In an interview with Game Informer, Several developers of Rockstar, more specifically Rockstar New England shared more details and insight into what kind of game Bully 2 would be had they decided to keep on track developing it. The report goes into detail as to how Bully 2 came to be, what kind of mechanics it would have, and why the game was shelved for other projects.
Bully 2’s lead developer was Rockstar New England. Before becoming part Rockstar, the New England studio was originally Mad Doc Software who primarily created PC strategy games such as Star Trek: Armada and the Empire Earth series which was the developer’s bread and butter. Following success with Earth Empire and Empire Earth 2, the third game in the franchise wasn’t as successful. Then, they were tasked to develop Bully: Scholarship Edition, the remaster of Bully with new missions, characters, and items. Following the release of that, Mad Doc was acquired by Rockstar and renamed Rockstar New England. The studio worked on Bully: Scholarship Edition and helped with GTA IV’s two story expansions and Red Dead Redemption. They also had the opportunity to work on their own game, which would’ve been a sequel to Bully.
Rockstar New England’s plan for Bully 2 lined up with what Rockstar Games was doing at that time. The late 2000s was a shift in direction for the company, and in a way, the games industry itself. Following developing or publishing 9 or 10 games a year, Rockstar shifted its focus to more expensive, more prestigious releases, focused more on an older audience and built around gunplay. This started following the release of Grand Theft Auto IV in 2008. Rockstar New England had the same idea and aspirations. One developer said it was a chance to “shoot for the moon because even if we don’t quite make it, we’re already much further than if we had aimed a little bit lower.” “There was a lot of focus on character, very deep systems, seeing how far we could push that, and putting it up there alongside a GTA,” one developer said on the project. Another says “I think they wanted to bring that kind of world to the Bully universe.”
Three different developers told Game Informer that Bully 2’s open-world ranged from the size of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City’s open world to three times the size of the original Bully’s school map. The lack of size was going to be made up for with depth. Every building in the game was going to be enterable, by normal means or by forced entry. A former developer on the project said “if you could see it, you could go into it.” “The player was not going to be driving a car anywhere, so the total playable space and land size [was] definitely going to be smaller,” another developer says. “Mostly because kids – he’s not going to be driving – and also because we wanted these very deep systems. Like, if you can go into every building, that’s a lot of work. We’d rather not have a really massive world; maybe scale that back a little bit just so that we can make sure that we have all these meaningful things in there.”
Some ideas that were going to be in Bully 2 can be found in other Rockstar Games such as Red Dead Redemption II. One of the bigger game mechanics that was introduced in Red Dead Redemption II is the emphasis on interaction with the world and its people. “The way that you interact with other characters in the world, more than just with your gun or with your fist, they have some sense of memory – a lot of that stuff originated in Bully 2,” one developer says.
“From what I remember reading [in] some of the design docs and my conversations with people is that you could build relationships with characters in the world,” he says about Bully 2. “You’d be, like, best friends with the chef in the mansion or whatever, or the chef could really hate you or something, and that would open up different options. I don’t know to the extent of where that ended up – if that got pared down into a general ‘you’re good Jimmy’ versus ‘you’re bad Jimmy’ or what – but I know in some of the early ideas being thrown around, you would have that fine-grained level of relationships to other characters in the world.” Rockstar New England also wanted to take the honor system from Red Dead and shift it to fit the Bully universe. In Red Dead II, protagonist Arthur Morgan behaved differently depending on whether he had high honor or low honor. If he had high honor, he was more compassionate. If he had low honor, Morgan was driven by greed and apathy. If Morgan robs a store, he can’t just walk back into it a few minutes later as if nothing happened. The store clerk remembers Morgan and denies him service, asking him to leave.
There were also plans for an in-depth climbing mechanic. The main character, Jimmy, would be able to climb trees fences, and ledges, on top of roofs, as well as out of his window when sneaking out. “Trees were obviously a big one; we wanted the player to be able to climb up the tree to hide or do some hijinks with all sorts of things like paintball guns or water balloons, all of that sort of stuff,” a former developer says. Eventually, the mechanic never came to fruition. “We worked with a lot of GTA assets just so that we could get something prototyped quickly,” one developer says about the climbing. “We tried to work a lot of that in. It’s like, Well, when he’s hanging for this long, how long does he hang for before he lets go? Do we wanna do [a] foot-over-foot balancing act if you’re walking along a branch? Versus side-stepping, side to side, if you were working along the branch but to the side? It was stuff like that, and trying to figure out what worked, or what looked the best as the player.”
A vertical slice of the game was made playable. Developers could run around the world and interact with objects and npcs. There were missions involving go-karts, a beekeeper, a Kamp Krusty style mission, and one that had Jimmy in his underwear featuring a crotch bulge. “It was definitely going to be a little risqué,” a former developer says. “There were a lot of ’80s-kids-on-bikes movies, like Goonies, that came up as reference. Porky’s was another commonly used movie for reference,” he says. “We [looked] at a lot of those kinds of things. It’s definitely in that style.”
The game was at least six to eight hours playable. If development were to continue, two developers said that Bully 2 would’ve needed two to three more years before the game would be ready to be shipped, but over time, Rockstar began pulling people off the project and putting them on other in-development games that needed help. Those who spoke to Game Informer said once anyone got pulled off Bully 2, they never returned.
One developer says a build of the game still existed at Rockstar New England as recently as a few years ago, parts of which were used as reference material for later projects.
“It was going to be really cool,” one former developer says. “What we had was pretty amazing, especially given the very short amount of time that we were working on it. […] It certainly would’ve been very unique, very interesting, certainly a lot of fun. A lot of cool and interesting mechanics that we were working on that still aren’t in other games.” “It’s still a concept, in my opinion, worth exploring,” another says, “and I think that it would be a missed opportunity for them to let it go forever.”