I don’t think Jon could have praised Velocity Ultra more when he reviewed it back in May. An upgrade to the Minis title, the game has gone on to gather much acclaim from the critics and fans alike. But far from resting on their laurels, the Futurlab team have looked at how they can improve it, with a PS4/PSVita exclusive sequel labelled 2X.
I got my hands on it at the Eurogamer Expo in September and can tell you that it is incredibly fun and awesome, as a shooter but also as a side scrolling platformer. We caught up with James and Kirsty from Futurlab to tell us a little bit more about it and about the Vita as a platform.
It was a pleasure to meet you at Eurogamer Expo. Velocity Ultra is amazing, but 2X is something else. What were the thoughts behind the improvements?
Kirsty Rigden: We felt that with Velocity Ultra we had done something new with the space-shooter genre, so for Velocity 2X we wanted to do something new again for the sequel. We didn’t want to do a sequel that was more of the same.
It’s so cool to be able to get in and out of a vehicle in Halo and GTA, we just thought “what if you could get out of the ship and run around?” As it’s a 2D game, a side-scrolling platformer was the obvious way to go. We also wanted to make sure switching between the two states wouldn’t be confusing, so all the controls are mapped. For example, the right shoulder button is boost in the top down and sprint in the platforming sections.
Visually, we knew that the original became a little repetitive, so for the sequel we wanted a number of different environments and a lot of VFX. Our goal is for the game to look as good as it plays!
Some of the levels in the original were quite challenging, can we expect more of the same? And for the platforming too?
KR: I think some of the later levels were tough to perfect, but you didn’t need to perfect them all in order to unlock new levels. We’re going to continue with this philosophy in the sequel, for both the flight and platforming sections. We structure the game so that an average player can play to the end (hopefully) without failing too much. Once they complete the last level they then have a new incentive to perfect every level. The player’s level of skill will be dramatically improved by the end, and they should be much more comfortable boosting all the way through the levels. Treating every level as a speed run really sees Velocity come into its own.
Were there things that you had to remove from Ultra that you are trying to fit into 2X?
KR: We wanted to have bosses in the original, so we spent a bit of time coming up with some cool designs, but when we started to implement them we quickly discovered that the screen became too cluttered – there wasn’t enough room to move around once we popped a boss in. We really needed the ability to zoom the camera out but due to code restrictions we simply couldn’t do that in the first game. We’ve completely re-written the engine now though, so we can do fancy things with the camera including zoom. We’ve also got a programmer dedicated to implementing the bosses!
How much more different would you say 2X compared to the original?
KR: Velocity’s spirit is fully intact – it’s a game that makes you feel cool as a result of choreographed movement through level design, and that’s the same principle in 2X, but there’s a lot more variety now; across all aspects.
Ultra was a big hit critically and with fans. What was your view? Was there anything you weren’t happy with?
James Marsden: Plenty! You can never be 100% happy with a game at the point of release, you just run out of time. But when we were half way through production of Velocity Ultra, we went back and played the minis version and were shocked at how poor it looked, and really noticed the UI issues such as not being able to select a zone from the level complete screen and the music not fading out between zones. Ultra was a vast improvement on the minis version that we knew was possible, but didn’t really see it until we looked back. Now with 2X we’re playing Ultra and getting that same feeling, seeing how primitive it is in terms of professional polish. 2X is a vast improvement; a completely different league across every aspect.
What has impressed you most about the Vita, in terms of the technology and games already on the system?
JM: The dual sticks and resolution of the screen are a dream, but what has most impressed me about the Vita is Sony’s continued support for it.
It is well documented that the Vita has struggled in terms of shifting units. Do you have a view on why it isn’t performing as well as had been hoped?
JM: The market forces are not in favour of the Vita at present. Gamers who would buy it for AAA titles aren’t seeing enough reasons to purchase yet, and that creates a negative feedback loop where studios capable of producing AAA titles see the console as a very risky proposition.
The indie support is incredible on Vita, but the market there is niche – like independent and foreign cinema; only deeply engaged gamers who see games as an art form are interested in exploring the outskirts of the medium initially. Successful fringe ideas do tend to find their way into mass market adoption over time though, and as we’ve seen games like Journey have made the jump well with Sony’s support. More indie studios and titles will transition to the mainstream, so it’s very important for the future of the industry to support indie developers to cultivate variety and depth. I can see Hotline Miami becoming a mainstream franchise one day.
Despite the Vita’s lack of sales right now, I can see it growing in popularity when the PS4 is released. If you’re a PS4 owner without a Vita, and you have to stop playing on your PS4 for some reason, but your friend can keep playing because they have a Vita using remote play, you’ll be getting a Vita. The social dynamics involved there will push sales.
Thanks to Kirsty and James from Futurlab for taking the time to talk to us! Velocity 2X is slated to release exclusively on the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita in 2014 and we will try to bring you more news on it when we can. What do you make of 2X? Did you like Ultra or even the Minis original? Let us know what you think in the comments.