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Interview: FuturLab Director James Marsden

by on February 25, 2013

In the UK, one developer that is consistently growing is FuturLab. The studio behind one of the most celebrated PS Minis ever – Velocity, is gearing up for the release of the improved Velocity Ultra on PlayStation Vita. Recently, I had the opportunity to chat to FuturLab director James Marsden about their a few of their Mini titles coming to Vita, the prospects of PlayStation Mobile and much more.

I think it’s fair to assume, and please correct me if you think I’m wrong, that Velocity really thrust Futurlab into the mainstream. When making a game, you’re obviously hoping for a breakout hit, but how much stock was in Velocity, upon the game’s release? Did the studio think that it would be Futurlab’s ticket to true PlayStation glory?

Big question…Firstly, we’re far from mainstream. But it’s nice that some people have heard of us. What I mean is, I don’t think we’re on the vast majority of gamers’ radars. We’ve struck a chord with the core gamers that look for something different, which is awesome, but we’ve not hit the big time just yet. Regarding our stock in Velocity – we bet all our chips on it. I’ll see if I can crystalise what we thought about it whilst making it…

You see stories of people getting their break in the industry – Jenova Chen and his team, Team Meat – these successes that bring attention are the result of a lot of hard work to realise something pure. We knew Velocity possessed the necessary ingredients to succeed – original ideas, great controls, a genre that people love but that often lets their nostalgia down. Velocity had all of that, and we hoped that if we could just finish the damn thing, we’d be on our way. Fortunately we managed to get it out there and it pretty much worked out as we had hoped.

Which brings me onto my next question…Last year, it was announced that you’d signed a deal with Sony to produce content for the PlayStation Vita. Of course, it won’t be long ‘till we see the beefed up version of Velocity – Velocity Ultra. Firstly, how has this partnership (if you’d necessarily call it that) with Sony been going so far, and also, have the team enjoyed returning to Velocity?

It’s no secret that I’m a PlayStation fanboy. I’ve been a fan of Sony since Walkman, so I can’t tell you how excited my 15yr old self is about working with Sony. Professionally speaking, I’m happy to report that the people we’re working with at PlayStation have a deep passion for and understanding of games. They really get what FuturLab is about, and they’re working their asses off to bring great games to PlayStation Vita. I’ve got a lot of respect for them.

Regards returning to Velocity, of course! We’re lucky to have the opportunity to realise Velocity as it should have been the first time around.

Along with the Ultra edition of Velocity, you are also releasing a Vita specific version of Coconut Dodge, later this year. Can you give us any information on some of the new features in Clawrence’s HD outing? As well as that, can you tell us about any brand new projects that Futurlab plan on bringing to the Vita?

Coconut Dodge Revitalised is the same game as the original release, but with native PS Vita artwork, PSN global and friends leaderboards and PSN Trophies. Coconut Dodge was a hot game on minis for its addictiveness, but was a bit crippled by lack of online connectivity. We’re simply addressing this with the new release, and updating the graphics for the higher resolution screen. So, it’s not getting the same level of attention as Velocity Ultra, and the price will definitely reflect that.

Brand new projects? Who said anything about brand new projects?

So you won’t even give us a little tidbit about what Futurlab have planned?

Our deal with Sony does extend beyond Velocity Ultra and Coconut Dodge Revitalised, but it’s too early to talk about those things. We also won a prototype funding award from Abertay University, so a very small portion of our team is plugging away on a brand new IP that is…very exciting. It’s also a long way off.

We have ideas backed up by a few years. Our recent PlayStation Mobile release Surge, was designed in 2008 when the App Store launched, but it took us until 2012 to get it to market. We’ve lots of ideas like that just waiting for the funds to be available!

On the subject of PlayStation Mobile…Velocity’s initial release was as a PlayStation Mini and there’s no doubt that it remains in the upper echelon of games of that ilk. However, the Mini has been the subject of much derision from gamers since PlayStation launched the initiative back in late ‘09/early 2010. Similar to PlayStation Minis – PlayStation Mobile arrived last year and Futurlab have been flying the flag once again, releasing games like Beats Slider, Fuel Tiracas and Surge on the service. There’s no doubt that there are similarities between Mobile and Mini, but as a studio developing games for PS Mobile, are you hopeful that gamers will be more welcoming of this format?

This is a really easy one to answer: Trophies and PSN leaderboards. As soon as Sony implement these things in PlayStation Mobile, the platform will be taken more seriously by their core audience. Trophies are an amazing thing – we’re baffled them in all honesty. It was news to me that some gamers will buy games they don’t want to play just because they have easily earned Platinum trophies. Baffling.

But that’s why we are always on Neogaf, always listening to people on Twitter, reading comments on IGN. We don’t have the time to play games as much as the core audience does right now, so we need to keep our ears and eyes open to learn what the current core generation want from their games. We learn something new pretty much every day.

Stats. Velocity Ultra is getting serious amounts of stats as a result of the Velocity Ultra thread on Neogaf. That’s something we would just never realise was important, but… it is to many people.

And clearly your fans are very important to you as you make a note of acknowledging them on your website. Also on your site, you mention that you’re “playing the long game” in terms of garnering an audience, can you elaborate on this?

I know first hand the power of brand loyalty. I have it myself for the PlayStation brand. Sony built loyalty in me by consistently making ace stuff for many years. They continue that today. PS Vita is a great piece of hardware, and their first party software is also world class. Our goal is to build that same loyalty in our fans by consistently creating quality experiences, being honest and open, staying humble and always listening. It’s so easy to listen these days with social media. Success is a simple equation. The only way we’ll be able to continue doing what we love is if people keep supporting us, so we have to earn that support and then maintain it.

Personally speaking, it’s great to see a developer that wants to stay in touch with their community. All we’ve seen in terms of a release date for Velocity Ultra has been the very vague listing of May. Can you give the GodisaGeek readers something more specific?

Nope. It’s not because we’re avoiding the question, we simply don’t know. We’d be making it up if we gave you a date. It’ll be released when it’s ready.

Is the projected date still in-and-around May?

Yes, we’ll be submitting to Sony in April, and since it’s our first PS Vita release, we’re unfamiliar with the QA process. It’s more stringent than Minis and PSM, so we could be stuck in QA for a week or a month. Until we do it, we won’t really know.

You can keep up to date with all that’s happening at FuturLab over on their website, or by following them on Twitter.

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