James Mielke, Producer at Q Entertainment, is a man after my own heart. With his finger (literally) on the beat, the studio’s upcoming Vita puzzle / music title Lumines Electronic Symphony should hopefully have as much of an impact as the first game did at the launch of Sony’s first handheld.
Naturally, the first thing I wanted to ask him about was the game’s soundtrack. “This part of the development process was probably the thing that affected us the most,” he said, when I queried how long it took to lock down all the music. “Until we knew exactly what songs we were getting, the art team’s collective hands were tied, so to speak, because we really put a lot of work into each skin, and the look of the skin was entirely dependent on the song.”
“Once we had the song assigned to a particular part of the game, the team would build the skin around the song’s tone, tempo, and atmosphere,” Mielke explained.
And because this is a Vita launch title, at least here in the west, how does it best make use of the Vita’s features? “Well, because of what the Vita offers, like dual touchscreens and various hardware features, we used what we thought made the most sense at the time,” James replied.
Touchscreen support? “Yes, we provide touchscreen control, but I’ll be honest and say that this game is best played with the D-pad, primarily because the game speed is much, much faster than most other puzzle games, so it’s much more reliable to play in this manner. The other factor is it’s better to keep your fingers out of the way using the D-pad.”
When I tried the game recently I stuck to the D-pad, too, but that was probably just instinct, I actually didn’t know you could use the touchscreen at all.
So what’s new, I ask? “We’ve also made those cute little Lumines avatars [from earlier games] into functional, game-saving power-ups that you can use when you’ve filled the Avatar meter up,” James explains. “You can tap the rear touchscreen to help fill the meter – this even offers quantized, rhythmic sound effects – but it’s harder to do than it sounds, while trying to keep your game going, so in this way it’s not something people will really be able to abuse.”
And to those that haven’t played a Lumines game before – what sets it apart from other puzzlers? “It’s more than just a puzzle game,” Mielke replies. “It’s really an audio-visual experience, and Electronic Symphony even more so. While the skin count isn’t as high as some previous games in the series, you’ll find that there’s a lot more going on in each skin.”
The graphics are different too – the sprites are long gone. “Yes, the background graphics use 3D polygonal graphics, they evolve in three stages per skin, we use special animated techniques. The blocks, too, are 3D objects instead of 2D sprites, so we’re really able to do cool things, like use real-time light sourcing, animated video textures, show perspective, shading, etc.”
“The whole effect,” continues the producer, “combined with the sound editing we’ve done really creates a comprehensive A/V experience that practically puts you in a trance. That said, I encourage you to use headphones with this game, for the maximum effect.”
I move back to the hardware, and ask how the Vita was to develop on. “This was a real learning process for us,” I’m told, “and for me in particular it was my first time developing for new hardware, so I got to see the challenges of a situation like this first hand. Fortunately, developing for the Vita is a pretty straightforward process, and our programmers had the game up and running quickly.”
“Adapting to the Vita’s specific hardware and software features was a challenge, because as with any new hardware, things are constantly being developed by the console maker (in this case, Sony) in parallel with the games. I think the things we added to the Lumines experience do improve the experience.”
I ask whether Electronic Symphony makes use of any of Vita’s online features. “Having a profile and stat tracking allows you to see how you stack up compared to your friends,” came the reply. “I love that sort of low-pressure, passive competitive element. It encourages me to do better and work my way up to leaderboard, for example.”
“Our experience point system now rewards both casual and hardcore Lumines players. For gamers who can’t reach the end of the Voyage mode, you’ll still be able to unlock all the skins, even if you never get to them, as was the way with the older games. And for people who consider themselves hardcore Lumines veterans, they’ll see their level go up, while unlocking everything in the game.”
How important was it to get Lumines out for the Vita’s Western launch? “It was very important. One of the most consistent and reliable ways to start or reboot a franchise is to be there on day one of a system launch. We’ve been planning for a long time to reboot Lumines and really give fans of the series what they’ve been looking for in a sequel, so the launch of Vita was our number one priority.”
“It was tough to get the game done in under a year, which was roughly the amount of time we had to do it in, but I think the results were worth it.”