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“Wind’s in the east, mist comin’ in.

Like something is brewin’ about to begin

Can’t put me finger on what lies in store

But I feel what’s to happen, all happened before.”

-    Bert in Mary Poppins

 

Following Sony’s E3 Press Conference this year, the emotions of devoted Vita fans were set aflame. New games for the Vita were few and far between, and our beloved little handheld barely made a blip on the video game radar.

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Borderlands 2 Vita Image

A look at the Metacritic for the Vita version of Borderlands 2 paints a contrasting story from those that are paid to give a professional critique of a videogame and those that buy it. With 21 reviews from the industry listed at the time of writing, the consensus from them is that Borderlands 2 is a good title, but is beset with performance issues and results in a score of “mixed or average”. Many of these issues with the game have started to be addressed in the form of a day 1 fixes – which these reviewers did not have, an upcoming patch or changing the default controls and many gamers seem content to have finally got a new “AAA” title on the Vita.

There can be no disputing that getting a massive, expansive shooter like Borderlands 2 onto the Vita has clearly been some achievement. Handicapped initially by not only reduced input options and hardware performance, but also the fact that the storage medium is considerably smaller than the console counterparts, it was inevitable that there were going to have to be some cut backs. For all of the perceived negativity from the reviews – who, to be fair do praise the game too – the overwhelming response from gamers paints a very different picture of the game. Herein lies the question though; is it the gaming media here at fault for being far too brutal with the truth? Or is it, in fact, us as Vita gamers that are so grateful to have the game that we are prepared to overlook and issues with the game?

This is not the first Vita title to have had some sort of compromise, and you can bet that it wouldn’t be the last, but is this something that we as Vita gamers have come to expect, or even accept? Is the desire to have these big name titles on the platform worth sacrificing quality for? Are we blinded by devotion to the system, which may not have the real power to deliver what so many crave? The power aspect has been discussed by many studios before, most recently by Rob Clarke from Curve Studios, with regarding to getting The Swapper running.

One of the most annoying things for me with gaming in the 21st century is the lack of QA with games. Games are so frequently launched often with serious issues – with Starlight Inception being an obvious recent case. This is not really fair on consumers, but is all to commonplace. The gaming media have a responsibility to report this, and of course, the best way to stand up against this kind of thing is to vote with your wallet – but doing so in the Borderlands 2 instance means that the title could flop, and potentially jeopardise future AAA titles finding their way to the handheld. On the other side of this, studios do invariably patch and fix these issues, yet the review scores stay the same. To the unaware potential Vita owner, their perception of the quality of a game is based on something which is now inaccurate, and only serves to deter buyers from the system.

What is your view on this? Are you prepared to put up with audio/visual compromises (and sometimes game-breaking issues) with AAA titles if it means that we get to play it on the Vita? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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People’s perceptions of “indie” games definitely falls into Marmite territory. Just like the ‘love it or hate it’ slogan from the famous yeast spread, it either invokes positive feelings from those that actually have given the given the titles a fair chance, or negative emotions from those think the Vita was made for something greater. What is clear to all is that this genre has presented Vita owners with many different games to choose from and Curve Studios were right at the front of it all.

Thomas 1If you don’t know what they have been involved with, we will give you a brief re-cap. It all started with a port of Mike Bithell’s amazing Thomas was Alone, and Curve followed this up with a conversion of their own Stealth Bastard – which was stylised as Stealth Inc: A Clone in the Dark. Next up for the team was Jasper Byrne’s epic survival-horror masterpiece, Lone Survivor whilst their final Vita efforts in 2013 were to bring Ed Key and David Kanaga’s exploration title Proteus to PlayStation.

That’s four very good games that they brought to PlayStation last year, and rather than resting on their laurels, their approach to 2014 appears to be the same as 2013. I recently got some hands-on time with Titan Attacks, The Swapper and MouseCraft and caught up with Rob Clarke, Marketing and PR guru from Curve and he answered a few questions for us.

Thanks for talking to us Rob! How would you sum up the last year for Curve Studios?
Well the last year was also my first year, so I can’t comment on any previous activity, but I can say it’s been incredibly busy but also very rewarding. One of the cool things about being one of the first publishers to really get involved with the whole PlayStation indies thing, we’ve had a lot to learn but it’s been very exciting and rewarding being able to bring so many games out as such a small team.

Proteus 2Do you have a favourite out of the games you have done so far? Or a little bit of everything?
My personal favourite would be Thomas Was Alone – I’m really into games with a really big story component and I had originally played it years ago at the very first Rezzed down in Brighton, so it had been on my radar for a long time before Curve picked it up. My favourite to work on though was Proteus. Just a really interesting challenge bringing a game like Proteus to the PlayStation audience, and one that I think we ended up doing really well.

