Developer FuturLab talks PS4 development, bringing the explosions, speed and total play length.
You might have seen Velocity 2X somewhere. Maybe while playing Metroid or enjoying a game of Galaga (and for those who ask what those are, get out). FuturLab’s latest top-down shooter isn’t your typical arcade experience though – nor is it a Metroidvania romp that encourages you to revisit locations with new abilities. It’s all action, all the time and it’ll be heading to the PlayStation 4/PS Vita. The question then arises: What is Velocity 2X?
To answer that and many more questions, we got in touch with FuturLab managing director James Marsden and technical director Hussain Sheikh. Everything you’ve wanted to know about the game, including its new side-scrolling mechanics, utilization of the PS4’s technology, Remote Play support and much more have been addressed.
Rashid Sayed: After the popularity of Velocity and Velocity Ultra, what were your plans for Velocity 2X? How did you plan to further up the ante in terms of action?
James Marsden: Velocity and Velocity Ultra were created with a very small team and limited resources. Looking back, it doesn’t represent what our studio is capable of now. With Velocity 2X we are creating a very well rounded experience. Every aspect has been significantly upgraded and in some cases overhauled. We threw out the old code and started again from scratch with next gen in mind. Everything else has been upgraded, from the controls and physics system to the visuals, UI, camera, music & audio. Velocity 2X even has a more robust storyline. It’s a leap forward in production value and quality across the board. In terms of upping the ante for action, you’ve seen the video right?
It’s wall to wall explosions in there =)
Rashid Sayed: Though primarily a top down shooter, Velocity 2X introduces new 2D side-scrolling segments in which players can dock their ships and dash through levels. What served as the main inspiration and incentive to ultimately explore levels on foot?
James Marsden: We wanted to scale the game and the team, and we wanted to do it in a sensible way. We knew the mechanics worked wonders for the top down shooter, so it was simply a case of knowing the mechanics would work for a side scrolling platformer too. When we explained to Sony that it would mean effectively doubling the variety of gameplay, they were sold on it.
"Velocity 2X will of course also be available as a standalone PS Vita digital download at the same time as the PS4 version. They will be cross-buy so players will get both versions for one price."
Rashid Sayed: In this age of big budget action games, Velocity 2X is a relatively simpler throwback to the glory days of gaming. Given that many indie titles try to implement some unique hook, what will Velocity 2X’s hook be?
James Marsden: Velocity’s hook will always be teleportation at speed. Everything else is there to support the thrilling feeling a player gets by rushing through a level with absolute control.
Rashid Sayed: How difficult was it to bring Velocity 2X to the PlayStation 4?
James Marsden: As I mentioned our engine was developed with PS4 in mind, so it’s been relatively straightforward.
Rashid Sayed: Will Velocity 2X also be available on the PS Vita via Remote Play? Also, do you plan to use any other unique features of the PS4, including the DualShock 4’s touchpad?
James Marsden: Yes, most games support Remote Play as part of Sony’s Technical Requirements Checklist (TRC). Velocity 2X will of course also be available as a standalone PS Vita digital download at the same time as the PS4 version. They will be cross-buy so players will get both versions for one price. You can use the DS4 touch pad to fling telepods on foot. The same functionality is supplied by the touch screen on PS Vita.
Rashid Sayed: The game is confirmed to be running at 1080p at 60fps on the PlayStation 4. What kind of challenges you guys came across when aiming for that standard?
James Marsden: We’re not getting anywhere near the ceiling on PS4, so we can throw as many particles, lights and explosions at is as the artists want and PS4 just obeys!
"We are definitely pushing Vita to its limit (and have spent a great deal of time optimising our engine) with all the post-processing, dynamic lights, multiple layers of parallax and particle effects, but with PS4 we are barely scratching the surface."
Rashid Sayed: Do you mean to say that you did not faced any challenges achieving 60fps and 1080p?
James Marsden: That’s correct. No problems whatsoever.The engine was created by Andy Yelland, who has 20 years experience working on AAA game projects. He’s normally a trouble shooter, meaning that he gets hired by the big guys to solve problems they either can’t solve or don’t have time to solve. He’s like a one man A-Team. He created the engine for Velocity 2X for PS Vita and PS4, so from that side of things we were in good hands. The same engine was used for Surge Deluxe on PS Vita.
Rashid Sayed: How many hours of gameplay will Velocity 2X offer? What with its top down shooter origins, will you be using the PS4’s sharing functions so that players can compare high scores and progress?
James Marsden: That’s hard for us to say right now because the game isn’t finished, but we’re aiming for more content than Velocity Ultra, and that was about 20 hours for those that aimed to get Perfect Triple Stripe Gold Medals on all zones.
