Bugs 'N Boo Hags is an award-winning video game that's all about the place I call home—the seaside city of Beaufort, located in the "Lowcountry" region of coastal South Carolina.
Hi there! My name is Brian Canada. I'm a college professor, graphic designer, and game developer from Beaufort, South Carolina. For the past four years, I've been independently creating Bugs 'N Boo Hags, which combines the challenge of tower defense with the intensity of single-screen platform jumping and climbing action.
Bugs 'N Boo Hags is very much a love letter to the classic games that I grew up playing at arcades, pizza joints, and convenience stores in the 1980s. It's got original pixel art, chiptune music, and that "just-one-more-time" kind of gameplay which are all authentic to that era, the "Golden Age" of video games.
But Bugs 'N Boo Hags isn't just another retro indie game -- in fact, I'd like to think that it's unlike any game you've played before!
To my knowledge, there aren't that many commercially-available video games that have been based on or otherwise influenced by an actual place and its people and traditions as what you'll find in Bugs 'N Boo Hags. This not only makes for a surprisingly unexplored area for videogame storytelling and gameplay, but it also resonates really well with audiences that have an appreciation for traditions, folklore, or just visiting historic places. Not only that, but the involvement of the community has helped to make the game an authentic Lowcountry experience!
Ever since I started working on the game four years ago, I've been more than a little obsessed with finding ways to turn all of these elements of Lowcountry life and lore into pixel-art versions of themselves. Nearly everything about how the game looks and plays is inspired by the history, culture, and folklore of the South Carolina Lowcountry, particularly from the historic seaside city of Beaufort and the surrounding Sea Islands, where I live and work.
Beaufort is widely considered to be one of the best small towns to live and to visit in the American South. It's got the romantic scenery of live oaks draped in Spanish moss, salt marshes and tidal creeks, cabbage palmetto trees, distinctively charming architecture, a culture of both old and new Southern cuisine, and hundreds of years' worth of American history that dates back to some of the earliest known European settlements.
However, this bustling and beautiful coastal town that's located halfway between Charleston, South Carolina and Savannah, Georgia — right in the middle of the Gullah-Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor — is also a hotbed of supernatural phenomena, replete with tales of haunts and spirits that have been told and retold for generations. And one of these stories, in particular, provided the seed from which my video game, Bugs 'N Boo Hags, has grown.
About nine years ago, I was getting ready to start my career as a professor of computational science at the University of South Carolina Beaufort, also known as "USCB." I was doing some research on the Lowcountry so I could learn about places to visit, things to do, and generally what makes this area unique.
Now, I don't exactly remember how I stumbled onto it, but there was an image I found on the web that depicted a sort of "satirical map" of what people in each state feared the most. For most states it was the usual suspects: aliens, vampires, ghosts, zombies… but for South Carolina, the map was labeled with a phrase I hadn't seen before -- "Boo Hag."
I don't know if it was the way those two words seemed to pair together so perfectly, but I was immediately intrigued, and I ended up developing a bit of a hobby around amassing as much knowledge about Lowcountry hags, haints, and hoodoo as I could get my hands on.
The more I learned about this and other Lowcountry folktales and other supernatural phenomena, the more I began to believe that the combination of stories and scenery unique to this area would make a fun backdrop for a video game. After brainstorming a few possibilities, I eventually came up with Bugs 'N Boo Hags, which places you in this strange world.
The story of the "Boo Hag" and its many variations represent just one slice of a vast treasury of folk tales once told by the Gullah Geechee, a population of African-Americans living along the southeastern coast of the U.S. who descended from the enslaved persons freed during the civil war.
You play the role of Jack McCleary, a fictionalized version of James Edwin McTeer, who in the mid-20th century was the real-life "witchdoctor sheriff" of Beaufort County who used his own brand of hoodoo and "folk magic" to reverse the effects of dark spells and roots and hexes that had been placed on the people who he was sworn to protect.
Your objective: As Sheriff McCleary, you must defend the homes of your citizens from invasion by that most dreaded of evil spirits, the Boo Hag.
Also appearing in the game is Mayor Billy, based on the real-life mayor of Beaufort, the Honorable Billy Keyserling. Mayor Billy recruits and trains you to defeat the Boo Hags, and he provides you with useful advice throughout the game.
The Boo Hag resembles an ordinary female by day, but after the sun goes down at night, she slips out of her skin, which gives her the power to fly around town and sneak into the houses of her unsuspecting victims so she can drain their life-force away while they sleep.
