Monday, September 26, 2016

An Interview with Sony's Third Party Production - Banner Saga (Vita)



Since December 2015, Vita fans have been hopeful for the release of The Banner Saga on Vita when Sony stepped in to help production along. While it's taking some hard work, progress is well underway, and we have an update from Sony's Third Party Production team about how things are going.



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Michael A Cunningham (Pocket-Console): Before we dive into The Banner Saga, could you talk a little about what the Third Party Production department does? What other Vita games have you had a hand in helping along and in what capacity?


John Sanders (Lead Producer, Third Party Production): Third Party Production exists to assist developers and publishers that need help bringing games to PlayStation platforms. We are big fans of PS Vita and have had a hand in bringing 15 titles to the platform thus far. Some PS Vita games we’ve been a part of are Nidhogg, Risk of Rain, Grim Fandango, and Resident Evil: Revelations 2 just to name a few.

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MAC: Last December was when it was revealed that Sony was stepping in to help save the Vita version of The Banner Saga. Does this mean that Sony is working on it directly or is there a third party involved in the porting process? Just curious about how this is happening.


JS: 
For Banner Saga we brought in Code Mystics, who have helped port several titles to PS Vita (Metal Slug 3, The Last Blade 2, Risk of Rain, etc.). We're big fans of their work and they have taken on numerous challenging projects for the platform. We are involved in overseeing the project together with Versus Evil, the publisher, and Stoic, the creators of Banner Saga.

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MAC: Back around PAX West, you made it clear that things were well underway for The Banner Saga. What challenges have you had in scaling this down to the Vita? Maybe some specific challenges? Anything go smoother than expected?


JS: 
To this point there have not been a lot of specific technical challenges related to the game scope/content itself. It’s going to be super beautiful on PS Vita! What we've faced is some resource challenges in switching developers to Code Mystics, digging into the codebase, and ramping resources to complete it. It's hard to review a port in part/piecemeal, as you need to get most of the game up and running first. So it takes a lot of time, but when it clicks the whole game is pretty much there and the focus becomes performance tuning, polish, bug fixing, etc.

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MAC: What are your thoughts about adding additional content for this version? Something to make it unique? Too much work?


JS: 
The content all comes from Stoic. Not to answer too much on their behalf, but when we undertook this project they were super-focused on Banner Saga 2 and continuing to progress the story/content in that way. As they are a small team, it would have been a direct impact to the progress of that new game to come back and do anything for BS1, which neither party wanted to happen and so we focused instead on a direct port of an already amazing game.

(screens from PS4 version)


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MAC: The important question...any ETA on a release date?


JS: 
Code Mystics is building up momentum, so I would expect that we're going to be hitting the performance tuning, polish, and bug fixing phase soon. While we can't say specifically, I would expect to get this into eager PS Vita fans hands early 2017...we shall see.

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MAC: Have there been any thoughts of doing a physical release for The Banner Saga, even if very limited? There may not be a massive audience for Vita, but as the folks at Limited Run Games have shown the Vita fans are passionate for physical Vita copies. I know I am.


JS: 
This is a decision that rests with the game's publisher, Versus Evil, so if you'd like to see a physical release, I would ask them!
John Watson (Stoic, Technical Director): We definitely like the idea of physical media. We made boxed copies of both The Banner Saga 1 and The Banner Saga 2 on PC, primarily for European and Australian audiences. We will look into the possibilities for Vita! 

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MAC: I'm curious...what would you think about just adding in The Banner Saga 2 while you're at it?


JS (3PP): 
Doing the work on BS1 helps set the stage for more Banner Saga to follow on PS Vita from a tech point of view – but again this is up to Versus Evil. I do know Versus Evil and Stoic are big PS Vita fans, so let them know you'd love to see more Banner Saga
JW (Stoic): Yes, from a tech side, having a unified engine really helps things along. It took us 2 years to port TBS1 to PS4, but because we were able to leverage the technology, we released TBS2 on PS4 only 10 weeks after the PC launch. We hope we can get this developmental speedup on the Vita side as well.

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MAC: Any other future Vita titles we should be looking forward to from the 3PP team?


JS: 
We sure do! Garou Mark of the Wolves continues our great partnership with SNK and Code Mystics to bring fighting games to PS Vita. Pox Nora from Desert owl will be bringing an amazing amount of content for all your tactical, turn-based online fantasy game needs. Also keep an eye peeled for Ray's the Dead from Ragtag and Adult Swim! 
We're also really excited for Darkest Dungeon's PS Vita release on September 27. If you're interested in a challenging, gothic, turn-based RPG, make sure to check it out.



