Velocity, the phenomenal PlayStation Mini, has been impressing both gamers and critics. After my glowing review, and countless more hours exploring every nook and cranny of the game, I sat down for a casual chat with Robin Jubber, the programmer behind the miniature juggernaut. Combining our powers of science, humor and humour, we merge his self-proclaimed “half-witted thoughts” with my half-witted questions to form what I hope is at least one whole wit of insight and entertainment.
Joey Woznicki: Tell me about FuturLab and your role with the company.
Robin Jubber: Well Futurlab is a little company in Brighton (chilled out fairly warm coastal resort in the UK – it’s where artists, alternative lifestyle types and games companies end up. Sort of a miniature California.)
I’m the Supreme Technical Overlord. Or to put it another way – the only fulltime PSP coder.
Joey Woznicki: Cool!
Robin Jubber: Three years ago we nabbed ourselves some PSP dev kits – and I had a crack at figuring out how the hardware worked while James Marsden (Futurlab’s director) had a pop at coming up with a games design we could make for it very quickly with no budget. We met up over a previous idea of his – a music game – but that had to be put on hold due to licencing costs. (licensing spelling if you’re American, right?) So we used our half built engine to make Coconut Dodge.
Coconut Dodge got a lot of great reviews for such a tiny team – 2 people at a time working on it, plus music and art contributions from people working on the project part-time. It was a good introduction to self publishing, along with getting to grips with proper dev hardware. Big learning curve for us – I’d written games before, but usually as part of a bigger team – never an entire commercial console engine on my own. James had worked on Flash projects as well as with Sony – so a big hill for him to climb as well.
So with Coconut Dodge’s engine working at a solid 60fps with all the bits and pieces a proper game needs – eg recognition, a fanbase (all James’s work), and proper memory card code, sprite display, fast screen updates – all the techy stuff working – we set to work on Velocity. Bit bigger team this time, but only just. Still just one coder (me) but two designers (James and Kirsty Rigden, who really knows her stuff when it comes to learning curves for the player) and sporadic art contributions when we could afford it. John Steels, another chap who lives in Brighton made the scenery for us at an insane speed. Other people chipped in with cutscene art and Joris de Man (Killzone 2 and 3, and N+ composer) polished James’ music to a professional level. And here we are.
Joey Woznicki: Ah, I see! So how would you sum up Velocity? What are its strengths?
Robin Jubber: Blimey – tricky to quickly sum it up without sounding like a PR machine. It’s very slick and smooth for a small production. We tried hard to make it sound good, look good, never crash and run at 60fps everywhere. That’s the technical side – which was a challenge considering the size of the team. Then there’s the game itself. It has the pace of a racing game, the adrenaline of a classic shootemup and the puzzle solving elements of a different genre entirely. It taxes the little grey cells as well as the fingers – it does something entirely new with the genre and ends up as addictive as hell because of it. Now, you might expect the chap who wrote the code to say something like that, but I’ve genuinely never worked on a game I’m so happy to actually play, and that’s after 20 years writing games.
Oh – and we enjoyed making it so much we ended stuffing it full of hidden features, mini-games, 2 player challenges, a ton of in-game trophies and achievements – basically everything we could fit in the memory footprint.
Near the end of development I realised all the stuff we had made for it wouldn’t fit inside the PSP ram, as well as the 100 Meg limit Sony imposes on minis games. So a week was spent compressing the bejeezus out of all the assets – and stripping out any wasted space. Not a fun week.
Joey Woznicki: You just transitioned into about 5 of my other questions. Now I don’t know which to pick next.
Robin Jubber: Sorry Joey- I’ll keep my answers shorter!
Joey Woznicki: No problem. To keep things shorter, can you sum the game up in a haiku?
[We debate about the format of a haiku and pause for a few minutes of thought... then a few more]
Lightning death awaits
teleport and change your fate
tunes are fucking great
I win. Hand over the prize.
