Vlambeer are an independent Dutch studio made up of Rami Ismail and Jan Willem Nijman and together they have been “bringing back arcade since 2010”. We caught up with Rami to discuss the release of Nuclear Throne, the PSVita and their games!
Hello Rami, thanks for taking the time to talk to us! Can you tell us a little bit about Vlambeer and how you got into developing games?
Vlambeer is myself and co-founder Jan Willem Nijman. We met at a game design university, even though both of us had been making games since we were young. I focused on creating larger games with commercial potential, and Jan Willem focused on just making as many games as he could. It led to him being really good at starting projects and designing them, me being capable of figuring out the commercial potential of a game and wrapping up, and both of us being really bored at university. We decided to ignore our different approaches and teamed up for Vlambeer. That was back in 2010, and by now, we’re known for Super Crate Box, Ridiculous Fishing, LUFTRAUSERS and now Nuclear Throne. We always team up with super talented people, and this time was no exception. Super Crate Box and LUFTRAUSERS artist Paul Veer did all the art for the game. LUFTRAUSERS musician Jukio Kallio returned to working with us for the music. Badlands audio designer Joonas Turner did all of the sound effects and design. Finally, Justin Chan – a student that made fan-art for an early prototype – was brought aboard for the cover and promo art.
We wanted to talk to you about Nuclear Throne, which is out now on Vita. Can you tell us a little bit about the game?
Nuclear Throne is a top-down action roguelike-like. It’s a fast-paced, merciless action game, that throws you into unpredictable situations. There’s no ‘one run’ to practice and master – you’ll have to practice enough to become good at recognizing situations and dealing with them quickly. You’ll have to learn to balance your choices. We wanted to make a game at which you could suck when you first pick it up, so that you can actually get that feeling of mastery when you beat the first world.
What was the inspiration behind Nuclear Throne?
Bad sci-fi novels from 40-50 years ago or so. It’s a bit more hopeful in tone than the contemporary ‘the last stand of humanity’, which we’re honestly super tired of. In Nuclear Throne, we just decided humanity was extinct after an undefined apocalypse, and created the colorful mutants as our main characters. Their world might be sad and bleak and barren, but at least there’s not some sort of heroic anthem playing over a pan shot of hopeful humans at their final stand against impossible odds. Any living creature in this post-apocalyptic world has a rather high chance of dying due to radiation, random tears in reality or bullets. Or lasers miniguns. Or you know, screwdriver stabbings or something. Bad things happen. No one lives to grow old. For the mutants, a distant myth of a throne room yielding unimaginable power draws them to their journey into the wastelands, but the honest reality is that nobody knows whether the Throne exists, what it is or whether it even can fix anything.
There are many different characters to choose from. How does that affect how players approach the game?
It’s actually really funny. Nuclear Throne incorporates a lot of ideas from our earlier games. Vlambeer has traditionally been known for minimalist design, cutting down on content until only the most interesting things remain. For Nuclear Throne, since we’re playing with randomness, we could let go of those chains for a bit. There are 130 weapons, and while there are absurd differences between some weapons, there are many ‘interesting little variations’. For the characters, we retained our old approach – each of the characters really has its own playstyle and feel to it. Playing Crystal, with her defensive powers, is an entirely different experience than playing Steroids, which is extremely offensive. Play as Robot, and you’ll have to go for pickups you otherwise never would’ve picked up, while as Melting you start weaker than any other mutant, but turn into an unstoppable killing machine very rapidly if you can sustain it.
How was development of the Vita version? Have there been difficulties or compromises?
