Around a month ago, Eclipse Games, a small independent studio based in Zaragoza, released their own take on the twin-stick shooter, Tachyon Project, on Microsoft’s Xbox One to a generally positive critical reception. Following the success of its first outing on Xbox Live Arcade, the Geometry Wars series came to replace Robotron as the quintessential example of its game type, and its latest iteration brought it back to us in style, and with a few new moves of its own, yet Eclipse Games have managed to insert a few surprises into their effort, making it a very different beast altogether. From its story driven campaign mode to its customisable ship load-outs, Tachyon Project stands apart from the competition, and it does so with aplomb.
So, when the opportunity arose, I sought out the studio’s founder, Eduardo Jimenez, to ask him a few questions about the project, how it started, and how it might just come to evolve even further over time.
HRG: The twin-stick shooter genre really came back to the fore after the release of Bizarre Creations’ Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved, but so far, on our current generation of consoles, they have been few and far between. Was this gulf in the market the reason behind Tachyon Project, or was it something that you’d always wanted to do?
EJ: Well, I must admit here it was a bit of both. Though we started thinking about this game and doing some quick prototypes before Geometry Wars 3 was announced last year.
I have been wanting to do a dual stick shooter for quite some time. I liked a lot the mechanics of Geometry Wars but I couldn't get into the game because it was so competitive (with leader boards and so on) and it had barely and single player campaign. I couldn't really get into the game because of that, I'm not the kind of player that will play the same level again and again to nail it and be on the top part of the leader boards, but I liked a lot the mechanics of Geometry Wars, so I wanted to do the game I wanted to play. I've always been a fan of shmups too, which is quite related to this.
So it looked to me (over 1 year ago) that it was the right time for developing this game. The market wasn't saturated, the main 'contender' had been MIA for quite some time, so we went ahead... and then Geometry Wars 3 got announced.
It's still not a saturated genre in the current generation, I believe, but it's not nearly as empty as it was a year ago. Still, I believe we did some things to separate ourselves from the competition.
HRG: Speaking of which, the bulk of the game is story based, which is a rather unique feature for the twin-stick genre, what was the thinking behind this?
EJ: Well, it was actually kind of a 'last minute' thing. We had a setting (the virtual world) and we were even thinking on adding a story in the form of dialog that appears while you play but we weren't sure about it. Then, by chance, talking to a local comic artist that's a friend of mine he showed interest in taking part in the game and we decided to go on.
We then developed the story further, tried to make it coherent and, at least, slightly interesting. It's definitely not the main feature of the game, but we think it doesn't detract from it. At least it gives you a reason and a context, and for some people the story may seem interesting in itself. In any case, if you don't like it you can easily skip it, so I don’t think it diminishes the experience.
HRG: There are a wide variety of enemies in the game to keep players on their toes, but were there any that didn’t make the cut? And if so, why?
EJ: Oh, definitely. Some enemies didn't make the cut because we weren't sure about the mechanics (one for instance was meant to enter a black hole in one part of the level and appear on a different black hole in another part), others because they were technically a bit too complex (there was this enemy made of pieces that, when dying, the pieces could depart and then if other pieces were around join again), and others because we just didn't have time to implement them.
We may still add them at some point, but I'm not sure. We want to improve the game with a free patch with extra content, mostly for the challenges, but maybe we can add one or two more enemies. I'm not sure about it because the 3D artist is quite busy and adding more enemies may turn tricky without him. They are also a lot of work, but we'll see.
We definitely wanted the enemy variety to be a major USP (Unique Selling Point) of the game. I think most dual stick shooters have a relatively small amount of enemies and I like it very much in games when they present me with new enemies that do new things (even if they are slightly different from the ones we used to have). I think it helps avoid repetition and boredom and makes single player experiences interesting and enjoyable for the whole course of it.
I believe that's also a very old-school thing. I remember old school shooters or beat'em ups to have tons of different enemies and they’d drip-feed them to you over the levels. Nowadays it seems like the number of enemy types has reduced a lot and I just wish it was like it used to be.
HRG: Another unique feature within the genre, is the ability to change the set-up of the ship which proves vital in tackling the game’s bosses, but how did it come about? Did you set out to add a tactical edge to Tachyon Project?
EJ: So, here our main inspirations were Luftrausers and Raptor: Call of the Shadows. Again, adding variety was one of our main goals. We don't want the player to get bored playing the game, we don't want them to think they are doing the same task over and over again. So we decided we could add variety in the form of weapons. I liked a lot the way the ship is configured in Luftrausers so we tried to use a similar system where you can set the load-out before going in to battle but you can easily change it later on.