Rashid Sayed: Velocity 2X is utilising a lot of new techniques for bloom, lighting etc. How are you guys using the PS4 GPGPU functionality to achieve this?
Hussain Sheikh: In all honesty most of the techniques used for Velocity 2X are pretty much industry standard now (bloom, lens flares, vignetting, colour correction etc), but the power of the GPU and available memory meant that we can do these effects on a much higher resolution than before and not have to worry about performance. We have also increased the number of dynamic lights and switched to pixel lighting rather than vertex lighting being used on Vita, which gives the lighting a smoother appearance when displayed on a large TV.
In terms of effects, the number of particles on screen have been quadrupled without it having any effect on frame rate. I guess the main challenge for us was to get the visual fidelity of the game on Vita on par with some of the AAA titles. We are definitely pushing Vita to its limit (and have spent a great deal of time optimising our engine) with all the post-processing, dynamic lights, multiple layers of parallax and particle effects, but with PS4 we are barely scratching the surface.
"We’re aiming for 50 campaign levels plus bonus missions. The PS4 and PS Vita versions will be identical, yes."
Rashid Sayed: Are there any visual differences between the PS4 and PS VITA versions?
Hussain Sheikh: There are very minor differences that are the artist’s call. You can pack more particles per square inch of screen on the PS4 because the screen is larger so it doesn’t look cluttered, whereas the PS Vita screen would feel cluttered, especially when playing at high speed.
Rashid Sayed: How many levels will the final version have? Will the PS4 and PS Vita versions be identical in content?
James Marsden: We’re aiming for 50 campaign levels plus bonus missions. The PS4 and PS Vita versions will be identical, yes.
Rashid Sayed: What kind of benefits do you think the unified memory architecture bought to the development of Velocity 2X or for that matter game’s development in general?
Hussain Sheikh: For Velocity 2X, we have used Vita as our lead platform. Which means that porting the game to PS4 was a trivial task in terms of game performance. We have increased visual fidelity all across the board (textures, lighting, post-processing) but we didn’t have to do anything special on PS4 to take advantage of the unified memory architecture. In general terms memory is the slowest component of modern hardware. Most people talk about CPU/GPU speed, but what they forget is that transfer rate of data is generally the biggest culprit for causing frame drops. If the computation units are starved of data or have to wait for output to be written back into memory, that becomes a major bottleneck.
Having a unified high speed memory architecture alleviates this bottleneck where the data doesn’t need to be constantly transferred between CPU and GPU, but can be accessed by both. It also means that developers no longer need to worry about running out of the memory pool between CPU and GPU or waste effort on memory load balance. It just makes things so much simpler.
"We did have some great ideas for co-op and multiplayer, but ultimately were out of scope for Velocity 2X. Perhaps for DLC or a subsequent game could be possible."
Rashid Sayed: It’s no secret that the PlayStation 4 has a slower clock speed compared to modern processors out there. What are your thoughts on the percentage of frametime for each operation that it is capable of and did it gave rise to any challenges?
Hussain Sheikh: We are not sure that it really matters at this stage. Both PS4 and Xbox One have 8 cores; that is a lot of computational power. We doubt if there are any games out there that are actually utilising these cores to their maximum strength. But yes it will be interesting to see in future how games use these power houses to create great experiences.
Rashid Sayed: Will there be any multiplayer or co-op elements in Velocity 2X?
James Marsden: We did have some great ideas for co-op and multiplayer, but ultimately were out of scope for Velocity 2X. Perhaps for DLC or a subsequent game could be possible.
Rashid Sayed: What can you tell us about the main character’s skill set and the various enemies in the game?
James Marsden: Lt. Kai-Luan Anaplian Tana is the sole pilot of the Quarp Jet, a spacecraft capable of teleportation. Whilst being protected travelling through a wormhole at the end of the first game, Kai’s physiology was altered to become somewhat cybernetic, enabling super human speed, strength and agility, including the ability to fall any distance and not feel pain. The most important addition is the ability to teleport short distances through obstacles on foot. This is enabled by a Quarp Drive Satellite embedded in her shoulder. Kai also has a number of personal telepods that she can throw to parts of the environment that are hard to reach on foot, enabling her to teleport to wherever a telepod comes to rest. Kai can also teleport instantly between telepods she has dropped using the ship and those dropped by hand on foot.
Rashid Sayed: Do you have a release date set for the game?
James Marsden: Not yet, no, there’s still lots to do!
Rashid Sayed: You have primarily released games only for the PlayStation platforms. What is it about PlayStation that you don’t find on other platforms, say the Xbox One?
James Marsden: Sony fosters talent in a way that you don’t see anywhere else in the industry. The result is that PlayStation invests in videogames as a medium, and that’s why we’ve chosen to work with them.