Perhaps best known as the co-developers of the now defunct PlayStation Home service, LOOT Interactive have certainly had a busy few months since breaking away from Sony ownership back in May. Based in Culver City, California, the studio has found itself reinvigorated as a specialist publisher, with a focus on delivering ports of unique and interesting indie games to consoles, primarily the PS4 and PS Vita at present. The company won acclaim for its E3 offerings, and two PlayStation titles coming out of the expo, Velocibox and Whispering Willows, have both received the Power Up Gaming reviews treatment this week.
A few weeks ago, as the studio were gearing up for the release of their summer line-up, Power Up Gaming’s Austin Flynn had the opportunity to catch up with Jason Sorensen, LOOT’s director of production services, to get an insight into their current development processes and potentially, a glimpse of what to expect in the future.
Austin Flynn: What do you have to do to make the move from PC to PS4 successful for the likes of Velocibox?
Jason Sorensen: Well, the nice thing is that these games are all built in Unity, so what we do is we take a look at, from a technical standpoint, the shaders; getting the shaders to work on a PlayStation device. And then obviously you’ve got to macro, for instance, achievements into trophies. You have to make the trophies work on PlayStation, and then, as well, making sure the frame rate, performance [work properly].
AF: I caught up with some of the Velocibox developers earlier, and they were actually saying how they had to change some of the levels so the frame rate was still smooth. That’s really smart. It’s really cool that they do that, because not only does it make the game a better experience, but it also gives the people who have played it already a little bit of a new experience. Is there going to be any new content coming to the PS4 version? Are there more levels?
JS: Well, one thing that we made sure to do was try and tweak each game to be a little bit special for PlayStation. So something as simple as making sure it’s 60 frames per second at 1080p, you know? Also, the PlayStation controller: having audio coming out of the controller; getting the light bar to change color, like in Whispering Willows – you know, Elena’s amulet will glow red when she’s near a hostile ghost, so having that little change on the light bar, for instance, is huge.
AF: Well, that is very cool. One of the other things I wanted to ask is where did the idea for Velocibox originate? Because it’s so minimal. Where did that come about?
JS: It’s kind of a fun story. That one was originally part of a Game Jam, I believe. The developer Shawn Beck is based out of Malaysia – Kuala Lumpur. We saw the game and we were like ‘Oh my God, this is brilliant!’ because it’s minimalist and you think ‘Oh, this is easy, right?’ and then you play it and you’re like ‘Oh, Jesus!’ You know?
AF: And that’s what I liked about it. At first, you see minimalist and, kind of, almost get bored… But then you’re going a million miles per hour. Did you guys do anything, when you saw [Beck’s] original idea, to tweak it? You know, say ‘Okay, we can make this a little better.’ Or was it pretty much good right out of the gate?
JS: Probably the biggest change we made – and it’s for the PlayStation version exclusively – is that in the original iteration of the game you had to make it through all of the different levels. If you died, let’s say you’re on level four, you’re all the way back [to the first level]. We looked at it and went ‘Okay, wait a minute. These levels are really hard!’ So when you beat a level and get to the next, in the PlayStation version, you can start from the level that you reached. And there’s a trophy for each level, because reaching a new level is something unto itself.
AF: Yeah, it’s almost like you woke up and found $20. Moving on to Whispering Willows, we’re going from a game that’s pretty much pick-up-and-play and it is what it is. Whispering Willows – there’s a storyline there. There’s a little bit of intrigue. Explain that to me.
JS: What I like about it is it’s sort of like interactive fiction. It’s a blend of genres. I mean, you’ve got adventure, you’ve got mystery, puzzle solving and there’s some horror. But when you think horror, all you really is blood and guts, and this is going after a completely different audience. This is more like emotional, immersive horror. Instead of running through because everything’s jumping at you, it’s okay to take your time and figure out what happened here. What happened in this mansion?
AF: Talk about how you guys use the art direction to kind of accentuate that. Because it is a very emotional looking game too. There’s some personality in the game that just evokes this sense of mystery.
JS: If you take a really close look at the – because everything is hand-painted like the background art, the characters and all that – the level of detail in that background art, and then you look at how much detail they put into the characters and the foreground so they pop.
AF: Especially when Elena’s a ghost and you’re walking through caves and she’s that bright blue; it’s kind of, I don’t know, it pulls you into the game a little more. It makes you pay attention.
