Lumines Vita: 'This will be to Vita what the original was to PSP'
15th Sep 2011 | 08:30
Last week it was confirmed that incredible PSP puzzler Lumines is coming to PlayStation Vita.
According to developer Q Entertainment (Child of Eden, Meteos), the Vita instalment - subtitled 'Electronic Symphony' - is a "true evolution" of the PSP original, which means less Gwen Stefani and more pumping Japanese house music.
That should come as good news to the many fans who regard the puzzler as still the best game on PSP.
Straight out of Tokyo Game Show, Q Entertainment producer James Mielke told CVG all about the series' long-awaited return to form.
Electronic Symphony is described as a "true evolution" of the original Lumines. Why did you decide to return to the original in particular, after so many instalments?
The original Lumines is a landmark in puzzle games. It was the first game to take the falling blocks approach out of the lighthearted Tetris/Puyo Puyo realm and put some emotion into the genre. I chalk that up primarily to the lead-off track, 'Shinin'', which was a fantastic opening song. It's uplifting and uptempo, and did a great job setting the tone for the rest of the game.
The original Lumines is also the game people still ask us - to this day - to put on PSN, but it's a difficult thing to do because of re-licensing issues. So, what we set out to create with Lumines: Electronic Symphony was a true, spiritual sequel to the original game. Most of the other versions of Lumines on other consoles featured some common elements brought over from the original and Lumines II. But what we're creating now is completely new, featuring an all-new visual engine, all-new music. It's a true next-gen Lumines for the VITA, as much as the original Lumines was at the time for PSP.
How does ES make use of the PS Vita's unique control features?
I can't say just yet how we're using all of the VITA's various hardware features, as we're still doing a bit of experimenting, but there is something in the TGS demo that I can describe. First, we have a new 'Avatar System,' which takes those cute little avatars you used to choose at the start of the game, and we gave it a function. The avatar gauge fills up over time, either simply by clearing blocks or by creating big combos, and once the gauge is full you can tap the avatar on-screen to generate a Chain Block, which is a modification of Lumines' original 'Special Block.'
Using the Chain Block, you no longer have to create a full square in order to activate it. Any same-colored block that the Chain Block touches will 'detonate' all connected, like-color blocks in the sweep of one timeline-pass. The sort of balancing factor is that even if you activate a Chain Block, you won't know what color it will be until it's generated. So if you set up a huge chain of orange blocks, but you generate a white Chain Block, it may not help you too much. Chain Blocks still occur naturally, too, independent of the avatar gauge.
The rear touch screen can also be tapped, causing synchronized percussion effects to play, and the avatar gauge to fill faster. We're still tweaking this so it's not unbalanced or overpowered, but we wanted more casual fans to be able to try it out at the show, so we made it easier for the demo. The game also features touchscreen controls in addition to standard D-pad controls.
Are there any new mechanics besides the ones you described?
As I mentioned we've adjusted the original Special Block and converted it to the Chain Block. The Chain Block is primarily a beneficial block. But since the original Lumines is so finely balanced, and throughout all of its iterations --with the exception of one mobile version released only in Japan-- the mechanics have stayed the same. I didn't feel that we could call this a true next-gen Lumines without adding --as opposed to altering-- something fresh. So, another block we've added is something called the Shuffle Block.
The Shuffle Block basically randomizes any cluster of blocks it comes in contact with. It's neither a good block nor a bad block, but it could be either depending on the situation. For example, if you're in danger of reaching a 'game over' point, and your screen is full of blocks, a Shuffle Block may actually clear out a large amount of space for you, or it may not. But if it appears earlier in your game, and you're carefully constructing a big chain combo, it could mess you up.
The good thing is that you can use it or dispose of it strategically. If you have a clear area with no blocks, and you don't want the Shuffle Block disturbing your chain that you're creating, you can drop it where it won't touch anything, or touch a smaller, less important cluster. We think these two new block mechanics offers some interesting strategic possibilities, without disturbing the balance inherent to Lumines.
The game's said to feature social features on Vita. Can you talk us through how they work?
I can't say too much about that yet --in fact I didn't even know that was announced [laughs]-- but I will say that it won't suddenly turn Lumines into some other game that has nothing to do with fast block-dropping action. The social elements we're putting into Lumines: Electronic Symphony are simply designed to encourage and stimulate the Lumines community into playing "one more game." I'll be able to go into deeper detail closer to launch, but that's all I can say for now.
In terms of raw hardware power, what does the PS Vita allow you to do with Lumines that the PSP couldn't?
The biggest thing it allows us to do is put a lot more visual impact in the game. While the primary game logic remains the same as the original --to ensure that the game feels 'right'-- the entire visual engine has been created from the ground up. If you liked what you saw in Child of Eden, I think you'll really enjoy the visuals in this Lumines. When we first started discussing bringing Lumines back, [Tetsuya] Mizuguchi (Q Entertainment's chief creative officer) said to me that he thought that this Lumines should have even greater visual impact than Child of Eden. As you can imagine, that's a pretty tall order, but it's also what we set out to do.
So for Lumines: Electronic Symphony my first wish was to ensure that all of the elements were created in 3D. In the original Lumines, all of the visuals are a blend of 2D animation and effects, from the blocks to the backgrounds. In Electronic Symphony, everything is in 3D. When you are manipulating the blocks and you move them from left to right, you'll see that they shift perspective slightly.
