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The gorgeous visuals of Bionic Bay that Juhana Myllys calls Painterly Pixel Art

Physics-based 2D platformer Bionic Bay is a collaboration between the Finnish one-man-studio Mureena and Taiwanese indie game company Psychoflow Studio. The game started as a demo shown on Reddit, but picked up momentum when Badland art director Juhana Myllys offered to mix and match his distinct artwork with the gameplay. 

“Back in 2019, I was wasting time on Reddit and came across a short clip from a demo in r/indiegaming”, says Myllys. “I thought that the core mechanic in this 2D game was extraordinary, so I contacted the developers. It turned out to be Xiao-Fong Huang, a student from Taipei along with his friend Kevin Lai. I told them I had already created some early concept art and design work for my next game and that it would fit perfectly into it. We started talking and eventually began working together on Bionic Bay. The roles are clearly defined: I’m an artist and designer, and they handle the technical side.”

The Swap

The initial idea that ignited the project was the core mechanic: The Swap. It allows players to instantly swap places with any physics based object which allows for some clever puzzling through the relentless levels. “We are very excited about it”, says Myllys. “It’s like a Portal gun in a way you can really build a whole game around it.”

“For the visual look, there are many influences: 80’s analog retro sci-fi, the visual style of Roger Deakins, and artists like Moebius or Travis Charest.”

It also inspired him to come up with a setting for the game. “Since I already had a lot of ideas for a physics-based sci-fi adventure, it was an easy decision. It was also important that the environments would be suitable for various gameplay scenarios and mechanics. So, a fantasy setting instead of everyday environments would provide the most room to be creative without being too shackled to anything too specific.”

Painterly Pixel Art

Myllys started his career in 2007 doing pixel art and he really wanted to go back to explore if he could bring something new to the style. He felt that the vast majority of pixel art games were stuck in the past and the 8-bit era. So, he wanted to be experimental and try something new. “I started making some tests and pretty quickly adapted this style that I call painterly pixel art. I approach painting the assets a bit like I would with traditional painting. I try to maintain a fairly small number of colors since I do want it to still look like pixel art, but I’m not too strict about it. Also, I use a slightly smaller pixel size than you would normally see used in pixel art.”

Another aspect that certainly dominates the visual look in Bionic Bay is the excessive use of strong contrasts with lights and shadows. “Additionally, I try to have the camera work quite dynamically throughout the game”, says Myllys. “We are aiming to have a constantly shifting and engaging gaming experience where the visual look and game mechanics are always changing, and everything you come across feels fresh and intriguing.”

Best Level Editor

But Myllys’ involvement in Bionic Bay goes well beyond the visuals. He’s also planning the overall game design. “The game design process in this project mainly involved designing the rudimentary features for our level editor”, he explains. “Things like what kind of features are needed, what sort of attributes these features should contain, and how those attributes can be adjusted in the editor.”

“Additionally, there are many influential games, such as Portal and Half-Life, which have influenced both gameplay and visual aspects.”

Part of figuring out the features of the editor is also designing the user interface for it. It’s crucial that the tool used to make the levels is as effective and versatile as possible, as the quality of the level editor determines the quality of the game. “Luckily, I’m working with very talented programmers. I’m happy to say this editor is the best level editor I’ve ever worked with. Currently, we are in a phase where most of the art assets and the whole editor are pretty much done. Now it’s mostly about creating the content of the levels for me now.”

Physics-based Humanoid Character

The biggest hurdle the team had to overcome in this project is the physics-based humanoid character. They found out the hard way how many little details you need to get right in order to have an enjoyable character for platforming. “Xiao-Fong has been incredibly resourceful in this regard. He has a natural talent for understanding what works and what doesn’t. Currently, the character movement and visuals are in a great state, but it seems like throughout this project, we’ll find little details to add, and it just keeps getting better and better.”

“The platforming in the original PS1 era Tomb Raider had a huge impact on me back in the 90s, as well as the first Oddworld game, Abe’s Oddysee.”

Alongside his game development tasks, Myllys also picked up marketing of Bionic Bay. “The biggest things I learned during production are not really game development-related”, he says smiling. “They’re all about how to market your game! Understanding how different social media platforms work, knowing key things when trying to get wishlists, and realizing the significance of streamers finding your game. All things related to this have been really eye-opening for me. All of our focus now is on making the best game possible and trying to maximize the attention for it before the launch.”

Wishlist Bionic Bay on Steam and Epic Games Store 

Eric Bartelson
Eric Bartelson
Editor-in-Chief of PreMortem.Games. Veteran game journalist for over 20 years. Started out in 1999 for game magazines (yes the ones made of paper) such as PC Zone Benelux, PlayNation and GameQuest, before co-founding Dutch industry paper Control Magazine.
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