This year at PAX East I had the pleasure of speaking with a Mike Mood, one of the minds behind Bendy and the Ink Machine, which fans of FGTeeV will recognize as a charming little indie game that, well, maybe I’ll let him describe it:
Bendy and the Ink Machine is a puzzle action horror game, you play as a cartoonist Henry who was invited to come back to the workshop, Joey Drew Studios, 30 years later from when he worked there in the 1930's. Upon arriving at the animation studio you quickly learn things aren't quite normal; it's an eerie ambiance and it appears the ink from a large Ink Machine is turning cartoon characters to life. Escape the workshop, and fear the machine!
Bendy, the titular cartoon devil in the style of classic Disney cartoons of the 1930s, is the brainchild of Mike’s partner TheMeatly. The question they asked themselves was “What would it be like to walk in a world that was sketched.” As they got further with the idea, the world morphed into a creepy, horror tone. The character, meanwhile, was named for a typo in a save file.
Bendy’s success might seem likewise serendipitous. The first chapter, heavily inspired as it was by Bioshock (“Fans of BioShock will definitely notice some nods and influences in Bendy and the Ink Machine in terms of its design”), was only intended to be a demo. It was Mike’s wife, Jillian, who suggested labeling it “Chapter One” – and a good thing she did, because the game went viral, and the team decided to drop everything and focus on Bendy and the Ink Machine as a game.
Today a team of seven people, and a dozen or so contractors, are at work not only on Bendy and the Ink Machine “Working with a smaller core team is fantastic, because the freedom everyone has with their creativity and schedules is way easier to manage than a larger team. We all know each other, we all work well together. You start to slowly lose that when you get to numbers like 30 team members, so we will remain small.”
The size helps keep the work of managing things, well, manageable. “[O]ur team is stellar and we never need to fully know who's doing what, because everything is always done. Amazing team we have.”
Turning a single demo into a five-chapter episodic game has its own set of challenges, no matter how amazing the team is. “Bendy and the Ink Machine has been a little chaotic of a development process, and we have learned an insane amount because of that … . Bendy and the Ink Machine has never had a full game design document or any structure to it, only base narrative and minor gameplay write ups for each chapter. Heck, Chapter 1-3 didn't really have that, it was more Chapter 4 and 5 that we started this process.”
They’re taking it in stride, though, and using the challenges of today to learn lessons for tomorrow. “Our next project will be more structured, and we won't be killing ourselves with timelines; it will be done when it's done.”
It’s all for the love of the fans, though, and it shows. Like, for example, when they started incorporating some of the fan art that cropped up after Chapter 1 hit. “By the time Chapter 2 was released, which came out around 6-7 weeks after Chapter 1, there was an abundance of fan art online. So it was clear almost from the beginning that people loved drawing these characters, so it made sense to include the fan base in the development.”
Currently, Bendy and the Ink Machine is PC only, but thanks to a partnership with Rooster Teeth it’s coming to the Playstation 4, XBox One and Nintendo Switch later this year, digital and retail. And that will be the complete Bendy experience, with all five chapters bundled together so players can play Bendy and the Ink Machine start to finish.
If that’s not enough Bendy for you, The Meatly is planning to make Bendy into a full-on franchise. “Bendy and the Ink Machine is just the origin of the Bendy franchise. There is a lot more we have planned with the Bendy universe that goes beyond the medium of games. We love this brand and want it to live on for quite a long time.” Case in point: At PAX East they were also showing off Bendy in Nightmare Run, a boss-runner for mobile devices. They hired an outside developer named Karman Interactive to spin up Bendy’s mobile adventure, which is due out later this year on Android and iOS. “Our involvement is primarily approvals and feedback. We don't make the game, so we get to focus on our primary project while Karman Interactive gets to have fun on the mobile game.” That’s good news for Bendy and the Ink Machine fans, who are currently inundating The Meatly with messages asking for more chapters, and the team is hard at work trying to keep up.
But what comes after Bendy? I’ll let Mike tell you:
[O]ur next game we work on will most likely not be a Bendy product. As developers, we don't want to tie ourselves to an IP and only be known as the "Bendy Developers" for the rest of our lives, we have tons of fun IP's and stories we want to tell. One way or another tho, Bendy will return.
I, for one, look forward to seeing more of Bendy, and more of The Meatly in general.