Do you guys remember the absolute shitshow that was 2020? Luke Webster remembers it well. It was the year he decided to start making Bilkins’ Folly, to ‘bring a little bit of positivity to the world’.
Bilkins’ Folly is a narrative puzzle adventure developed by the Tasmanian-based Webster under his studio Webbysoft. You play Percy Bilkins, a treasure hunter on a mission to find his missing mother and grandfather with the help of his beloved family dog Drayton. In Webster’s own words, it’s a ‘pirate-themed, treasure hunting puzzle game heavily inspired by games like Zelda and Outer Wilds’.
Webster explains to me in an interview that Bilkins’ Folly is a game that he’d been ‘wanting to do for a while’. “I wanted to do something that was pretty chill, that you could play at your own pace and not feel pressured, or you couldn’t fail it or anything like that. It’s hard to describe in a genre because it’s not really an adventure game, it’s not really an action RPG because there’s no action, so I usually just say it’s like Zelda without combat.”
As mentioned prior, Luke began making Bilkins’ Folly back in 2020. “I didn’t realise how long porting and getting ready for consoles was going to take, so it probably feels like it’s a bit overdue. But then I think, ‘Oh, it’s only been three years,’ so I don’t know.”
“I started in 2020 because it was when COVID hit,” Webster says, “And everyone was going crazy, and everyone was miserable, and I was getting a bit bummed out by the whole world situation. I just felt like I wanted to do something that was a bit positive and put something out there that would bring a little bit of positivity to the world. So this is my attempt, my response, to 2020 and all that came after, I guess.”
So Bilkins’ Folly is arguably a game meant to make you feel good, right? From the moment I first laid eyes on the game, its animation gave me that feel-good feeling. The way the pixel art moves in Bilkins’ Folly truly stuck out to me in the best way, and seeing the fluid movement of Percy and Drayton was unlike anything I’d seen in a game of this visual style before. I mean, look at it.
When explaining the motive behind this kind of look, Luke mentions that he entered game development from ‘more of an artist’s perspective’. “I’ve been stuck in the pixel art realm for a while now, and I quite like it, I like the simplicity of it.” However, it was the styling of Cuphead that really got his attention.
“It actually started with me looking at how Cuphead did their animations with that high sort of frame rate (style), and I started experimenting with that style of smooth movement, and I wanted to see if it was even possible to do something like that in a pixel art system. In this game, your characters are in a 48px by 48px square, and it doesn’t leave a lot of room. So you’ve really got to overemphasize the movements and the bounces.”
And then there’s Drayton, the protagonist’s loyal companion. Bilkins’ Folly takes the notion of ‘Can You Pet The Dog?’ and turns it on its head, essentially letting you pat almost every animal in the game. But alas, all roads lead back to Drayton, who accompanies you on your journey and helps wherever he can. And it turns out, the origins of Drayton are just as adorable as the doggy himself.
“So Drayton came about… It was kind of an evolutionary process,” Webster says. “It all started when I was trying to find my wife’s wedding ring out in the garden, and I had a metal detector and was going around looking for it. I never found it, but my dog was chasing me around and digging up holes with me. She just loves digging. As soon as you pick up the shovel, she goes crazy.”
“I came away from that experience and could see a real simple little game where you’re going around trying to use a metal detector and find bits in the ground. I started on the prototype, but it didn’t take long for me to go, ‘Oh, actually, I don’t want to set this in a modern setting. Let’s put it back in the 1700s because pirates make it fun’, which caused the issue that they didn’t have metal detectors back then.”
Luke then explains that he needed to come up with a new kind of ‘metal detector’, which then led to dogs. “I was like, ‘Well, my dog was getting in on the act; let’s bring her in.’ And then I got inspired by previous dogs in my life.”
Dogs are obviously at the heart of my game. I was inspired by Jess, Bandit, and Holly—three dogs who have meant the world to me throughout my life. Drayton embodies the best qualities of all of them. pic.twitter.com/ZgYFS1Rr5V
— Luke Webster (@bilkinsfolly) March 17, 2023
Bilkins’ Folly, as we’ve reported on here before, was also one of the 11 games to recently receive funding through Screen Australia’s Games: Expansion Pack. Luke tells me that Screen Australia’s funding has been ‘really useful’ and went towards some extra help in animating cutscenes and hiring a sound designer.
“There’s an animation studio down here in Tassie who are doing cut scenes for us, so a lot of the money went into that, and then the rest went into hiring a sound designer. It was good because otherwise, it would’ve been placeholder sounds, and I was going to do some pretty bad hastily thrown-together cutscenes. It’s improved the overall quality of the game quite a lot. In hindsight, I think, ‘Oh god, what was I even thinking considering doing the animations myself?’”
After a successful appearance at PAX Australia last year with potential plans for Armor Games Studios to take the title over the pond to PAX East this year, things are looking good for Luke and Bilkins’ Folly. It’s certainly one of the many Aussie games that I’m excited about, and I can’t wait to see it come to fruition.
If you’d like to keep up to date with Luke’s progress on Bilkins’ Folly, you can find him on Twitter. As well, why not wishlist the game if it tickles your fancy?
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