernize these defining qualities. However, we decided to rework the movement quite a bit, since one of the main gameplay issues the 1993 Bubsy had, resulted from missing features to support the low acceleration and high-speed gameplay proper.
TechRaptor: You previously worked on the Giana Sisters reboot and are using the same engine for Bubsy. How do the two IPs compare and differ?
Black Forest Games: Lots of our experience with platformer games went into Bubsy. Compared, however, Bubsy’s gameplay focus is different from Giana’s. Giana Sisters Twisted Dreams was focused on the world switching mechanic and how Giana’s and the Game World’s interactions were influenced by this feature. With Bubsy, on the other hand, we primarily focused on a faster, more reckless style of platformer gameplay.
TechRaptor: Have there been any struggles with using an engine built for a Mario based platformer in Giana Sisters with the more Sonic inspired Bubsy?
Black Forest Games: On the technical side, in the end, this switch was less of an issue for us. However, on the design side, we debated for quite a while back and forth whether this fast gameplay would fit the game. There were many good reasons speaking for the faster type of gameplay, but there were also some concerns speaking against it. In the end, we decided to embrace the faster game speed and looking at the result it was the right decision.
TechRaptor: What mechanics from Bubsy do you believe are best left in the past as you try to modernize him? What about platformers of the 8 and 16bit era overall?
Black Forest Games: What did not work out for the original Bubsy (1993) was the lack of understanding its great inspiration Sonic the Hedgehog. It wanted to be a speedy platformer like Sonic, however, the lack of safety nets, like the rings for example or special moves that would allow you to deal with threats and foes on high velocities, caused players who tried to beat the game to move cautiously and very slowly. In “Bubsy: the Woolies Strike Back” we tried to avoid high speeds at first, however, after a while of experimentation, we found a middle ground. By having faster acceleration and less inertia than in the original game, high speeds became more viable since players now can react faster to foes and hazards.
Thinking back to the era of 8bit and 16bit many fond memories come to mind. Usually, when thinking back to that era, the usual benchmark of bad design snapping to my mind is “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, which is an infamous example of virtually everything you can do wrong in game design.
TechRaptor: You mention that you feel the lack of safety nets was a problem with the game wanting to go fast and that you're taking a going fast approach. How do you plan on implementing those safety nets? Will yarn balls work like Sonic's rings?
Black Forest Games: We did a couple of subtle changes to reassure that the formula works for us:
- First, we reduced Bubsy’s acceleration time and inertia on deceleration to a bare minimum, giving the player more control to react to foes and hazards on high speed.
- We then gave Bubsy a new move: A cat-like pounce attack enabling him to lob himself forward, defeating foes on impact.
- Last, we increased the amounts of T-Shirts to be obtainable per level and changed their behavior. Whenever Bubsy loses one of his protective black shirts, all other shirts are automatically converted into black shirts. Of course, they change back again once Bubsy has obtained a new black shirt.
TechRaptor: On level design, one thing that stands out a bit about the original Bubsy is that, despite the push to go fast and the time limit, there were a lot of areas off the beaten path - doors that took you to different parts of the level and like Sonic a vertical multilayered design. Do you plan on implementing a similar type of level design, albeit with less cheap death traps?
Black Forest Games: Yes, although we have not layered the levels in their entirety that way. We focused and applied the use of this layered type of design to most of our challenging level segments, rather than layering whole levels that way.
TechRaptor: Have you taken inspiration from recent takes on the Sonic formula that look at the classics like Sonic Generations or Freedom Planet?
Black Forest Games: Let’s quote Schmitty, Lead Designer on Bubsy, here: Sonic generation was one of the games I remember fondly and happily played for a while. The pounce attack has a very modern sonic-esque feel to it. I think if it was inspired by recent modern additions to the Sonic formula in anyways, then it was rather subconsciously :).
TechRaptor: The general reaction to the announcement of Bubsy was a giant question of why on the Internet in many ways. How do you plan on convincing people that you can make this a game worth their time?
