With the back end of the year featuring no shortage of games to play, one small indie title from the isle of Tasmania is hoping to find its way onto your playlist this October in between the heavy hitters. Bilkins’ Folly from Webbysoft is that game. It’s a colourful and playful adventure that sees treasure hunter Percy Bilkins searching for his missing mother and grandfather alongside his pooch Drayton. We spoke to the game’s developer, Luke Webster, for Made In Australia to find out as much as we can about Bilkins’ Folly ahead of its October 3 (October 2 global) release.
WellPlayed: Where did the idea for Bilkins’ Folly come from?
Luke Webster: The idea for Bilkins first came about one day while wandering around my front yard with a metal detector looking for my wife’s lost wedding ring. My dog was following me around and helping dig holes and I thought that this would make for a fun game mechanic. From there, I started playing around with some prototypes and eventually put together a build where the player could walk around and sense buried objects using a ‘metal detector’ in game. However, before long the story shifted to a 1700s setting and I needed a way to handle the metal detection. Well, my own pooch had solved that one for me and Drayton was born.
WP: When did development on the game begin?
LW: It would have been around the end of 2019 or the start of 2020. I recall thinking how miserable everyone seemed at the time and felt like I wanted to do something to bring a bit of positivity into the world. Video games seemed like an appropriate medium to do that. Then COVID hit!
WP: The use of cartography as a mechanic is a unique idea. How much work was involved in making it work from a game design point of view?
LW: The map reading system has gone through a few different iterations. The cartography system is pretty simplified as it’s still meant to be a fun game to play and not one that’ll just frustrate. There are also individual maps for quests and the world map (which I think was the first one I designed) that lets you sail from island to island. I guess my fascination with maps played some role in deciding that the game would be set in the 1700s with a piratey theme.
WP: Will there be an easy mode or a hint system that players can use if they get stuck?
LW: There are two difficulty options: normal and hard. I played around with a few different hint systems over the course of development. They included a parrot that would follow you and drop hints, a talking skull (too Monkey Island-like!), and I even thought about making it so that Percy could speak to Drayton for a hint, but that broke other game systems. In the end, I settled on including hints within NPC dialogues and made them quest-specific.
WP: Are there any games that have inspired the gameplay in Bilkin’s Folly?
LW: Link’s Awakening followed by The Outer Wilds! Everyone says that the game reminds them of Monkey Island and I just think “if I gave the player a sword, this’d be a Zelda clone!”
WP: The game has a beautifully vibrant pixel art style – what was behind the decision to make it so colourful?
LW: Early on I drew a scene with a boy standing on a cliff with his dog. I’m not even sure if the game development had started at that point, I think it might have even been just me drawing for the joy of it. I’d found a colour palette I really liked and wanted to draw something with those colours. Something about that image must’ve stuck with me, as it became the basis for the graphics in Bilkins’ Folly.
WP: Percy can dig up treasure found in the world. Can these items only be sold for money?
LW: Some can – and that forms a large part of the currency system in the game. But treasures are also split into quest items, junk items (for a specific side quest) and Drayton skill point bonuses. There’s a loooot of treasure that can be dug up in this game…it’s the main puzzle mechanic for the entire game after all.
Every treasure hunter needs a sidekick
WP: Percy’s bond with his dog Drayton affects the skills and assistance he provides. Can you explain how this will work and what benefits Drayton provides?
LW: Drayton will need certain skills in order for the player to get past certain spots. An example of this – you’ll enter a temple at one point in the game and there’s a gap that Percy can’t pass. However, if Drayton has unlocked the right skills, he can be commanded to jump the gap and move to a floor plate which unlocks a bridge so that Percy can follow. There are lots of little gated puzzle-ish spots like this where you need to work with Drayton to proceed.
WP: The voice acting sees the character make gibberish noises. Why did you choose that style over traditional voiced characters?
LW: Cost initially. There’s a bunch of dialogue in this game, and it just wouldn’t be practical for an indie game to hire voice actors for each line. Originally I had some placeholder gibberish that I grabbed from a sound pack – there were only 8 separate lines all up and only a single voice – and I used that for all the NPCs in the game. Well, after playing the prototype for over a year and listening to those same samples all that time and NOT going insane, I figured gibberish was the way to go. We brought in a few different voice actors to give the voices some variety and ended up with something like a couple hundred samples for each voice, and it seems to work super well (in my opinion at least).
WP: While Percy will interact with a host of different characters on his travels, he will also make friends with the undead. How does this work?
LW: It’s a bit of a plot device – it lets me tell the story from the POV of characters who are dead. Kind of handy from a storytelling perspective. Bilkins’ Folly is kind of a goofy game in a lot of ways, so I don’t think anyone will question it too much…it’s not the only weird/supernatural thing that will happen on this adventure. In fact, even the name – Bilkins’ Folly is a reference to a family curse that is haunting the player.
WP: How long will a playthrough of the campaign roughly take?
LW: I usually say it’ll take about 15 hours to beat. But that also depends on a fair few factors. It depends how quick someone is to solve the different puzzles, and whether they decide to spend a lot of time exploring all the different side quests or whether they’re going for just the main storyline. I imagine it’ll take someone at least twice that time if they’re aiming to collect every treasure and solve all the puzzles.
A hangover to die for
WP: What’s something you’re looking forward to players experiencing in Bilkins’ Folly?
LW: Honestly, I’m looking forward to hearing how people react to the story. I’ve always loved telling stories and spent a lot of time trying to turn this one into something that’ll stick with people. It’s also something that I’ve had to keep close to my chest as it’s super spoilery to say too much, so I’m just looking forward to reading peoples’ responses once they beat the game – using spoiler tags of course!
WP: Thanks for taking the time to chat and best of luck with the game’s release.
Bilkins’ Folly will be released on October 3 (October 2 global) on PS5, PS4, Nintendo Switch and PC.