Pocket-Console and #TeamHandheld would like to thank John Sanders, Gio Corsi, and the Sony PR team for their support of the Vita and for taking part in this interview. Many thanks as well to John Watson from Stoic for the follow up replies. Looks like we still have a little while before The Banner Saga hits Vita, but it's good to know that things are still going well. Fingers crossed it sells well enough to justify doing the sequel.

Friday, September 23, 2016

#TeamHandheld Report - 09/23/2016

It's been too long since the last #TeamHandheld Report, but I've been out of commission since June recovering from having my stomach removed so I hope you can forgive me. That said, I have a collection of games I've been playing since then that I need to talk about. A big chunk of time also went to The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II, which is fantastic as my RPGamer review states, but I won't go into that more here other than to say get to playing it NOW. If you already are, you get a pass. Here's a sample of the rest. More to come.

Now Playing

Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate (Vita)

Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate just looks so pretty. I love the sprite work and attention to detail that Shiren offers, like a throwback to SNES days, yet prettier. I refuse to bash Shiren, because I went into it knowing that I'm not a roguelike/Mystery Dungeon fan. It's a genre I've tried many times and like in concept, but just don't have the mindset to be successful in. There have been a few exceptions to this rule, mostly Etrian Mystery Dungeon. The party focus was great, even if it did get to be too much for me eventually. All that aside, this Shiren release is not bad at all. It's more approachable than prior attempts I've made. Even if I wasn't able to really get into this, I still liked what I played. Fans will not go wrong, though I doubt it will convert others like me who just don't click with this subgenre.

-So pretty, but still rogue-




Mystery Chronicle: One Way Heroics (Vita)

Keeping things within the roguelike spectrum, but with a different take, is Mystery Chronicle: One Way Heroics. I'd been curious about this for a while, but after playing the demo I was sold. Unlike a Mystery Dungeon game where you dive into randomly generated dungeons, this game puts you into a random overworld instead. Instead of diving deeper, you must constantly move forward (to the right side of the screen) to avoid the encroaching doom barreling down from the left. You can pick different classes with different perks each time sort of like Rogue Legacy does, but you'll be adventuring across a world map instead. There are towns with NPCs, small structures housing treasures or powerful enemies, and randomly placed allies as you explore the verticality of the horizontally scrolling map. I've only played the demo so far, but I've played it multiple times and really had a blast. If you're questionable on this at least download that to see what you think. It might surprise you. It moved me enough to pick it up on PSN despite me planning to get a physical copy from Limited Run Games next week.

-Surprisingly refreshing-




Alone With You (Vita)

After spending way too long in my backlog, I was finally able to get around to Home by Benjamin Rivers. It was short and sweet, but handled adventure game choices very creatively for such a straightforward, unassuming game. Thankfully, shortly after I finished Home, Alone With You came out. While I've yet to finish it, it retains the simple, creative elegance of Home while expanding into something larger. It's all about dialog and interaction with holograms of characters that died on the planet you've been left alone on. Exploring where these characters died and then interacting with their AI is creepy, but in a fun way that I like. I've yet to get far enough to experience the true depth of the game, so I will report back once I have a better grasp of that. There's a patch coming soon, too, so it won't hurt to wait a little bit longer.

-Romantic and alone-




Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA X (Vita)

I'm far from a Miku expert, but over the past few years I've played Project DIVA f and f 2nd on Vita as well as Project Mirai DX on 3DS. Project DIVA f on Vita struck me as fun because the soundtrack was catchy and the challenge wasn't too bad. DIVA f 2nd didn't catch me as much, as it wasn't nearly as friendly. Mirai DX was cute, but didn't do much for me in the long run. This may seem like damning statements, but I really did have fun with each, even those that didn't click with me long term. All that aside, Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA X has been a blast. I love the soundtrack, that the game's structure gives you a reason to explore every track, and how the guest characters engage with Miku in cute, entertaining ways. I was happy to play through the entire soundtrack and look forward to going back for more to continue to unlock the extra content and to just hear the songs again. It's a great addition to the Vita's already stacked library of rhythm games.

-This one rocks-



Adventures of Mana (Vita)

I've only been playing Adventures of Mana on and off for the past couple months. While totally not the mess that Sword of Mana was, this one seems a little too true to the original Final Fantasy Adventure that I played years ago on Game Boy for its own good. While it looks lovely, the dungeons and such are just as they were in the original, and I have less patience for them now than I did as a child. That aside, it's a very solid remake in terms of looks and combat. In the end, I just didn't find enough new, not just in terms of content, but in quality of life updates to really make me fall in love with this. I'm glad it hit Vita, but just wish the game in general was fresher.

