'Bullets Per Minute' Developers On Lack Of Haptic Feedback and Optimizing Game For Console

In its move from PC to consoles, Bullets Per Minute (BPM) has been subjected to quite a few changes. Yet despite the development team having a few ideas for how it could be utilized, the DualSense controller's haptic feedback will not be supported in any way.

BPM is an old-school shooter (in the vein of Quake) with a fresh musical twist. The basic premise is that you can only perform certain actions – like the cocking of a shotgun, the squeezing of a fire trigger, or a standard dodge roll – by synchronizing them with the percussive heavy metal soundtrack.

This mandate – necessitating that you always fight to the beat of the music – has resulted in many people likening BPM to a mashup of Doom and Guitar Hero. However, there is also a rogue-like element here, with you exploring procedurally generated dungeons that have randomized enemy placements and unpredictable loot drops.

In short, Bullets Per Minute liberally samples from a number of different genres and influences to come up with a unique experience. It is therefore not surprising that it managed to amass such a dedicated fanbase when it launched on Steam back in September 2020.

Bullets Per Minute Screenshot
In "Bullets Per Minute", you play as one of the Valkyrie warriors of Norse legend, battling your way through the Viking interpretation of Helheim. Awe Interactive

Optimizing Bullets Per Minute for Consoles

With rave reviews and a thriving community, it was only a matter of time before BPM made the jump to PlayStation and Xbox. Indeed, a console port of the game is being released on Tuesday, October 5.

The original developers, David Jones and Josh Sullivan, have actually overseen this new version. The UK based duo, known collectively as Awe Interactive, explained how they have optimized their game for the different platforms in an exclusive interview with Newsweek.

Describing how they got the ball rolling, Sullivan said: "When we were developing BPM in the first place, we weren't entirely sure how we were going to distribute it. We knew we wanted to make this game, but we did not have a proper approach defined.

"At the time, we didn't know if it was going to be a PC only title, or if it would be available on consoles as well. We explored the idea of it debuting on GamePass and of it being a PlayStation exclusive, but in the end, we settled on just PC for launch. We planned to then port it to consoles further down the line."

When they eventually got around to translating BPM over to PlayStation and Xbox, they realized that it was a little more work than they had anticipated. In particular, Sullivan had to adjust the lighting effects for every single dungeon in the game.

Elaborating upon this, he said: "This was really important for consoles, as there was just so much system resource being used that didn't need to be. And that really impacted our performance. So, we went over every last room and overhauled the lighting. It's come out really well, I can't tell the difference and it just runs so much smoother now."

Speaking of which, targeting a consistent frame rate was another big priority for the developers, especially since the game heavily revolves around timing your actions within a millisecond. Jones clarified: "It's important for a specific reason actually, which is that the higher our framerate goes, the more accurately we can track your button inputs.

"We wanted a game that was hyper-responsive so that you can perfectly synchronize with the beat of the music. It is technically playable if it runs at 30 frames per second (FPS), but it needs to be as fluid as possible. On consoles, we have it running at a stable 60 FPS most of the time."

Bullets Per Minute Screenshot
"Bullets Per Minute" is a roguelike, meaning that the dungeon layouts, item drops and enemy placements are all procedurally-generated. Awe Interactive

However, there are apparently a few item combinations that can bring this down a little. For instance, when paired with an ability that makes all of your shots explosive, a shotgun can take a heavy toll on the framerate. With those two items being used in conjunction with one another, you are suddenly unloading huge spreads of fiery particle effects in any given frame.

Jones continued: "So that frame is obviously going to be slightly more expensive than the ones before and after it. We had a decision at that point. Do we cut the cool item, or do we let the framerate dip a little? And we decided to go with the latter because, in my opinion, I will happily take a less than perfect framerate if I am getting a cool option as a player."

Ideas for Haptic Feedback in Bullets Per Minute

Awe Interactive were not able to make every change they wanted for the console port. Namely, they had to abandon all of their ideas for how the PlayStation 5 controller's haptic feedback could be integrated with BPM.

Jones said: "We wanted to make it difficult to squeeze the adaptive triggers if you were off the beat, and then easier when you were on the beat. That way we could subconsciously enforce the rhythm of the music onto the player."

Bullets Per Minute Screenshot
There were originally ideas for using the DualSense controllers haptic feedback capabilities in the console version of "Bullets Per Minute". Awe Interactive

Meanwhile, Sullivan recounted how the haptic motors (which enable the immersive vibrations in the DualSense) would have been used. "We could very easily define the beat through those vibrations, because the haptics are so precise, and it would have been super cool."

Unfortunately, these ideas never made it into the console port as it was not developed specifically for the PS5, but for the PS4 instead. Jones explained: "Those parts of the API (Application Programming Interface) just do not exist on the PlayStation 4, so you can't do it unless you are a native app, which BPM is not."

For those who are not aware, a native app is a piece of software that has been developed for use on particular hardware. In the case of a video game, it means that it will have better optimized performance and the ability to use the console's unique features. For instance, Astro's Playroom is a native app for the PS5, enabling it to take full advantage of the DualSense controller.

On the other hand, Bullets Per Minute's console port is currently for the PS4 and Xbox One. As such, it cannot use any of the DualSense features. Returning to that point, Jones said: "For people who are wondering, that's the short reason for why it's not in there. We did have ideas for using haptic feedback, but we are not a native PS5 app yet."

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You can collect different power-ups in "Bullets Per Minute" to steadily acquire more power. Awe Interactive

Getting a Helping Hand From the Yooka-Laylee Team

Porting a game to consoles is not a purely technical exercise, however, as developers will also have to consider other factors.

Elaborating upon this, Jones said: "There are aspects of optimization that are quite fun if you are a programmer. It depends on what kind of mindset you have. We found it easy and fun on the code side, but then there is other stuff that you have to do to get through certification.

"That's the work that we, as indies, don't want to do. It's a different kind of work, where you have to make sure that every language is supported, that every display resolution is supported and that all the metadata is right. That's all the boring stuff that we do not want to get involved with, and that's why we sought out a partner to help us."

In the end, Jones and Sullivan reached out to Playtonic Friends, which is the small publishing arm of Yooka-Laylee developer Playtonic.

Promoting itself first and foremost as a partner, rather than a big business, the company has not taken on too many games since it was established in February. Instead, it is focused on offering a bespoke service for a small handful of interesting developers, finding out exactly what they need and then taking care of it.

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Playtonic Friends helped Awe Interactive bring "Bullets Per Minute" to a console audience. Awe Interactive

In the case of Bullet Per Minute, Playtonic handled most of the certification process for the console version. Jones continued: "Once we knew that we were porting to PlayStation and Xbox we realized that it was going to take a long time, so we approach Playtonic because getting through certification on a console is actually a ton of work.

"They also helped out with financial triage, covering things like the porting costs, marketing costs, translations costs and the rating boards costs. Which are the four things that you need to ship an indie game on console."

In general, the Awe Interactive duo is very complimentary about Playtonic's role. Sullivan said: "We are just a 2-person team working on this game and so we had very limited time. They helped us out enormously and have even been pushing the PC version of the game as well, despite that they do not stand to benefit from it. They do not publish that version and have no incentive to promote it but they did anyway. It has never felt like a business deal, but like a relationship."

The fruits of this partnership will soon be available for everybody to see, as Bullets Per Minute (BPM) is arriving on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 on Tuesday, October 5.

Bullets Per Minute Screenshot
"Bullets Per Minute" is available now on PC and is being ported to both Xbox and PlayStation consoles on Tuesday, October 5. Awe Interactive