Having 3D blocks lets us do lots of cool things, from having block animations, giving them physics, creating contextual particle effects, and to even use cool visual tricks, like adding video textures to the blocks. Imagine a skin where ice blocks are dropping on the hot surface of Mars. This is just an example in my head, but when the block touches down, it releases a blast of steam. Or blocks designed as corn kernels that turn into popcorn when a block is cleared. These are just random examples, but I think what we are working on is going to be really cool.
How will Lumines: Electronic Symphony compete with the smartphone market?
To be blunt, the amount of work we're putting into Lumines: Electronic Symphony is going to exceed anything you will ever find in a 99 cent game, and I say that knowing full well that there are some kick-ass 99 cent games out there. There's a good amount of quantity in this game, and the quality - I feel - will really be worth it.
The original Lumines is one of those games that people keep in their collections. People don't blast through Lumines to see the cutscenes, get to the ending, play a little multiplayer and then rush to trade in for maximum resale value. It's the game they play to relax and enjoy themselves with when they're taking a break inbetween all of the high-pressure triple-A action games. That said, I really think that Lumines: Electronic Symphony will be to VITA what the original was to PSP.
What details can you give us on the game's soundtrack? Is there any Mondo Grosso in there?
This is probably my favourite part of the discussion, so it pains me to say that I can't go into too much detail about the particulars of the music we're licensing for the game. The two artists I can confirm are the ones we built into the TGS demo, which are The Chemical Brothers ('Hey Boy, Hey Girl') and Kaskade ('4 AM').
The Kaskade track is actually the song that inspired the whole direction of the game, so if you don't know the song, give it a listen. One notion that I can put to rest is that 'Shinin'' will not be in the game. I know it's a sentimental fan-favorite, but we made a conscious decision to break from the past as much as we acknowledge and embrace it.
The soundtrack will be a combination of both licensed music and original compositions from Q's own sound team, but I think you'd be surprised at the number of licensed tracks we're putting into the game. I know some people will read "licensed music" and assume we're just throwing a bunch of club tracks into the game and calling it a day, but I can assure you that it's quite different.
We pay very close attention to the sound experience in all Q Entertainment games -- Child of Eden being a good example. Players may not realize it on the surface, but we tweak everything so that there's always an audio-visual payoff to their actions. So believe me when I say that we're making sure the sound design in Lumines: Electronic Symphony lives up to our reputation for quality music-based games.
How many track/skins are you aiming for?
The exact number will remain a secret for now, but it will be in the dozens. And then there's the matter of post-launch support for the game, which will only add to the default selection built into the game. So I don't think quantity will be a concern, whether you plan to augment your game with DLC or not.
Did negative fan reaction to Lumines II's more comercial soundtrack affect your plans?
As with any game we create, we listen to and absorb all of the feedback from the community. Since I wasn't with Q Entertainment when Lumines II was created, I have listened to what the original designers had to say about what did and didn't work, and reconciled that information with my own thoughts on the game.
Personally, I don't think the soundtrack was bad by any means. In fact, I thought it was quite fun. You may not have loved Gwen Stefani, but somebody out there did. I loved the Junior Senior track, and I discovered The Go! Team because of Lumines II. I think the problem was that it was too democratic in its tracklisting. It had a little bit of everything for everyone, but not enough of anything for anyone. Because of that, I made a deliberate decision to bring the soundtrack back to the game's roots and, as a DJ, I'm personally overseeing the track order to create an ebb and flow; to take players on an electronic, musical journey.
Time will tell once we release the full tracklist of artists supporting the game, but my goal with the soundtrack for Lumines: Electronic Symphony is to create an epic roadmap of some of the best music in electronic and dance music history, dating back from the 1980s to the present day.
I'd like this soundtrack to stand shoulder to shoulder with the likes of the Wipeout 2097 and Rez soundtracks. That's my mission. Of course the electronic landscape is too far and wide for us to collect in one game alone, but the blend of music we've collected is a mix of electronic classics, and indie artists who deserve to have their music heard. I really hope gamers enjoy the music.
In a market so dominated by mobile gaming, what persuaded you to back Sony's device?
Any platform launch is a great place to either launch a new IP or revive a classic one. Since the original Lumines is so synonymous with the PSP launch, we felt that the time was right to restore Lumines to prominence with the VITA. Plus, the simple answer is that the power of the hardware lets us do things that no other handheld could before. Our goal is to make Lumines: Electronic Symphony an audio-visual showcase for the VITA.
After your strong association with the PSP, can we expect a long relationship between Q and Vita?
It'd be great if we could continue to create new, innovative games for the system. A lot of analysts have been skeptical about the VITA's prospects, because so many people are gaming on their iPhones and Androids now. But I think there's still room for dedicated gaming systems. I hope the VITA thrives despite the emergence of smartphones, because I really think its the perfect gaming system.
It offers a beautiful high-def screen, it's powerful, it's portable, and it's got all the modern bells and whistles you expect -- dual analog sticks, touchscreens, Wi-Fi, 3G, etc. In terms of a handheld gaming system it's great and I think that everyone who loves games would really enjoy the VITA. If those ingredients lead to success, then I think you'll see more from Q Entertainment on the system.
If this is a success, would you consider Every Extend/Gunpey updates in the future?
You can never say never, but if I had to guess, I would probably say that our time with those particular games has run its course. Those IPs belong to other people, and it makes better business and creative sense for us to explore creating new things. Personally I loved both of those games on PSP, especially the Gunpey game. But the future for Q lies in change and growth. That's the course you can expect us to take.