The Bitmap Brothers, a name synonymous with quality game play, graphics and sound who developed a number of memorable games across a number of different genres and platforms throughout the 80s and 90s. Their games not only appeared on the Amiga and Atari ST but the Mega Drive, SNES and PC, although some may argue the Amiga versions were the best. It is certainly the Amiga versions that stick most fondly in my memory. Started in 1987 the Bitmap Brothers were based in Wapping, East London, the company’s MD was Mike Montgomery, who had founded the company together with Eric Matthews and Steve Kelly. Mike Montgomery later went on to take sole control of the business up until 2004.
Their first game was Xenon, a scrolling shoot ‘em up released on the Amiga, ST and C64 in 1988, this was quickly followed by Speedball released for the Amiga and ST in the same year. From here on they began to develop some of the most popular titles on the Amiga and forged themselves a place in retro gaming history, most people will remember a Bitmap Brothers game of some sort and will associate the name with great game play and distinct graphics, I expect most will also have one or two favourites from their collection. Below are a few games of note from The Bitmap Brothers, and my personal favourites.
Speedball 2: Brutal Deluxe was originally developed by The Bitmap Brothers in 1990 and was released on platforms including the Atari ST, Amiga and Sega Mega Drive (amongst others). It’s a fast spaced futuristic sports beat ‘em up where the player takes control of their team to win matches. As you win you can upgrade your players to make them stronger, faster or too just last longer in the arena before being stretchered off. The game play is frantic and the action impressive, the sound effects give Speedball 2 a real sense of being in a sports arena, not only as a player but even as part of the crowd (Ice-cream anyone?).
Speedball 2: Brutal Deluxe was a game which added a sports title (albeit futuristic) to the variety of genres already covered by The Bitmap Brothers. It also left a lasting legacy, so much so that Tower Studios (under the watchful eye of Sensible Software founder Jon Hare) successfully released an iOS version of Speedball 2 in 2011. Speedball 2 Evolution, is a modernized remake of the original and was released on a number of phone formats. It also coincided with the 20th Anniversary of Brutal Deluxe.
Magic Pockets (1991) is one of my personal favorites from The Bitmap Brothers, mainly because I first discovered it being played on Saturday morning TV (Going Live! maybe… answers on a postcard, or in the comments). During the show the contestant called in and hurled instructions down the phone (forward, back, jump) in order to play the game. I instantly loved the little character (Bitmap Kid) and the ’cool’ animated intro sequence.
The Bitmap Kid had an interesting way of taking out the bad guys, although it never made much sense why a snail would change into a candy cane after being engulfed by a whirlwind which came out someone’s pocket… still it was a unique and fun way to take out the enemies. The level designs are brilliant and the secret passages add an extra puzzle element to the game play. The game includes an impressive variety of bad guys, great looking level design spread over several worlds, and extra levels to keep you reaching into to your pockets for a long time to come.
It wouldn’t be a post about The Bitmap Brothers without mentioning The Chaos Engine (1993), an all round classic game and still challenging to this day. The graphics are superb, the fast paced music and sound effects are great which in turn gives the game play a real sense of urgency, making the playability and lastability of this game fantastic. There are a great variety of enemies, huge amount of puzzles and secret passages and enough weaponry to start a small war.
The difficulty in The Chaos Engine came from the multiple ways of going through each level, with a small chance of getting lost or ambushed by enemies along the way, more often than not on your way to a hidden item or passageway. A great feature was the two player mode, or, if in single player, the computer controlled second player was there to help you out. Addictive and challenging game play all tied together with some upbeat music and sound effects. I can still hear “Node Activated” as it is still imprinted on my brain.
Some of my fondest gaming memories come from the Bitmap Brothers and I would definitely feature them as one of my favourite developers for the Amiga. The Bitmap Brothers developed games across a variety of genres, scrolling and top down shooters, platformers, sports and RTS games. Their games, such as The Chaos Engine, Gods and Xenon, brought with them a seal of approval amongst gamers for their quality game play, sound and impressive graphics.
The development team was voted Best 16-bit Programmers of the Year (1989) at the Golden Joystick Awards. Speedball was also voted best 16-bit Game of the Year overall.
Mark John Coleman is a computer graphics developer who frequently worked with the Bitmap Brothers, and along with Dan Malone was responsible for the visual style that became a trademark of a Bitmap Brother games.
Since 2004 Mike Montgomery has worked alongside the legendary Jon Hare at Tower Studios, he now resides at Lightning Fish (Chromativity) as development director, running the day-to-day management of the studio since June 2008.
Alien Bash 2 was a PD game given away with Amiga Format (April 1996) and sold as a tribute to The Chaos Engine. It was in fact a shameless clone of the original, however, it’s still an impressive effort for a PD title and still highly playable, if not a little repetitive.
The Chaos Engine box came with 6 collectible cards of characters in the game.
Xenon 2: Megablast boasted music from Bomb the Bass, where as Magic Pockets took its funky title music from Betty Boo Doin’ the Do.
As well as the games stated earlier they also produced The Chaos Engine 2 (1996), Cadaver (1990), Cadaver: The Pay Off (1991), World War II: Frontline Command (2003), Z (1996) and Xenon 2: Megablast (1989).
The Bitmap Brothers published most of its games under their own publisher, Renegade Software.