Final Form Games are the guys behind the top notch SHMUP Jamestown on PC and the newly released version on PS4, Jamestown+. I recently got the opportunity to get an interview with them. This is something I’m hoping to do with a lot of indie devs, since I’m very passionate for their games, stories, and everything they have to do to bring their games to fruition.
I sure hope to see more from these guys since the quality of the game they made is superb.
Tim and I started designing and building videogame levels together when we were still in middle school, and graduated to making full-on games of our own in high school. After college, we got jobs in the game industry out in California, and after about 6 years doing that, we had enough saved up to move to Philadelphia and start our own shop with our friend Hal.
So I guess you could say we decided to start making indie games right then, but to us it feels more like we decided to start making games when we were kids and then just kinda kept on making them.
The story of Mars and Spain having Martian allies is not something you see everyday in gaming, where did you find inspiration for this?
The setting of Jamestown drew on three main sources of inspiration:
The first was one of several mockups that I painted very early in the project, showing what the game might look like in a variety of interesting milieus. I had painted a scene above Victorian London that was being occupied by a hostile army with steampunk war machines. It was a bit dark and serious-looking, but the combination of old-world architecture and high-tech military vehicles struck a chord with the team.
The second inspiration was quite simply an interest in history, and our propensity for getting lost in Wikipedia articles about famous (and not-so-famous) dead people. We were all excited to make a game that touched on real personalities, locations, and events from history, but with our own twist.
Finally, we grew up playing shoot-em-ups, and the genre has historically leaned heavily on sci-fi and space-exploration/war settings. From Space Invaders to Gradius to Dodonpachi and beyond, journeying to the stars is a major theme in the classics we love so much.
So we basically wrote “STEAMPUNK + HISTORY + SPACE” on a whiteboard, brainstormed for about 40 minutes, and I think it was Tim who said “Mars… the 17th century… JAMESTOWN!”. At which point Hal and I nodded vigorously and we all promptly committed two years of our lives to that statement.
We’ve always felt that the original PC game was a lighter on content than we’d like. With the PS4 version, we saw the chance to expand the game’s breadth and depth enough for it to feel more like a full meal.
We started with the creation of two new levels, set on the two moons of Mars: Phobos and Deimos. Our goal was to make levels that felt distinct from the original game in terms of story, visuals, and gameplay, yet still imbued with that unmistakable Jamestown feel. To that end, Phobos starts with a breakout from a decrepit Spanish military garrison, then transitions into a jungle composed of toxic fungus and terrifying insect creatures. Deimos, on the other hand, is a shipwreck graveyard where Pirate cyber-crabs have infested mysterious alien ruins. Strange as they may sound, those settings proved to be fertile ground for coming up with new enemies and gameplay concepts that we hadn’t explored before, and we had a lot of fun designing their (many) animations and bullet patterns.
Meanwhile, work on the new player-configurable “Armada” ships had actually begun a few years ago, but got shelved when we switched our focus to other projects. Jamestown+ was an opportunity to pull those ship ideas back out and give them the focus they needed to become first-class gameplay experiences. Designing distinct-yet-useful playstyles for all six of the new special weapons AND all six of the new shot-types (plus balancing every combination of special and shot-type) wasn’t easy, but we’re very happy with how it all came together in the final game. We wanted there to be a perfect ship for everyone in Jamestown+, and we love listening to people discussing/defending their personal favorites.
How was the process of bringing Jamestown to live and how long was the development?
It took 22 months to make the original PC game, and another 12 to do the work required to create Jamestown+ on PS4. So 3 years, all together.
The first 6 months of the project were spent prototyping gameplay in Flash while Tim was on the other side of the room building our custom game engine from scratch. Then we settled on Jamestown-on-Mars as the setting and started proper development on the story, level concepts, enemy/boss designs, and so on while simultaneously porting everything over from Flash to our own engine. At that point, it was a question of implementing features as fast as we could, bringing in testers up to three times a week, and iterating towards the best game we could make.
Jamestown+ is built on a much-improved version of our engine, and the new work was mainly split between designing all the new levels and ships, rebuilding all the menu screens from scratch, and getting the whole thing up and running (and shippable!) on PS4. There was also a lot of work done on the audio side to get 5.1 surround sound working, and for our composer Francisco to remaster the entire soundtrack.
As you can see, Jamestown+ represents a large chunk of our creative lives, but we really feel like we can see all that work up on the screen, and we’re quite proud of how it all turned out!
One interesting thing about shoot-em-ups is that the camera’s movement is almost 100% pre-authored, as is the layout of each level. That means that whether you’re playing a level for the first time or the fiftieth, most of what happens occurs at the same time in more or less the same place. As a result, it is possible to write a musical score for a shoot-em-up the same way you’d write a score for a movie, where every little cue and every shift of tone and intensity is carefully tailored to what’s happening on the screen at that moment.
We reached out to several musicians to see if we could find someone who was up for that sort of project, and our friend Francisco Cerda blew us away with the demo he sent us. The man is seriously a magician. He ended up creating all the music for Jamestown and Jamestown+, as well as remastering everything for surround sound on PS4. We believe that his work has had an enormously positive effect on the game experience, and I still can’t quite believe that our game has music with such beauty, depth, and power. Our greatest fear is that Hollywood will discover that he exists, and whisk him away forever!
MIKE: I really enjoyed Braid and The Swapper, and I’m a huge Spelunky fan as well. Also, 30 Flights of Loving really blew my hair back, as did Kentucky Route Zero. I guess I’m on a formalism kick? The only game I’m playing right now is Bloodborne.
TIM: BLOODBORNE BLOODBORNE BLOODBORNE BLOODBORNE
Also, I loved Transistor and Rogue Legacy BLOODBORNE BLOODBORNE BLOODBORNE
Online multiplayer has been one of the most consistently asked-for features since the original PC game was released, and with good reason: who doesn’t want to play 4-player co-op over the internet? We would love that feature too, and have made three separate attempts to implement it over the years.
Even if we had been able to get online MP up and running, the high-precision and low-latency requirements of shoot-em-up gameplay would still have made it incredibly susceptible to even the tiniest network hiccup, to say nothing of the raftload of bugs that would almost certainly come along for the ride. This sort of game experience is much, much more difficult to achieve online than something like an RTS or even an FPS, because the margin for error is basically non-existent.
However: we have good news on this front! The PS4’s Share Play feature was recently upgraded to 60fps, and we’ve been pleasantly surprised by Jamestown+’s performance over that service! So if you want to play with a friend on the other side of the country (or world!), we strongly suggest giving that a shot. You might be as surprised as we were! :D
MIKE: I’m really into Aimbomb + Side Shot right now, but I love Espada and have been exploring Corazon a bit more recently. But I really love them all, so Fortune & Fate get a good amount of play from me as well.
TIM: For my money, it’s got to be Chargeball. It’s old-school, memorization-centric, and it has fantastic DPS in co-op.
I will make a review of this game in the coming week, but seriously, I consider it a must have on PS4 or Steam, and if you have a buddies to play with, its an amazing experience.