Ink Demons & the Indie Canadian Game Scene: An Interview with ‘Bendy and the Ink Machine’ Programmer, Mike Mood

One year after the release of the first chapter of ‘Bendy and the Ink Machine,’ creators, theMeatly and Mike Mood have a videogame success now moving to mobile devices and consoles. The lovable ink demon Bendy has garnered a large following and has pushed Mood’s company, TheMeatly Games, into the spotlight of the video game industry.

Since its release, the Bendy franchise has released two more chapters of the game on Steam for PC and Mac, but has also begun selling merchandise such as the Funko Pop! Vinyl Figures of Bendy, Alice Angel, and Boris the Wolf. The cute and old-timey designed Bendy has caught on because of the cute smile and Disney-like features.

Mood has taken the wave of success from Bendy as an opportunity to impact the indie videogame scene and make Ottawa and Canada a powerhouse in the industry. Aside from working on the game, Mood divides his time with running TheMeatly Games and the Mood Foundation.

TheMeatly Games is the company Mood created with theMeatly, a game designer based out of the U.S. that has become a famous enigma in the video game industry. Having done interviews but as a puppet which is the logo for the company, theMeatly was the original designer for Bendy and the Ink Machine.

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The Mood Foundation is the philanthropic endeavor of Mood that he runs with his wife, Jillian Mood. The foundation was created to help smaller and independent video game creators thrive. Through conferences and funding, the Mood Foundation is looking to give all video game architects from around the globe and especially in Canada bring their games to a large audience.

The interview was done via email.

Question: How old are you? How did you get into programming & designing video games? How long have you been doing so?

Answer: I’m 32 and I started programming and making video games approximately 4 years ago. My path into this industry is quite the story and I’ve done several talks about it, one was recorded but essentially after 7 years of working in IT telling people to turn their computers off and on again I got fed up and quit. After some soul searching for a few months it was my mother that kept telling me I should do something with games, so Christmas Day 2013 I downloaded Unity game engine and started to teach myself how to make games.

Q: What were your favorite video games growing up? What is your favorite way to play video games? (Console, computer, etc.)

A: Growing up I had a family that loved to play video games, so I spent a lot of time playing on the Intellevision with my mom and then eventually we upgraded to the Nintendo, playing a large variety of games with my mother and my father. During the early to mid-90’s I got into PC gaming and played a ton of Diablo, Doom, Heretic, Hexen, then moving on to things like Quake. During the 2000’s Halo changed everything for me and I became an Xbox guy and loved the Halo series, as well as Gears of War. I did however play World of Warcraft for almost 7 years but let’s not talk about that…. It’s nice to look back at all of that, because ever since I became a game developer in early 2014 I have yet to sit down and play a game for more than 10-20 minutes, and even that is rare to happen once every 3 months. Since TheMeatly Games and Bendy kicked off, I haven’t played much of anything. I hope to change that after Bendy is finished.

Q: Between your foundation and company how much free time do you have and do you spend any of your time playing other video games?

A: So between running the business side of TheMeatly Games, and programming Bendy and the Ink Machine, and working along side my partner theMeatly with our partners at PhatMojo for our merchandise and our partners at Karman Interactive for the mobile game Bendy in Nightmare Run, and running Mood Foundation with my wife, Jillian Mood, which is company that runs gamejams, game conferences, game studio services, sponsoring indie game developers, and much much more. It’s safe to say I do not get much sleep and I do not have time to play much games, if any. My goal in life is to grow the Canadian game industry and create jobs. So far, I’ve created more jobs than I can count, and I plan on doing that for as long as I can.

Q: Where did the idea for Bendy come from, for the design, the story, etc.? Is it at all a commentary on the Disney cartoons?

A: The idea of Bendy came from my partner, theMeatly, who one day was curious as to what it would look like in a world that appeared to be sketched like a cartoon. While putting the environment together, he soon realized it felt creepy and it needed some sort of monster. This is when he created the character Bendy, which wasn’t named Bendy at the time until later on when he made a 3D model of it and a typo while saving it in a 3D modeling program, Blender, saved it as ‘bendy.blend’. Thus, bendy was born. I came on board with the project with theMeatly because I loved the art style and it’s potential, so I cleaned up the functionality of the game, since theMeatly is not a programmer there was some issues and we wanted to make sure anyone could play the game. We kind of released this half-jokingly thinking it was a side project for fun. But days later it went viral, and we had to reevaluate our lives and start working on Bendy Chapter Two and start to develop a story from start to finish.

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Photo of Mike Mood with Bendy the Ink Demon behind.

