The Switch eShop's library of upcoming games continues to grow, but one game due relatively soon that needs to stay on the radar is Dimension Drive. Confirmed earlier in the year and currently in the final steps to securing a full release date, it's a shoot 'em up that aims to add its own spin to the genre.
Developed by 2Awesome Studio, it's the work of two engineers that once worked at the European Space Agency. A chance meeting and a shared love of gaming brought David Jimenez and Alejandro Santiago together, and now a couple of years have gone into the creation of Dimension Drive. From a troll scuppering a Kickstarter campaign to a rebirth and success, the route to release (on PC and Switch initially) has been intriguing.
We recently gave this a try on PC and it's certainly shaping up well. Quite handsome visually, its mechanic of switching between two sides of the screen is smartly implemented and demands that players focus on the task at hand. Utilising both sides of the screen feels tough initially, but starts to become natural after a short amount of time; it helps that the game is enjoyable and encourages persistence.
We posed some questions to the studio's David Jimenez to learn more about this intriguing upcoming release.
First of all, can you introduce yourselves and tell us a little about 2Awesome Studio?
2Awesome Studio is composed of 2 people, myself (David Jimenez) being the game designer of the team and my colleague Alejandro Santiago, the game developer. We are both originally from Barcelona and we went to The Netherlands to work as engineers at the European Space Agency (ESA). There's where we actually met and started sharing the passion for games and game development until we decided to setup a studio and start working on our first commercial game (Dimension Drive). I guess being engineers in the space industry highly inspired us to work on sci-fi space games.
How did the idea for Dimension Drive come together, and what sort of games inspired the initial concept?
Dimension Drive started like all good stories - with pizza and beers! Alejandro and I were playing old shoot 'em up games and at some point that night we decided to make one ourselves. We realized that current screens with their wide format left a ton of empty space for a vertical shoot'em up. At one point we saw a video of a superplay of a shoot 'em up with one player playing it in two player mode and controlling both ships. So, we said, let's do that. Let's put two games on the screen and have one player play both at the same time. The first prototype was unplayable, it's too difficult to control two things at once for a regular person. So after several iterations the switching mechanic came about and that opened up lots of new possibilities for the game design.
Not everyone may realise, but Dimension Drive started off with funding via a successful Kickstarter campaign. Can you tell us a little more about that?
During the second half of 2014 we did the first prototype of Dimension Drive. Gameplay was good, it felt right. We knew we had something new in our hands with this dual battlefield mechanic. We went to some showcase events in The Netherlands and people had a blast with it but the art and production values of the game were not matching the gameplay. As said, we are both engineers, Alejandro has been coding games for many years and I have plenty of experience but when it comes to art we are unable to even draw a stickman. So, we decided to assemble a team of talented freelance artists and work together in making Dimension Drive a highly polished game. This time around not only in gameplay but also in visuals and audio. Obviously, we needed to pay the team and that's what we did the Kickstarter campaign for.
How vital was the hook of managing two screens, do you think, to the Kickstarter success?
The switching between two screens mechanic and the story and characters were the biggest hooks of the Kickstarter. Actually, we did 2 Kickstarter campaigns in a row. The first one ended quite tragically as you may remember it even made the news. A troll falsely pledged 7000€ to our campaign and that money was removed at the last moment by the Kickstarter integrity team as the payment was fraudulent. The timing meant that we went from being funded to being unfunded with no possibility to fix just 30 minutes before the end.
This story got big thanks to the gaming community getting outraged at the situation. Kickstarter staff got in contact with us and helped us pick up the pieces and put a second campaign up right away. High profile developers like Rami Ismail, Mike Bithell, Brian Fargo, Rhianna Pratchett and others gave us their help promoting the second campaign and even becoming backers themselves. The second Kickstarter campaign was an instant success and we got funded with more than we could have made in the first round. In the end the trolling hugely backfired as instead of sinking the game it achieved exactly the opposite. Since then we have felt a huge debt to the whole gaming community and industry for saving Dimension Drive. We took the commitment to make the best game we could possibly do.
Tell us about that swapping mechanic. For starters, did it make the development of stages that big trickier, as you need to design levels to suit the mechanic?
Dimension Drive's core gameplay is the switching mechanic. You have 2 levels side by side and you must actively switch from one to the other to progress and in general stay alive. Regarding development it means double the work as each mission in the game is composed of two traditional levels. As you correctly say the two levels are designed together to function as a whole. It's not only the levels that are designed around the switching concept, every element in the game has been designed to maximize and enhance the switching gameplay. Enemy patterns and boss fights for example are created so that switching strategically is the optimal way to defeat them. You can of course brute force your way and take damage on one side in the lower difficulty settings but at higher settings proper and fast switching is a must.
The ship has limited energy to manage on both sides; can you explain how that'll dictate gameplay?