The Boo Hag and her coven of fellow hags know you're out there to try and stop them, so they have recruited an army of creepy critters common to South Carolina -- merciless mosquitoes, perilous palmetto bugs, and ferocious fire ants! These nuisance bugs will constantly pursue and pester you while the Boo Hags slowly and steadily progress towards the house that they've targeted for invasion.
Conventional weapons won't work on the boo hag—instead, your arsenal consists of corn brooms, salt shakers, and a supply of what people here in the Lowcountry call "haint blue" paint.
If you place a broom in a boo hag's path, she'll eventually pick it up and obsessively count all the bristles, which is a great way to temporarily distract her from getting in the house.
If you're able to shake a few grains of salt onto the Boo Hag’s skinless body, she'll be momentarily stunned by the stinging, searing pain of salt being rubbed into exposed flesh.
The only guaranteed means of protecting your house from a boo hag is by painting all the doors and windows this certain shade of blue -- haint blue -- which fools the hag into thinking the house is covered in water, which she's afraid to cross.
If you're lucky enough to protect the house by completely painting the doors and windows, the enraged hags will know it's just a matter of time before they will die, so they will relentlessly chase after you until sunrise. Even if the house is protected, you've gotta keep moving in order to stay alive!
So if you can use these and other tools and tricks at your disposal to keep the hag outside of the house overnight, then at the break of dawn, she'll be burned up by the rays of the morning sun, and you'll have saved the day.
Because I'm the game's only artist, designer, and developer, it's been up to me to do the programming needed to get the experience just right. With the primary gameplay mechanic of collecting and using "haint paint" and other special items to protect the house from the Boo Hags while evading all these irritating insects, what you've got in Bugs 'N Boo Hags is a unique blend of tower defense-style gameplay and old-school, single-screen platforming action, where you can run and jump from the branches of live oak trees and climb on ladders made of hanging "Spanish moss" as well as the distinctive bark of the sabal palmetto, the state tree of South Carolina.
The finished game will have dozens of levels to challenge your skills and reflexes -- and each stage is unique. In fact, some of the level designs are based on actual houses and other historical buildings in the area.
Some of the locally-inspired levels include: a Gullah "praise house"; the famous "Tidalholm" mansion seen in several major motion pictures that were filmed in Beaufort; the "Robert Smalls" house, named for the African-American civil war hero and U.S. congressman who once lived there; the historic First African Baptist church, of which Robert Smalls was one of the earliest members; the long-abandoned Beaufort County Jail (which had a rather peculiar art deco design); and even the vandalized ruins of the old Seacoast Packing Company, better known to locals as the "Old Pickle Factory."
I was able to create all of the game's sound effects myself, but for the music, I've had the great pleasure of working with my sister, Amy Canada, who is a classically trained performer and composer.
To provide her with appropriate inspiration, I had her listen to classic NES game music written by legendary composers like Koji Kondo and Hirokazu "Hip" Tanaka.
Amy ended up delivering her own unique and memorable themes, which she has brought to life using authentic chiptune-reproduction tools like Pulseboy and Famitracker.
Check out this 60-second sampler of several music tracks from the game:
It's been a lot of fun getting people and businesses from Beaufort County involved in different ways:
- Many of the levels are based on house plans created by Allison Ramsey Architects, a local architecture firm here in Beaufort, whose award-winning home designs are found all over the Southern United States and beyond.
- One of the special power-up items in the game, the "Kazoobie kazoo," pays tribute to the only remaining manufacturer of plastic kazoos in the United States — which happens to be located right here in Beaufort!
- The real-life mayor of Beaufort, the Honorable Billy Keyserling, appears in the game as a helpful guide!
I am thankful for the support of the family of the famous "High Sheriff of the Lowcountry," the late Ed McTeer, who provided the inspiration for Sheriff Jack McCleary, the game's main character.
I'm also grateful to the artists and storytellers Bernice and Andy Tate, who have a deep knowledge of hoodoo traditions and stories from this area, as well as Victoria Smalls, who has been a wonderful subject matter expert regarding the traditions, language, and culture of the Gullah Geechee community.
After nearly four years of working on this project on my own and in my spare time, I'm ready to ask for your help so I can share this interactive and fun Lowcountry experience with everyone.
I've been working on Bugs 'N Boo Hags in my spare time for nearly four years, all while teaching full time as a professor in the computer science department at the University of South Carolina Beaufort. These past four years have been challenging, but I have learned so much about what it takes to create a video game on your own, and apart from having my sister write the music, I've never really asked for help. Finding the time and energy to work on the game after a long day of teaching has never been easy, so your support and encouragement is essential to the project's success.