On the other hand, many of the weapons are inspired by Raptor: Call of Shadows and other classic shmups. We thought that variety in weapons will make also for very interesting matchups (in the leader boards). So what configuration works best for you is something very personal but also it may change between levels, so it adds a layer of strategy to the game that some people could use to improve their score. i.e., stealth levels could use different set-ups than normal levels.
HRG: A problem with shooters such as this is that they are typically rather exclusive in that they appeal mostly to the “hard core” gamer, yet this appears to be an issue that you have sought to overcome with the game’s health system, was this your intention from the outset?
EJ: Uhm... Not sure if we've really overcome the problem, but we certainly tried to, at least, mitigate it. I believe the game is far from appealing to most 'casual' gamers (I don't use the word with any pejorative intention whatsoever).
Using time as health was something that happened half way through the project. We initially had a normal health bar and getting hit got some of your health. We initially thought the time could be used for score. At some point Toni, the designer, suggested leaving only one 'currency' type (that you earn and spend) in the game and that it was the time. He had bigger plans for it but we had to scale them down a bit. In the end I was really pleased with the idea. I think it's relatively novel and that it works pretty well, particularly with the extra health perk.
I must say, and that I learnt after the decision, that it's not 100% novel. I believe there's a game called Sine More that, I believe, uses a similar system. It's not exactly the same, and the game is definitely not a dual stick shooter (it's a more classic shmup) but I believe their health system is quite similar to ours and the game is a few years old already. Probably there may be other games before that, I just don't know them.
HRG: Likewise though, the ability to wield two different super weapons that consume health rather than simply being limited to a pre-set number of uses provides gamers with an escape route out of almost any situation, adding to the accessibility of the game. Is there, however, a downside to doing this, such as limiting the score that one can achieve to promote the use of the ship’s standard weapons and increase the challenge that the game presents?
EJ: The idea of having the secondary weapons consume health came out of the idea of having only one 'currency' in the game. It was Toni's idea, although that's something you see in a lot of games. For example, in League of Legends there are some champions that consume health to perform their abilities.
The fact that they are a bit OP (overpowered) is a consequence of us playing the game the way we meant it to. We're planning on fixing that through a patch by increasing the cool down time of the abilities a lot, possibly to twice the current times or even more. I believe that should reduce the abuse some people do off the secondary weapons.
HRG: The ability that the player has to increase their movement speed by utilising the recoil of their weapons is a rather novel feature, was this something that you set out to include? Or was it simply a matter of happenstance?
EJ: I must credit Vlambeer (not Rami, the other half whose name I can't recall right now) for this. There's a very interesting presentation he did where he explains how to do improve a 2D shooter with lots of things (bigger bullets, bigger explosions, flashes, etc.). One of the things he suggests is using recoil for weapons.
It's subtle, but it's a very interesting feature. If you add recoil, as he said, you give the player a reason not to be shooting all the time: you move faster when you're not shooting. We went a notch further with this. Since we can shoot in any direction, you can use the recoil to move faster! It's tricky and it's not convenient all the time, but it's something that may come in very handy at some points (the second boss for instance). I'm actually quite happy about that feature, although I know it's something only the most hard core players will notice.
HRG: Are there any plans to further supplement the game with additional content – such as new perks or challenges - now that it has been released?
EJ: Yes there are! We're planning on porting the game to other platforms: Wii U, PlayStation 4 and PS Vita. We don't want just to port the game as is, but to try and improve it in the process. For that we've compiled the info from all the reviews we've read and asked many reviewers for their opinion on certain subjects that were highlighted the most and we're going to improve the game based on that feedback.
We plan to do, at least, a bunch of extra challenges. At least three new challenges, possibly more. We're going to add the possibility of changing the ship configuration after dying (that's been asked by a lot of people). We're also going to add a new difficulty level for when you finish story mode, so that you can replay the whole story mode in that new difficulty level.
On top of that, and if we have time, we may add a new primary weapon, one or two new secondary weapons and maybe a few more levels and enemies. That's in order from most likely to less likely what we're planning to add to the game. In any case, anyone is most welcome to send us an e-mail with suggestions as to what we can do to improve the game. We're always eager to hear what you guys think and we take feedback quite seriously. I also try to answer every e-mail personally.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Eduardo for taking the time out to speak to me.
Tachyon Project is available to purchase now from the Xbox Marketplace for just £7.99.