-Too true for its own good-





Zero Escape: Zero Time Dilemma (Vita)

I'd been very excited to check out Zero Time Dilemma, as I loved the story of 999 and the everything of Virtue's Last Reward. While I did finish this one, I have to say I was left wanting. The whole game I felt like things were right on the tipping point of greatness, as if the bottom was going to drop out and I was going to be left picking my jaw off the floor. And then the game was just over. The twists were either completely transparent or didn't have much impact. I never once had that "OMG are you kidding me?!?!" moment that I expect from the series, so it just felt flat. The puzzles were better than in 999, but not as creative as VLR's and the general game structure was more convoluted than it needed to be. I have no malice towards this one, but simply dumped it from memory once it was over.

-Zero impact dilemma-




Upcoming

Skylight Freerange 2: Gachduine (Vita)

I've played a little of this so far, and it's really bad so far. The controls are so, so bad. I'm going to put some more time into this and get back to you, though.

Claire: Extended Cut (Vita)

I messed around with this a little, but there's a new patch that seems to fix a lot of things. Going to check that out and come back.

Wanderjahr (Vita)

I'm curious about this "compact RPG", so I'll let you know what's going on here soon.

Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past (3DS)

I have this in hand, but am not quite ready to talk about it yet. Hurray for more Dragon Quest in North America, though! I love it.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Skylight Freerange 2: Gachduine Hit Vita Next Week


Out of nowhere, Twitter user @PSVITA_CLUB clued me into an upcoming Vita game called Skylight Freerange 2: Gachduine. This game is listed as an open world 3D RPG that takes place in futuristic Nova Scotia. You'll be able to choose your path through the story with your played-created character working through dungeons and areas that are accessible from the start of the game. There are also social situations with other characters where you can further your relationship with them and even have someone move in with you. Skylight Freerange 2 might have come out of nowhere, but it will be out on Vita in North America on Sept. 20. I'll check it out and let you know how it is soon.





Vita Indie Game Update


I'm here to show #TeamHandheld that it's not all doom and gloom for the Vita game scene. Though there have been some sad indie game cancellations of late, there are still a lot of exciting titles coming to the system. Outside of the strong support still coming from Japan, there are also some very unique indie titles still on the way. I reached out to a number of these developers about the status of their projects and most were very positive. Here's what I found.


Tim Dawson, Witch Beam Games

"The PSVita version of Assault Android Cactus is my current task. Unfortunately there are a bunch of technical hurdles concerning performance - some I knew about back when we demoed an early playable version on the show floor of GDC2014, and some I didn't expect - which is making the process difficult, and means there's currently no ETA or guarantee Cactus will see release on Vita.
The Vita version is very important to me, I'm a big fan of the system personally and enjoy how Cactus plays and looks on the system, but with our tiny dev team, mild commercial reception on other platforms and development fatigue it has been hard going. On larger or better funded teams, you can typically throw resources at an issue like this, but for us, it's pretty much me. I'm persevering for now and have my fingers crossed that I'll have something more positive to report soon.

Should the PSVita version see a release, we still intend for it to be Crossbuy with the PS4 version.

And I realise it's tricky to convey tone in text, but I'd say my general vibe for the Vita version is still cautiously optimistic."

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Andrew Allanson, Ackk Studios

"Working on the Vita version provides its own challenges, just as any console does. Our biggest challenge was audio compression and memory. The game is audio intensive, with an absurd amount of battle tracks and voice acting clips, so we had to get clever with compression and work hard to not eat up memory.

The Vita version of YIIK is actively being developed, and we hope to release it shortly after the digital release of YIIK on PC and PS4. The Vita is a console that is very special to the team, so it's important for us to have the game running on there. It's not easy, just as no aspect of game development is, but we'll continue to do our best to bring the game to the Vita and make it a worth while experience."

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Robert Boyd, Zeboyd Games

"Basically, last time I tested Cosmic Star Heroine, it was running around 50-60 fps with decently short load times. I'm not testing it right now, because I'm focused on finishing the game in general, but after the game is playable from start to back, I'll go back and make sure everything is still working and do a final optimization pass.

The Vita version is very important to us because we know a lot of people enjoy playing RPGs on portable systems and because we've never released a game on a portable console and we've wanted to for a long time. Cosmic Star Heroine's visuals look incredibly good on the Vita's screen and we think many people will really enjoy the game there."