Since I don't teach classes in the summer, I currently have the extra time I need to finish the game. Therefore, I'm planning to release the completed game worldwide in September 2019 for Windows, Mac, and Linux, initially via the Steam digital game distribution service.
If funding happens to greatly exceed my goal, then I will do my best to port the game to other platforms as well, such as the Nintendo Switch, and perhaps other consoles as well!
The development of the game is largely complete. Your support will help to cover the costs of designing any remaining levels, testing and debugging, legal protections (trademark filings, licensing agreements, etc.), marketing, advertising, and digital distribution, as well as the creation and shipping of the physical rewards (all of which are being manufactured locally, right here in Beaufort County).
I'll also need your help to fund internships for students where they can gain experience in testing, quality assurance, marketing, and game design.
Finally, I would like help with funding my sister Amy's continued involvement as the composer and arranger of the game's music.
Perhaps even more importantly, I need your input and your critique, so I've made a free PC demo of the game available at GameJolt. Click on the image below to go to the demo download page, or simply click here!
This only will give you a chance to try out the game and provide initial feedback, but I hope that it also helps to assure you that the game is far enough along that it will actually get finished by the end of summer 2019.
Everyone who backs the campaign at the "Sheriff" level ($10, or only $5 during the first 48 hours of the campaign) or at higher backer reward levels will not only get at least one free digital copy of the finished game, but in the meantime, you'll also get "early access" to the game's pre-release alpha and beta versions so you can see for yourself how much progress is being made.
And if you back the game at one of the two highest reward levels, I'll design a level for the game that's based on your own home or perhaps your place of business! And if you back the game at the highest reward level, you'll not only have your name credited prominently as a "Master Producer" on the title screen, but I'll make you a playable in-game character as well!
I am truly thankful for your support. I want to make a game that you'll not only love for its entertainment value and challenge but also for its unique depiction of South Carolina Lowcountry folklore and culture.
And I am confident that with your support, together we can finish Bugs 'N Boo Hags and we can make the game as beautiful, engaging, and fun as the wonderful city and region that it reflects.
Thank you so much... and as the locals say, "Don't let the hag ride ya!"
Please note that while we have done our best to make sure that the mockup and prototype images depict the actual digital and physical rewards as closely as possible, the final appearance of each delivered reward may vary. In addition, all game footage and screenshots shown are from a version of the game that is currently in development; the final released version of the game may vary in appearance, sound, and/or gameplay from the development builds.
Further, while we will strive to accommodate those backers who desire their likeness, home, and/or business to appear in the game, we reserve the right to refuse to depict anything that we do not feel is appropriate for our player audience.
We are grateful to have a number of experts who have volunteered their time and energy to help make this project as good as it can be:
- Jordan Itkowitz: Game Designer and Veteran of the Game, Toy, and Amusement Industries
- Thomas Brush: Award-Winning Creator of PINSTRIPE and ONCE UPON A COMA
- Victoria Smalls: An Expert on Gullah-Geechee History, Culture, and Folklore
- Bernice & Andy Tate: Artists, Storytellers, and Experts on "Lowcountry Hoodoo"
- Cooter Ramsey: Award-Winning Co-Founder of Allison-Ramsey Architects
Risks and challenges
The core of the game -- including the gameplay, fine-tuning of controls, and the overall user experience -- is essentially complete, but the hardest part of any project, especially one that's designed for public consumption, is actually getting it finished and polished.
Although BUGS 'N BOO HAGS will be my first commercial game release, I do have experience in the creation and distribution of mobile apps that have appeared on the iOS App Store and Google Play for Android. I've also created several websites, corporate and athletic logos, posters, and I've even designed a couple of books.
As a teacher of computer science classes, including courses in web design and development, I have to remind my students of the importance of high production value, attention to detail, and having empathy for the end user. But I know my students won't take me seriously as a role model if I don't practice what I preach in the classroom.
Fortunately, I have help from experienced game designers on my advisory board, including Jordan Itkowitz (designer of AAA games such as LEGO WORLDS, DEADLY CREATURES, and STAR WARS: RACER REVENGE) and Thomas Brush (creator of the hit indie game PINSTRIPE and the forthcoming ONCE UPON A COMA). Their invaluable advice will help to make sure that we produce and deliver the best possible game experience that can be enjoyed by kids and adults alike!Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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