It was only a matter of time before FuturLab hit the big time. The brilliant Brighton-based studio has been gradually growing in stature over the past couple of years, and it seriously amplified its street cred by revealing Velocity 2X during Sony’s globally broadcast GamesCom press conference yesterday. The full sequel to last year’s award-winning PlayStation Mini promises the same heady mix of arcade action, but throws a side-scrolling spanner into the works. We were lucky enough to catch up with managing director James Marsden ahead of the big reveal in Germany to grill him on the finer details regarding the just announced PlayStation 4 and Vita follow-up.
Push Square: When you first contacted us about Coconut Dodge in 2010, you were just finding your feet as a developer. Boost forward a few years and you’re revealing that your brand new title is coming to the PS4 and Vita during Sony’s big GamesCom press conference. Has your journey to this point been as crazy as it seems from the outside? Have you stopped pinching yourselves yet?
James Marsden: Haha! Well, we’re still finding our feet as a studio. We now have a robust team of professionals, but we’re only just beginning to understand what we can achieve together.
Also, while we all feel extremely lucky to have an opportunity to explore our ideas with PlayStation’s support, I’ve been plugging away at FuturLab for around ten years. What may appear like a fast rise from the outside is actually a result of learning a great deal from a lot of knock backs, failed projects, sweat, and, on more than one occasion, some tears, too.
The truth is that we’ve just thrown everything that we’ve got at every opportunity that we’ve had. I’ve been in business long enough to know that you never know how long the good times will last; you have to use every firm footing that you get to leap to the next opportunity.
PS: Tell us about Velocity 2X. You’ve added platforming elements to the traditional vertical shooting experience, but what made you want to add in a side-scrolling mechanic? How does it change the game?
JM: One of our goals is to have our games accepted into the average core gamer’s collection, and for that we need to add some scale and depth to what we’re doing. But we can’t scale up our games without getting some valuable experience first, so I believed that the best way to add some scale was to take Velocity’s popular ideas and expand upon them in a way that would likely delight a fan of the game. More selfishly, my first loves were Flashback and Turrican 2, so getting a chance to pay homage to those games just seemed like the right way to go. We pitched the idea to Shahid Ahmad from SCEE’s strategic content group and he was sold before we finished our first sentence. In fact he replied almost instantly with something along the lines of, “I’ve wanted to see this for years.”
In terms of how it changes the game, it makes it deeper, richer, more interesting, more varied, more exciting, and more fun.
PS: Are you making any major changes to the traditional space-craft sections? The trailer shows the usual mixture of boosting, puzzles, and shooting? Should we expect more of the same?
JM: Aside from tuning the controls based on player feedback, adding speed boost pads, more environments to explore, and the all-important boss battles, it’s the same racy, shooty, teleporty fun.
PS: Are you willing to say much about protagonist Lt. Kai Tana’s moveset yet? Can she shoot when she’s out of the craft? Should we expect any puzzles in these side-scrolling sections? How will the different components be linked?
JM: We’re keeping the platforming gameplay under wraps for the moment, but all will be revealed soon.
PS: What about the soundtrack – is Joris de Man back on board? Should we expect some new tunes, remixes of the original songs, or a combination of both?
JM: To be perfectly honest, I think that the music in Velocity is as important as the teleportation concept, so, yes, Joris is indeed back on board. The game benefits greatly from his emotive music; it helps get the player into the right frame of mind to enjoy the game.
We’ve been working with Joris for a much longer period to develop a fuller score this time; Velocity 2X will feature new themes, reworked themes from the first game, a broader variety of musical intensities, and a much higher production value overall. This is likely going to sound way too touchy-feely, but I’ve actually been moved to tears by some of the music that we have so far, just because it’s so important for me that we get it right, and it’s spot on. So, that’s pretty thrilling, and there’s a lots more to be done yet.
PS: One of our favourite things about the original Velocity was the care and attention that went into every component – particularly the computer that had the little Minesweeper minigame and calculator. Can we expect any more minigames in Velocity 2X?
JM: We do have some bonus content planned, but we’re on a very different schedule now; we have a set deadline that we have to hit, which means less time fiddling around chucking things in for the hell of it. We do know that a big part of Velocity’s charm was the extra stuff that Robin [Jubber] plastered all over the place, so we’ll do whatever we can to retain that. I can’t promise it, though, because we have to focus on the core experience to make sure that it’s great.
PS: It’s only been a few months since Velocity Ultra released on the Vita, but Velocity 2X already looks quite deep into development. You’re obviously targeting a 2014 release date, but how deep into production is the sequel now?
JM: We’re roughly halfway through development. We began full production once Velocity Ultra was released, though engine work began in March. There’s still a ton of work to do.
PS: As mentioned, the game’s coming to the PS4 and Vita. How long have you been experimenting with the former? Was it always in your plans to move onto consoles eventually? What’s it like simultaneously developing for a next generation system and a handheld? Do you feel limited by the portable at all?
JM: Hey, that’s four questions in one.
Firstly, it’s been my ambition for years to develop games for a PlayStation console, but as I said above we’ve thrown ourselves at every opportunity offered in the hope that we’d one day get to work on a shiny new console. We’re actually using this time to learn about the PS4. We’re not going to stretch the PS4 capabilities with this game, as your readers will no doubt understand; it’s a Vita game that will be upgraded for the PS4. But it does mean that we’ll easily be able to get 1080p 60 frames-per-second with a ton of particle, lighting, and other visual effects on the TV, which is really exciting for us, and will put us in a good position technology wise as we continue working with the PS4 on future projects.
PS: Are you planning to use any of the PS4’s more exotic features – the light bar and touchpad, for example?
JM: I can’t comment on anything specific to the PS4 yet, I’m afraid. Sorry.
PS: Sony Worldwide Studios president Shuhei Yoshida recently visited the studio to take a look at what you’re working on. We’re assuming that you showed him Velocity 2X. What did he think of it? Going back to our earlier question, what was it like having the man responsible for the likes of The Last of Us, God of War, and many, many more sitting in your office?
JM: It was surreal. Dave [Gabriel] saw that Shuhei was in Brighton for the Develop Conference and suggested that we invite him over. I laughed it off as a fantasy, but Kirsty [Rigden] said, “Why not? He can only say no.” So, I invited him on Twitter, and he agreed. “Oh s***,” we said, “We’d better do some hoovering!”
He was very polite and interested in what we were working on. We made it clear that we weren’t pitching to him, just saying hello – so it was all very informal and relaxed. We showed him Velocity 2X and he got to grips with it very quickly. [Worldwide Studios vice president] Michael Denny came along for the visit, too, and we discussed how great the game development community is in Brighton. Then Shahid took a picture of us outside waiting for a taxi back to the Develop Conference. It was awesome.
PS: Velocity 2X is going to be playable at the Eurogamer Expo in September. Can you give us a hint at what we’re going to get to see at the show?
JM: You’ll see all of the features included in the game, most likely in a single, well-polished level. It’ll be a taster.
PS: Thanks so much for talking to us, James. We’ll let you get back to work.
JM: You’re welcome.
Are your engines rumbling over the prospect of a new Velocity title? How do you think that the side-scrolling aspect will enhance the series’ already stellar gameplay? Let us know in the comments section below.