Ratloop’s Sian Yue Tan gives us the low down on Rocketbirds 2: Evolution.
GamingBolt recently caught up with Sian Yue Tan, one of the co-founders of Ratloop to check out how Rocketbirds 2 Evolution shaped up on the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita. You can check out the entire Q&A below.
Note: This interview was conducted before the launch of Rocketbirds 2 Evolution.
What’s the story behind Rocketbirds 2: Evolution? What should new players expect, seeing all these birds with guns for the first time?
The Rocketbirds universe is populated by anthropomorphic birds with guns and it is oppressed by the Penguin regime and their despotic leader iL Putzki, who keeps all the other bird species under his iron flippers.
In Story Mode, Hardboiled Chicken finds out iL Putzki is actually still alive (this despite being brain-bugged and walked out of his rocket ship into space at the end of Rocketbirds 1) and he goes back into enemy territory to kill him again (vengeance for what the Penguins did to him when he was just a wee chick). Of course, it’s never going to be as straight forward as that, and during this adventure, he’ll find out that different, sinister forces have been at work all this time.
There’s also a Rescue Mode, which can be played alone or with up to 4 players. In it, the Budgie Commandos (from Rocketbirds 1), led by General Puff, have set up shop in the old hotel from which they launch rescue missions deep behind enemy lines. As you complete missions and rescue stranded operatives, they’ll join your team and help shed some light on what those dastardly Penguins have been up to (from a different point of view).
Some of the characters cross over, as the stories happen roughly at the same time, so to get the full Story of the sequel, you’ll want to play both Modes to their conclusion.
How long is the new story mode? Can you tell us about the insane work that went into making it better than the original?
Rescue Mode is designed as a replay-able meta-collection game, with semi-procedurally generated missions and lots of characters, items and weapons to unlock during missions or from the shops.
Story Mode, on the other hand is a carefully scripted, immersive affair, but with multiple ways to traverse the giant Chapters and lots of hidden stuff for you to find and use on your second, or third run-through. Story Mode also has some puzzles and includes Jetpaction and submarine action and will have some big-assed boss fights.
Depending how good you are, we estimate you’ll take between 6-8 hours to complete Story Mode. Rescue Mode can be played a lot longer, but the key missions would keep you busy for at least 4-6 hours, but there’s lots of cool stuff and weapons to unlock (over 100 items). We’ve even added a Dojo mini-game in which you can battle against your team mates using your favorite two weapons to see who has the maddest combat skills and who gets to eat crow.
Making the sequel took a lot of work, I think every single aspect has been improved over the original, like: for the environments we still wanted to maintain that hand crafted, cinematic look of the first game, but you’ll notice each screen needed to tilt both ways to enable you to check for breakable walls, so the background tools were reworked and each screen is now completely 3D with baked lighting and unique details; the look of the characters also received an upgrade, after the characters are rigged and animated, each character texture is repainted with normal maps, so that they would look closer to the painted posters and could react to the dynamic lighting; the characters used to talk only through speech bubbles, but now their lines are fully voiced in English and Japanese by talented, professional voice actors; we have created a unique host of characters for each different chapter and the number of animation frames per character has at least quadrupled in size over the previous game; the game now supports a proper inventory system with customizable clothes and gear as well as a very large array of weapons. Rescue mode is a completely new Co-op game over its predecessor, with mission map generators a hub with four large shops and a PvP arena; the list goes on.
"There’ll be weapons in the later stages more suited to your play style, but in the end we did balance weapons out a bit using ammunition cost, weapon cooldown times, reload times, damage, destabilizing damage and clip size, so we hope to see groups of players play with a variety of weapons and look different from one another."
What can you tell us about the improvements made to controls? How different does the game feel now in terms of responsiveness?
We went out of our way to make the controls feel fast and super responsive – Tech wise, we support full res 60 fps on both PS Vita and PS4, so that’ll help, but we also took care to keep the animations and transitions smooth by supporting animation masking from the start – this opened up a new level of freedom for players where they’d be able to do multiple things at the same time, such as aiming and firing in any direction while climbing up ladders, or reloading their guns while running for cover, switch their weapons during a double jump. Because there is virtually no delay in the game character executing the player’s will, the game has turned into a skill based, action game. This is a far cry from Rocketbirds 1, which is in essence a step based cinematic platformer, which allows only single actions over set periods of time and you could only shoot horizontally.
The other key change was to the controls themselves. Since you can carry out multiple actions at the same time, we needed a simple controls scheme which would allow you to do all these things at the same time (and have it work identically for the PS Vita, which has a few less buttons than the DualShock 4). During combat, you really only want to do four main things – apart from being able to position yourself (L thumb stick) and firing your weapon (R shoulder/trigger), we wanted players to aim as much as possible (R thumb stick), but players also need to jump out of harm’s way (Cross button).
With jump on Cross Button, this meant that your thumb would need to slide off the right thumb stick and onto the Cross Button and slide back onto the right thumb stick, where you’d need to re-aim, which isn’t ideal, especially during the heat of combat.
The X button still works as a jump and I’ve seen people play just fine jumping with X, but we encourage players to start using the left shoulder button (L shoulder/trigger) to get really good.
We reward precise aiming, by having shots at enemy heads inflict serious amounts of damage (and could cause head shots where the head would pop right off); Reward continuous movement, where enemies fire where you were, rather than where you are; And reward jumping, where bullets and projectiles will fly through you during double jumps.
I guess as icing for the cake, we added a mini game called the Dojo, where you can battle against your friends. If you accepted the tweak and learn to use the “shoulder jump”, you’ll perform much better than friends who did not.
