Volume: Mike Bithell discusses the art of stealth, deception & reviving old heroes

By Dave Cook, Tuesday, 11 February 2014 08:49 GMT

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VG247: I think so too, and it does seem that these games have triggered many people to go on and pursue things. So at what point did you decide, ‘Volume is going ahead?’ You always had the idea, but when did you get serious about it?

”It is essentially set in the near-future, successive governments have pulled England into a very conservative state, Scotland’s gone, Wales is gone, everyone’s moved on, but England’s just gone back to being England. The ‘UK’ and ‘Great Britain’ are now history, the people are upset about this and a revolution happens.”

Bithell: Basically; it’s weird and no-one’s ever going to believe me because it’s too poetic, but it was New Year’s Eve 2013 at midnight. Thomas had come out in November, so in the two months it had been out, it was at midnight on New Year’s Eve I had stayed in because the numbers were interesting.

As the clock struck 12 it had hit my year’s salary in terms of the money it made on Steam, and it was this realisation that ‘I’ve got a year in the bank. I don’t have to work for a year.’ It was at that point I decided to go and do my own thing, ‘Let’s do this.’

Then the next morning Total Biscuit did his video of Thomas Was Alone, which was very complimentary, and by the end of that week I had about two or three years in the bank.

It just became ridiculous, so I walked into the office and said, ‘Look; I kind of have to go and do this now because this is the only opportunity in my life I’m going to have to go and do this. I can either buy a house or become an indie.’ And – bless them – my bosses were like, ‘We’re surprised it took this long. Good luck.’

I gave them my notice and I remember I quit on the Friday, went to Ikea, and bought myself a desk [laughs], and I was working by Sunday, I started making Volume. I knew it was a stealth game so I started making the building blocks of that, and then over the coming months it took form and became a thing.

VG247: That’s an incredible story, and I’m glad you’re doing a stealth game as it’s my favourite genre as well. I agree that it has become action-orientated as well, but you’ve also got this cool angle about ‘streaming’ and that you compare that side of the game to ‘Let’s Plays.’ Is it – in any way – a statement about how we simply have to capture everything in our lives for all to see?

Bithell: I think Volume – in terms of its theme – is about heroism first and foremost as a game, and certainly a very masculine sense of heroism of, ‘if a tree commits a heroic act in the woods and no-one’s around to see it; was he a hero?’ kind of thing. There’s a definite sense of the way that we propagate heroism and good deeds that it becomes almost a social currency, and it becomes about showing-off.

There’s this idea of; if you take the Robin Hood myth and you transplant that to the modern day… this is a guy showing off basically, pretending to be a hero, and then becomes a hero as a side effect of that. What is that in the modern day?

If he was around in the modern day and wanted to be known, he’d probably use YouTube. That’s probably the context it would happen in nowadays. I’m surprised more people don’t ‘Let’s Play’ crime, it seems like something there’d be an audience for.


VG247: Like that recent Derren Brown art heist show?

Bithell: Yeah, exactly. There’s definitely a voyeuristic aspect to any idea of heroism, because there’s a vicarious thrill you get from these stories like ‘You won’t believe what this mother from Antigua did for her children.’ There’s a pornographic element to it; a pretension to it, and the idea is, can we play with these old legends? Can we do a story that acknowledges how heroes work today Maybe we can point out some of the issues; because if you look back at Robin Hood; for hundreds of years that’s been the story of a rich man saving poor people.

What’s that? How does that work nowadays? How does that work in a post-financial crash world? Do we like rich people? Can rich people be heroes? Are they allowed to be heroes? Do we want them to smugly think they can solve all of our problems? There’s a lot of stuff that interested me around that theme and that adaptation, and the idea of what you do with it.

VG247: I don’t know how far you go into this throughout Volume’s plot, but how would you describe the world-state outside the virtual crimes Locksley is streaming to the masses?

Bithell: Yeah, it’s one of those things that’s brilliant to adapting that side of Robin Hood; just as a process it’s a story that’s existed since the Middle Ages, and a lot of talented writers have tried to fix its problems over the years.

A lot of the time you find that the solutions to problems quite easily by doing your research, so an example of this was; I wanted it to be kind of futuristic. That was a big part of what I wanted to achieve with the game, so I wanted it either modern day or near-future to do the hologram stuff.

”The game opens with a flash-forward; it basically shows you Locksley being arrested [laughs]. So you then flash-back three hours to see why. So it’s set in that zone and it means we can do some stuff with real-time; you can tell that they’re catching up with you.”

How do I get Britain into a feudal, kind of Medieval society? Because we don’t live in Medieval times; this doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, this idea of the knights and the deposed king and all this stuff. It doesn’t really work in a traditional context, and I was struggling with that for a couple of weeks thinking, ‘Well what’s the solution here?’ Then I watched the Errol Flynn movie, and that had the same problem. They had to explain to Americans what Medieval England was, and the way they did it was to have [Robin Hood’s rival] Gisborne stage a coup.

You actually saw the country being taken from the people so they actually had something to fight against, and that’s what this game is. It is essentially set in the near-future, successive governments have pulled England into a very conservative state, Scotland’s gone, Wales is gone, everyone’s moved on, but England’s just gone back to being England. The ‘UK’ and ‘Great Britain’ are now history, the people are upset about this and a revolution happens. But like as happens with a lot of revolutions; the wrong person gets power, and that’s Gisborne.

He’s not a nice man, he’s a businessman, and he starts dividing the country up amongst his friends and basically he is the catalyst for England returning to a very feudal scenario. Obviously our plucky young hero is less than keen on that.

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