Interview with Matt Small, from Vector Unit.

Vector Unit’s CEO and Creative Director, Matt Small, talks to TeckComesFirst about the meaning behind the brand name, what challenges he and the company faced in making such incredibly visual games and more.



1)   Can you introduce yourself and say what you exactly do at Vector Unit day to day?

I’m Matt Small, CEO and Creative Director at Vector Unit. We’re a small company here so we wear a lot of different hats. Mostly what I do is lead the art and design effort – building models and designing levels in our games. But I also do business development, read legal agreements, and make coffee.

2)   What is the meaning behind the brand name “Vector Unit”?

When Ralf Knoesel and I started the company, we wanted a name that signified our interest in physics-based gameplay but also felt playful and cool. A unit vector is a very elemental part of mathematics and physics, and we liked the way it sounded when we flipped it around.

3)   What was the inspiration behind Vector Unit in its early stages?

We had both been working for big companies like Electronic Arts and Stormfront Studios for years, and were getting tired of working on big teams of 50, 100 or even 200 people. We realized that our favourite memories of game development were in the beginning when we worked on small teams of just 6-12 people, and we wanted to get back to that. So in 2007 we decided to strike out on our own to try and make a game for downloadable services like Xbox Live Arcade.

4)   What is/are your biggest accomplishments?

Well, I think just surviving as an indie studio for 5 years is probably our biggest accomplishment. The other thing I’m most proud of is that in the last couple of years we’ve been able to switch from working on publisher-funded games, to completely funding our own games. That means we can work on what we want, and set our own schedules and priorities. It’s given us a lot of freedom, and I feel fortunate that we’ve built the company to this point.

5)   What was/were the fundamental principles behind your games since they all have similar game mechanics?

All our games so far have been racing games, and there are a few things I think they all share. One of the primary principles is solid controls. There’s nothing I hate more than playing a racing game that feels floaty (like the physics make the vehicles feel like they don’t have weight, or grip) or loose. Another is the idea – as much as possible – of using real physics. A lot of emergent gameplay comes from using real physics in our games, and you can layer in additional elements like dynamic obstacles and destructible objects to make it more exciting.

6)   Are there any plans to bring your mobile games to the Windows Phone platform?

WP8 is something we’re considering, and I believe that we will probably put at least one or two games on it in the next year. But we don’t have any games for it in active development.

7)   When you think about an idea for a new game, do you run it by a focus group or do you just go with your gut instinct?

We go by gut instinct in the beginning. Once we have the game fleshed out and somewhat playable, we start focus testing it to make sure that people other than us think it’s fun, and that they understand the controls and the tutorials.

8)   One annoying thing in Beach Buggy Blitz is the time limit to reach the checkpoint, would there be any plans to add a “lives” type thing, where if you missed the checkpoint, you’d lose a life up to a maximum of 4 or something, like they do in platform games?

We knew we had to have some kind of limit in the game, or else you just play forever. We could have done it like Temple Run, where the game just gets so hard after a while that it’s almost impossible to continue. But we decided to go with the classic check point / time limit gameplay of old arcade racing games like Outrun. I know some people don’t like it, but it is pretty effective, and once you get good at it you can drive for 15 minutes or more without interruption, which is a pretty long time.

9)   What challenges did you face in making an incredibly visual mobile game and how did you overcome them?

The biggest challenge is figuring out ways to make the game playable on all the different devices that are out there. There’s a huge difference in performance between an iPhone 4 and an iPhone 5, for example. A HUGE difference. But the games have to run acceptably on both. So we do a lot of work with LODs, and filtering small details so they don’t slow things down on older devices.

10)   LOD’s?

LOD stands for Level of Detail. When we build models like the hydro jets, we do a high LOD with like 2500 polygons, a medium LOD with maybe 1200, and a low LOD with about 400. As the model gets further from the camera, it switches from the high LOD (close) to the low LOD (far). That way we don’t draw as many details when we don’t need to.

11)  Can you tease anything about upcoming games, like Beach Buggy Blitz 2 or even RipTide GP 3?

Well, we just came out with a big update for Riptide GP2 that added a ghost racing mode. And we’re currently focused on bringing Riptide GP2 to some new platforms that we’ll announce very soon. I have a feeling we’ll definitely do another Riptide GP game, but we haven’t started on it yet. We also are working on a new game that’s a sequel to another one of our past games – we’ll probably announce it later this year, and it should be out early in 2014.
Matt Small, CEO & Creative Director of Vector Unit.

Matt Small, CEO & Creative Director of Vector Unit.

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Thanks to Matt Small for participating in this interview. Questions were chosen by both co-founders of TeckComesFirst; Purav and Usman.

Feel free to share in the comments below what you thought of this interview as well as anything new or interesting you learnt about the company.

Notable Accolades: Vector Unit Twitter      Vector Unit Facebook      Vector Unit Google+

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I’m a 23 year old Maths Graduate, who has a great passion for technology and in my spare time I make videos on YouTube to show my passion. I'm also co-admin here at TeckComesFirst and I joined this site back in January 2012.
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