Velocity 2X from FuturLab and Sierra blends two genres: shooting and platforming. Players blast through space at high speeds, dock and sabotage enemy bases on foot, and then return to the ship for more intense space combat. There's something you don't see every day!
The fast-paced hybrid game arrives on Xbox One and Steam next week. James Marsden, managing director at FuturLab, has kindly provided us with lots of details and fantastic concept art that reveal how Velocity 2X came to life. Read on for one of our best Xbox developer interviews yet!
Hiya James! Please tell us a bit about yourself outside of the world of game development.
Hi Paul, outside of game development you say? I don't really exist outside of game development. :p
In all seriousness, everything I do for leisure, whether it's reading, watching movies, traveling, making music – it's all to inform what I do for a living. I'm one of those people that live to work.
What are some of your favorite games, both old and new?
Street Fighter II, WipEout 2097, Flashback, Turrican 2 – those are the games that stole my imagination at a young age. Portal is the best game ever in my opinion. I've also been inspired by the original Halo and Gears of War for the satisfying action. Of course there's also the holy trinity: fl0w, Flower and Journey made a big impression on me.
All artwork is production or concept art from Velocity 2X
How did you get into game development? Did you always want to make games?
I had no idea what I wanted to do when I left school, so I followed a friend to Art College. After a week there I realized I had some value in the world (school wasn't good for me), and threw myself into that – my tutors kept saying that my work was more like an interactive experience than a piece of Art. It took me a few years to realize that I was designing games and calling them Art. I'm still doing that!
So James, how do you find the time to work on videogames in between starring in such films as X-Men and Superman Returns?
Honestly, it's tough. All the fans constantly throwing themselves at my feet with adoration etc. It's also a real challenge to just get down to some focused level design - all those sit ups and push-ups needed to keep my perfectly chiseled abs and delts in movie-star condition – it's a distraction.
We should all be so productive! I notice that FuturLab has no "e" in the word Future. What's the story behind the unusual spelling?
Looking at the English language, there's often no need for the letter 'e'. So, in 2003 when FuturLab was founded, I proclaimed that the letter 'e' would no longer be used in the Futur.
Then along came Flickr, Tumblr etc. I rested my case about a decade ago. :p
You guys have worked on several PlayStation Vita titles, including the Velocity and Surge games. What are some other games you'd recommend to prospective Vita buyers?
Oh wow, there's too many. The OlliOlli series is fantastic. Guacamelee is also awesome on Vita. Killzone: Mercenary gave us lots of enjoyment at the studio too. (You can play Guacamelee and the first OlliOlli on Xbox One too! – ed.)
Now then, let's talk about Velocity. The original Velocity was a fast-paced shoot 'em up. The sequel Velocity 2X adds 2D platforming sequences to the mix. Did classic shoot 'em up hybrids like Guardian Legend (NES) influence the decision to incorporate an additional genre in Velocity 2X?
Actually no, I'd not played any hybrid games, I just wanted to add some Sonic the Hedgehog and Flashback into the mechanics we'd introduced in Velocity.
Oh! With those two genres differing so much, how did you guys make Velocity 2X feel like a cohesive experience?
If you think about it technically, there is only one difference between a platformer and a top down shooter: gravity. So for me, it was a no brainer. All we had to do was marry up the controls and abilities between the two formats of play. We'd invented some really cool mechanics in the original, and I was certain they could be applied to a platformer for the reasons above.
Can you tell us about the puzzle mechanics both inside and outside of the ship?
The puzzles are quite simple because players need to be able to solve them whilst on the move. It's a case of following numbered and colored switches to open gates – a bit like a treasure hunt. The challenge comes when the numbered switches appear in the wrong order, and you have to drop telepods and use them to instantly return to the higher numbered switches after you've found the lower ones.
The shoot 'em up genre can be high on challenge and thus difficult for new players to get into. How tough is Velocity 2X compared to other shmups?
Honestly, I'm not a fan of shmups for that reason. As a result, Velocity 2X is not really a shmup. The challenge is not so one-dimensional as just avoiding bullets and destroying enemies – those two things are super easy in Velocity's world. Velocity is really a memory game, dressed up as a racing game, dressed up as a shmup. See the 'DesignPyramid.jpg' image above.
Players can get through stages without much hassle, but you'll be rewarded with a rusty old bronze medal. What you really want is the shiny PERFECT gold medal, and for that you must learn the environment, like a race track - to get through it with speed, style and grace, and without being hit.
The upcoming Xbox One and Steam versions of Velocity 2X have a new daily challenge mode. What is this mode like, and do players get to try individual daily challenges more than once?
We've taken the practice and commit approach, like OlliOlli. Players can try a daily sprint as many times as they like to practice, and then they have one chance to do it for real. It makes things fairer for people who are shorter on time, because no matter how much you practice, if your nerves don't hold up when it's time to perform, you're going to get beaten.
The Xbox One and Steam versions of Velocity 2X also include the 'Dual Core' and 'Critical Urgency' DLC packs that were sold separately on other platforms. What do we get in these DLC packs?
The Critical Urgency pack contains a set of obsessively fine-tuned speed run levels. You're racing through the Rokunia Ice Mines in your ship and on foot, where the temperature is fatally cold. There's no hanging around.
The Dual Core pack provides a set of mental dexterity races that require the control of two ships at once. Players should only attempt these once they've completed the game, because, well, they've gone beyond hardcore and into dual-core. :p
After working primarily with PlayStation platforms since 2010, FuturLab is finally releasing a game for Xbox One. What inspired you too branch out to Microsoft's platform?
The engine we used to create Velocity 2X was written from the ground up to be multi-platform. However, we didn't have any concrete plans until Sierra got in touch during the launch week of Velocity 2X, offering to help bring the game to more players.
What has the porting process been like for Velocity 2X? Has Xbox One presented any unique challenges compared to previous consoles?
The porting has been straightforward, mainly because we'd designed our engine to support multi-platform development from the beginning. We also have a not-so-secret weapon...
How do you feel about Windows 10 so far? Will we ever see FuturLab games like Velocity 2X released on Windows 10?
We've been waiting to upgrade our workstations at the studio from Windows 7, and 10 looks like it's addressed some of the issues we had with 8 and 9.
We'd like our games to be played by as many people as possible of course, so Windows 10 would make sense at some point!
If you were ever to make another Velocity sequel, would you consider cooperative multiplayer support? Or would multiplayer not fit well with Velocity's fast-paced shooting and platforming?
Velocity 2X was initially called Velocity 2UP, with multiplayer cooperative gameplay. We quickly realized that was out of our reach from a budgeting point of view, so we do have lots of ideas for that. I guess watch this space. :p
Finally, what's next from FuturLab?
We've been feverishly busy developing a new IP. Velocity 2X was relatively straightforward from a design perspective, because we already had the mechanics to build upon from the first game – whereas I've now been reminded just how tough it was to create the first Velocity - something brand new that nobody else had done before.
We're doing that again with the new game, and it's both thrilling and terrifying in equal measure. Every day there's a new breakthrough, and a new brick wall to tackle. It's looking very promising though, so keep your eyes and ears peeled. :p