Joey Woznicki: Damn, that’s really clever actually…
Velocity is extremely ambitious for a Mini. I’m regretfully willing to admit I viewed the term ‘Mini’ as a pejorative. Is that something you guys felt the need to overcome?
Robin Jubber: I wasn’t familiar with Minis before we started making one. When Coconut Dodge came out I had only played one or two – I prefer big meaty games like Skyrim or Tomb Raider to the sort of iphone disposable stuff Minis were being used for. With Velocity we wanted to show what the limited rules Sony put in place would allow us to do – what anybody could have done if the other companies had put the effort in. Shovelling in as much code, tunes, graphics as we could fit was a sort of “screw you” to the other companies who had made minis, and in our opinion, hadn’t tried hard enough. There are exceptions – I’ve since played quite a lot of minis to test the competition and a few gems sparkle amongst the rough.
Joey Woznicki: It’s definitely a medium I don’t overlook now thanks to you guys.
Robin Jubber: Well that’s pretty cool. Who’s That Flying by Mediatonic is worth checking out – although we still cane it for framerate and features. Mediatonic are excellent at presentation. We can still learn from them… In fact that’s a good rule of thumb for making games (probably everything actually) – if you ever think you have nothing left to learn, you’re about to screw up horribly.
Robin Jubber: Which TV show? We referenced more than one. My personal favourites were the Farscape references, which went in first while the levels still didn’t have proper names.
Joey Woznicki: Sorry, I was referring to Community.
Robin Jubber: That was a very last minute addition! I asked the nice people at #sixseasonsandamovie and the people who made the Facebook group called something like “NBC Britta’d it!” who were trying to get various projects going to help save Community. One of their artists kindly donated the x-men spoof and in it went. We’re talking mere minutes from James building the final version of the release disk for Sony… Catherine Boyd – that’s the name of the lady who helped us get the image. Name escaped me for a moment.
Joey Woznicki: I actually stalked you a bit on Facebook once you contacted us. That’s how I found that out.
Robin Jubber: Ah! I shall now lock the front door. I’ve seen Criminal Minds – I know how it goes with you Americans.
Robin Jubber: It was a bargain! The leather straps were a bit mu.. hang on a mo…
We don’t have proper nutters over here in the UK – psychos stalk us then break into our houses to offer us inferior brand label tea in chipped cups. The horror of it is unspeakable.
Joey Woznicki: Back to Community, favorite character and why?
Robin Jubber: That’s difficult. Jeff started off as the initial focus of the show, and his speeches and complete absence of giving a damn when hell is breaking out – tapping away on his phone during a crisis – very droll. Then there’s Britta – beautiful and incompetent. What’s not to like? I like them all – but I suppose Abed is the break out character in community- he’s sort of the geek’s narrator – a bucket load of meta humour and dorky references for the target audience to pick up on. Similar role, despite different character, to Shawn in Psych.
Joey Woznicki: I agree with Abed. I love his meta humor and eccentricity. I want to build a Dreamatorium.
Robin Jubber: Or Crichton in Farscape. Which is Abed’s favourite show. If you haven’t watched it all the way through you should.
Joey Woznicki: Never have, but I’ll have to give it a look.
Robin Jubber: Starts with a good intro episode – first half of series one bit patchy – then transforms into the funniest most gripping sci-fi show I’ve ever seen. It’s why Abed ‘justs like to talk about Farscape.’ Which is Dan Harmon’s way of saying – watch Farscape.
Joey Woznicki: I’m a big fan of Fringe. Amazing sci-fi!
Robin Jubber: That’s a great show. The girlfriend and I love it. She took to it more quickly than me – I was sideswiped by the absolutely hilariously bad science – but the characters and story arc won me over. I like a good story arc.
Joey Woznicki: Back to Velocity: The calculator can be used to input quite a few codes. Scattered around the internet are quite a few of them. Do you have an estimate as to how many of these codes there are?
Robin Jubber: I have more than an estimate. I think it’s about 15, not including the ones that switch activated features off.
Joey Woznicki: Are there any you’d care to share with me and the gamingirresponsibly community?
