If you thought the guys at FuturLab, the studio behind the critically acclaimed minis title Velocity, deserved a break after their two year development cycle, they’d be the first to disagree. Still glowing from the overwhelmingly positive praise that the top-down teleporting shooter garnered, they’re back with a trio of new games designed to give Sony’s PlayStation Mobile platform a welcome boost.
The first, and the one we’re looking at today, is Slidin’ Beats, which we’ve got the world exclusive playtest for. I’ve been playing it for a little while now and it manages to retain some of that understated cool and design flair that the team seem to carry in spades. It’s much simpler in scale than Velocity (and to some degree, even Coconut Dodge) but this is pitched at a service where cost-effectiveness has to be key, for both developers and potential customers.[drop]”It’s been a pleasure watching PSM evolve from early prototypes to the production-ready, cross-platform framework that it is now,” said Andy Yelland, Slidin’ Beats’ programmer.
“Having one codebase that runs on all the PlayStation certified devices, and in a developer-friendly language, has allowed us to move fast and create a refined product in a matter of weeks.”
Mechanically, it’s a block sliding puzzler – the sort of things you find made from plastic in expensive crackers at Christmas, the little toys that are normally numbered one to fifteen.
Because of this, FuturLab’s toe dipping isn’t exactly pushing the boundaries of mobile gaming, but it does offer at least one unique twist to a formula that most Vita owners will have already played in the Vita bundled Welcome Park: music.
Each of the fifteen blocks on the grid are categorised into one of four sections of an overall musical loop, be they drums, a synth, bass lines or other; and each section is split into four smaller chunks (except, of course, the last one, which by definition can only have three). Once a block is in the correct position, its loop will play during its part of the four bar overall theme, as well as being visually highlighted so it’s clear to the player.
There’s a subtle backing track in place regardless, which the blocks all layer on top of, so whilst it’s definitely not a rhythm game there’s an overriding coherence to the musical building blocks that builds and falls nicely as you shift the tiles around. Each tile is coloured depending on the instrument type, and each has a little pattern on it (like a waveform) that shows how to connect the adjacent pieces. There are no actual numbers.
It’s clever, and hearing the completed theme once the pieces are all in place is quite neat. There’s a good chunk of levels to play through (even the level select is another set of tiles) and they get progressively harder in that the tiles are more scattered around. There’s a timer, and a set of medals depending on how quick you can move, and a Remix option for each level once completed that lets you shift around the blocks at will.[drop2]”PlayStation Mobile lets us get involved in touch-based game design with the confidence that our efforts – particularly in terms of our design sensibilities – will have a higher chance of being rewarded than if we were to make the same games for other distribution platforms,” James Marsden, FuturLab’s studio head told TheSixthAxis. “The PlayStation brand gives us that confidence, which is important when all three of our upcoming PSM games are designed to appeal to a core market in terms of audiovisual look and feel, and to some extent gameplay, though Slidin’ Beats is the most casual oriented of the set.”
I asked James about the music aspect of the game. “Creatively,” he said, “Slidin’ Beats has been an interesting challenge, as the MIDI blocks have to sound good in every arrangement created by the player. For example, a percussion pattern has to sound good as a synth melody, and a synth melody pattern has to sound good when slotted into a percussion track.”
“Every possible combination of MIDI pattern and instrument type has to sound good,” added James, “which is quite a feat from a compositional point of view!”
Slidin’ Beats is a solid tester for PlayStation Mobile – it’s visually quite strong, the music works well and the concept is sound. In my opinion the PSM platform could be absolutely massive for Sony, given the much lower barrier to entry than minis and the fact that games, once created, can be quickly distributed to lots of Sony Certified devices. I played this particular game on Vita, but it’ll work on a number of other smartphones and tablets just fine.
And as for what FuturLab are working on next? Well, time will tell.