A Brief History of Bismuth Studio

The birth of Bismuth Studio and the vision for it's future. From humble, hobbyist beginnings to an ambitious and exciting present.

Benjamin Hardy
Origin of Bismuth

I can't remember why I decided to call it Bismuth Studio. Around that time I recall watching a YouTube video of someone growing bismuth crystals at home. I remember being blown away by its incredible cubic structure and mesmerizing colors. At the time it seemed like a good enough name for my little hobby game studio.

In October of 2015 I published my first game "VoxHell" under the developer name "Parallax" which was then renamed to "Bismuth Studio" in May of the next year. "VoxHell" was a simple but fun infinity runner game on the Google Play Store in which players would run along a river of lava, jumping from rock to rock, trying to stay alive. At it's peak, "VoxHell" had about 200 downloads. Not bad for my first ever published game. But it wasn't my first game, I'd been making games for myself a few years before.

Ground Zero

I remember first discovering the Unity game engine back in 2011. I'd always liked playing videogames and wondered what it would take to make my own, which inevitably led me to find the only free to use 3D game engine at the time. As soon as I got the chance, I visited the Unity website on my parent's old iMac and clicked the "Download" button. This moment forever changed the course of my life forever, and before I knew it I was dragged down the deep rabbit hole that is game development.

My programming skills were non-existent and I wasn't that inclined to learn either, so my games mostly consisted of deconstructed Unity demos, such as my first ever game: "Escalate", which consisted of a 3D platformer game built around the Unity first person controller demo. In escalate, players would have to climb a bizarre assortment of 3D objects in order to get to the top. No levels, no fall damage, barely any logic; in fact "Escalate" was nearly identical in concept to 2023 Twitch streaming sensation "Only Up!". Despite my game being complete garbage, I can rest easy knowing that even though my game dev skills were abominable, I managed to design a game that conceptually would become one of the most viewed games of 2023. Which isn't so much a flex as much as it's a no-so-fun realization I had; I abandoned development of "Escalate" way too soon... (I'm joking of course)

Bismuth's Identity

Fast forward to 2014, I've made a handful of crappy games that never saw the light of day (many of which have been completely lost), I'm now ready for my next challenge: making a multiplayer game! How hard could it be?

But I didn't let that stop me, at this point I had learned to program in JavaScript and felt I had the skills to pull of a basic multiplayer game. So I jumped right into it and got my ass kicked. But I kept going and eventually, after a lot of time, sweat and tears, I developed "Rotatrix3D"; a robot themed FPS in which the level geometry would rotate 90 degrees in any direction whenever a player would collect a certain powerup, which would then drastically change the was the level was played. It was an interesting concept but my execution was terrible. Regardless, I was proud of myself for creating a multiplayer game which, I only realized late into development, is a tremendous challenge even for experienced developers.

Rotatrix3D gameplay.

I actually gave a presentation in early May 2016 to a room full of game developers about this experience. Around this time I had begun networking within the local game dev circles of Santiago, Chile where I grew up. I was only 17 at the time, so you can imagine how a socially awkward teenager (and amateur game developer) must have felt at these events filled with professional game developers. But after attending a few of these "Game Dev Planet" events, I built up the courage to ask the organizers if they'd be willing to allow me to present something at their next event. They were very enthusiastic and supportive; I, on the other hand, shit my pants (pardon the language). To this day I don't know what possessed me to ask. I didn't have anywhere near the level of experience of the average attendee, I didn't even know what I would talk about, I was completely out of my depth. But I had no choice, I'd forced myself into a corner with no way out other than to talk to a lecture hall full of people.

Me during that presentation.

The presentation went okay, definitely not my finest work, however I came away from that experience with two things, the confidence to talk to large groups of people (despite at the time being a total introvert) and the realization that despite myself feeling like a mediocre game developer, others devs saw a great deal of potential in me. This was the confidence boost I needed to truly throw myself at game development. If people were impressed by my crappy games and amateur skills, imagine what I could accomplish if I honed my skills to a professional level. I now knew what I wanted to do with my life, I wanted to become a Game Developer!

