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In Conversation With Don Bellenger; The Mind Behind Black Future ’88

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The history of video games goes back a long way. It is certain that we have all heard about behemoths like Electronic Arts, Square Enix, Ubisoft, Activision, Rockstar and of course, the oldest of them, Nintendo and the contributions they have made in nurturing the industry and pushing it to new heights. However, not many know about it, that it is indubitably factual and perhaps astonishing that the aforementioned Japanese video game giant, Nintendo, is more than 128 years old. It is true that it started out, not immediately as a video game development corporation but rather as a playing card manufacturer. But the sheer fact that it has maintained a steady course over all these years and evolved from the physical to the virtual realm, in itself, is pretty much an obvious testimony owing to its existence.

Black Future '88

Let us not forget that every international corporation was a start-up at one point. This takes us to the second bit of our obligatory introduction.

The coming of the 21st century, the time when video games began to be mass-produced and were gradually integrated into the lives of people through various mediums. Moreover, this era also saw the coming of a new trend involving independent programmers who were intent on developing their own games and making history. This practice became so widespread during this time that it even led to the coining of the popular term that we so indifferently use nowadays, ‘indie’.

In reference to the same subject, we are bringing you an interview with a person who hails from a similar background and is keen on having his name printed on the pages of history. This is us, in talks with an individual whose sharp taste and endeavouring nature has startled even reputed publishers like Devolver. But before we begin, let us introduce you to the team that is behind all this.


WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT SUPER SCARY SNAKES & BLACK FUTURE ’88

Super Scary Snakes is a small emergent, independent game development team comprising of 2-4 members, some of who are freelance developers. The team is working on a game called Black Future ’88 that is a 2D pixel side-scrolling retro-styled shooter which is likely comparable to popular side-scrolling 2D shooter Contra. Black Future ’88 is mixed with the classic sci-fi 80s aesthetic and modern pixel animation and is extremely fast-paced where time is of the essence.


THE CONFAB

I first found out about Black Future ’88 a few months ago. The gameplay was convincing and visually seductive, so much so that its incredible charm had compelled me to learn more about it. So I decided to draw a questionnaire and go into talks with this talented individual who was working on it behind the scenes. I was not confident whether he would be kind enough to respond, given that I am an amateur when it comes to interviews and things of the like. It was, I believe, a miraculous coincidence that the lead developer was looking for an interview himself and was comfortable enough to share all the dainty details pertaining to his upcoming enterprise. So without further ado, let’s dive into the conversation we had with our humble interviewee:

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Before we get to the important part, I think an occasion like this calls for an informal introduction. And since I am texting the official page that you have made to publicise your upcoming venture, I have no way of knowing who the mastermind behind this awesome game is. Would you be so kind as to share your name with us if you have no issues with it?

Mr Bellenger: My name is Don Bellenger.

I noticed a footage of your game on an indie game developers group on facebook. That is how I ended up contacting you. It was astoundingly alluring and it also seems that your work has not even left websites like Gamespot from featuring it on their YouTube channel. People certainly do know about your game now that they have seen it, yet it is so little we know about your team. In fact, we don’t even know if you are soloing this to the top or if you are working shoulder to shoulder with a dedicated team of people with expertise in this particular field. Would you like to shed some light on this matter?

Mr Bellenger: We are currently working with a team of 2-4 people(most of who are freelancers) who are ready to take their desk at any given time.

From what I’ve seen, this game you are working on requires a lot of experience. Have you involved yourself with other projects in the past? If yes, would you be kind enough to share what those projects were?

Mr Bellenger: Yes, I used to work in mid-core games, but burned out and quit the industry a few years ago. During that time I shipped: Backyard Monsters, Battle Pirates, War Commander, and TOME. I had done some personal prototyping on some other projects, but BF’88 is really my first big indie game that I’m finishing.

Black Future '88

How did the idea of Black Future ’88 come to your mind?

Mr Bellenger: Designing BF’88 has been a very organic process and it’s led mostly by music. It really started with wanting to make a soundtrack for a game, and being very into action roguelikes but not wanting to do a top-down approach. Addressing the problems of a game with gravity and many bullets is responsible for most of the mechanics of BF’88. (wall dashing, boss buffs, deadlock time)

Does your game have a backstory? We would love to know more about it.

Mr Bellenger: The game takes place in an alternate version of 1988 after a nuclear catastrophe. Players take the role of one of the few survivors on a revenge/suicide mission to climb the tower and kill its insane architect. Along the way, they get a more sympathetic view of the architect and begin to realize that the tower itself (Skymelt) is alive. Players only have 18 minutes to live before their heart explodes, but in most cases, they’ll die before that. The tower is continuous and procedural and each playthrough is very different. There are many secrets in the game as well as shortcuts.
There are both secret portals in every zone in the tower, as well as individual zone secrets. One of them requires you to make a hefty down payment to an NPC for the promise of redeeming something much later in the same zone.