BTW: The thing it also allows you to do by completely separating movement-stuff (left) and gun-stuff (right) on the controller is to actually play Rescue Mode with two controllers at the same time, where your left hand controls the movement of the bottom budgie – and your right hand controls aiming, firing, reloading, weapon swapping and stacking of the top budgie – once they are stacked, you can run around and play both characters at the same time so you have an extra chance to survive should one budgie get K.O’d. It just gets a bit crazy when your stack collapses and you’ll have to try and avoid ducts, but it’s still pretty fun and a different way to play the game.
There has been the announcement of customizable characters. Does this mean players can choose different load-outs and appearances for their characters?
Yeah, in Rescue Mode, your characters are fully customizable and the different items you wear adjust your stats a little bit. You can switch to different characters during the game inside the Hub and you can access your inventory and change your get-up and weapons whenever you wish to.
Will there be different abilities to earn and upgrade for your characters?
Since this is a skill based game, we wanted your characters upgrade when you improve 😉
There’ll be weapons in the later stages more suited to your play style, but in the end we did balance weapons out a bit using ammunition cost, weapon cooldown times, reload times, damage, destabilizing damage and clip size, so we hope to see groups of players play with a variety of weapons and look different from one another.
"In rescue mode, at the end of a mission, players are ranked and the best player receives a larger piece of the cash bonus than the others."
Will Rescue Mode have any additional objectives with twists on them similar to stacking hostages and carrying them to safety?
In Rescue Mode, during missions you can find strange, hidden artifacts which the budgie scientists can use to reconstruct some kind of alien portal. Also some walls are breakable and you’ll need to use bombs to blow these up and gain access to hidden treasure which can contain additional clothing items, or special weapons, like melee weapons.
How has the online multiplayer been improved and how does the drop in, drop out system affect co-op play? Is it possible to match make with players in the middle of games?
We basically rewrote the networking code from scratch and Rescue Mode features a lobby where you can select the room you wish to join. It also has a drop-in/drop-out feature, so you’ll not need to wait for your friends to join in and can host a game by yourself. If you need additional fire power when you are playing on your own, you can also Rent-A-Duck, who will aid you and ride shotgun on your back as you go on rescue missions, until reinforcements arrive.
What kinds of new weapons can players expect? How much more expanded is the arsenal from the previous game?
In the old game we had just a hand full of weapons. We did not have a robust inventory system to support more than 5 weapons or so – in the old Co-Op mode it was even less. The weapon you picked was tied to the budgie you picked. This time round, you can unlock some 40 different weapons – we picked the iconic ones like AA12, Frachi-Spass, M60, M16, RPG-7, Flamethrowers, Mossbergs, Bazooka, AK47, Steyer, Uzis, Dessert Eagles, Mortar guns etc. and made sure they reloaded and behaved how you would expect them to behave, but have each weapon offer something unique over the other weapons. There are six types of ammunition – grenades, bullets, shells, fuel, rockets and plasma – and six main types of guns, like the single shot guns (ideal for precise head shots), burst weapons (short, controlled bursts), assault rifles (pull the trigger and shower them with love), scatter guns (able to fire a spread of shot), charger types (like mini-guns which require a run-up) and projectile launchers (like good ol’gas powered grenades and such). In the later locations, you’ll be able to unlock some made up, sci-fi ones as well, like guns that fire bouncer particles and tractor beams etc. Oh and we also have a bunch of melee weapons, like Zulu spears, bowie knives and meat cleavers.
Are there plans for other competitive modes like the Dojo, perhaps a score-based mode for players to compete in involving the main missions?
In rescue mode, at the end of a mission, players are ranked and the best player receives a larger piece of the cash bonus than the others. While it’s great to show off your skills and be the best player with the most kills and headshots, we think it’s also fun to go head to head against your friends, which is why we created a Dojo mini-game – for short bursts of fun in between missions (or to test out that new weapon you bought in one of the shops). Nothing is set in stone yet, but we just might expand on this mini-game if it gets a good response from players!
I am assuming that you must have heard rumors about an upgraded PS4 (code name Neo) flying around the internet. According to sources, there will be boosts in CPU, Memory and GPU.
As you can see, there is a marginal improvement in CPU but impressive improvements in the GPU and Memory bandwidth. As someone who is in the development industry, what is your take on this? What kind of improvements do you think this will result into?
According to this sheet, we can expect games with Higher Resolutions, instead of revolutionary game play J And those GPU-bound games will receive a boost in framerates as well. From this table it looks like it would benefit games that need additional visual speed to hit those higher framerates and resolutions needed for VR, where your game would need to render left and right eyes for stereoscopy to work.
From a theoretical perspective, if you were to work on two PS4’s one which is the current model and the other being the Neo, would you be happy to invest the extra time and effort into developing two games for two platforms?
According to your information, we think the development cost will increase a little, but the testing costs will definitely double to test two systems. I’m not so sure I’d be happy (if this were true) – we developed Rocketbirds 2 for two platforms and it runs in stereoscopic 3D on the PS4, but the PS Vita clearly offers some added utility next to the PS4 for our customers, you can own both or either system and it would make sense to own our game on either, or both systems. Having two systems would just divide the market between those players owning the new PS4 and those players owning the old PS4, because it’s unlikely they’d want, or have the luxury to keep/use both systems.
Do you see devs aiming higher performance parameters for Neo and delivering sub-optimal performance on current base model PS4?
That really depends on the developer and the games they are working on. CPU-bound games will still have a harder time achieving superior performance on the newer model.