Stephan Berendsen, president and founder of BBG Entertainment tells writer Vince Pavey about BBG Entertainment’s work to revive classic titles with brand new entries.
BBG Entertainment has been developing games for over 25 years, making ‘retro and casual’ games since back when they were just called ‘video games’ for home computers. Within the last year, the studio has released new versions of Dynablaster, Shark! Shark! and Astrosmash, for just about every modern platform you can imagine.
With another version of Boulder Dash on the way in the near future, BBG Entertainment shows no sign of slowing down its steady cadence of retro revivals any time soon. The studio’s president and founder Stephan Berendsen has taken the time out to tell us all about their recent work, and what they plan to do next.
A lot of your most recent games are retro remakes and sequels. What’s the appeal of taking on projects like that for you?
We are huge retro games fans and we want to keep them popular. When I was teenager, I played most of the classic retro games in the arcade halls and on my first home Sharp MZ-80K home computer. Many of these games have a unique and timeless game engine and concepts which are still captivating to gamers now, four decades later. Like Boulder Dash, for example, which will turn 40 next year. It’s still loved by older and younger players alike and it’s the same for many of the most famous retro titles, like Pac-Man and Tetris.
How do you choose your projects? Are you doing a lot of pitching?
All of our recent titles are retro games, part of our reimagined games lineup – we wanted to bring classic retro IPs to modern platforms for older and newer players alike. Most of our team at BBG were raised on retro games, and we love them! We are not pitching a lot. The chances to acquire IP rights of these classic titles are very low. We’re fortunate to have great, long standing relationships with the former IP holders. The right timing also helps. In 2017, when we acquired the rights of Boulder Dash, the First Star Software owner and president Richard Spitalny wanted to resign and shut down his company. That was a once in a lifetime chance to take over the Boulder Dash IP.
When doing one of the remakes, how closely do you match the feel of the original game, and how do you choose what to update?
This is always a very difficult question as it requires a careful balance. Retro fans want the same feel as the original game, but you still need to enhance the gameplay and key features for modern platforms, to utilise them to the fullest. This is always a compromise. In our last two Boulder Dash versions (Boulder Dash 30th Anniversary and Boulder Dash Deluxe) we changed the original engine, how rocks will fall, how the player could move etc.
New players liked this, but original fans were not so happy with it as they craved the uncompromised original engine from 1984. Sadly, you can’t make everybody happy. But it’s so important to make the most out of the platforms you’re developing for. And many original fans will be pleased to hear that our new Boulder Dash 40th Anniversary version which we will release next year will include the original game engine from 1984! We can’t wait for retro fans to try it.
What motivated BBG to pick Dynablaster, Shark! Shark! and Astrosmash?
We met Intellivison for the first time in 2019 and loved their concept for their new family gaming console. Therefore, we decided to port our games, Dynablaster and BrainDuel (Einstein Brain Trainer), to their new family console. Intellivision provided us with development kits and therefore we have been able to play some of their other games including Astrosmash and Shark! Shark!. We loved the original versions of both of these games. I always had the idea to bring these two classics to other platforms. But it took a few more years before we got the chance to acquire these two gaming IPs, including the modernised versions.
The first version of Dynablaster was released in 2016. We love multiplayer action games. And these kinds of “bombing games” are easy to understand and very addictive.
How did you end up working on a Dynablaster game?
After we developed our scientific brain training game “Einstein Brain Trainer” our development team was keen to explore more action and arcade style games. We discussed several ideas and game concepts internally, which led us to Dynablaster.
How big is the team working on BBG’s releases?
BBG has a core development team of 6 people. For porting, we have an external team of 5 people. That doesn’t include all our focus testers and games testers, of course, who have made invaluable contributions to our reimagined games lineup, which includes Dynablaster, Shark! Shark! and Astrosmash – which are all available now on Windows, Mac, Switch, Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S!
Does BBG have an office in Munich, or do you work remotely?
Yes, we have an office in Munich. But generally, the BBG team works remotely.
Anything you can share about the upcoming release of Astrosmash?
Our reimagined version of Astrosmash is an homage to the old classics: Space Invaders, Galaxy, Galaxians. Astrosmash is so nostalgic of the era, and with the power of modern consoles – the gameplay is exciting, the graphics are superb and the sound is amazing – the benefits of developing on new platforms has really allowed us to reimagine this classic IP and enhance all of the games best features. I am sure older people who played the original Astromash version from 1981, as well as more modern gamers, will like it. We exhibited Astrosmash on our booth at Gamescom this year and the feedback was fantastic.
What is your favourite game ?
My favourite well known game is Boulder Dash. My favourite game is for an old home computer, it’s called MOTY and we developed it in 1985 for the Sharp MZ-800.
You’ve also worked in the edu-tainment space. Do you see more of that in your future?
We loved developing our Einstein Brain Trainer and are currently working on a new update, which will be made available soon. We are big fans of the edu-trainment space and have been discussing a music quiz app internally, so watch this space.
What’s next for BBG Entertainment?
Astrosmash is out on October 12, so that’s our main focus at the moment. While it’s the last in our reimagined games lineup, we still have plenty of exciting releases on the horizon to keep retro fans and modern gamers busy, starting with our next major release – the new Boulder Dash 40th Anniversary version, which will be released next year. Head over to the BBG website for all the latest updates and news on our upcoming releases.