The titles released so far have been well received. Was there anything that you weren’t happy with?
In terms of our games, no, I’m really lucky we have such an amazing team and amazing technology backing up what we do. If I’m being honest, I’d like to have seen a greater degree of coverage on the PS3 store, as it’s a very busy place and easy to get lost in, but that’s something that’s getting better all the time.

By the summer you will have released 7 PlayStation titles as well as porting Velocity Ultra to the PS3 in the space of the last year or so. With Stealth Inc. 2 a Wii U project, will we see anything else on PlayStation in 2014?
I hope so! We started out this year hoping to launch six games, and between 3 on PlayStation, 2 more on PC and 1 on Wii U we’ve already achieved that target. That’s not to say we’re just going to go take a long break though – we’re always looking for new titles to work on and talking to developers about working with PlayStation. I can’t talk about any until all the contracts have been signed of course, but I wouldn’t be shocked if we squeezed in a few more PlayStation games this year.

2013-05-30-092139You are really making your mark at porting exciting indie titles onto consoles, but many gamers might not know that you have produced your own titles too. Can you tell us if you are working on your own things currently? Or are you happy with helping other studios for now?
It’s really important for Curve as a company we don’t just become a publisher, or just become developers porting other people’s games. A good portion of the staff here is always working on something original. Right now, that’s Stealth Inc 2!

The plight of the Vita has been well documented, but what are your thoughts on the sales performance of your games and did they meet expectations? Does cross-buy help with this, or have you found the bigger portion of purchases actually being on the Vita?
We mentioned to IGN last week that the Vita is better for us in terms of sales and it really surprised them, but when you think about it, I don’t think it’s actually that shocking. People who are buying the Vita are buying it exactly for the sort of games Curve offers – digital only indie titles. Sure, there’s ten PS3s sold for every Vita, but how many of those are purchased by people who only want to play retail boxed copies of games like FIFA and Killzone?

We don’t have any hard statistics to share about Cross-Buy, but I think it helps. Right now it’s especially good for people who own PS3s, because they can pick up one of our games and still be able to play it when they eventually get a PS4. That’s a pretty big deal as obviously there’s no trade-in with digital games, once you’ve bought something, that’s it.

Swapper4With the games being Cross-Buy, how difficult has it been to get the experience as fluent on console as it is on the Vita?
Very easy, until The Swapper, and then very hard! The Swapper took a lot of work and tweaking to get working well on the Vita, but I’m proud to say that the team working on it did an amazing job. I love the Vita, I really do, but it’s not a powerful system and sometimes when you’re trying to port these fairly complex PC games over, it’s all about tweaking and refining without losing that detail. We’ve literally gone through that game scene by scene, all manually, to pick out bits of the graphics code and lighting that we could remove without actually removing any graphics the player sees. It’s hard work, but I think when people actually go to pick up The Swapper on Vita this summer, it will be worth it.

Why do you think the Vita hasn’t been as successful as expected?
Once again, I’ll point out I’ll love the Vita, but no, I don’t think many people outside of Sony would honestly try to defend the idea that the Vita has don’t as well as Sony hoped. The good news is that Sony realized that it was struggling in terms of content and have spent a lot of time, resources and money sorting that out. Whether or not you appreciate all the indie games on the system, the one thing you can say about Sony with the Vita is that they haven’t given up on it. I think it has a lot of life left, we just need to re-evaluate what it is we wanted from a handheld, because I don’t think the future of portable gaming is just clones of the big mainstream titles.

You obviously spend your time working on other peoples titles, is there anything on PC right now that you would love to see on the PlayStation (Vita)?
Plenty, but I wouldn’t want to give anything away. One thing I would love to see is Tokyo Jungle released on PC! I’m a huge fan of that game, it’s one of the reasons I picked up a PS3, and I’d love to get it added to my Steam library.

What would you say to anyone interested in bringing their titles to PlayStation?
Do your research. Sony are pushing this idea that it’s really easy to make a game on PlayStation and it’s certainly much easier than it was a few years ago, which is a great thing. However – that doesn’t mean it’s a walk in the park. There’s a ton of work you need to do behind the scenes, and many people don’t realize just how much effort goes into publishing a game as well as developing one. For example, if you want to release your game worldwide you have to submit it through the whole process twice – once for America and once for Europe. There are different rules, timeframes, stores and people in each region, so instantly you’ve doubled your work just from that. It’s really rewarding to make a console game, so don’t let that put you off, but everyone should go into it with their eyes wide open.

Thanks for your time answering our questions, Rob!

Titan Attacks is out now, and MouseCraft and The Swapper will be out before the Summer. We can’t wait to see what else Curve Studios have lined up for the Vita. What Curve titles have you played? What did you think of them and are you looking forward to this year’s offerings?