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Lars Doucet, Level Up Labs

"The Vita version of Defender's Quest: Valley of the Forgotten (DX) is definitely happening. It's coming along pretty well; the main challenge is adapting the user interface for the Vita's UX and resolution. There's some memory and graphics optimizations to hit too, but so far we haven't run into any walls. We are also definitely confirmed for the Xbox One. We have functioning builds up and running for the PS4 and Wii U as well; the exact release schedule and final list of platforms will depend on our priorities and resources. Ideally we'll hit all four at once, but we'll have to see how it all goes in practice, that can be tough to coordinate. We can confirm we have no plans for 3DS at the moment, would have liked to hit that one but it doesn't seem to be in the cards (for now)."

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Mauro Fanelli, Cofounder, MixedBag

"The PSVita version of forma.8 is alive and kicking! As you know we had delayed the game multiple times on all platforms but we're finally wrapping it up, polishing and getting ready to ship. The development of the game on Vita is very smooth right now: we optimized the game like crazy early on and, thanks to the experience we made on the platform with Futuridium, we already knew the do's and don'ts to keep up the performances. The game runs at 60fps on Vita, native resolution with MSAA4X, with only some minor drops here and there, with the same graphic effects and features of the PS4 version.

The Vita version of forma.8 will be available at the same time of the other platforms, with full support for cross-buy and cross-save. We still don't have a precise release date but we'll share it as soon as possible."

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Brian Provinciano, Vblank

"I hope the PS Vita continues going for a long time. I'll be releasing Shakedown: Hawaii on it next year, and hope fans keep playing the systems so that I can release even more games beyond that. As a gamer, I play more PS Vita than PS4, even -- I'm very much a handheld gamer, and developer. The PSP held a special place in my heart too, which is why I released Retro City Rampage DX on it this summer, just for fun and for the fans, for free to everyone who owns the game on PS4/PS3/VITA via Cross Buy, even though I knew how tiny the active install base is now.

A challenge a lot of developers face is with porting, due to their use of unoptimized engines or middleware, but Shakedown's already ported, so that's not an issue."

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Wolfgang Wozniak, Wolfgame

"We're in early stages of testing and interface changes for VA-11 HALL-A. The greatest challenge for this particular game is resizing the art to look nice and for the text to be readable on the Vita's screen. There's a lot of wonderful PC-98 style pixel art here, and retaining the vibe of the game is paramount. We don't expect many other challenges, other than changing the control scheme, but I'm sure I'm asking for it by saying there won't be other issues. But, that's game development!"

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Kristofor Durrschmidt, CEO/Creative Director, Crazy Viking Studios & SoulStone Technologies

"Volgarr the Viking is currently undergoing certification for release with SCEA with SCEE to follow immediately after. Regions Volgarr will not be coming to immediately are countries that do not fall under ESRB or PEGI jurisdiction."

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Tomasz Wacławek, Creator

"Unfortunately, the game (Ronin) won't be released on Vita."

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Kunal Majmudar, Business & Audio Lead, SWDTech Games

"We're actually currently working towards our gold master (PC based), which is what will be used to create the console/mobile versions of Pixel Noir including Vita, PS4, & XB1. As such, I don't really have a whole heck of a lot to say about the Vita version at the moment except that we've received the test and dev kits from Sony are are pumped to play the game on Vita for ourselves."

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Gio Corsi, Senior Director, Third Party Production & Developer Relations at Sony

Via PAX West: "Production continues and we are all excited to bring The Banner Saga to PlayStation Vita."

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

PQube Brings the Heat


UK video game publisher and distributor PQube has been rocking it for Vita over the last little bit. After last year's hit Steins;Gate and the recent release of Gal*Gun: Double Piece, the company is looking to ramp things up even more with three additional Vita releases coming out over the next little bit. Check out a brief look at each of these upcoming titles.


Root Letter is an investigative visual novel where players are tasked with solving a murder that took place over fifteen years prior. You get to hunt for clues, interrogate suspects, and dive into old letters in order to uncover the game's mysteries. With branching endings, there should be a lot of replayability for those who like taking every path to see where it leads. There are hints of an October release for this, but we shall see.


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Steins;Gate 0 is the follow-up to the original Steins;Gate visual novel, a game with a fantastic story that was great to re-experience on Vita (originally watched the anime years ago). Following a similar gameplay format as the first game, this one branches off from the happy ending you could get in the original and instead has players exploring what happened if you failed in the original timeline. Also, along with time travel there will be a big focus on AI this time around. While the first game started slow, it really came alive in the second half. If this one can do the same, I'm in. El Psy Kongroo!


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Valkyrie Drive -Bhikkhuni- is an action-packed brawler where girls become powerful super weapons when sexually aroused. Following in the footsteps of Senran Kagura, clothing destruction is back along with fast-paced aerial combat. Featuring seven playable characters, over two dozen story missions, four player online multiplayer, and an intimate dressing room mode, Valkyrie Drive has a lot to get players excited.