Interview: Richard Ogden Talks Minutes’ US Release & Retuning The Difficulty

A bullet hell shooter without the bullets, Red Phantom Games’ Minutes was rather well received when it came out for PS4 and PS Vita in Europe back in November, and Tuffcub had some nice things to say about it in his review. But it wasn’t perfect, and so the US release later this month is coming alongside a patch to fix a smattering of bugs and also reduce the sometimes onerous difficulty.

In truth, Red Phantom is a single man, Richard Ogden, whose work you might know from a career that stretched from Codemasters in the 90s to co-founding Bigbig Studios in 2001 and working on the likes of Pursuit Force and MotorStorm: Arctic Edge. We caught up with Richard to ask about Minutes and what this patch and US release is all about.


TSA: Alongside the US release of Minutes this month, you’re bringing a big patch to the game that will land for everyone else at the same time. What are the key things that you’re focusing on fixing and changing?

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Richard Ogden: The main aspect I’m adjusting is the difficulty. The target scores for the first and second stars are now lower. Some of the third stars have changed too but the top end of the game is still intended to be hard. However, I’ve also made the level unlocking more flexible and less linear. Within a batch of five levels, a player can skip to the next one even if they don’t beat the first target score. But, they do need to win five stars in the current batch to unlock the next. It means that players can avoid getting stuck on one particular level. I also fixed a crash bug caused by having an insane number of PSN friends!

TSA: So do you feel you need to “dumb it down” for the American audience, or did you get a lot of feedback from Europeans too, saying that it was too difficult?

Richard: No, I needed to dumb it down for everyone! The decision to reduce the difficulty is based on reviews and feedback from players in Europe. Across all the reviews I noticed that the degree of frustration did affect the scores, as you would expect. The game has averaged around 8/10 over about 40 reviews so far and it’s not like there’s been a ton of complaints about it or anything but I still wanted to address the issue. The tough end of the game is still tough. I’ve just made it more accessible. I hope!

TSA: Some of the later stages seemed to have just a single path with which to complete the level. As you rebalanced the difficulty, have you come across any unexpected short cuts or seen inventive solutions from players online?

Richard: Crucially, the levels are unchanged during the rebalance. This was important because I didn’t want to have to throw out all the leaderboard scores that people have set so far. If you’ve played the game then you’ll have realized that going for a highest scores means a slightly different approach to winning the Perfect and is somewhat open-ended on many of the levels – you can take damage, take more risks. This was intentional so players could keep seeking out higher and higher scores if they wanted rather than stopping once the Perfect was won.

But to answer the question, I’ve not really seen any off-path solution yet. As you play you hopefully start to realise that the game is trying to lead you down the correct route. Though, adjusting the scores should provide for a few more options here and there.

TSA: It’s quite a common thing that indie developers talk about, and with yourself just being a single man team even more so, of not being able to gauge the difficulty and being too close to the project to see difficulty spikes. How do you think you’ll tackle this in your future games?

Richard: I did playtest the game with various people. I guess in future I won’t rely mainly on other game developers and will use more testers. Ideally I’d have enough of a budget to perform some proper user testing but perhaps if I can release on more than one platform at the same time then I’ll run a beta (at least on PC) to begin with. That should provide some concrete difficulty data.

TSA: Thinking along similar lines, this is the second time that you’ve founded a new company, with the first being BigBig Studios back in 2001. What do you think has been the biggest challenge to overcome to this time around?

Richard: The biggest challenge is one of self-motivation. I can be really excited about the game, the fact that I have creative control and just the feeling that it’s cool to be developing almost entirely by myself. But, that’s not constant so there are still times when it’s tough to get up in the morning or I just want to have a break for 3 hours! Working on your own from home is very different from having a commitment to going into an office and interacting with other people in order to get things done. Having said that, looking at my personal output over the project I think it’s more productive to work in this, more flexible but sometimes more lazy way.

TSA: Having come out in Europe back in November, was it down to needing to pass through certification for regions separately that held a US release back?

Richard: It was originally my intention to release in the U.S. at the same time but you do have to go through the submission process separately so there was always going to be a little bit of a delay. The main issue was some confusion over a U.S. tax form.

In the end, it was getting closer and closer to Christmas so I decided to wait until the beginning of this year. It also meant that I could step back a little, see what was going on, fix the difficulty issues and approach the U.S. release in a fresh way if needed.

TSA: One thing we highlighted in our review was the superb music. How collaborative an effort was it with Black Bag to make it fit the game?

Richard: This was very straightforward. I simply gave Black Bag the brief for the themes and they delivered them really quickly. Out of the all the work I asked for one tiny change. I was really pleased that they understood what I was after though I think from their side they probably appreciated a comprehensive brief. The music is actually divided into lots of sections that are pieced together in different ways. If you listen for it then you’ll notice that each level of the game contains a unique track.


Thanks to Richard for taking the time to talk to us. Minutes is out now in Europe for PS4 and PS Vita, and due for release this month in the US.

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3 Comments

  1. Glad it’s getting a difficulty tweak, the final few levels are bastard hard.

  2. Reducing the difficulty?? But only by lowering the score for the first 2 stars? I’m not sure that’s necessary, really. For the first half of the levels, the target scores are just about right. You’ll get the first star for most levels on your first attempt. Some might need a couple of extra goes.

    The next 1/4 of the levels you might need several attempts to get one star. But it’s not that hard, really.

    The last 1/4 get a bit silly though.

    The thing is, every time I’ve failed to get that first star, it’s not been by a huge distance. Nearly reaching the goal is probably what kept me playing. Sailing through the levels because the targets are reduced is going to get boring. I’d currently agree with the 8/10 score, but I’d drop it to 7/10 if it was easier. Then you a game you can breeze through in an hour and then hope you can be bothered spending hours trying to get all the stars. I like a proper challenge instead of an artificial challenge like that.

    But I’m probably just old.

    I’d give the game 9/10 if it was mint flavoured though.

  3. Love this game loads – never knew it was a one man band – so impressive! So under the radar yet so damn juicy!

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