Futurlab released PlayStation minis title ‘Velocity‘ last year to some seriously impressive review scores, and was featured on PlayStation Plus meaning lots of subscribers got to play the game as part of their monthly fee.
However, despite the praise Velocity was sadly overlooked by a number of people due to the lack of PSN trophies and online leaderboards (one of the downsides of being a minis game), something that studio boss James Marsden spoke openly about.
Well, that’s now all in the past…
The exciting news is that ‘Velocity Ultra’ will be heading to the PlayStation Vita, natively, around May of this year, and will feature a set of fancy new upgrades. Most noticeable is the new art style, going from a very 16-bit looking pixel art aesthetic to a very fresh looking cartoon-esque style in the Vita’s higher resolution. It’s a very striking difference.
“It’s been my job to adapt the visuals from the original game to Ultra,” explains Futurlab’s Chris Goff, shown below beaming wildly. “And set a benchmark for everything in the game concerning its art style so that everything will hopefully be consistent,” he adds. “The style is now a lot cleaner and contrasty,” he says, “visually it pops much better and adds a lot of excitement to the visuals.”
And whilst the art style was “all James” it’s clear that Chris, and his colleague Jack, have had plenty of input into how Velocity Ultra ultimately looks.
“I think the problem in the past was that there was a struggle to get this kind of style to implement properly,” says Chris. “Once I had the style fully down and a workflow in terms of its production it’s very quick to get to grips with. In my experience if you’re working on collaborative projects like this you need to create a visual style that looks great but also can be mimicked by artists around you.
“If the art isn’t seamless between artists it can undo itself,” he explains. “John Steels who did the original did an amazing job on all the elements so that definitely sped up my workflow and could just concentrate on getting the look down.”
The ship itself was one of the first things to be reworked. “Redesigning the ship was something James and i wanted to do from the start so I was happy to do it,” said Chris, with respect to having to do every frame of the ship’s rotation by hand. “I think we have something very cool that isn’t your stereotypical sci-fi space ship. I’ve got a 2D animation background so i’m having to delve into my education roots.”
Chris reveals that the team did try to to the entire thing in 3D, though. “We tried looking into rendering the assets in 3D, but you just don’t get the same level of charm you can get directly from an artist’s drawn line,” he explained.
Of course, the power of the Vita allows for a number of additional effects and reworked cutscene stills, all while running at a rock solid 60FPS, and Chris explains that there’s loads of new visual tricks going on. “I’m driving the tech guys here crazy,” he told TheSixthAxis. “I think Hussain and Robin are going to turn on me soon enough!”
“There’s a lot of lighting effects – that’s probably the biggest new implementation. A lot in terms of the environment to help focus the player’s eye but also light effects that relate to the action on screen – it provides depth and excitement to whats going on! It’s a massive improvement, but we’re always looking to squeeze a little more out of the code, no one is resting on their laurels.”
On the other side of the visual coin is Jack Hamilton, who’s been charged with redrawing all of Velocity’s cut-scenes in the new style. “Once I had the style down I could show Jack the workflow in Photoshop and the best tools to use to get the effect,” says Chris, “and he then goes off and knocks out all these amazing images. We sit next to each other so there’s a lot of to and fro so everything stays on point. Good communication at the end of the day – we’re on the same page.”
“Essentially I’m taking a look at all the original cut-scene stills and reworking them to fit with the updated visuals,” Jack tells us. “Some are completely re-imagined and others are redrawn and refined.” The actual story remains the same, though. “Some of the previous images just didn’t convey the narrative being told as well as they could,” says Jack, “so I felt it was necessary to make sure that what you read on screen is reflected by the imagery. This sometimes involved minor changes to angles whilst others needed to be built up from scratch.”
“We’ve gone with a cartoon style because we were onto something with the original cut scene stills,” adds studio head James Marsden. “Our studio goal for art direction is ‘cartoons you can play’. It’s going to take us a while to get there, a few years probably, but we’re much more interested in developing a really cool house style than going anywhere near realism.”
We’re thrilled with this all this, some of us voted Velocity as our top game of 2012 in TSA’s game of the year polls. And whilst we’re not all ones to chase trophies, having them in a game such as this will really add to the longevity. We can imagine some of them will be brutal (all gold medals, anyone?).
Velocity Ultra is out in May on PlayStation Vita.