You know how all the menus, popup messages, edge lines and so forth are blue in Velocity? The specific shade of blue is consistent through all sorts of things like the hidden tron mode as well as various icons and text. Well you can change that to a pleasing green – 99999994=
I think I can reveal that code without getting into too much trouble. Of course in a month or so we will probably dish out some juicier secrets – there are quite a few to collect already on the internet, with various sites – but there are more to come. Velocity has a bonkers number of hidden features – not all activated via the calculator.
Joey Woznicki: I like the yellow, 99999996= I believe.
Robin Jubber: Yes – that’s my favourite.
Joey Woznicki: By the way, our editor Josh keeps questions in boring black text. Developer answers are various colors. What color do you want to be?
Robin Jubber: It has to be 26CBFF – the Velocity blue… On the PSP it’s actually ffcb26 – the Playstation portable stores colours backwards – Red, Green, Blue. [Editor's Note: This idea was scrapped after it was deemed too hard to read.]
Joey Woznicki: Are there any questions you want to create and have me ask you? I can edit this part out later to make it seem like I came up with an awesome question which you answered perfectly.
Joey Woznicki: When did you first realize you were a god amongst men?
Ooh – just got a tweet from James – Velocity is on the recommended page when you boot up the PS3. That might just be for Europe of course. I hear you colonials have only just got Velocity working on Vita (has to be transferred via PS3 I hear) Sorry – bit of naked advertising there… I asked James if I could do some naked advertising and he said no – people weren’t ready for that, and it was a horrifying mental image and I’d had enough beer
Joey Woznicki: You could have people pay to remove the ad. that could prove quite effective.
Robin Jubber: I’d be a billionaire in femtoseconds
Robin Jubber: The secret is to work with good designers. James Marsden polishes things to the nth degree to get the feel just right. He doesn’t want the player to ever feel like the game killed them because of poor controls or handling. If you screw up, and you know you screwed up, you compulsively want to have another go to get it right. If the game feels like it did you over, perhaps a random enemy or something you couldn’t reasonably react to – then you lose that compulsion. James has a number of other theories on the subject – but I think that control is the crucial element… and melodies that get stuck in your head. That’s important too.
Joey Woznicki: Velocity is the perfect storm of addictiveness. I finished up perfecting all the levels a few days ago. That space invaders challenge is really the only thing standing in my way of getting all the medals.
Robin Jubber: Enders Game? I found it a little easy – but then I did code it one random drunken weekend. I think I made it a little harder just before release – I’ll check and see if it’s fair. It was another lunatic last minute coding marathon to get it into the game in time. We had a lot of days like that.
And thanks for the compliment by the way – very kind of you to say so. Perhaps you’ll be the first – I’ve not heard of anybody getting all the trophies yet – though I’m sure somebody must have.
Ah – the girlfriend has returned – I suspect an evening of catching up on House beckons. Still – time for a few more questions.
She says hi…She thinks she’s waving at the hidden cameras – but I think she just waved at the kettle.
Joey Woznicki: I say hi too.
That’s really all the questions I had. I lead a pretty pathetic life so I could waste time typing for hours. I’ll spare you that torture.
Joey Woznicki: Thanks for being my first interviewee. Thanks for the awesome game, and thanks for playing along with my lunacy. I look forward to your next project of zeros and ones.
Robin Jubber: Groovy! Good interviewing work there sir, if I’m any judge.
Joey Woznicki: Thanks! With everything I do I try to insert a bit of absurdity and humor to keep things from becoming mundane.
Robin Jubber: It’s a wise approach – to life in general.
Latest video from James. He’s very nearly as good at the game as I am:
Joey Woznicki: I was impressed.
Robin Jubber: lol – the girlfriend is playing Velocity as we speak – she’s swearing a lot – she’s playing the Bonus missions.
Joey Woznicki: :D
Again, it was nice talking with you. Have a nice night, and even better days to follow.
Robin Jubber: Cheers Joey – pleasure chatting with you – hope you have many more interviews!