Black Forest Games: There are some hardcore Bubsy-fans out there and also a big BFG community. Those will try out Bubsy anyway and we are absolutely sure they will love the game and spread the word. What could possibly go wrong?
TechRaptor: Were you surprised at the reaction to Bubsy's announcement?
Black Forest Games: Hahaha! We were prepared to stir up parts of the gaming community given Bubsy’s reputation, but we were surprised how hefty and far-reaching the reactions to the news were once the cat was out of the bag.
TechRaptor: Accolade was last seen in 2000 when it shut its doors and was only revived at this announcement. How has working with them been?
Black Forest Games: They are very passionate and also very professional. They’ve been quite picky about lots of details in the Bubsy lore. It’s been a great experience for us working with them.
TechRaptor: How did you end up deciding which platforms Bubsy would be releasing on?
Black Forest Games: The decision’s there were largely made by Accolade. Since PC and console ports is also a specialty of our company, we were happy to provide them with options.
TechRaptor: Are there any plans to port Bubsy to Nintendo Switch, Xbox One or other platforms?
Black Forest Games: As mentioned before, we as a developer are only providing the options, the publisher decides. What we know is, that they are listening to the community.
TechRaptor: Will there be any PS 4 Pro features for Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back? What about HDR Support?
Black Forest Games: Every PS4 owner will have the same Bubsy experience.
TechRaptor: With Giana Sisters and now Bubsy on the comeback from Black Forest Games, are there any other IPs you've wanted or plan to bring back?
Black Forest Games: There are a lot of IPs we really would love to work on. To whomever it may concern, Turrican is on our wishlist.
TechRaptor: What are your thoughts on the recent trend towards remasters and remakes of older games? How would you compare it to what you do at Black Forest Games with continuing older series like Giana Sisters or Bubsy?
Black Forest Games: It is good to see old games coming back. However, our philosophy at Black Forest Games is not to remaster or remake them, but rather to evolve the IPs we are working with. For example, we could have just remastered or remade the original The Great Giana Sisters, but we wanted to enhance the game, take the core of what made Giana beloved and build on this. Although we had more freedom with Giana, our own IP, we also applied our development philosophy to Bubsy – and we believe it shows.
Additionally, for this piece we reached out to Accolade, the newly resurrected publisher, but they declined to respond. However, I was able to reach out to Michael Berlyn, the creator of the original Bubsy the Bobcat to ask a few questions. He first clarified that he had no financial ties or ownership of Bubsy, although it is clear that he cares greatly about his creation.
TechRaptor: So the team at Accolade didn't talk with you about the situation?
Michael Berlyn: I wasn’t aware that there was an Accolade team anymore. The people with whom I created the Bubsy product are, I am certain, not involved in the project. Accolade had been purchased a while back for its properties/catalog and then closed. The new activity is probably just a “brand” designed to inspire happier times.
TechRaptor: What are your thoughts on Bubsy coming back, first with the pc release of the first two games in Bubsy Two-Fur and now with Bubsy The Woolies Strikes Back?
Michael Berlyn: Bubsy was always a cool cat and deserved better than he got, so I am happy to see the character revived. As always, I disavow any connection to Bubsy 2 as I was not involved with it in any way, so its re-release as a PC game is beyond my commenting. As far as Bubsy 1 goes, I am hopeful that people will enjoy it in the upbeat and cartoon-spirit in which is was intended.
TechRaptor: The reaction to Bubsy generally tends to be a divisive love it or hate it among gamers. Why do you think this is and how do you feel about it?
Michael Berlyn: Bubsy 1 was a lot of fun and had a tremendous reception. Bubsy 2 was a franchise killer and created a lot of ill will for the character. The game was… well… lacking in spirit and life. My then-partner and I were contacted by Accolade to try and revive the character with a Bubsy 3. The market had shifted from 2D sidescrollers to 3D platformers, and we made some poor choices and design decisions, resulting in a poor showing.
TechRaptor: If Black Forest Games contacted you about advice or to work on the revival, would you be interested?
Michael Berlyn: Sure.
What are your thoughts on Bubsy? Any other games you'd like to see Black Forest Games revive? Share your thoughts in the comments below!