You may not know solo developer Richard Ogden by name, but you’re probably familiar with his portfolio; from Codemasters (Colin McRae, TOCA) to co-founding Bigbig Studios (Pursuit Force, MotorStorm: Arctic Edge).
We caught up with him to discuss his latest title, Minutes, and the implications of going it alone.
Odgen has since founded Red Phantom Games, a one-man studio focused on smaller, indie games. His new game Minutes is an action puzzle bullet-hell not unlike retro shooter Ikaruga, but with a style all its own. Ogden was kind enough to speak with us for an interview, in which he talks more about Minutes, and what it’s like to create and run a one-man game studio.
Thumbsticks: Minutes is almost a cross between a bullet-hell shooter and a puzzle game. What inspired you to create something so unique?
Richard Ogden: As a one-man developer I had to create something that was achievable. That meant something fairly small in scope, 2D graphics, minimalist design and a focus on gameplay over anything like trying to tell a story. I was “anti-inspired” by playing AAA titles and getting a bit bored of the parts of those games that could be viewed as superfluous: the parts where you travel from A to B, where it’s more about the experience and the graphical views than any sort of challenge. Don’t get me wrong, I love these games, it’s just interesting to note the contrast between the big titles now and what I played in the arcades when I was a kid (along with indies like Super Hexagon, for example.)
T: Your site describes Minutes as “A unique slice of abstract action and gameplay purity”. What exactly do you mean by gameplay purity?
Ogden: Following on from the previous question, what I mean is that Minutes is about nothing other than gameplay. There’s no story or setting to clog things up. It’s clean. You just play it, are challenged and hopefully enjoy it. It’s designed to have as minimal a set of mechanics as possible to be engaging enough for a console game. That’s a fine line to walk but I like to think that there’s nothing unnecessary in the game and, if you took just one element out, it wouldn’t quite work.
T: The visual design and soundtrack seem to be just as big a part of the game as the gameplay itself. How were you able to create such a clean, and stylized world?
Ogden: The visual design reflects the minimalist gameplay design. I’m not an artist so I had help with this. Even though I’m a one-man studio, I can’t quite do everything myself. I just laid out the concept and what the shapes, menus, etc. needed to be from a functional point of view and a friend of mine did the rest. Beyond the simple geometric shapes the backgrounds tie in with the underlying theme of time. But, I won’t go into the pretentious side of the game. Players can take from it what they want.
In terms of audio, I also outsourced the music and sound effects. A company called Black Bag Music did this work for me. I gave them a brief and some example tunes and they delivered tracks that were spot-on. The key thing to notice is that all the tracks have a tempo of 60 or 120 beats per minute and lock in with the in-game timer. A second passing on the timer corresponds to the beat of a drum.
T: Minutes is currently exclusive to PS4 and Vita. Are there any plans on bringing it to other systems?
Ogden: That is the plan, yes. A PC version isn’t too far off but will require a lot of testing. I’d like to port to other platforms but nothing is set in stone yet.
T: You’re used to working with Sony from your days at Bigbig Studios. What role did they play in bringing both Red Phantom Games and Minutes to life?
Ogden: Well, I guess Red Phantom wouldn’t exist if Sony hadn’t closed Bigbig! I don’t mean that in a bad way. I’ve worked on PlayStation games from the start of my career (back to PS1) so it was natural for me to continue developing on Sony platforms. PS4 and Vita development is a relatively trouble-free experience so obviously Sony have played their part by creating great hardware and development tools. And their support teams help you through the process of building the game and getting it onto the store.
T: What made you decide to start your own studio, and why do it by yourself?
Ogden: I’m a control freak. Seriously, that is partly true, but mainly it’s about making the games that I want to make. I’m doing it by myself because I can’t afford to pay anyone yet! Being able to grow the company will depend on how the sales of Minutes go. That’s a cold, hard fact. Though, I wouldn’t want to grow too big. An artist or two to help with the next game will do the trick I think.
T: You used to work on big, AAA games. What was the transition like from the big game market to starting a smaller, indie focused studio?
Ogden: I actually took a break after Bigbig closed because I wasn’t sure what to do next. So, I did some travelling. I went, literally, around the world – across Europe and Russia by train then Japan, Hong Kong, Australia, U.S. and little bit of South America. I spent 3 months doing that and by the time I came back I had the creative bug again and wanted to make my next game. I guess I didn’t really notice any transition. The biggest differences are that I handle almost everything myself, have complete creative control and can work whatever hours I wish. The downside is that, being a one-man developer, it can get a little lonely. Sometimes I miss working in a large office and interacting with colleagues.
T: What are you plans for the future?
Ogden: In the short term I’ll be doing a bit of work on mobile, helping out a company called Pixel Toys with their next game. I’ll also be porting Minutes to other platforms as I mentioned. I’ll hopefully start the next game in the summer but will be playing around with ideas before that. I’ve got a few solid concepts at the top of my list. Leaning towards something with spaceships!
Minutes is already out in Europe, and will be available in North America on February 10th for PS4 and PlayStation Vita.