Interview: Richard Ogden from Red Phantom Games

While the PS Vita has been criticised lately for it’s lack of AAA titles, we’ve certainly been spoiled for choice when it comes to high quality indie games, and one such title has been Minutes, the debut title from Red Phantom Games released in November 2014 in the EU and on 10th February 2015 in the US. In fact, the small studio is a one-man team by the name of Richard Ogden who has been working in the games industry since the original PlayStation and who kindly took time out of his schedule to talk to us…

Vita Player: Your first break in the games industry was back in the days of the original PlayStation working for Codemasters. What did your job entail there?

Richard: Initially I worked on programming the car physics that formed the basis of the Colin McRae and TOCA games. I also had a hand in game design, R&D and some production work over the few years I was there. Much of the work didn’t ever see the light of day because it was about concepts and prototyping. I got used to the idea of throwing stuff away quite early, though that’s always tough because you form an emotional bond with your creations.

Vita Player: Looking at your gaming resumé, would you say that you’re drawn to the PlayStation family more than any other platform?

Richard: I guess so. I’ve always made PlayStation games during my career (all the way back to PS1). And I’m more of a PlayStation gamer than Xbox. So, it’s just a natural fit. Though, with Red Phantom I’d like to bring my games to as many platforms as possible.

Vita Player: You’ve worked on a number of racing games, both for Codemasters and at your own company, Bigbig Studios. Would you say that it’s a favourite genre of yours?

Richard: Not specifically, at least not now. A lot of the big AAA genres don’t appeal to me quite as much anymore. I’m more interested in “indie” games because of the unique experiences and original mechanics they contain irrespective of which genre they are classed as. The last driving game I really enjoyed was Split Second. Though no doubt I’ll pick up Drive Club at some point. I just need some time to catch up with my gaming!

Vita Player: You’ve been a gamer and hobbyist programmer since the early 8-bit days. With the growing indie scene over the last couple of years, do you think that what we’re seeing now is a resurgence in the era of the “bedroom programmer”?

Richard: Perhaps, but it’s been going on for more than a couple of years on PC and mobile. Consoles have become more accessible over the last year or so which is great and there are more tools and engines available that make it easier to get into development. This means there’s more chances of seeing weird and wonderful games which can only be a good thing.

Vita Player: On to your debut release for the PS Vita, Minutes, and where did the inspiration come from for the game?

Richard: The idea popped into my head and took about five minutes to figure out. But, leading up to that moment I’d been pondering what a minimalist console game would look like. I’d been playing AAA titles and was feeling a bit bored of engaging in superfluous activities and not really spending a decent amount of time actually playing and being challenged. I figured that I couldn’t be the only gamer who was feeling like that.

Vita Player: Both in structure and execution, it seems like a game tailor-made for mobile platforms. Why did you choose the PS Vita as a choice for its main release platform?

Richard: It’s ideally suited given that you can literally spend a minute playing a level but I didn’t really choose Vita as the main platform, more an equal to PS3 (as it was intended initially) then PS4. The concept obviously works on Vita but it is an arcade game – designed to use sticks and buttons. It would need reworking for phones and tablets so it only appears to be a “mobile” game at first glance.

Vita Player: Minutes was released on the same day as Don’t Die Mr Robot and both games have an underlying dodge-em-up gameplay mechanic. Despite both games being in development for an extensive period of time, how did you feel when you saw Infinite State Games’ title hit the store on the same day as yours?

Richard: It was quite interesting to see that we’d had similar ideas but the execution is very different. Minutes is available on PS4 too but ISG had the jump on me releasing in the U.S. along with Europe. I was only aware of the game a few days before launch. Nothing wrong with healthy competition and I enjoyed playing it.

Vita Player: How much of a struggle has it been to get Minutes completed as a one-man studio?

Richard: Not really a struggle. It just takes time. It’s no epic open-world game but I still had to go through concept, prototyping, building an engine and tools, implementing all the elements, iterating the gameplay, putting in all the art and audio assets, setting up all the menu screens, tweaking, balancing, testing on various people and then going through the submission process and dealing with P.R. On top of that there’s all the business side to deal with.

Vita Player: What’s the most difficult part of running Red Phantom Games as a one-man operation and what was the most difficult aspect of the game in a creative sense?

Richard: The most difficult aspect with the creation of Minutes was figuring out the four powerups. They are all very typical – health restore, smart bomb, shield and slow motion – but it was a difficult decision as to which ones to retain in the game as there were many more ideas. It was a case of choosing the right ones that were different enough (and had some subtlety to them) and I’d limited myself to four because I wanted to map them to the shape buttonson the controller.

In terms of Red Phantom there are a couple of things. One is that I work on my own and sometimes miss being in an office with other people around to work with and bounce ideas off.

Vita Player: Have the sales of Minutes met your expectations?

Richard: I think it’s a bit early to tell. I’m not looking to make millions. Just enough to fund the next project will do. With the game launching in the U.S. and a PC version on the way I should be able to hit my targets. And, I think with indie games you need to have a longer term strategy – building a reputation and a portfolio of a few games is key because you can’t guarantee having a runaway success – though that would obviously help!

Vita Player: Are there any plans for future expansions or updates for Minutes?

Richard: It’s not a definite plan but I would like to create a DLC pack. But, it depends if I think the demand is high enough. We’ll have to see. I’ve got lots of other things to do.

Vita Player: How does the working on the Vita compare with developing for other formats?

Richard: Developing on the Sony platforms is a fairly straightforward process. The tools and the support have evolved over the console generations and are now very easy to work with. Converting the Vita version to PS4 only took me a week. That’s how easy it’s become.

Vita Player: Do you think that you will be developing any future titles for the Vita?

Richard: The next game will be cross-platform. I’ll be developing on as many platforms as possible. There’s a good chance I’ll launch first on PS4 and Vita again. Anything can happen. Though, I do love my Vita and can’t really imagine not bringing the next game to it.

Vita Player: Thank you for sparing some time to answer our questions.

Richard: Thanks. My pleasure. I appreciate your interest in Minutes and hope you enjoy the game!

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