Q: I read that the success behind Bendy was an accident; is this true? What did you expect for Bendy and what were your goals for the game?

A: Totally, as I mentioned this was kind of a fluke release. We were already in the middle of production of another game we really wanted to make, and Bendy was just a quick gamejam session that took approximately 5 days to make. Once we released it for free, it’s almost as if we just tossed away the key and were never going to look back. The internet dictated otherwise by making it viral on us. There was absolutely nothing telling us that this was going to be a success at all in any way, but the timing of everything appeared to be perfect. Fans on the platform GameJolt, where we released the game for free February 10th, 2017, were looking for something new and fresh. YouTubers as well, so we were at the right place at the right time. Same with merchandise, the industry was looking for something new and the biggest licensing conference was happening in just a few short months after release and everyone was talking about Bendy. And many other opportunities came up just because we released a fluke project at the right time. If we released Bendy 2 or 3 months later, who knows where we would be today.

Q: When did you decide to take Bendy and the Ink Machine to consoles and to a mobile game? What was the motivation for it?

A: We always wanted to bring Bendy to console, however the development time it would take is quite daunting and we don’t want to work on Bendy for another year after it’s completed just working on all the porting from PC to all the console platforms. So, partnering up with Rooster Teeth to publish the game for us to console was a no brainer in terms of a business decision. We finish our game, hand it over to our partners, and they do the rest for console, while we get to work on something new. As for the mobile game, we get requests for Bendy and the Ink Machine on mobile all the time. The truth is that the game is still in development and since we’ve upgraded the game quite a bit, it would take an enormous amount of time to redo a lot of the game so that it works on mobile. So, we decided to outsource a whole new game idea to another company, the company being Karman Interactive, the very studio who gave me my start in the game industry. It’s an amazing story how we have this complete circle, especially in Ottawa Ontario, of a junior programmer getting offered a contracting job at a small indie studio, to then 3 years later hire that very studio to make a game for that same programmer. This goes back to my goal of growing the Canadian gaming industry and creating jobs, I’m all about giving people opportunities, since I’ve been given so many in the last few years.

Q: BATIM is one of two games that have a very vintage design and feel to them; do you see this trend continuing? Is it something you want to push for in the industry?

A: Working on Bendy has been fascinating for many reasons. Myself I know many of the old cartoons, and even have watched many of them with my father growing up. The interesting thing is that so many fans we talk to or read messages from seem to think this style comes from the 90’s or 80’s and I just find it neat how this style is so old that the younger audience doesn’t realize that we’re coming up to 100 years when these cartoons started becoming a thing. What’s great about this art style is that to so many think it’s actually a new style. When we’re talking about horror though, old cartoons kind of just naturally looked creepy to begin with as time goes on, so that just made it easy to seem creepy. I don’t foresee many other games going with the style we did, I do however foresee many people trying to look back at older art styles and see how they can bring it to an audience that has no idea of its existence, seemingly making it new.

Q: Do you have a favorite character in BATIM? Can you reveal anything about the fate of Boris the Wolf or any other exclusive information you can give away?

A: My favorite character has always been Boris. I love the character in our cartoons, he’s fantastic in Chapter Three, and I love all our merchandise of Boris. The thing I’ll reveal about Boris the Wolf is—

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Photo still from the second chapter of ‘Bendy and the Ink Machine,’ “The Old Song.”

Q: For those not familiar with the industry and the process, what are the steps involved for getting a game to the public and about how long does it take, or at least for you? How long did BATIM take?

So, the quick breakdown would be this:

Chapter 1: 5 Days development time
Chapter 2: 6 Weeks development time

Chapter 3: 4 Months development time

Chapter 4: ?

So, as you can see, the further we get, the longer it takes. This is because we’re growing our team and working on newer and more exciting experiences in the game. Chapter 1 to 2 had 2-4 people working on it at any given time. Chapter 3 to 4 has had more than 15 people at one point or another, and even now we’re still growing and hiring additional people. There’s so many moving parts in a game like this that it’s no longer a 2-man job just doing art and programming. We have 3D Artist, Concept Artists, 3D Animators, 2D Animators, Game Programmers, Audio Designers, Composers, Voice Actors, the list just goes on and on. So, on top of making the game, we must run the company, make sure people are happy, people are paid, we’re making the right timelines, and most important the fans are happy. It’s a never-ending job to please everybody in hopes that the game we pour endless hours working on is absolutely perfect, in the end we hope that it is at least enough to please our fans.

Q: What motivated you to create your own company? How did you meet theMeatly and start working with them? Could you say who theMeatly is or why they remain anonymous?

