Interview: Bulkypix ready to innovate on the iPhone

And hopes to follow on Palm, Windows and maybe Android

Interview: Bulkypix ready to innovate on the iPhone
It was tragic news that Vivendi Games Mobile was to close its doors - not only for the gamers but for the staff that was put out onto the street after the apparent boost from Activision’s takeover.

Some of the team members prepared themselves for the worst, and after the experience they’d gained from working on a couple of Vivendi’s iPhone titles they formulated a contingency plan should Activision not provide stable foundations.

That contingency plan was Bulkypix, and it proved to be an incredibly astute strategy. With its first game, Hysteria Project, due for release at the beginning of February, we decided to find out a little more about the purpose behind Bulkypix.

“We were very happy and positive at the time, as there was no Activision mobile division,” explains Bulkypix’s sales and marketing director Vincent Dondaine about the takeover of Vivendi. “We started to think about the great brands it has, and how good it could be to adapt them to the mobile.”

But Vincent’s, and other members of the Vivendi Games Mobile team's, experience in the industry soon made them aware that all wasn’t as hopeful as it first appeared.

“I’d worked for other game companies that have made big layoff plans, and I started to think that maybe we didn’t really fit into the new Activision strategy. It was just a feeling.

"Mid-2008, some colleagues and I began to think that it could be a great idea to setup a new company, in case we were laid off.

“We had some suspicions, but we stayed focused on our job as our current team members were finishing Crash Bandicoot Nitro Kart 3D iPhone and Virtual Villagers.

"In our minds we were ready to setup a new company if needed. We had all the experienced people, skills and contacts that can really help to get started in this industry.”

This plan was soon called into action, as the mobile games arm of Vivendi was closed down toward the end of November  2008. Thanks to the team’s careful reading of the situation, Bulkypix was ready to launch almost immediately - all it needed was the necessary bank.

“As we already had the team structure, the most difficult aspect was to find funds. I finally contacted an ex-colleague who was immediately interested in our project and game marketing vision. He’s now working with us as Bulkypix’s president!

"Establishing the studio really wasn’t all that difficult, but to make it profitable is a whole different task. We’re working 30-hour days to make it happen,” laughs a bleary eyed, but cheerfully optimistic Dondaine.

“We assembled a dream team of ten people. The best programmers, art designers, game designers and producers I know.

"They’re all experienced in the video game industry, all are hard workers and have previously worked together. It's our strength. Together we've worked on more than 70 games on both console and mobile.”

With so many other developers, from bedroom hackers to major corporations, all getting in on the App Store mania, what’s the real appeal for a start up to focus entirely on the iPhone as a platform?

“With iPhone and iPod touch, we have a great and unified platform on which we have enough space (hundreds of megabytes) and the power to create the gaming experience we have in mind. It’s a new beginning.

“But we’re also waiting for Microsoft’s platform and the recently announced WebOS from Palm to get going.

"Regarding Android, we’re still studying the market, as we’re a little concerned about fragmentation. See what happened with Java J2ME. No handsets use it the same way, there are different screen sizes, memory, power - porting means extra cost instead of pushing your efforts in creativity.”

Technologically speaking, it’s very easy to see Dondaine’s point - creating a mobile game means dozens, if not hundreds, of versions of the same game. In an economic climate as unstable as the one we’re currently facing, a unified platform is a wise decision for a new developer to adopt.

But with the App Store literally bulging at the virtual seams, is there enough scope with the lower priced games to support a brand new studio through its infancy?

“The App Store is a huge market that can easily be enough to support our growing studio, as we decided to develop applications as well as games. Both will complement our strategy, especially as we’ll eventually be present on the new platforms that are emerging right now.

“Our aim is to become a major games and applications publisher. We have the talent and energy to do it, and we want to be present on new platforms to give our games and applications the widest possible audience.

"We’re also working with third parties, and are open to anyone looking to bring their brand to the iPhone.”

Bulkypix is already pushing the boundaries of iPhone games innovation with its unique take on an episodic, live action choose-your-own-adventure style game, which involved a great deal of cinematic expertise as well as game design skills.

You can read more about Hysteria Project over at Pocket Gamer, in another exclusive interview about the game.

So, from the darkness of Vivendi Games Mobile closing its doors comes a bright and innovative new light in the shape of Bulkypix. And it speaks volumes about the studio’s upbeat attitude that Vincent and the team feel no animosity toward their former employer.

“I want to thank Vivendi Games’s human resources director for all his help during the layoff plan,” says Vincent. “Vivendi is doing all they can do to help people to find new jobs, create new companies and provide training to its former employees before lay off.”

Vincent asked us to point any potential recruiters toward, where many of his old colleagues have published their CVs, as we previously reported.

So what does the future hold for Bulkypix?

“Our future is innovation, innovation and innovation - to always create new experiences. At the moment we’re working on three other secret games, which you’ll hear about soon enough.

"We’ll shortly be releasing a small application named Fun Effect, which makes jokes to friends on your iPhone. I'll let you discover what it’s about yourself!”
Thanks to Vincent for his time.

Yes. Spanner's his real name. And, yes, he's heard that joke before.