If you spent any time near Ukie's stand at this year's Gamescom you must have heard the persistent shrieking. Not shrieks of pain, nor shrieks of laughter, but sustained shrieking all the same. If you went to investigate you would have discovered it was all the fault of Billygoat Entertainment and its game Supermarket Shriek.
Supermarket Shriek has one of the most ludicrous premises of any game we’ve seen in recent years, with a man and a goat propelling themselves in a shopping trolley through retail settings purely by the power of their voices. William Barr, director of Billygoat Entertainment, explains how it came about.
“It started off as a game jam idea, the genesis very much came from YouTube videos of goats screaming, and those being somewhat indistinguishable from human beings screaming.
“You can use your actual voice to propel you through the game,” he explains, wielding a microphone, which explains our recent suffering at the demo’s mercy, though there are more standard control options. “We needed something for the player to be inside, something that didn’t have any other form of propulsion, so we thought: ‘Aha, a shopping trolley’.”
From there the game evolved into an obstacle course race through shops and supermarkets: “We’re big fans of the late, great Dale Winton, and Supermarket Sweep was a source of influence,” says Barr. “Not too much influence it has to be said, in case the holders of that particular IP are interested in getting in touch in a legal capacity!”
The game’s comic nature, and distinctly UK humour, isn’t a new thing for Billygoat, which has been around since 2011.
“We did a lot of work-for-hire stuff and then we ran a Kickstarter campaign and that gave us the funding to make an adventure game [Her Majesty’s Spiffing], that we sunk about four and-a-bit years of our lives into, which is something we look back on with nothing but fond, joyful memories – perhaps not entirely sincerely,” he continues.
Her Majesty’s Spiffing won the TIGA Culture and Heritage Award in 2017. It’s “a Brexit satire set in space” but Supermarket Shriek was a very different undertaking, Barr tells us: “We thought this would be something that would be fun to work on, probably wouldn’t take as long to make as an adventure game and we would hopefully not all hate each other at the end of it, as we did previously! I’m happy to say it hasn’t taken as long as an adventure game, but the hatred is still very much there,” he half-jokes.
Supermarket Shriek is now “mechanically reasonably sound” and only “crashes horrifically” whenever there’s a journalist present to witness it, Barr explains wryly. “The only stuff that’s missing is just a bunch of levels.”
So that means a release is imminent then? Well, not quite: “There are some complications, there’s another video game, Red Dead something, some little thing...Seemingly people don’t want to compete with that, and larger developers and publishers are now filling up the February release window, that we were very much intending to jump on ourselves,” Barr says.
That means Shriek might be somewhat delayed, indirectly, by Rockstar’s opus.
“We’re still set in that Q1 window, though, and we intend to self-publish the game on Xbox, PlayStation and Switch,” he states. “Fortunately when we self-published our previous game we made a lot of horrific mistakes during the process, and we very much intend not to make those mistakes again...” he smiles. “We intend to make completely new ones instead!”
Supermarket Shriek certainly has some potential post-release, Barr continues: “The nature of the game lends itself rather well to our western, capitalist, consumerist society, so whenever it comes to the holiday seasons: Christmas shopping, spring sales, Black Friday… there’s a lot of possible DLC. It’s art imitating life in that respect.”
And, rather appropriately, a retail release is a possibility, Barr says.
“We’d really love to put it in a box at some point. Switch is a platform we hope it will do quite well on, especially with the co-op mode. You can slide your Joy-Cons off and you’re playing together immediately. And a boxed copy would be great there. Ultimately we’d be looking for a physical partner for that boxed version.”
Of course, winning the UK Game of the Show, should help bring the game to the attention of just such partners, with a sizeable trophy to show off back in Northern Ireland, where Billygoat hails from.
“I’d like to think this will go some way to earning the credibility and respect of our peers that we’ve long since been denied,” he chuckles.
“It’s very flattering, it must be said. It’s a very coveted award of course. I’m genuinely very happy about it,” he says more seriously, before adding: “I texted my mother to tell her the good news, and her one line response was: ‘Did you win any cash for it?’ But it’s nice to know she has my best interests at heart.”
Speaking of money, Barr tells us: “We received a very small amount of funding from Northern Ireland Screen, to help develop the prototype version. We were reasonably fortunate the previous game did alright for us, and so predominately this has been funded through the revenue that we got off that. Which I believe is frankly unheard of for an independent developer.”
He adds that their “previous game did reasonably well on consoles, but didn’t sell anything on PC, which was quite surprising for the kind of game it was.”
The move from comic adventure to a racing-cum-party game is quite a leap and Barr admits the new title wasn’t always the easiest to pitch to the press.
“We’ve struggled to get them over to talk about it, we thought originally that our big pitch was the microphone [controls], which is something entirely optional in the game but we thought it would be an interesting hook. However, we found that alienated some people, who thought it was going to be complete nonsense and annoying.”
Thankfully the game has a ‘conventional’ control scheme, where one trigger controls the volume of the man and one the goat, and by gently easing between the two you can scoot around any obstacle with some panache.
“So there is that competitive aspect, where you’re constantly trying to better your time by fractions of a second,” Barr explains.
To that end there are online leaderboards and you can download ghosts of other’s efforts or simply beat the developer’s best times. And speaking of the team, Barr smiles again: “Based in Belfast, we’re a small, yet perfectly formed video game developer. We fluctuate in size between four and six, so predominantly there’s been six people working on this.”
That team is now focused on finishing the game for next year, in what has been a relatively straightforward development process: “If I said we planned this process meticulously, I would be lying. We tend to ride by the seat of our pants a lot – often in shopping trolleys while screaming uncontrollably. But because we’re quite a small studio, you can be flexible about things, things can happen very quickly, decisions-wise.
“For our next project, we hope we’ll scale up from this, so a lot more structure will have to be implemented,” he admits. Let’s just hope that Barr doesn’t lose his wry sense of humour and the team its bonkers creativity in that process.