A: I met theMeatly over twitter around 3 years ago. At that time, he was making web comics about game development and they were quite relatable. He had this one about the Idea Fairy who would always sneak up on you at the worst times when you’re in the middle of a project and then switch focus on some other idea. I was quite the fan, so I just started tweeting at him and eventually we just became comfortable chatting. We started talking about making games together and shortly after that we started working on tons of small projects together. To date we’ve made many prototypes and small games together long before Bendy was a thing. We’ve only ever released another titled called MeatlyMakes on the GameJolt platform before Bendy, but we have many unfinished and unreleased games sitting in the vault. People always ask who theMeatly is, some people even think I’m theMeatly, but you can clearly see that in our YouTube videos he’s a puppet. I’m not a puppet, so obviously I’m not theMeatly. People are funny…

Q: When did you start working on the company? How many people make up TheMeatly Games? And what is your vision for the company? What do you want for it and what do you want the company to do and become?

TheMeatly Games dates back a few years ago, however we only really started acting like a company a week or so after the release of Bendy and the Ink Machine. Once we realized it was becoming popular, we officially created TheMeatly Games, Ltd. Over the last 12 months the company has grown to 7 full time employees, several ongoing contractors, and a dozen other contractors and partners. Now that we have merchandise and a mobile game involved, the number of people that work with TheMeatly Games is too high for me to know right now, there’s a lot of people involved with in all things Bendy now. As for what we want TheMeatly Games to be, my personal goals, especially with Mood Foundation, is to create jobs. This is the same for TheMeatly Games, while we’re not interested in growing the company to a 100+ staff, we want to grow and have dedicated teams on various projects, creating dream jobs where we can. We have many more things we want to do that are beyond Bendy, and we want to show people that we’re not just “the Bendy people”.

Q: With all the work behind TheMeatly Games and BATIM, how did you find time and where did you get the idea for the Mood Foundation?

A: So, I’m clearly a workaholic, and my lovely wife is also a workaholic, and it just so happens we both love working on the same things and make an increasable team. We’ve been working on various companies and events for years, from gamejams, to conferences, to game developer studio services, meetups and other events. This is what we love, we love helping people and giving people opportunities in the best industry that exists. So, it just kind of made sense to create a company that can umbrella all our events and services and act as a philanthropic company that is there to support independent developers all across Canada and eventually everywhere else. The name Mood Foundation came about because I believe we can be the foundation of the Canadian gaming industry if we do this right and support all the right initiates and provide the right services and run the right events. The name Mood, well that’s my wife’s last name, I took her last name when we got married and I want to keep the legacy of the Moods in a company where growing an industry and doing philanthropic things is remembered for generations to come.

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Photo from chapter three of ‘Bendy and the Ink Machine,’ “Rise and Fall.”

Q: What do you hope to do through the foundation?

A: Mood Foundations core goals are job creation and philanthropy. The word foundation is not to say that we are not a for-profit organization, we are officially Mood Foundation Corporation, a legal entity that runs several events and services for profit. That said, the entire goal of this company is to take everything and put it right back into the industry. From private funding for independent developers, to sponsorships, to running conferences, meetups and events in cities across Canada. We plan to grow the Canadian gaming industry one city at a time.

Q: How much time goes into your different ventures? Can you talk a bit about what a day looks like for you in terms developing BATIM, and operating TheMeatly Games and the Mood Foundation?

A: Buckle up! My days can range from 15-20 hours depending on the day. My days are spent dealing with a large range of duties. Some days are spent dealing with lawyers over contracts, trademarks, any disputes, or corporate structure boring stuff, both for TheMeatly Games and Mood Foundation. TheMeatly Games however is international, so I deal with law firms from Canada, US, EU, China, etc. Then there’s accounting, at TheMeatly Games we have 5 full time employees in Canada however we have 2 full time employees in the US. So, I deal with both Canadian and US taxes and payroll, which let me tell you is not an easy task. Payroll, budgeting, all accounting is a full-time job on its own. I work with some great services in Ottawa but some days I’m stuck dealing with accounting for up to 6 hours straight, even if it’s being at the bank paying bills! Then there’s other partners we deal with, PhatMojo, Karman Interactive, and others that require some of our attention each week, be it approvals, contractual obligations, etc. At some point I program the game, I am the Lead Programmer on Bendy and the Ink Machine, so I do still need to make the game while this is all going down. There’s probably a dozen other tasks and duties I’m missing in this ridiculous answer, and it is all very stressful stuff, but it’s completely worth it. At the end of the day, my struggles to keep things going means that people get to have their dream jobs and work on new and exciting things!

– By Antonio Villasenor-Baca

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