Velocity – Interview With FuturLab
PS Minis is arguably the most overlooked aspect of PlayStation 3 but a recent release should help change that, as Velocity has invaded PSN Store to a host of rave reviews – check out what we had to say about it in our Velocity PS Mini Review. And now check out what James Marsden, Managing Director of FuturLab, had to say about working on the title…
What was it that initially attracted FuturLab to develop minis?
In late 2009 we had a PSP game canned by a publisher, and so were just keen to get a game out there. We already had PSP development kits and a 2D engine running, so it was an easy decision to put something onto minis.
What’s the biggest challenge when developing minis?
It’s all been a challenge – getting to grips with the hardware and tools, the submission process, QA and ratings, marketing and promotion – none of that stuff is easy for a small team of two or three people.
If I had to pick the most challenging thing, it would be keeping your head above water financially whilst you make your game. We are good at designing simple, elegant and fun little games, as we’ve been doing it in Flash for years, and we can apply our creativity to marketing and PR too, which helps a lot – but having cash flow makes everything a lot easier!
Your previous minis title, Coconut Dodge, was very well received – was there anything you learnt from the experience of developing and launching that title that you applied to Velocity?
Coconut Dodge was a huge learning curve, not just in producing a well-rounded product, but getting it seen by people. Looking back, we did a lot of things right with Coconut Dodge, which was in part down to naïve enthusiasm, but it gave us a strong foundation to build upon for Velocity. Not least the addictive mechanics!
How long has Velocity been in development and how big is the team working on it?
We began working on it once Coconut Dodge was published – so, June 2010. Robin (Jubber) and I worked on it for about a year alongside a work for hire Flash project. We arrived at the final mechanics and features around August 2011, and that’s when we got the PS+ deal to take it to completion. We worked with a total of 16 freelancers – from just a couple of days at a time for the graphic design for example, to 3 months for the majority of the pixel art.
How did development on Velocity get started and why go for that style of game?
The idea for Velocity came from a piece of music I’d been writing on and off for about 10 years. The main melody was written at University, and as I taught myself music production in the years that followed, I created about seven different versions. You could say that I was obsessed, but despite my close friend’s continued disapproval, I believed the tune had potential.
When our first game Coconut Dodge was coming to an end, I created a mix of the tune that I was finally happy with (my friend conceded it was actually okay that time!), and it sounded like a soundtrack to a retro space shooter game. Since the tune sounds very heroic with its uplifting melody and chords, I figured it would be fitting to create a game that featured rescuing people!
When Coconut Dodge was released, and we watched people get hooked on the Maze Master mode, it was settled that we’d attempt to produce a classic retro space shooter using the mechanics we’d employed in Coconut Dodge.
The same tune now features in all of the ‘Critical Urgency’ levels in Velocity, and also benefits from production and additional composition work by Joris de Man, the award winning Killzone composer. Joris puts the icing on the retro-cake with his chip tune skills.
It was very important to me that we produce something that adequately lived up to the fond memories gamers my age have for those games. Getting the chip tune music right, and having that pixel art style done correctly were essential.
What support has Sony offered with Velocity?
Our SCEE account manager saw an early version of the game and suggested we may be a good fit for the PlayStation Plus subscription service. A few months later we showed him the game as a vertical slice, and he signed it up. That’s pretty cool for an indie developer, as we’re now benefitting from the install-base that PS+ creates, and it adds another layer of credibility to the title being included in the PS+ catalogue.
You also said that the minis platform is ultimately less risky than the App Store – why do you think that is?
The AppStore is a gamble. We can study the market and stack the odds in our favour, but as an indie we’re ultimately at the mercy of luck. On minis, luck doesn’t play nearly as much of a role. I know developers that have released good games on iOS and made no money at all, whereas if they’d released the same game on minis, they would have made *something.* You’re not going to win big on minis, but you stand a much better chance of building a following. If you release a game on minis, it will get bought. If you release a great game on minis, where the level of quality is fairly low in general, you can stand out. That’s been our goal, because at this point we’re just looking to prove what we are capable of with very little budget.
Looking ahead to next-gen, what does Sony need to change about its store to further appeal to indie developers?
Trophy and networking support for minis will boost the perception of the platform in the eyes of gamers, and will therefore attract more talented developers. That’s what the platform needs in my opinion. There are some gems on minis, but the vast majority of gamers won’t touch them. We’re fighting that perception unfortunately, but it also gives us a strong sales hook for Velocity, because we’re able to say it’s the best game on the platform, which we genuinely believe to be true.