JS: One of the best things about that: When Elena turns into a ghost and you have to go through a crack in the floor or a crack in the wall or something like that, there’s a glow effect when you go through that crack in the wall, and it’s a cool, little shader and it looks really good.
AF: I did notice the illumination and that’s cool because you are going for the whole mystery angle and then kind of pairing that together with exploration, and I think the illumination really drives that point home. Onto your third game: Back to Bed. I got the chance to play a little bit of that. It’s not on the same level as Velocibox where it’s that constant, quick gameplay. It makes you think a little more. It makes you slow down. There’s a lot going on with that game in terms of design and gameplay mechanics and mixing the two together. What do you have to say about that?
JS: The thing about Back to Bed that I love is it’s almost a cliché: this phrase ‘think outside the box.’ Right? We hear it so much. In this game you literally have to think outside the box because it’s like those paintings by Escher or Salvador Dali where you might take a staircase that goes up a wall. In level design we don’t normally think that way. In real life we can’t do that! So, in this game you have to retrain the way that you’re thinking about how to progress through a level.
AF: Not only level design, but I actually noted the sound design where you’re getting instructions. It’s not just that typical computer voice-robotic. It’s almost as if they’re talking to you backwards; like you’re in a dream. Who’s behind the sound design and where did you guys come up with the idea for that?
JS: Yeah, no. The guys who came up with this game originally, Bedtime Digital Games – Klaus and his team. Phenomenal. Phenomenal game design and when we saw it we were like ‘Oh, we have to bring this to PlayStation,’ because, to your point, little things like when you hear that prompt ‘Get Bob back to bed,’ but you don’t hear it in a normal voice. You hear it in this sort of distorted *does voice from the game* ‘Get Bobe baaack tooo bed,’ and it’s such a cool, little feature. It’s levels of detail, you know?
AF: So really, you guys take little gems from the PC and port them to the PlayStation? How did that come about? Because I love that. I’m not a PC gamer whatsoever, I’m console through and through and [LOOT] is awesome for doing that.
JS: Where we got our start, I mean, in sort of the reader’s digest of Loot is: We were originally part of Sony. We were part of Sony DADC and we were doing virtual goods for PlayStation, then we started doing non-gaming apps for PlayStation and then we got into games – and there’s a lot of games out there because the indie scene is huge and PlayStation has really embraced indies. You’re also seeing other consoles really embracing indies. Like, Microsoft is embracing indies and it’s becoming such a big part of the scene and our expertise has really benefited us. We’ve already done so much work in the console universe that we know how to bring content to consoles. Let’s say you built a game for PC and you want to bring it to consoles because there’s visibility, it’s a new audience and we’re here saying ‘Hey, we’ll port it for you. We’ll bring it to consoles. We know how to do it because we have that background.’
AF: The thing that’s so exciting is, unlike Steam, PS4 is not over-saturated at this time. Sometimes I log on to Steam and there’s too much, almost – even though that might be blasphemy to some. You guys are saying, ‘These are the ones we love, these are the ones we know you’re going to love, so let’s put a controller in your hands and play.’
JS: Exactly. We’re actually very, very selective about which games we go after and reach out to the developers and say ‘Hey, we’d like to work with you and port your game.’
AF: How does that particular process work?
JS: Well, what we’re doing is we’re out there constantly looking, trying to find really good games. We’re also contacted by developers, because if you’re a developer and you want to bring your game to the console ecosystem, there are companies like LOOT, and we’re really good at it, and so developers sometimes contact us, sometimes we’re out there looking. But we’re very selective.
AF: Are there any titles that you can’t talk about today, but you’re excited to say that there are some nice things coming our way beyond these three games?
AF: In the works. In the works! I know you can’t say anything, but you guys must be hard at work looking.
JS: Our 2016 lineup is looking really good. Multiple titles and we’re already working on them.
AF: And you have to say that it’s looking good, but if you have anything like what you’re showing here, I think it should be pretty exciting.
JS: It’s going to be really good. I think what we’ve got planned for the remainder of 2015 – that you’re not seeing here – and then going into 2016 and what we’ve got planned, there’s going to be some stuff that will have people saying ‘Oh yeah, I’m going to play this.’
AF: Anything you can tell us about the end of 2015?
JS: Contact me in a few months? *Laughs*
To keep tabs on LOOT Interactive’s upcoming projects, we’ve got you covered here at Power Up Gaming. Alternatively, you can follow the studio on Twitter, @LOOTInteractive.