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The Sheffield culture guide written by in-the-know locals

Boneloaf

Sheffield has a thriving games scene. As well as recently welcoming the National Videogame Museum it is also home to a number of indie games studios and developers.

We caught up with Jon Brown who runs Boneloaf, an independent games studio that he co-founded with his brothers Michael and James. The studio produced Gang Beasts, a hilariously silly fighting game that's been nominated for and won a number of industry awards since 2017.

How would you describe your work?
At the moment we are working on a series of experimental multiplayer party games. We prefer to work iteratively, prototyping the play testing to identify what is fun. We grew up playing Mario Kart 64, GoldenEye 007 and other local multiplayer games, and want to make games that have a similar level of playfulness.

How do you choose the themes you work with?
In 2013 we made a series of game jam games to experiment with a custom character system we were building. The characters in these games are physically simulated, which gives more scope and variety of movement than other animation systems. Our aim is to build fun and experimental multiplayer party games that put these characters in scenes approximated from popular genre fiction, like action thrillers and space fantasies.

What has the response been like for the games you've produced so far?
The popularity and success of Gang Beasts has been preposterously greater than we expected with our lack of industry training and experience. The game was given Honorable Mention for Excellence in Design at the 2015 Game Developer Choice Awards. Gang Beasts won the Friendly Fire (Best Game to Mess With Your Friends) from Curse at E3 in 2015 and the Gamer's Voice Award in the Multiplayer category at SXSW in 2016. As far as nominations go, we’ve had the 2016 Better with Friends Steam Award in 2016, a BAFTA in the Multiplayer category in 2018 and the Best Video Game category at the Sheffield Digital Awards in 2019.

What are you working on at the moment?
There are lots of technical aspects we are working on, which include working to modularise and optimise the game architecture. There are also plans for more content for Gang Beasts like new and optimised stages. The first batch of this work is expected to be released publicly in late 2019, so watch this space.

What would you say about the games scene in Sheffield?
We haven’t been able to engage in the local games development or technology scenes as frequently as we want, as we still have the same small group of staff working on the different parts that make a business. We have attended a number of fun and stimulating local gaming events or shows – Shindig, Riverside Game Night, Games Britannica, Games Republic, Playground, the National Videogames Museum, Sheffield Hackers and Makers, etc – and it is exciting to see the number and frequency of game-related events increase since we setup our office in Sheffield in 2014.

What impact do you think the National Videogame Museum is having on Sheffield?
Boneloaf are patrons of the National Videogame Museum and support their work. We’ve been too significantly distracted with development this year to talk authoritatively of what cultural impact it has had, but we expect the NVM to continue to grow the popularity it established in Nottingham and bring increasing numbers of visitors and industry professionals to the city.

Photo by Daniella Sasaki

What, who or where should be better known in Sheffield?
We moved to Sheffield in 2014 as a number of us studied Fine Art at Sheffield Hallam University and wanted to be close to other creative industries and communities, with incredible artists like Tom Newell and Lisa O’Hara. Not to mention the great independent shops such as Syd & Mallory and Bear Tree Records!

What would you change about the city?
I want to see more bands come to Sheffield. The city has a great history of music but many of the bands and musicians I enjoy only play venues in Manchester or Leeds and avoid Sheffield.

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