Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Where are they now? - The Bitmap Brothers

The Bitmap Brothers logo

For today's "Where are they now?" post I'd like to talk a little bit about a British development house that was active in the late 80s and 90s known as The Bitmap Brothers. The development house was important as during a time where game development teams were becoming larger and larger, The Bitmap Brothers demonstrated that small development houses could still produce quality games. They are remembered for such hits as Speedball 2, Z and the games I remember best, The Chaos Engine (aka Soldiers of Fortune) and Xenon 2. So what are The Bitmap Brothers up to nowadays and how did they start off?

Mike Montgomery, one of the co-founders of The Bitmap Brothers started off his life as a manager at Woolworths. When the store started bringing in computers, Mike decided to buy some software and learn to code in his spare time. He eventually became good enough to land a programming lead role and eventually formed The Bitmap Brothers in 1987 with Steve Kelly and Eric Matthews.

The Bitmap Brothers would release their first game in 1988 called Xenon which was a sci-fi shoot 'em up and was the first Amiga game to enter the UK's Top 40 charts. Its sequel Xenon 2 (another game by The Bitmap Brothers that I remember fondly) which was released in 1989, was an even bigger success - probably thanks to Bomb the Bass's epic track, Megablast ("none can outrun or equal - the power - of Megablast!").

Other notable games by The Bitmap Brothers include their most critically acclaimed game Speedball 2 (released in 1990), the steampunk co-op run 'n' gun game The Chaos Engine (released in 1993) and the Real-Time Strategy game Z (released in 1996).

In 1998, Steve Kelly and Eric Matthews both stepped down from the board to concentrate on game design and programming respectively (Eric worked at Sucker Punch Studios only a few years ago on the INFAMOUS games, according to MobyGames). Mike Montgomery took on the role of Managing Director until the company for all intents and purposes, closed in 2004. Mike says it was difficult to find any new deals for original IP around this time so he didn't have much choice. However, the company is still trading but it's trading under Mike's name. He now owns all the IP and in the past few years has been licensing it out to development houses for remakes, primarily aimed at the smartphone market.

In 2007, Speedball 2 Tournament developed by Kylotonn and published by Frogster Interactive Pictures was released but the game failed to achieve the success of previous titles in the franchise. From 2010 onwards, there were several remakes or smartphone-based re-releases of The Bitmap Brothers IP including another Speedball 2 remake, Z and The Chaos Engine.

Will The Bitmap Brothers ever rise up from the ashes again as an indie developer of quality games? When Mike was asked the question in February 2014 by Red Bull Games, he remained skeptical. Currently, he seems determined to continue reviving old The Bitmap Brothers classics on current platforms. Wouldn't it be great to see a Xenon 3 or The Chaos Engine 3 though? Or something totally different - perhaps even the original three co-founders reuniting? One can dream.

LINKS:
[ Wikipedia: The Bitmap Brothers ]
[ The Bitmap Brothers Official Website ]
[ Bit-Tech Gaming: The Bitmap Brothers Interview (2011) ]
[ Red Bull Games: Meet the Bitmap Brothers (2014) ]
[ MobyGames: The Bitmap Brothers ]

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