March 21, 2014 12:40 AM | Staff
In the midst of Sony scooping up intriguing indie titles left, right and center for Playstation platforms, one particular Italian studio stands out as one to watch in 2014.
MixedBag is Mauro Fanelli and Andrea Gellato, two Turin, Italy-based game developers who both come from rather different background. Fanelli was originally a video game journalist, while Gellato is a graphic designer of 20 years.
While the pair has been working together on games for a couple of years now, it was only ever in their spare time, after they'd come home from work. Last March the duo finally got the indie game development bug, quit their jobs, and become game development full-time as MixedBag.
It was a game jam contest that really set the team off on their way. "There was a Unity Pro license as the first prize, and we needed it badly at the time," says Fanelli. "We had one month of time for the contest, and we decided to give it a try."
Although the pair came in second, this gave them the confidence to believe that they had that special something, and a move into full-time was inevitable. Out of that, two very different games have sprung forth. Futuridium EP Deluxe is a fast-paced, colorful racing shooter, while forma.8 is a Metroid-inspired adventure game.
Both titles are coming to a variety of platforms, but where they've had the biggest fuss made out of them is on PS4 and PS Vita, with Sony providing them marketing space to shout from the rooftops.
"We first got in touch [with Sony] at the EToo Festival, organized at the Loading Bar in London by Keith Stuart and Georg Backer last june," Fanelli tells me. "We were planning to go to E3, but then opted for the indie-focused EToo - it sounded like the perfect event to show Futuridium EP, which was just about to be launched."
At EToo, the MixedBag duo met Guy Richards and Alessandro Bovenzi from Sony Computer Entertainment Europe. They both tried out Futuridium EP and forma.8, and just days later Sony's Shahid Ahmad was in touch with them, asking whether they were interesting in bringing the pair of games to Sony platforms.
"We still don't know if they talked about the game or if it was a pure coincidence!" laughs Fanelli. The MixedBag co-founder says that the level of support from Sony has been exceptional.
"They knew exactly what we needed as a small indie team to get started on their platform," he notes. "The fact that we use Unity as our engine also had a big part in it: with Unity on PS Vita and PS4, we are able to easily port the game on both platform without a big overhead. We can manage all the different versions of the game with me as the sole programmer, and it's working out great."
"Sony knew exactly what we needed as a small indie team to get started on their platform."
It took just over a week to get both games running perfectly on the PS Vita. The time it took from showing their games to Sony reps, to getting the games up and running on Sony dev kits, was rather swift.
But how can just a pair of fresh new game devs, one programmer and one artist, complete work on two different titles at the same time? Says Fanelli, working on two projects simultaneously is actually rather refreshing.
He notes, "Working on Futuridium has helped us a lot - we've got a massive experience boost, and it's a nice and productive way to focus on something else entirely when working on a big and long project like forma.8, especially when it starts to became too stressful and impact creativity."
As mentioned, the two projects couldn't be any more different. Futuridium, a tribute to Andrew Braybrook's 8-bit era shooter Uridium, mixes a StarFox viewpoint with a puzzle-based shooter, in which you solve patterns and aim for high scores.
"We wanted to recreate the sense of wonder transmitted by the simple flat shaded objects in games like Virtua Racing or StarFox," notes artist Gellato.
"So we had a 'simple' aesthetic on a powerful machine (the game was originally released on PC), and we could really have fun with a lot of crazy shaders, post production effects and 'glitchy' sound effects that match perfectly with the wonderful soundtrack by Luca Gasperoni (LeDegout) and Omar Ferrero (Qubit)."
forma.8, on the other hand, started as a prototype way back in 2012, in the vein of PixelJunk Shooter. While the pair liked the gameplay, they wanted to try and take the idea more into a Metroid-style adventure game.
"With forma.8 we are aiming to do a complex and heavy assets game - maybe a little bit too complex for a two people team," Gellato says. "So we thought it could be a good idea to approach it by subtraction, simplifying the graphic pipeline as much as possible."
"This brings up the necessity to be interesting, even with a simpler aesthetic," he adds."We finally came up with the decision to use the black silhouette for all the gameplay elements and constrain colors to everything that's on the background/foreground. So now the game is framed in black, and the map design flows - in some way - like panels in a comic book."
This gives the game a visual feel that's more in line with the classic Another World, which was quite perfect, given that Another World was one of Gellato's favorite games.
"Even if forma.8 plays in a very different way, more in the Metroidvania field, we like to think at it as an homage to one of the games that forged the sense of wonder of our generation of players," he says.
[Mike Rose wrote this article for sister site Gamasutra]