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Team Junkfish Blog

Dev Blog: Bootleg Steamer and Brewing Game Jam Ideas

We've just unveiled our exciting new project, Bootleg Steamer, and you can already add it to your Steam wishlist in anticipation of its 2024 release. But what you may not know is that Bootleg Steamer had its origins as a standout entry in our Game Jam earlier this year!

Prepare to embark on an exhilarating journey into the Prohibition era as we sit down with Michael, the Captain at the helm of the Bootleg Steamer game jam concept. Join us as we delve into the captivating world of game development, unveiling the game's unique story and creation process.

Tell us a bit about you and your role on the Bootleg Steamer team

"Hi, I’m Michael Macleod, I’ve been in the games industry since 2010 and have been at Junkfish for the last five years. I’m from the northwest coast of Scotland and my family have been involved in shipbuilding for decades from some of the classic ocean liners to north sea oil rigs so I feel it makes sense I’d end up working on a seafaring game.

"I have been given the really cool opportunity by Junkish to be the Creative Lead on Bootleg Steamer so my job is to work with the other departments and ensure the whole development team has a shared vision of the project."

'I originally pitched Bootleg Steamer as part of a company Game Jam and worked with the design team to build up a full plan of all the key systems a larger team would create to turn the game jam project into a full fledged commercial title."

Smashed beer barrels and bootlegging ships floating towards a city
The original Bootleg Steamer splash screen for the Game Jam

How did you come up with the idea of 1920s American Prohibition for the Game Jam?

"I have always had a strong interest in maritime history and found the prohibition era to be something under-explored in games. Having the player be a smuggler on the water rather than a truck driver on land also made the project feel much more manageable as we wouldn’t need the level of detail seen in similar games such as GTA like shopfronts, running over mailboxes, pedestrians jumping out of the truck's way, etc.

'There were a ton of helpful youtube channels for delving into the seaborne aspect of prohibition such as ‘The History Guy’, ‘Big Old Boats’, ‘The Great Big Move’ and ‘Part Time Explorer’ to name a few."

What game feature are you most proud of?

We’ve added a lot of different features to the project but the one I enjoyed seeing taking shape the most was the ships. The game's design called for a wide variety of different ships and we only have a small development team so handcrafting each ship was always out of the question so we opted to use a kit system instead.

'We have three kits; one for slower chunkier cargo ships, a second for more slender fast ships and a third for more luxurious river boats. With those three kits we now have well over 100 ships in the game so far including player ships, the enemy coast guard and the various other shipping found around the maps.

'The art team have done a lot of great work turning the kit into a heavy stylised final look and have added a lot of fine details such as smoke billowing from the funnels or bubbles coming from the ships propellers. We have the ships to a point now where we can create any new ship we need in a few minutes and that’s helped the games development significantly. "

A bootlegging boat dodging a coast guard
Bootleg Steamer in the Game Jam days

How did you feel when your game jam entry was selected to be turned into a full video game?

"The studio had a window for around a month in December last year for members of the team to pitch ideas for the company's upcoming game jam. I spent most of that time developing and refining a sci-fi mech combat game concept and then very much as a last minute thing the day before the deadline for pitch submissions I added a second submission for Bootleg Steamer.

'When Bootleg was chosen to go through to the next phase I did find it quite funny that the project that I had spent far less time on was the one that made it through. At that point the members of the wider team started picking projects to work on and it was a really enjoyable experience to work on the pitch for a week and see how far a small handful of people could take the idea, the same core team have been working on the full project ever since."

What is the most challenging thing about taking Bootleg Steamer from a game jam concept to a fully fledged game?

"When the team finished the game jam version of Bootleg Steamer after a week we had a short 5-10 minute experience all about evading the coast guard and making as much money as possible within a single map.

"We had several members of the studio vying for who could get the highest score for a few weeks afterwards really scores far higher than we originally thought possible, which suggested to us that the game had potential as a larger project."

'The most challenging aspect developing the full game I’ve found is expanding the tight game jam experience into a much larger rogue-lite game while still not using any combat mechanics found in almost all other rogue-lites. We felt the player as smugglers shooting at the Coast Guard boats simply didn’t fit the tone and experience we were setting out to make."

A bootleg boat sailing from a smugglers hide out
Original design of the Game Jam version of Bootleg Steamer

Who is your favourite Bootleg Steamer captain to play?

"Of the two captains we have in the game so far I prefer Evans due to his extra cargo capacity trait, which makes it easier to earn extra money in the early game and be able to afford a better ship faster."

What are you most looking forward to people experiencing when they play Bootleg Steamer?

'"For me it's just the combined experience and putting the player into that Roaring 1920’s era with all aspects of the game working together to achieve that.

'With a lot of game projects it can be difficult to get everyone on the team working to the same overall vision but in Bootleg Steamer’s case this was never a problem as the is set in what is already a very distinct period in history, the audio team knew straight away what to go for and the artists on the project similarly found a visual look that fitted that era.

'The game's User Interface also adopts a paper look and language that suits the technology of the period. "

Can you give us any secrets or sneak peaks?

We have an upcoming feature the team have started to recently add into the game we have wanted to include for a long time. Similarly to how the player can dock at the Smugglers Hideout or Shipyard, there will be another location where the player can make deals with the Mafia.

"The Mafia is something we felt was integral to the prohibition era and there’s a lot we can do with them. In Bootleg Steamer the player will be able to buy favours from the Mafia such as getting extra lives when caught, raising the value alcohol can be sold for in cities or sabotaging some Coast Guard ships for a few days."

We really want to capture the threat the Mafia can pose however so the more the player leans on their powerful abilities the more the Mafia is going to want from the player in return. Over the course of the game managing the Mafia will become more significant and getting on the wrong side of them can quickly lead to a new very powerful enemy for the player to have to deal with."

One of the playable bootlegging ships docked at a city
Bootleg Steamer today: how far it's come from its initial designs

Bootleg Steamer will be hitting the high seas in 2024, but is available to wishlist on Steam now. Join our Discord to stay updated on our new 1920s Prohibition game.

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