FuturLab’s Velocity: Design, Direction & Delivery

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Electronic Theatre ImageUK based studio FuturLab will soon launch their second PlayStation exclusive release, Velocity, on the PlayStation Minis distribution channel. As part of the company’s eagerness to let the core gaming audience know of the imminent arrival of Velocity, Managing Director James Marsden took the time to answer some questions put to him by Electronic Theatre.

A retro styled shoot-‘em-up promising some innovative design, Velocity is set to launch on the PlayStation Network next month. Debuting as part of the PlayStation Plus plan, Velocity will be available to subscribers from Electronic Theatre Image2nd May 2012, with a general release following on 16th May. You can read Electronic Theatre’s initial impressions of Velocity right here, while below follows the full question and answer session with FuturLab’s James Marsden.

 

Electronic Theatre: What made you decide to develop a retro stylised videogame?

James Marsden (JM): The genesis for Velocity was a piece of music I’d been writing 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 at its core.

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 :)

Electronic Theatre: Why opt for a PlayStation Minis? Why not a mobile format or the Indie Games channel on Xbox LIVE?

JM: Well, firstly mobile games can’t support the input intensity needed for the kind of immersive twitch games we love to play. Velocity just wouldn’t work as well as it does without the ergonomic physical controls that are sorely missing on a mobile device.

Secondly, the PlayStation Store is a nice place to be. We have an account manager who looks after our needs, and a core target market of PlayStation gamers, whom we understand, and who we can directly build our game for.

In retrospect, we saw a gap in the market for bite sized hardcore games. Many studios seem to be falling over themselves trying to hit the big time on the AppStore, but we wanted to make a quality classic game with an exciting Electronic Theatre Imageconcept, tight controls, great music and addictive gameplay – not a free-to-play Trojan for extracting cash from people’s pockets ;)

Regarding the Indie Games channel on Xbox 360 (XBLIG), the visibility isn’t great. In fact, a couple of weeks ago we sat down to play a game made by Velocity‘s programmer for that channel, and we couldn’t find it using the navigation system at all. We had to use a direct search for the game’s title before we found it. PlayStation Network is superior in this respect. It’s the best place for us to be right now, as we’re finding our feet and building a fan base that enjoys our efforts :)

Electronic Theatre: How did you come up with the idea for screen-scrolling? There have been many, many shoot-‘em-ups released over the years though none spring to mine which have featured manual control previously.

JM: This was a result of introducing the teleportation mechanics. In order for the player to get a sense of the terrain and what they have to do, and then give them enough time to do it, you have to scroll the terrain very slowly. As a result of that, the time taken to fly between gameplay set pieces becomes a bit slow and dull, so we added the scroll boost control to give the player the power to move at whatever pace they want. This has several positive effects.

Firstly, it stops the journey between set pieces from becoming dull, and instead makes them fun as the player gets a little break to zoom through the landscape to the next bit of action.

Secondly, it gives us the ability to challenge the player in terms of speed in completing a level, which is great for replayability. It also allows us to create the ‘Critical Urgency’ levels that require a player Electronic Theatre Imageto zoom through as quickly as possible, which makes the Maze Master type gameplay from Coconut Dodge even more fun.

Thirdly, the boost control acts like a flow-state pedal, where the player is able to adjust the challenge they face from moment to moment. If the player is feeling too challenged, they can lay off the boost, and if they’re comfortable and want a bit more challenge, they can hit it.

Of all the mechanics we’ve introduced to the shoot-‘em-up genre, I think it’s the scroll boost that makes all the difference in terms of addictiveness. If you can give the player the opportunity to control their challenge from moment to moment, they can easily enter the flow state, and that’s my ultimate goal as a game designer.

Electronic Theatre: The jump function is also an interesting design, with the levels seemingly designed to put the player through their paces early on. Was it difficult to balance the ability so as to not grant the player too much power?

JM: The player is hugely powerful in Velocity, but that is our starting point. So the player is totally awesome, but just how awesome can we make them look and feel whilst playing? That’s where we use level design to make the player feel amazing.

Of course, the player can also get too cocky and cause their own destruction by boosting too much when they’re not ready :)

Electronic Theatre: The difficulty curve in Velocity seems to be spot-on. What kind of focus testing have you invested in?

JM: We take the learning curve very seriously, because if a player stops learning, they stop having fun. Our goal was to give the player an opportunity to learn all the way through the game, which I think we’ve achieved.

We built prototype levels to test mechanics and difficulty, and then got lots of people to play it as we watched. ThisElectronic Theatre Image gave us some clear no-no’s, from which we created hard rules that were applied during level design.

Because we are introducing so many new mechanics to the genre, we staggered the features over many levels. We also used level design to give the player an opportunity to learn something new in each level – combining mechanics in new ways that aren’t directly taught for example.

Once we were happy with the levels, we ran two days of focus testing, asking players to rate each level in terms of difficulty and number of failed attempts. We then reordered the levels based on the results. That was invaluable to get the balance of the later levels feeling right.

However, none of the tutorial levels needed to be reordered, because our lead designer, Kirsty Rigden, is brilliant at getting into the head of a new player and walking them through each mechanic in a fun and accessible way.

 

Electronic Theatre: The comic book panels at the start of each level show a great deal of colour in the videogame’s universe, yet the level palette could be considered bland in some ways. Was this an intentional distinction between interactive and non-interactive sequences?

JM: Colour plays a big part in solving Velocity‘s puzzles, so we needed to keep the majority of the terrain fairly neutral so that the colour coded items such as Switches, Laser Fields and Turrets are quickly identifiable inElectronic Theatre Image the player’s periphery. A player needs cues like this to make split second decisions, especially in an action game where there’s a time limit on their actions.

 

Electronic Theatre: FuturLab has previously worked on a variety of different titles – Flash videogames, promotional tools and more – what’s next for the studio?

JM: We’ve really enjoyed making Velocity, so we’ll see where it takes us!

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