The Vita was challenging to develop for, yeah. It’s a nifty device, and we’re both big fans of the screen and controls. We had to compromise somewhere, and we refused to compromise in the gameplay. We wanted PlayStation Vita to play exactly the same as it does on the other platforms. That meant there’s an ungodly amount of stuff going on each frame, and the Vita just couldn’t really keep up. The main compromises came in audio compression, which filled up 60% of the Vita’s memory in the original high-quality version. We were loading and playing so many sounds, while even our favorite AAA Vita games only load and play a few dozen. The other compromise we had to make was on the menu screens, where the portals are of a lower fidelity. We also had the option of fixing a framedrop by toning down the explosion of the second boss-fight, which is by all means screen-filling, but we decided to optimize it by turning off collision on the smoke particles instead. There’s still a framedrop during that explosion, but it’s kind of charming.
The games release was announced at PSX and was immediately available. How was that?
We’re really proud of the game launch. It’s kind of a dream to launch a game on a big stage, and we worked extremely hard to keep our commitments to SONY. They’ve been magnificent and extremely helpful. As with LUFTRAUSERS, we couldn’t be happier with our collaboration.
What are your thoughts on the Vita as a platform?
As said, we love it. The amount of independent games coming out for the platform is overwhelming, and there simply is no other handheld platform that can give you the level of control and indie portfolio that the Vita does. I personally fly a lot, and the Vita has always kept up with me, even for longer flights.
Are there any games that stand out for you on the Vita? Which games would you say are the benchmark?
It’s so hard to pick a benchmark! We’re making a very specific game, and we’re trying to make something new – something recognizable yet unique. If what you’re asking for my favorite game: my first Vita game is still my favorite: Gravity Rush was such an overwhelmingly special game. Sure, it wasn’t perfect, and it felt like it would’ve been better with being a tiny bit a shorter, but the sheer vision behind that game in your hands was amazing. Persona 4 and Tearaway also have permanent spots on my Vita. I have Soundshapes, Rogue Legacy, Thomas Was Alone and Hotline Miami around. I think all of them are a benchmark in their own way. They all inspire us as creators.
Is there anything from the upcoming releases that you are most looking forward to on the Vita?
Darkest Dungeon and Hyper Light Drifter.
We couldn’t talk to you without asking about the fantastic Luftrausers. Are there any plans to patch the trophy issues?
If you’re asking about whether we’ll fix the one glitched trophy, we’re going to look into it. It seems like it might be really hard to fix that bug, but we haven’t had the time to take a look at it due to our development schedule on Nuclear Throne Throne. There’s a long and confusing story behind how that bug happened, and we’re as upset about it as the people who have been emailing us. We hope we’ll find a way to fix it somehow. It’s a shame for completionists to be stuck at less than 100%.
Is there anything you had to cut out of Luftrausers that you wish you’d left in?
You have many other popular titles, one of the most notable is perhaps Super Crate Box. With the death of the PS Mobile format, would you consider a native Vita version?
Maybe! We need a nap first.
The Vita has become well placed for a multitude of independently developed titles. Do you see this continuing? Or as these games become more ambitious do you think the Vita will be left behind?
I like my Vita, so maybe I’m optimistic, but I think a lot of independent developers have a soft spot for handhelds. Combine that with SONY’s amazing developer relationship team, which also seems to love the Vita. As long as SONY supports it at events, and supports developers trying to create for it, you’ll see independent developers making games for it. For indies that don’t want to deal with the technical aspects and limitations, there are great studios with great expertise in porting games over to Vita, studios like Abstraction and Curve. That mitigates a lot of my worries that the platform will be left behind. There’s just something special about making something that you can carry with you, and sometimes developers are self-indulgent like that. It might often sound like game-development is super business-oriented and mechanical from the outside, but in the end, everything always starts with a glint in someone’s eye as they think ‘It would be so cool to play this thing I’m working on my Vita’.
Finally, what do you think is the best Vita model, the OLED or the Slim?
I love the original. Maybe because that’s the one I own!
We would like to thank Rami for his time with this interview! Make sure you follow Vlambeer on Twitter for their latest updates. Nuclear Throne is available now!
This interview first appeared in our January issue of The Vita Lounge Magazine. Stay tuned to our magazine for more exclusive and magazine first content soon!