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Coming over to gameplay duration, I know that you have mentioned the 18 minutes mark before, but I am not sure whether that is to remain as you said or will there be more to it than that. Would you like to explain?

Mr Bellenger: Players start with only 18 minutes to beat the game, but the easy ending will likely take around 25 and the hard ending will be around 40m. The deadlock time (18m) won’t really effect beginning or even intermediate players, but instead will be the focal point around players planning on beating the game.

Black Future '88

A 2D side-scrolling shooter sounds cool. Are you planning to open new dimensions in the game by implementing an open world? Something like a Metroidvania? Or are you planning to keep it short and simple?

Mr Bellenger: Not really, but defeating bosses allows the player to upgrade their dash, and depending on who the boss is, they will be offered the boss’s signature dash buff which can sometimes open up new movement options and weaponize the dash move. There aren’t really any areas that are walled off like a typical Metroidvania. The game is really very much an action roguelike.

Coming down to the fundamentals: gameplay. What is it, that you think makes Black Future stand out in the market? How are you planning to make it unique?

Mr Bellenger: The game has TONS of unique gameplay mechanics, and there are often many reasons to not fire weapons. BF’88 really excels at giving the player many options and very powerful content with tons of drawbacks. The game asks the player to make difficult decisions and live (or die) with the consequences. When a player interacts with an NPC to choose a perk, they’re not allowed to leave until they pick one. Other weapons and buffs give the players incredible potency, but they might also create lots of liability, like weapons that actually use your deadlock time as ammo. There’s a pretty cool drug system in the game that allows players to gain some very cheap power, but getting addicted to drugs will infect your blood and can cause you to take extra damage. There are also several advantages to being addicted to drugs. The game is very much not a Rambo run/gun game but instead asks the player to learn its systems and master its content.

How exactly does Black Future intend to provide gameplay freedom to its players?

Mr Bellenger: The game is often times a sandbox, and there are many viable strategies and combinations available for the player. If players want a high risk/ high reward style they could pursue an all drugs build with a character like Sioux. If players want incredible power and volatility in their ‘build’, they should really pursue cursed buffs. Other players may want to eschew weapons and rely on their fully weaponized dash by picking buffs from dead bosses. Some players may want to take a very challenging shortcut up the tower by going through the cistern and riding up in the murdervator, while others will see that as too risky.

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Black Future '88

I have honestly become a fan of your game. So, considering that this is a question coming from a fan what system are you planning to release your game on?

Mr Bellenger: While we’d really like to bring this game to as many people as possible, we’ve only announced a release for PCs this year.

Steering off course for a while, this is something I would have asked before but the thought of it had escaped my mind. I hope you do forgive me for my foolishness but I have a serious memory problem. Would you care to share a little about what are your favourite games are, and if you’ve spent more than a hundred hours on any of them?

Mr Bellenger: I really really like smoking weed [disclaimer: don’t indulge yourself in smoking if you are below the legal age kids] and playing Spelunky, that’s a really good experience. As a dad, I don’t really spend 100 hours on anything, which is why I prefer short-session games like BF’88 and Spelunky. Other games I love are Enter the Gungeon, Dead Cells and complex action games like Bayonetta and DMC.

And for the final question we have for you, are you looking forward to making more games like this one on your own or are you planning to move into some reputable company? Basically, independent or corporate?

Mr Bellenger: I LOVE being an indie, I’m also really happy with my partnership with Good Shepherd and I’d like to continue doing this.


 

Black Future '88This concludes our interview of the day with our most humble guest from the other side of the globe, who was happy enough to let us have insight on his project. With hands joined together, in a traditional Indian fashion, we bid the arduous aspirant a goodbye and wish him all the best and hope that he and his team shall meet success. For the future holds a lot for the hardworking, and quitting is definitely not an option on the forefront.

Visit Black Future ’88’s Facebook page or follow them on Twitter to stay updated. We would also appreciate if you could support the developers and spread the word so more people come to know about this game.

Steam: https://store.steampowered.com/app/751820/Black_Future_88
Website: www.blackfuture88.com

Make sure you subscribe to our push-notifications and never miss an update on Black Future ’88. Until next time, Happy Gaming!

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Ishan is an e-sports correspondent from Bengal turned reviewer and essayist. Formerly, he used to specialise in CS:GO news, but now, he's into everything videogame related.

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