As explained the level design and the enemies itself already force you to switch sides. However, we wanted to reward players that excel at this. All good shoot 'em ups have this layer system where you could just play or play for score. In Dimension Drive if you want to play for score, you need to switch a lot, destroy as much as you can on both sides, avoid taking any damage and control your energy meters for each side. Each side has its own energy bar that represents your ammo. If you stay too long firing in one single side you run out of energy and your only option is to switch to the other side to recharge. Whenever you reach one of these situations of low energy, the game will warn you and reset your score multiplier. If you switch frequently your energy on both sides will be balanced and your score can be maximized. Besides this, enemies drop energy crystals you can collect adding a third layer to further increase your score. This is a lot to take in for a new player but the game does not require you to do so if you don't want to. Only if you want to play for score you need to manage all this.
Do you expect players to find swapping tricky initially, or is it your experience in testing that they adjust quite quickly?
We initially thought people will have a hard time coping with two screens. But after showcasing at many events and lots of play testing we can happily say this is not the case. The human brain is quite amazing, and people adapt to the dual gameplay quite quickly. Before they know it they are switching sides as if they were playing a single screen game. It's important to note that while we have two levels we only have one ship so at one given moment you only need to keep track of one side (while watching through the rear-view mirror as we say the other one). We've also designed the difficulty curve in a way that first levels do not really force you to switch that much or do it so without many dangers. That way you can switch more carefree until you are used to it. Later levels of the game obviously require you to master the mechanic.
When we tried the PC build we found ourselves focused more on the left screen; do you find that players typically favour one side over the other?
Yes. What we have noticed is that a player will favour the screen they use the very first time. Normally the game has you starting on the left side, but if you play in co-op that may not be the case. It's a curious thing. However, as people get more into the game this starts to wear off and people play both sides almost equally.
Beyond the swapping mechanic, what other features are you most pleased with in Dimension Drive? Power-ups, enemy designs and so on?
As the game progresses you unlock new abilities. The switching mechanic is only the first one. After you complete each World a new ability is unlocked. These abilities make Dimension Drive a unique take in the classical shoot 'em up formula. The second ability is the Inverse Drive that allows you to slow the scroll speed and turn your ship around to fire backwards. Naturally, World 2 levels have enemies and other items that make use of this ability. Finally, for World 3 we have the Drift Drive, this allows you to perform a short horizontal dash on the side you are currently on. While dashing you can cross through walls, or even enemies (actually dashing through enemies will instakill them). Be careful though, you don't want to end a dash crashing into a rock.
These new mechanics that take what people think about shoot 'em ups and throws away the conventions is what we are proudest of. Our idea was to make a game that was an ode to the 80-90s arcade shoot'em up while bringing a new elements to the table.
Narrative seems to be quite important, too. Can you tell us about the story and how it's told through the game?
When we decided to make the game bigger and go to Kickstarter we decided we needed a hero and a setting. That's how the story came to be. We are very much sci-fi nerds and we wanted to create this space opera universe where several races are battling these so-called Dimensional Wars. The story narrates the fight of Jackelyne against the Ashajuls. The Ashajuls are a multidimensional race that are conquering one dimension of the multiverse at a time. The problem with this is that as there are infinite dimensions is a neverending war. Jackelyne must put a stop to this madness using The Manticore, the only ship (besides the Ashajul fleet) that can teleport through space and dimensions. This video explains it better than I do
Will the Switch version have any unique features?
The Switch version has feature parity with the Steam version. Obviously it's the only version of the game you can play on the go and this is a big plus for us. Also the fact that you can play co-op with a single Switch and only 2 Joy-Cons is great. We remapped the controls so that the 4 inputs used in the game (Fire, Switch, Reverse and Dash) are in the face buttons. This makes it perfectly playable with a single Joy-Con per player. We have obviously added support for rumble and the Nintendo Switch Pro controller as well.
Do you think the shoot 'em up genre is on the rise at the moment? If so, why do you think that is?
I see a trend in developers bringing more shoot 'em ups to the market. I'm not totally sure of the reasons behind it. Of course, re-releases are kind of obvious from a business point of view. Publishers that have a catalog of shoot 'em ups release them again for new platforms to try to reach new audiences. The Switch being the newest console is a perfect example of this. We have seen several re-releases of old shoot 'em ups for it. We also think shoot 'em ups and arcade games in general are very well suited for the Switch, in the sense that replay times are short enough for bite sized plays on the go.
Finally, do you have a big pitch for our readers in order to get them excited for Dimension Drive?
Go get it once it is out; you will like it and we'll be able to feed the aliens we keep in the basement! On a serious note, Dimension Drive is a new take on the shoot 'em up genre, it combines everything you loved from the classics with radically new ideas that will make you question what you think about these games. Also, Dimension Drive has already won several awards. At Gamescom it recently won the 1st prize of the Big Indie Pitch and last year it won the Momocon Indie Game Award. So, I guess we are making a game with some quality!
We'd like to thank David Jimenez for his time. Dimension Drive is due out on the Switch eShop soon.