We’ve already covered Minutes here at The Vita Lounge, when I got the chance to play it at last years EGX and when Charlie reviewed it, and felt that the abstract action title was a great title to pick up and play. Ahead of the North American release of the game this week, we grabbed a chat with Richard Ogden, the one man operation behind Red Phantom Games.
Richard began gaming and programming at the age of ten on a ZX81. Many years later he started his career in the games industry at Codemasters working on the first iterations of the Colin McRae Rally and TOCA Touring Cars series, initially as vehicle physics programmer and later as a game designer.
In 2001 he co-founded Bigbig Studios which developed notable games such as Pursuit Force and MotorStorm: Arctic Edge on the PSP. In 2007 the studio was acquired by Sony and, at peak, grew to around 45 employees prior to being closed in 2012. After a short break Richard founded Red Phantom Games as a lean and flexible, one-person studio which launched its first title Minutes in November for the PS4 and Vita.
Hi Richard! It’s great to catch up with you again! Minutes is deceptively addictive and charming. What was the motivation for making a game in this style?
Thanks for saying so! Firstly, Red Phantom Games is a one-man developer (me) so I was aiming to create a game that’s viable on console and could be built with a limited budget and mainly by me alone. Even so, I had some help with art and music along the way.
On top of that I was interested in what games would look like when they aren’t trying to be AAA epics with sprawling worlds, in-depth stories and a multitude of characters. What is a game like without the superfluous stuff like cut-scenes and traipsing across landscapes? What does a game look like with almost no context? What’s the minimum set of mechanics that’s right for console but would seem too much for a phone or tablet? So, with that I’d set myself a challenge.
The power-ups available are very interesting, what made you come up with them and what is your favourite?
The introduction of the power-ups was the final element to round off the design and provide that extra bit of “videogameness”. If you look at them then you see that they are quite typical – a smart bomb, a health restore, slow down time and a shield. How many games have one or more of these? Loads. But this fits with the whole design ethos and are styled accordingly.
I actually toyed with various ideas – score multiplier, drone, deflectors and others and wondered if the player should choose which one they unlock and/or choose from a list before the level, etc., etc. In the end just using four, laying them out in a diamond and mapping them to the face buttons was the most streamlined choice.
My favourite, even though it’s the first to be unlocked and therefore the weakest, is Quell which slows down time. I enjoyed implementing the effect where it slows down the music track in synch with the game.
How have you found the reception to the game? There is a new patch incoming; do you plan any future tweaks after this?
The reception has generally been positive and reviews are good on the whole. There have been a couple if much lower scores where it’s clear the reviewer didn’t really “get” the game which is fine because I never expected it to be liked by everyone. In between, the main negative point that’s come out is the tough difficulty. So the patch (coming on the 10th Feb) seeks to address this with more flexible level unlocking (i.e. you can skip stages to an extent) and the target scores have been reduced. Hopefully this will avoid any frustrations that lead to Vitas being thrown across rooms and no more tweaks will be needed after that!! Those changes are also in the U.S. version from release.
Is there anything you wish you could have done differently or are you pleased with the final game?
I think developers always want to do more on their games. You can never be 100% pleased with the final product. But there comes a point where you have to stop polishing and release.
If anything, I would revisit the way the tutorials are presented. I had planned to do this and make them more contextual but just never found the time. I was actually working on this a week before submission. But, that’s incredibly risky – should just be bug-fixing and tweaking numbers. So, I eventually did the sensible thing and left it alone even though I know it would’ve been an improvement.
Was there anything cut from the game that you couldn’t fit in? Will we see any additional levels added via DLC?
More modes, level editor, multiplayer, to name but a few. I was hoping to include more accessibility options but at least managed to balance the visuals for colour-blindness.
DLC is a possibility. I’ve planned out a pack of 30 levels with new “enemy” types and an extra game mode. Whether I create it or not comes down to a commercial decision. There has to be enough demand for it. Do I work on that or other things, like the next game? We’ll have to see.
Do you have any tips for those struggling with some of the challenges?
Absolutely. But, that would be a whole other article so I’ll link to the tips page on my website rather than repeat them here.
Your journey in Video Games is very interesting. After your experiences with Bigbig what made you want to start again?
To be honest, after Bigbig I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. That was a long ten years and I needed a break. So, I went travelling for 3 months and at some point along the way – possibly while enjoying the freshest air I’ve ever breathed on Easter Island – the creative bug came back and I started to have ideas for new games. So, I decided to move forward with the new company and start developing again. This time completely on my own terms.
What experiences have impressed you most on the Vita? If you could have any one franchise on the system, what would it be?
Velocity Ultra and 2X, Guacamelee, OlliOlli are the main ones – not very surprising choices. I’ve just gone back to Luftrausers and am playing it a lot after not liking it initially – it takes a little while to unlock the depth of that game.
I was keen to see FTL on Vita so was disappointed when I heard that wasn’t happening. Aside from that just looking forward to whatever other indie surprises will arrive on the platform.
The Vita has built up quite a following of passionate and dedicated fans, but the system has struggled. Why do you think it hasn’t captured the audience as well as it could have?
Difficult to say. It’s a great machine. I’ve got two and five memory cards! I worked on the hardware long before it came out and have always liked it so I’m biased. Perhaps it didn’t establish its identity solidly enough at launch and mediocre versions of some big franchises haven’t helped. But, it’s fantastic for indies, quirky games, RPGs and the like so perhaps expectations have settled down. I just hope that developers and players will keep supporting it.
And what can we expect to see in the future? And will you develop for the Vita again?
I’ll be porting Minutes to PC as well as helping out on some other games up to the summer. I will look at the Minutes DLC and decide about that, then I’ll start development proper for the next game. I’ve got a few concepts on my list and not quite decided which one to make next. But, yeah, I won’t be neglecting Vita.
Thanks for taking the time to speak with us Richard! Minutes is out now in EU regions and launches this week in NA for $7.99. Charlie said that “Minutes is a game that challenges and stimulates whilst being both simple in premise but difficult to master. Be prepared to lose not only minutes, but hours to this game as you try to master the moving shapes!”