The Minds Behind Sixty Second Shooter: Happion Laboratories

Happion Laboratories’ “Sixty Second Shooter” is a twin-stick shooter that presents itself in bite-sized, minute-long increments. Players are equipped with only one life, and games often only last a few seconds. To call it compelling would be a vast understatement. Now, the definitive version of the game is coming to Xbox One with a host of new features, taking the “just one more game” quality of the original to new heights.

“Sixty Second Shooter Prime” came to be – at least in part – thanks to one fortuitous conversation. Creator Jamie Fristrom was chatting with ID@Xbox director Chris Charla one day late last year, when Charla mentioned an opening in the Xbox One title lineup. “Chris asked me about the games I had in development,” Fristrom recalls. “When I mentioned ‘Sixty Second Shooter’ – my twist on twin-stick shooters – he said that there weren’t any retro twin-stick shooters coming to the Xbox One yet.” Once he had that ear worm, Fristrom couldn’t stop thinking about being the first, and decided to rearrange his plans to make it happen.

Quite a bit has been modified for the transition to next-gen hardware. The game received a complete audio upgrade, for one: All the audio and music has been replaced by the work of game audio veteran Brian Luzietti. “He’s been doing game audio for decades – you’ve almost certainly heard his work before in other games – and it really takes things up a level,” says Fristrom. It’s also had a graphical and general “game feel” upgrade. “Prime” brings a new dazzle to the graphics, the way the ship controls, and the way the camera follows you. In Fristrom’s words, this gives the game “an almost a cinema verité feel,” as things are exploding around your ship in massive quantities.

Visually, the creator calls his game “a kind of a weird mix between vector art and old school, ‘90s 3D.” His influences include old stand-up arcade games “Space Duel” and “I Robot.” but he’s added a bevy of modern post-processing effects on top of that – like intense glows and smoke effects. “All of the art is procedural,” says Fristrom. “Those 3D shapes and Voronoi playing fields are mathematically constructed, mostly because I didn’t want to write the code to import 3D models from 3ds Max or Maya!”

Not to say that it came easy; nailing the graphical style took quite a bit of technical and creative wrangling. “I had some trouble getting the vector line drawing to look exactly like I wanted it to,” says Fristrom. “Modern games don’t do a lot of vector art, so ‘beautiful line drawing’ simply isn’t built into the system. I ended up doing some post-processing tricks to give the lines the thickness and glow I wanted, without them looking pixel-y.”

The short play sessions make “Prime” exceptionally compelling. “It’s really easy to say, ‘Let me play just one more game,’ when you know it’s going to take, at most, a couple of minutes,” says Fristrom. The time limit also makes the game extremely strategic. Somebody who knows the strategies of “Sixty Second Shooter Prime” – that is to say, someone who knows how to make the most of that one minute – will almost always beat someone who simply tries to stay alive as long as possible. The game includes friends’ leaderboards to keep things competitive, and Fristrom plans to add weekly or monthly leaderboards in a future update.

Interestingly, one of the features being added to this version of the game is one that Fristrom resisted for a long time. “A lot of people don’t get the game’s selling point,” he says. “Those people would ask me, ‘Hey, can you make it longer?’ And I’d always say, under my breath, ‘If that’s what you want, why don’t you just go play ‘Geometry Wars’?’” However, this seemed like a good opportunity to give the people what they wanted. “Prime” includes an Infinity mode, where players can acquire time-extend power-ups and theoretically play forever. “It’s actually super-fun, so maybe the people knew what’s what all along,” Fristrom admits.

As for what Fristrom is most proud of? Well, that’s perhaps better left for a hands-on play session: “It’s hard to put into words, but the feel…” he says. “We nailed it.”

“Sixty Second Shooter Prime” is now available on Xbox One. Check it out… you know, if you have a minute.