The Turmoil

That little talk I gave back in 2016 had many unforeseen (yet positive) consequences, namely, I had made a name for myself within game dev circles. I was "the kid that made a multiplayer game". Suddenly I had people recognize me at events, game jam attendees asking me to team up, I even had job offers (more like barely paid internships, but still). While this was happening I had also graduated high school and was beginning my University career in computer engineering. During 2017 and 2018 I mostly focused the academic side of my life, I was still making games any chance I got but not to the extent I was hoping. Truth be told, I was miserable. My goal was to become a game developer and my university studies were supposed to get me closer to that goal, but instead it felt further away than ever. So I dropped out.

At this point it was January 2019, with no university courses to attend nor a plan on what to do next I decided to try and find a local game development job. So first thing I did was reach out to one of the organizers of the "Game Dev Planet" events that I'd been attending asking if he had any job openings at his game dev studio "Plinq" (formerly "GameLogic"). By the end of that month I was working as a fulltime game developer.

By end of that year my dream of becoming a game developer was no longer as desirable, while I may have been working as a professional dev for over a year, I struggled to enjoy my work. Additionally, I'd begun discovering my love for industrial design and computer electronics. So I made yet another life changing decision, I was going to abandon game development and become an industrial designer (or at least a student). Since there were no courses in Chile that appealed to me, I decided to look for education in my ancestral home continent, Europe.

But before beginning my studies I decided I'd like to travel a little. So I quit my job, packed my bags and headed for a 6 week trip around Europe, this was in mid January... 2020.
By the time I landed back in Santiago in early March, the Covid19 pandemic was kicking off. At this point it became clear that I'd be stuck at home for a long time, at least until August when I'd move to The Netherlands to begin my industrial design studies. So with nearly 8 months of nothing ahead of me I had to find something to do. I reached out to my old boss to ask for my old job back, but got nowhere, and due to the pandemic finding any other job was nearly impossible, so I gave up on finding something to do.

Handy Harry's

If there's one thing I can't stand, it's being stagnant, static, unchanging, bored. I need to be doing something. For a while I kept myself busy with little projects that I'd be wanting to do, like build a flight case for my DJ gear, or develop a program that used AI to separate instruments from a song for use in DJing. But by the start of April 2020, I'd run out of stuff to do and was back to being bored. So I decided to do what I do best and try and make a game. After all, it was the perfect time to do so, I was stuck at home with nothing else to do and had months of free time on my hands. The only question was: what kind of game should I make?...

Back in 2018 I challenged myself to make a mini multiplayer game in a day (or two). It was called "Spookems" and consisted of players wondering around a very pixelated and randomly generated set of rooms and corridors, looking for red gems while being chased by a dark and shadowy figure. I shared it and played it with a few friends, and much to my surprise, we all had a blast playing it. It was simple yet somewhat terrifying, but most of all, it was hilarious. Hearing your friends scream as they tried to run away from the ghost only to then have your laughter turned to screams as the ghost then chose to chase you instead, was simply an exquisite experience.

Those of you who are familiar with "Handy Harry's Haunted House Services" will instantly recognize the style and gameplay of "Spookems".

When it came time to decide what game I'd be making during my pandemic isolation, it was hard to ignore "Spookems". After all, up until that point it had been one of the most fun games I had ever made, despite it's simplicity and short development time. So what better idea for a game than to try to make a sequel to Spookems. So that's exactly what I did!

Handy Harry's Haunted House Services (or H4S for short) was to be a new and improved version of Spookems, better level design, gameplay, graphics and enemy AI. The plot surrounding the game was that players took on the role of handymen who specialize in repairing haunted houses, instead of gems, players would have to find and repair fuse boxes in order to power on an elevator and escape. Like in Spookems, levels were also comprised of procedurally generated mazes, but this time the AI ghost would have proper pathfinding and abilities in order to better scare and chase players. Development progressed smoothly and by the end of April I had decided I'd try and publish the game on Steam, after all, this was to be my last game before I started my career as an industrial designer, so why not at least have a game published on Steam before leaving game development.

On the 1st of May 2020, I scrounged up what little money I had to pay for the Steam Direct fee, and a few hours later, Bismuth Studios officially became a Steamworks developer. Less than two weeks later, H4S was approved for release and the store page went live!
It got a handful of wish lists and even had a small YouTuber reach out wanting to make a small video about the game pre-release (which you can watch here). Other than that not much happened while I kept working on the game, up until the 31st of July 2020, when H4S launched on Steam after about 4 moths of development. And that was it, I had finally launched a game and Steam and could now move on with my life...
Or so I thought!

