Wild Bastards Is An “Acid Trippy” Roguelite Western, And A Likely 2024 Award-Winner

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I tend to have an indie or two each year that I don’t shut up about. Five years ago, Blue Manchu’s roguelite strategy-shooter, Void Bastards, was that game for me. Now, studio Blue Manchu is back with Wild Bastards, a spiritual successor that retains the sci-fi of the first one but adds a western element to it while expanding and deepening the game’s systems. On top of that, the replacement-level characters, who served Void Bastards satirical story well, are swapped out for a Dirty (baker’s) Dozen of voiced characters, each of whom has their own personalities and relationships with others in the gang.

Put it all together, and you have a game that seems, in my admittedly limited sample, to be even better than its excellent predecessor. With the full game due to launch later this year, I caught up with Blue Manchu’s creative director Ben Lee to talk about how the team landed on another game in the loose “Bastards” series, what lessons it learned from that first game that made Wild Bastards better off, and where the studio may go from here as it continues to create visually captivating and mechanically complex games.

GameSpot: Wild Bastards has a lot of the same DNA as Void Bastards, but it’s not a sequel. Can you talk about how this game found its shape in the years since Void Bastards? When did the team decide to develop another game in the same genre?

Lee: We started pre-production about three months after the release of Void Bastards. We started out with a fairly broad remit, and the game took a long time to fully take shape.

Wild Bastards is all about playing a myriad of distinct characters, instead of a procession of random prisoners. We put a lot of effort into their unique playstyles, visuals and fully-voiced dialogue as you play through the narrative campaign.

Wild Bastards certainly has strategy/shooter DNA, but we have focused on much more complex combat encounters this time. The combat spaces are no longer just corridors and rooms, and the strategic factors that tie into each encounter go much deeper. Most importantly, the enemy variety and behaviors are significantly more varied and nuanced than the monsters in Void Bastards.

Were there any obvious successes you knew would carry over from Void Bastards when you were developing Wild Bastards? On the flipside, were there any lessons VB taught you that you sought to rework or even remove in WB?

There were plenty of both! The main thing we carried over was probably more on the technical and production side. We didn’t have to completely rethink the way we built the game thanks to all the problem solving we did on Void Bastards.

Outside of that, we often internally referred to things that we felt did or did not work well in Void Bastards, but we did not think of this game as a Void Bastards variant or sequel. We wanted it to be unshackled from that game as far as our design space went.

The initial versions of the game did not even have space travel as it is implemented now. It was much more of a huge planetary map exploration thing. But as time went on, we felt that we had more to offer in the strategy hybrid area and we leaned back that way instead of going a more RPG route.

More broadly, the roguelite/roguelike space is so densely populated–on PC especially. What’s it like sharing digital real estate with so many games trying to appeal to similar players?

There is not quite yet an oversaturation of strategy-shooter hybrid roguelikes as far as we see things. Maybe that will change in future, but for now I think there’s plenty of room for different takes on the games in this loose genre.

Void Bastards was inspired by BioShock and System Shock 2. What are the main inspirations for Wild Bastards?

I can only speak on the thematic influences to the look and feel. I was raised by a mother who loved sci-fi and a father who loved westerns. Wild Bastards creative direction was inspired mostly by cinema. Namely the Sergio Leone Dollars trilogy, The Magnificent Seven (1960), Battle Beyond the Stars (1980), MTV’s Liquid Television from the late ’90s, Muse’s Knights of Cydonia music video, Suspiria (1977) and Mandy (2018).

Does Blue Manchu have aspirations beyond games of this size and scope or might you always want to create games such as Void Bastards and Wild Bastards?

As long as we can make games, we will make games. If we end up in a position where we can make games with more resources, it’s certainly something we’d be open to.

To that end, is there a future third Bastards game in the team’s mind? After space sci-fi and westerns, is there another narrative genre you’d like to explore?

Yes. But it’s a secret for now.

Each gunslinger has their own ultimate ability and can otherwise be kitted out with buffs and gear to suit different situations.
Each gunslinger has their own ultimate ability and can otherwise be kitted out with buffs and gear to suit different situations.

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Both games have a certain sense of humor that prevents them from feeling gloomy or serious, even when I’m running for my life. Can you talk about why the team leans toward this lighter tone and why you think it works for these games?

Void Bastards was originally very serious and quite depressing in tone. Midway through the project, we decided to keep it quite dark but approach it from a more comedic angle. Cara and I both have a lot of appreciation for Douglas Adams, Terry Gilliam, and Red Dwarf, so that was what got us to bring her on board to write.

Wild Bastards was originally supposed to be more serious, but once we began the writing process with our old friend Jerry [Holkin, writer for Void Bastards], his sense of humor naturally worked its way into the fiction and dialogue. None of us complained.

Did you ever consider moving away from the comic-book art style for Wild Bastards? Why did you end up back with this style in the end?

The conceptual designs come from the same person (me), but Wild Bastards is actually less directly a comic book than Void Bastards. There is no cover page, no panel borders or visual onomatopoeia sound effects for example. Wild Bastards is more in line with a kind of acid trippy traditional animation as visual style. I would still be keen to return to a more intricate comic book/graphic novel look for a future game, to see how much further we could push it.

WB’s systems feel so intricate and layered. Is there ever a point in development when you must rein it in to avoid overcomplicating the game? How do you know when the game’s systems have the right depth without becoming too deep?

Short answer: Yes. I think all our games are too complicated at some point in development and it’s that editing process of trimming and refining that is so important to arriving at a final experience that feels right.

We had a lot more playtesting and user feedback on Wild Bastards, which had a much stronger impact on the final game than previous titles. Sometimes it’s the things you take out that have a bigger positive impact than all the stuff you cram in.

The game features 13 playable gunslingers. I assume others were designed but ultimately left out. What made these characters the ones to make the cut? Do you have any favorites, or any expectations as to who players will gravitate toward?

Ultimately it was how much fun the outlaw was to play and their place in the overall meta that determined which ones we kept. We started with in-game mockups for each one before going ahead with visual design or dialogue. When drawing the concepts, I had definite favorites, but by the time we had them all playable and voiced, I loved them all equally. That’s not a cop-out answer; it’s more of a testament to the way they developed through writing and recording.

Playtesters have had a really varied spread of opinions over the most effective or favorite character to use, which is exactly what we wanted to see. Some outlaws seem OP until they run into a particular set of enemies, or useless until certain strategies are discovered. It’s this variety and depth that really sets the game apart from our previous efforts.

Do you have any post-launch plans for Wild Bastards?

We are currently full speed ahead on getting the game ready to ship, which requires all of our attention… But check back with us post-launch for answers to that question!


You can wishlist Wild Bastards on Steam before it arrives on PC, Xbox Series X|S, PS5, and Switch on September 12.

 

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