Interviews: Hydravision - Funky Lab Rat
Posted by James Newton
Our Q&A escaped the evil scientists
Games with names like Funky Lab Rat don't come around too often, so we're happy to welcome this title onto the PlayStation Store.
Released in Europe today, with a worldwide release to follow, Funky Lab Rat is a puzzle platform game that puts you in the squeaky shoes of Diego, a rat with the ability to control time. Only by using his unique gift can he escape the terrible laboratory and find freedom.
Inspired by this tale of overcoming all obstacles, we temporarily froze time to grab a chat with developer Hydravision.
Movemodo: Firstly, please introduce yourself and your role on Funky Lab Rat.
Jerome: Hi guys, my name is Jerome and I am the game director of Funky Lab Rat. That means that I am in charge of all the creative parts of the game, regarding the gameplay part. But I was not alone in the team. Let me briefly introduce the other people. There is the art director who is in charge of the creative part of the graphics, level designers for the level layouts, programmers (don’t know what they are spending their day to, but shhh, let’s keep that between you and me), testers who are nagging us with finding bugs, a composer for the sounds. Wow, that’s a lot of people to create a game, isn’t it?
MM: How would you describe the game to somebody entirely new to it?
Jerome: Do you ever dreamed of getting super powers? Do you like 2D-platformers? Do you like mastering time and gravity? Do you remember the Incredible Machine series? If you answered at least “Yes” to one of these questions, so you will like Funky Lab Rat. More than one “Yes”... Well, go ahead and buy the game! Funky Lab Rat is a mix of let’s say 50% puzzle and 50% platformer with physics inside.
In Funky Lab Rat, you are Diego, a lab rat who can’t bear anymore to live in a laboratory with crazy scientists. Then he decides it’s time to break free. He gained super-powers during some nasty experiments, and he will use them to recover his freedom. He is now able to manipulate time - stop time and rewind – and gravity, and move objects. His goal is to reach the final lab door. But there is a long way to go... The lab is composed of 81 rooms!
In each level, Diego has to think about the best way to reach the exit door. He can pause time to rearrange the items composing the level and see what happens when time restarts. As the gravity is stopped when time is paused, you can have surprise when time is resumed... or use it to your advantage. More on that later on... After rearranging the items, it is then time to run over the unstable bridges built during the pause. Think it’s easy? Try the game!
MM: The game appears to have platform elements to it – do you control the rat directly or just manipulate his surroundings?
Jerome: You control Diego directly during the action phases with the navigation controller and you manipulate the environment during the pause phases with the move. The game is really a mix of puzzles and platforms. For each level you first have to think about the way to rearrange things, and then try for real what you thought about a few minutes before. Let’s say that we had many laughs during the development and when people external to the company tested the game: in some levels, they imagine solutions we never thought of! Maybe not the optimal one that allowed to collect all the pills, but a solution that worked. That seemed so crazy at the beginning... but it worked! For a given level, there is not just one solution, there is your solution. Rat got the power! Find your own way to get free!
MM: How do the PlayStation Move controls function in game?
Jerome: The Move is used to grab and move the objects during a pause. I think the movement feeling is very interesting, much more natural than with any other controllers. You for example don’t have to point the screen to move your cursor thanks to the colored sphere. It’s a bit strange at first – everybody is accustomed to the Wiimote behavior – but you get used to it really fast and it is really comfortable and ergonomic afterthought.
We also use the Move to control the rat’s flashlight. In the levels you can collect pills, which allow you to open the following world, but the pills are surrounded by a cloud. To disperse it, Diego has to point his flashlight on it, and only when the pill is visible, it can be collected. The player has to orient the Move toward the cloud to disperse it. All of that is really intuitive and players get used to how to use the Move in… let’s say 2 minutes. The Move is an awesome controller.
The last feature concerns the sphere. In Funky Lab Rat, the screen color depends on the action you are doing. It has a color when you pause time, another one when you rewind time… We discovered that the Move sphere can also take different colors. We then decided that the sphere color and the screen color had to be the same! Not too useful but so funny!
MM: What are the major differences between playing with Move and with DualShock 3? Does any particular controller have the advantage?
Jerome: It really depends on the player. The game experience is not really different with a pad or with a Move and a Navigation controller. If you are used to playing with the Move, then it is really much more comfortable than with a pad. But if you have a pad and that you start playing the game with it, then there is no problem, and you get used to the controls really quickly, too. Let’s say that, for any other game, you are able to exchange one controller for another… there are simply controllers more dedicated to one type of game than the others. That is exactly the case with Funky Lab Rat and the Move. So no, don’t try to exchange my move for your pads! I’ll keep my Move!
MM: The press release mentions items having to be “synchronised” in order for the escape plan to work. Could you explain a little bit more about what this means?
Jerome: Well, this is indeed when the puzzle part of the game meets the platformer one. When you pause the time, you have the ability to move the objects that compose the level. There is no notion of gravity anymore as well, so you can put this huge crate in the air and see what happens when you resume time. It will sometimes break your plans… and sometimes be so useful! But… arghh… I don’t want to spoil too much. So let’s keep this question! You will have to discover it by yourself! And have fun with that feature!
MM: Time control has been quite a popular theme in gaming in recent years. Did any particular titles influence Funky Lab Rat?
Jerome: You are right. Let’s say that we are games enthusiastic for many years, so we played to a lot of games, and when that comes to creating our own game, we are influenced by what we loved in all the games we have played. But it is quite difficult to say that one game was more influentil than another because we absolutely don’t want to make a ThisGame-like. Let me tell you how we created Funky Lab Rat...
When the team gathered the first day, the first thing we did was to list of what would be the features we would love to find in a game. We grew up with video games and the ideas came from all sides. The most common ideas where physics and 2D-platforms... and the Incredible Machine series. Don’t ask me why. So that was obvious, we had to create a game with platforms, physics and with a touch of Incredible Machine. Hmmm… not as easy as it seems. We then worked on a game prototype for a few weeks and Funky Lab Rat was born.
But let’s get back to your questions. If I had to choose some games with time control that I liked a lot, I would say Viewtiful Joe in which the hero can slow down time and Braid.
MM: What kind of features are in place to get gamers to return – will there be leaderboards, hidden secrets and so on?
Jerome: In Funky Lab Rat, you can collect pills in each level. They are at first useful to open the following world. When you don’t have enough pills to open a world, you will have to try again a level you succeeded with a solution that worked but that did not allow you to collect many pills. Let’s say that to finish the game in this mode, you will spend around 10 hours. Then, you are awarded medals for each level, depending on the amount of pills you got. To earn the gold medal, you have to collect 100% of the pills discarded in the levels. To succeed in that, you will have to spend 4 more hours. Then if you want to get the platinum reward, you will have to perform perfect runs everywhere, i.e., do all the levels without rewinding once! 20 hours at least! Not bad for a game sold at £5.49/€6.99!
Of course we are also thinking about brand new levels with brand new assets for DLC. We are all willing to do so… You just have to convince my boss, so go to the Facebook page of the game and shout: “I want some DLC for my Funky Lab Rat”. The more of you who say that, the more chances there will be! We definitely want to hear from you!
Thanks to Jerome for his time.