It’s not every day that you happen across two space engineers working on an indie game in their spare time. But that’s exactly what David Jimenez and Alejandro Santiago are doing. The result is an arcade shmup called Dimension Drive with a unique dual-screen teleportation mechanic at its center.
Currently, Dimension Drive is up on Kickstarter and Steam Greenlight as the creating pair are hoping to put the time into the game that it warrants, which means doing less space engineer work. Siliconera caught up with Jimenez and Santiago to find out why they have made this decision, how they came up with Dimension Drive, and to find out how much of their space engineering knowledge they’ve put into practise.
Could you introduce yourselves and explain what it is that you do?
David Jimenez and Alejandro Santiago, developers: We’re David Jimenez and Alejandro Santiago, two engineers at the European Space Agency by day and game developers in our spare time. We both work in different fields. David works as a satellite radio-navigation engineer. That’s what people normally call GPS (yes, the satellite stuff you use in your phones and cars). Alejandro works as a software engineer and has been involved in several projects, for example being part of the Rosetta’s Flight Control team developing custom software for satellite operations.
As our engineering work involves a great deal of coding we started developing small video games in our free time. One of those games was Dimension Drive. The hobby kind of grew due to the good feedback we were getting about it. So, last year we founded our company (2Awesome Studio) and decided to make Dimension Drive our first commercial game.
With you being space engineers, does any part of that job inform Dimension Drive in any way, and how?
Mostly in the sense that it’s a space game. We’re passionate about space and science fiction. As you’ve seen Dimension Drive is not a realistic space sim. We actually tried to implement real physics in the firsts prototypes of the game. It didn’t work, the gameplay was all broken. You don’t want real physics when you are playing a frantic space shooter. There’s nothing worse than crashing against bullets and enemies just because gravity wants you to. So, we removed that and went for fast controls and pure fun (even if not real). Maybe in the future we’ll do something more realistic but for the moment we wanted to recreate our childhood arcade experiences in a modern way.
What’s the story behind the multidimensional universe of Dimension Drive? Has actual science gone into this plot or is it purely imaginative?
Dimension Drive is set in a multidimensional universe (multiverse) where several universes exist with their own galaxies, planets and races. The concept is not new but it serves us as a way to explain the teleportation mechanic we have. We wanted to create the ultimate bad guys, the Ashajuls. Many games are about saving your country, planet, or even the universe. So, we took it further. We thought about an enemy older than time itself that has been conquering not only the universe but an infinite number of universes in a never-ending multidimensional war. Then, there’s Jack and The Manticore.
Not much is known about Jack, except that she comes from a different dimension and she has this cool ship, The Manticore, that can teleport across space and dimensions thanks to having a Dimension Drive. Only her and the motherships of the Ashajuls have this capability. We don’t want to spoil what happens next as the Dimension Drive will be very much a story-driven game. So, we hope you have fun unfolding the secrets of Jack’s story and the Dimension Drives. And, yeah, there are some theories and even some experiments at the Large Hadron Collider to search for the existence of extra dimensions and mini black holes but our game is really science fiction.
How do you make use of the multidimensions in the game itself – how does it affect play?
The extra dimensions story came after we implemented the dual-battlefield teleportation mechanic. We split the screen in two vertical halves (like in a two player split-screen mode in other games) but you play on the two sides as single player. It’s like playing two games at the same time but a little bit less crazy.
You have one ship and at any moment pressing a single button you teleport to the other side. Your target jump (teleport) position is mirrored and indicated by a glowing pink vortex. Then, we add the energy concept, when you shoot you consume energy from the side you are on, when you kill an enemy you gain energy on the other side. That way you have to be constantly switching to balance your energy.
Besides this, the dual-battlefield setup allows us to create other experiences like puzzle and defense levels. For example, imagine that you are defending a planet and you can’t let the bad guys cross your defense line. This means that now you have to teleport at a frantic pace to be able to catch them all… on both sides!
Have you played FuturLab’s Velocity games? They also have a teleportation mechanic, so how would you compare your own to that one?
We discovered Velocity 2X last year, as we didn’t own a PlayStation 4 we tried the first game on Steam (Velocity Ultra). It’s an amazing game and from the videos we’ve seen of Velocity 2X it seems it only got better. We guess players of Velocity will like Dimension Drive and very probably the other way around.
Still, our games are different experiences even if they have teleportation in them. Velocity is more a speed runner or racer type of game with teleportation. Our game would actually be closer to a mix of R-Type (lots of narrow paths and moving environment) and Ikaruga (the polarity mechanic is somehow similar to our dual-battlefield). Also we want to make Dimension Drive comic book story really intertwine with the gameplay. So we plan to actually have story elements within the levels itself, we’ll reveal soon how we plan to do that.
It seems you’ve come up with unique “dual boss” fights. Could you explain the challenge in these and give some examples of your designs here?
Boss fights is a point where we want to put a lot of focus on Dimension Drive. What we want to do with the dual boss fights is that one part of the boss will be on one side and another part on the other. Both will have different patterns and attack you in different ways and the only way to defeat them will be “thinking” not just shooting. We’re still in alpha stages and we hope to have our first boss (the one you have seen in the trailer) playable soon. In that one, for example, you have on the right side a boss with an external armor that can expand and contract. The only way damage the full boss is to shot the inner core on the right side. You’ll need first to shoot at the left side part to gradually expand the outer armor on the right so that you can teleport inside it. Once there, you’ll have only a brief moment as it will start collapsing back on you. So, you’ll have to teleport back to avoid getting crushed.
You describe Dimension Drive as being of a “comic book style.” Are there any comic books that you reference in particular through the visuals or elsewhere?
David’s a very big fan of Marvel comics, not a single one in particular, although Iron Man is his favorite character. The engineer turned superhero is something very powerful for us. For the story parts we are using full color hand-drawn illustrations in the same vein as many comic covers and for the in-game art Max Heyder went for a cel-shaded 3D and 2D mix with lots of real-time lightning effects. We think we have done something unique with the gameplay and we didn’t want to do another “black” space game in terms of art. If you see some screenshots from our early alpha or in any video you’ll see that we want to do something really colorful.
You’re currently running a Kickstarter campaign for Dimension Drive. What are you going to put the money towards should the funding be successful?
We have a full breakdown of the budget in our Kickstarter. Some people ask us why the development allocation is so extremely low compared to the rest (art and music). The reason is simple, Alejandro and David are funding the whole team from their own savings. The Kickstarter funding will be used to pay the team of seven people (artists and musicians) that work with us. Our savings are limited and we can only cover the costs of the full team until a certain extent.
What you have seen in terms of music and art is only the beginning of what we want to achieve. We want people to look at Dimension Drive and be able to say “beautiful.” For that to happen we need this funding to have the art and music team working and dedicated to this. The tiny part we are asking for development will be used to hire an extra programmer for a short time to implement certain complex features (leaderboards, achievements, Steam integration…) or to allow one of us to take some unpaid leave to work on that fully.
When might we expect Dimension Drive to come out? And on what platforms – any chance of it coming to consoles?
The game will be released at the end of this year for Windows, Mac, and Linux DRM-free and also on Steam (we’re now on Greenlight). We would love to bring it to consoles but with our current funding it’s simply impossible. If we reach our Kickstarter goal and we manage to secure extra funding we will start exploring other options. Porting to consoles is a major effort and we would have think about how to do it considering we have full time jobs at ESA.