I, as well as many Vita owners, know that Velocity Ultra is one of the handheld’s best games. Its chaotic, yet controlled top-down shooting is not only addicting, but rewarding too. When Velocity Ultra‘s developer, the UK-based Futurlab, announced that its sequel was hitting both the Vita and the PlayStation 4, many were overjoyed. The early footage of Velocity 2X is breathtaking; I can already feel myself getting sucked in. I recently caught up with Futurlab’s Managing Director James Marsden to discuss the finer points of the upcoming PSN title and gaming in general.
[Hardcore Gamer] Okay, so first and foremost, could you describe Velocity 2X so that anyone who hasn’t heard of the game can hear what it entails directly from the developer?
[James Marsden] It’s a sci-fi platformer and top-down shooter in one adventure. Velocity Ultra was well received by gamers and by critics, so we took what worked really well there – in terms of the new mechanics such as teleportation, scroll boost, choreograph level design, and applied it to a platformer too. A player can take control of the Quarp Jet in what we call “race-tuned space combat,” and then at certain points in each level, dock their ship, jump out and continue the fight on foot. Our major inspirations for the platform sections were Turrican and Flashback, both for the art-style and gameplay.
So that leads me to my next question, rarely do we see a sequel cross into an entirely new genre. What was the thought process behind adding the platforming sections to the game?
First, the games industry is more competitive now that it’s ever been. With the lowering of barriers to entry and the surge of new developers coming into the market there’s only room for so many to actually be paid for their work. We needed a hit game to make our mark, and fortunately Velocity gave us that. We surprised people with the new mechanics – particularly critics/reviewers. The really high review scores we were able to get with Velocity were partly due to the element of surprise. But, one hit wonders are a thing – we couldn’t afford to rest on our laurels with the sequel as we wanted to grow and improve our production values and grow our team, etc. So we needed the element of surprise again, hence adding platforming. Some people we spoke to thought it was nuts to combine genres, which was proof enough to me that it was definitely the thing we should do.
Second, we really wanted to grow our team, but that is risky business. But, adding a whole other gameplay format to the game wasn’t risky, because we knew the mechanics worked. It’s been a safe way to grow the franchise, grow the team.
Finally, it’s really f******* cool, but really f****** cool doesn’t pay the bills these days.
What have you guys done to ensure that the platforming sections still feel like Velocity? Obviously it’s a brilliant idea in theory, but what are some of the methods Futurlab is implementing to prevent Velocity 2X from feeling like two disjointed games as opposed to one?
First of all it was imperative that the transition between the two formats be instantaneous. Nobody wants long loading times. Secondly, we use the same approach to level design, which is very rhythmical. Thirdly, and probably most importantly, the controls are almost identical across the two formats. We use the same buttons for similar actions, so the player doesn’t have to think whilst playing. Once they learn the controls, there’s no relearning.
So perhaps the only major point of criticism about Velocity Ultra was that teleporting between player-dropped beacons broke the flow of the game (since you had to bring up the mini-map). Since Velocity 2X looks to capitalize on seamless transitioning, has any work gone into altering this mechanic?
Actually some people didn’t like the fast paced levels, and really enjoyed the “puzzlier” ones which required a lot of use of the map. I think one of the main strengths of Velocity is the variety of types of gameplay it provided.
As do I!
Different people have different tastes. For the sequel, that behaviour of dropping telepods is still there, and the map has been enhanced to provide access to both top down and platforming sections, and moving between them quickly in the map. For example, you can drop a telepod in your ship, fly on, dock your ship, jump out, run around, drop a telepod on foot, bring up your map, and instantly teleport to the telepod you dropped in your ship and back again. The game assumes the player got in and out of their ship, but the player doesn’t have to labor over it.
Ah okay, that sounds pretty seamless. How has the top-down shooting changed, if at all?
There’s nothing new there aside from refinement. Bullet damage is better balanced, glass destruction is better balanced, collision detection is improved, etc.
One of the things people asked for was more ‘upgradeability.’ The only upgrades we can provide are the ones we know the player will definitely have at a certain point of the game. Automatic upgrades, if you like. With a game where the levels are so tightly designed, it’s actually impossible to provide meaningful upgrades and great level design at the same time. We could create a spin-off game that focuses more on upgrading your ship, etc., but it wouldn’t be Velocity.
Okay, let’s get to one of my favorite news stories of the year, something that directly relates to you as a Vita developer. Chris McQuinn, Designer at Drinkbox Studios, recently said, “Vita owners are the f****** best.” He feels that they are some of the most loyal gamers out there, and they showed that through the high levels of Guacamelee! purchases on the handheld. How do you guys feel about the Vita community and the handheld in general? When you hear that quote, what comes to mind?
I recently said that if you consider yourself a ‘well informed gamer’, you’ve probably got a PS Vita. It’s true that the owners of the PS Vita are incredibly engaged with the industry. I’m sure many other Vita developers will agree with Chris’ statement.
Okay, let’s get to some quick-hitting fun questions. Favorite game of all time and why?
Street Fighter II, because if Ken Masters was a real person, I’d whip his ass on it.
Biggest video game pet peeve?
No instant restart or a sluggish UI (they’re kinda the same).
What’s the funniest thing that’s ever happened to you in a game? For instance, in NBA Live ’98, Kobe Bryant randomly jumped out of the stadium during one of my shots and I had to play 4-on-5 for the rest of the game.
Haha! That’s a tough question. Probably Ryu turning into Blanka halfway through a match. There’s an arcade machine under the promenade by Brighton’s pier which has this glitch.
Finally, I have to ask, is there any new release date news?
If there was, you’d already know it.
I had to try!
We’re just working as hard as we can, should be late summer.