What a Launch!

No even a week after releasing H4S, the game had become somewhat of a mini internet sensation as YouTubers and streamers, big and small began playing the game in front of their massive audiences. What had once made Spookems so exciting and funny to play amongst my friends, had also made H4S incredibly appealing to content creators and viewers.  By the end of that launch week H4S had been viewed by millions of people world wide, thousands of which purchased the game for themselves and friends.

Now that I had thousands of players purchasing, playing and enjoying my game, I couldn't simply abandon it and move on with my life. I felt a responsibility to ensure that players, who had spent their hard earn money on my game, would have the best experience that I could provide. So despite moving to The Netherlands two weeks after launch, I pledged to continue developing and improving H4S as part of a long term project that I would work on alongside my studies.

12 months after launch, H4S had amassed tens of thousands of players, grossing just under USD$100,000 and it maintained a well over 90% positive rating on Steam. Not bad for a little game I made in under 4 months, huh? But more importantly, by that time I had fallen back in love with game development. But it wasn't the money, it was the fact that I had made something that so many people enjoyed that filled me with purpose and inspired me to keep going.

Tuna Tower Games

As successful and beloved as H4S may have been, I wasn't going to be working on just one game for the rest of my life, so I needed to find my next big project. But what would that be?

Fast forward to September 2022, I was progressing in my industrial design studies quite nicely, and at this point the university program required students to partake in a academic minor. There were many interesting options, but I was instantly drawn towards the "Game Development and Simulation" minor, in which students would learn how to make a game and team up to create their own. Despite having already several years of professional game development experience under my belt, I felt that if I provided my experience and knowledge to a group of other talented and multidisciplinary people (even if they had never made a game before) we'd be able to create something amazing. So I joined the minor and soon after me and 4 other talented people formed Tuna Tower Games, the name under which we would create our game.

From left to right: Marko Nikolic, Wiktoria Wierak, Paul Vernier, Antonio Genev, Benjamin Hardy.

That game was "Space Gourmet: Delivery" and, in what felt like a familiar situation for me, we only had 4 months to develop it. Being ambitious, I convinced the team to make a multiplayer game, since I believe we would be able to pull it off given my experience with H4S. So after much discussing (and only a tiny bit of arguing) we came up with the concept of a space themed cooking and flying game, in which players would have to cook weird alien food and then deliver it to a customer somewhere in the asteroid belt, all while fighting hungry space pirates as well as other players. It was an ambitious project, no doubt, but I felt like we had the talent and motivation to pull it off. There was some initial skepticism from the course coordinators, who believed we were biting off more than we could chew, however by the time we had presented our first progress report a few weeks later, all doubt had vanished. As we had managed to build the technical foundation to our game, a functional multiplayer space ship combat game, now we just had to build on that to fulfill our vision.

A screenshot of Space Gourmet Delivery taken towards the end of the minor program.

Not only did we deliver on our vision for the game by the end of those short 4 months of development, but we also felt it was good enough to be published on Steam. But before doing that, we first wanted to polish it up a bit more in order to give it the best chance for success.

Change of Plans

In what may have seemed like "déjà vu", we had just made a game and were prepared to dump it on Steam before moving on with our lives. However we felt this didn't do the game justice, we felt it needed more than just a polish, it deserved so much more. So a year after the minor ended, the team got back together and discussed the future of the game and, by extension, Tuna Tower Games. The result? A complete redesign of the game, keeping the fundamental elements that made the game so fun, while vastly improving on every other aspect of the game.
You can read more about what changes we are working on, on the Space Gourmet: Delivery product page!

We also decided to dissolve the Tuna Tower Games name and instead integrate the members as part of Bismuth Studio, making Space Gourmet: Delivery a Bismuth Studio title and also ushering in a new era for the studio.

What's Next?

We will continue to develop Space Gourmet: Delivery as well as Handy Harry's and other projects, bringing creative, novel and exciting game design to the world, expanding our catalog of games and bringing joy to tens of thousands of players worldwide.

Bismuth Studio may be a young and small but it has proven itself, time and time again, to be an incredibly capable and talented force, creating games that exceed expectations at every turn, all while operating on very little resources and very little time, it's in our DNA.
We at Bismuth Studio Games are very excited to show the world what we are capable of with every step we take.