PlayStation Mobile's launch has been and gone, and one of the titles we've been playing most on our Vita is Aqua Kitty, coded by independent UK studio Tikipod. It's a pixel-rich love letter to the shooters of old, where an itchy trigger finger was a base requirement for success. Founder Dugan Jackson was kind enough to take some time out to speak to us about the game, as well as developing for Sony's latest software platform.
Push Square: Aqua Kitty feels a lot like Midway's classic Defender - why did you set out to update that title?
Dugan Jackson: Back when we were prototyping the game it was a very different design, more akin to a puzzle/shooter hybrid - a simpler game which funnily enough had the temporary project name of "1 Hour Shooter" (it was meant to be a very small quick game to develop).
Actual development was quite slow because we were doing it in our spare time. We went through various prototype design changes - for example, the game play area didn't scroll at first, the original submarine had no cat pilot, and at another point the game was based around loading gems onto a boat.
Then somewhere down the line various elements began to evolve towards a more `Defender-like` game. At which point I remember looking again at the original Defender and finding it a LOT harder than I had remembered. So time was spent considering what core elements we liked from that game, and what could be done to modernise those elements and make them more fun and approachable to play.
What other influences did you have when designing the game?
A lot of games from my younger years certainly have influences on Aqua Kitty. Amiga games like Turrican, Rainbow Islands, New Zealand Story - as well as late '80s arcade games such as R-Type, Raiden, Mr Heli and In The Hunt - all great examples of fantastic pixel art design which have fed back into my own art style over the years.
In terms of game-play design, we have a few nods to old classics - like the depth based weapon system was an idea that stemmed from Rainbow Islands' gem creation mechanic. You also may have spotted similarities in the smart bomb weapon to the yellow bomb type in Raiden.
What's your experience been with PlayStation Mobile?
Very positive. The tools it comes with are all rock solid and do the job you expect of them. It's great being able to quickly deploy to a retail Vita or mobile device to test your game, without the cost of expensive dev-kits that normal retail Vita game development would involve. Also there is a good active forum where developers can discuss things and ask the Sony admins questions.
Have you run into any issues when it comes to developing for the service, and supporting multiple devices (tablets, Vita, Xperia Play, etc)
We had to make some specific adjustments to suit certain devices with differing screen resolutions, but otherwise everything worked across the different hardware with no extra effort.
Do you think PlayStation Mobile will ever be in a position to compete with the App Store or Google Play market?
Its hard to say right now as it is such a new service. PS Mobile could potentially grow and grow as more devices become certified for it and the amount of titles available increases. The coming months will be interesting, to watch how PS Mobile develops.
Do you plan to release Aqua Kitty on the Google Play market?
No, we haven't considered it. We do however have a Steam Greenlight page for a PC version that we would like to bring out at a later date.
Do you think it's fair to say that PlayStation Mobile is going to be of more benefit to Vita users than mobile phone users, as the latter already have a large selection of games to download through either the App Store or Google Play?
I think PS Mobile is a very interesting boost to the Vita's software library, and the potential is there for indies to continue making some really unique games for it (as they have already begun to). In the mobile phone users case, it's this unique content that will help encourage them to look away from Google Play and explore what is available on PS Mobile.
The Vita is currently struggling in terms of sales. Could PlayStation Mobile play a key role in reversing its fortunes?
Yes for sure, as more developers dive in and try out PS Mobile, it could help create a very strong pool of high quality games.
Remember the 16-bit days when you had lots of quirky games coming out of nowhere? That's what I am hoping to see - unusual games that make you go "Wow, what is that?" as opposed to "Oh, it's another third person shooter".
What has Sony been like to work with?
Sony have been fantastic to work with, their PS Mobile team were a huge help to us in developing the game. They were always quick to respond with regards to any aspect of development we might have had a question about. I was really impressed.
Do you have any plans for more PlayStation Mobile titles?
Yes indeed! In fact we have another game called Rock Boshers DX which came out recently. If you thought Aqua Kitty was retro, wait till you see this...it's modelled around 8-bit ZX Spectrum hardware limitations, meaning only a maximum of 15 colours on-screen! It's an enhanced version of a PC title I made a few years back that mixes top down and side on action with a story about Victorian explorers who are heading to Mars, seeking fortune and adventure.
By porting over to PS Mobile it has been improved in all sorts of ways, hence giving it the 'DX' tag. There are improved controls, new music, enemies, and enemy behaviours. Old levels have been reworked and new levels have been added into the mix. And very importantly, on each level there are now 3 special items to find - a cup of tea, a jammy scone, and a wedge of cheddar - important items that no adventurer should be without!
Thanks to Dugan for taking the time to speak to us. Aqua Kitty and Rock Boshers DX are both available now on PlayStation Mobile.