Retro/Grade: How to Play a Reverse Shooter

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Retro/Grade: How to Play a Reverse Shooter

Greetings, PlayStation.Blog readers! We recently announced that Retro/Grade, the first game played entirely in reverse, would be releasing exclusively on PSN on August 21st. Understanding and developing a game that is played in reverse is tough, so I want talk about how it all works.

Firstly, how did we design a game played in reverse? We worked backwards of course! We started with the idea that it’d be cool to play a game where time is flowing backwards, but we didn’t have any ideas on how to pull that off. We did a lot of brainstorming — time reversing is a hard concept to wrap your head around. We figured for gameplay purposes, undoing your actions would be the best fit for that theme. When undoing, you have to match both the timing and the position of previous actions. When matching timing, music is the best way to achieve that, so we thought rhythm gameplay would be the best mechanic to build the game around. We figured a 2D game where your motion is constrained to a few discrete lanes would make it easier to match the positions.

Retro/Grade for PS3 (PSN)Retro/Grade for PS3 (PSN)

A 2D spaceship shooter seemed like a great fit for the theme, so we tried to incorporate elements from sidescrolling shooters on top of our rhythm game core. Rick Rocket, the hero in Retro/Grade, must un-fire his shots, which are timed to the beat of the game’s music. Rick is equipped with basic lasers, but he’s also got a range of special weapons that he will un-fire, since shmups usually tend to feature awesome special weapons. All player fire has to make sense when time is moving backwards, so if the player makes a mistake and doesn’t unfire a shot correctly, it damages the space/time continuum, which is what you’ll be trying to preserve instead of health in Retro/Grade. Too much damage to the continuum and it’s the end of the entire universe!

One of the greatest parts of sidescrolling shooters is weaving through crazy patterns of enemy fire. We wanted to use that in Retro/Grade, but enemy fire works a bit differently since time is reversed. The player still has to dodge enemy fire, but it is returning to the guns that fired it. If the path is blocked, then it is preventing the shots from being fired, which creates a paradox. Paradoxes damage the space/time continuum, so Rick must carefully avoid enemy shots while getting into position to unfire his shots.

Now that you understand how we came up with the design and what it is, how is it actually played? When we were still brainstorming how the game would work, we realized that if we have five or less discrete lanes, a guitar controller would be a great control mechanism — Retro/Grade is a rhythm game at its core, after all. From the beginning of development, we designed the game for both the guitar and the DualShock in order to ensure that one scheme isn’t easier than the other.

Retro/Grade for PS3 (PSN)Retro/Grade for PS3 (PSN)

With the DualShock, Retro/Grade plays a lot like a shooter. Up and down move your ship one space lane up and down, and the X button unfires your projectile. When playing with a guitar controller, you press the colored fret button to move your ship to the corresponding lane, and strum to unfire. We also have a Retro/Rocket power up, which allows Rick to reverse the flow of time again (forwarding it) allowing him to undo mistakes and try again. The circle button, or whammy bar, will summon this power.

Sounds confusing right? It really isn’t! Understanding how everything fits into the fiction of the game world with time reversing is complicated, but the actual gameplay is easy to pick up. It’s all about dodging enemy shots and un-firing yours, and everything is timed to the beat of our awesome original soundtrack by Skyler McGlothlin. We spent a lot of time putting together a tutorial that introduces all the concepts slowly but surely, so if you aren’t sold on the game yet, be sure to try the demo once it’s available.

Retro/Grade will be available for $9.99 on PSN August 21st, or you can get a bundle featuring the game and soundtrack for $14.99. The soundtrack will be available by itself for $7.99, so if you want both, the bundle will save you $3. Thanks for reading, and I can’t wait to see you all on the Retro/Grade leaderboards!

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13 Author Replies

  • Will it have a Platinum trophy?

  • I would buy this for the Vita

  • I would totally buy this for Vita. I would love to be playing it with my headphones.Can we get some word on that?

    • There are no plans for a Vita version at this time because we are pushing the PS3 to its limits with a ton of platform specific code and tricks, and our company is only two people, so to move the game to Vita would be a large task.

      You should be able to play it on PS3 with headphones though. :-D

  • This sounds interesting. Give us a demo and a nice discount for PS+, and you may have me on this one!

    • There will be a demo, but there is no discount for PlayStation Plus. We feel we have enough value for a $15 game but wanted to sell it at the lower price point for everyone.

  • i love everything sony does!!!

  • while they keep coming out with new stuff i wish they would focus on old promises?
    Still no release date for The last Guardian?

    • Hi gutterC,

      Retro/Grade is an independent game developed and published by 24 Caret Games. We are not affiliated with Sony other than we are releasing our game on PSN.

      I am anxiously awaiting “The Last Guardian” as much as you are, but we have nothing to do with the development of that game, so I promise we didn’t steal any resources away from it.

  • Not going to lie, I’m very excited for this game. How many tracks are there in the soundtrack? I’m assuming upwards of at least 10, and no more than 20, but I would love to be proven wrong. Also, am I correct in assuming that there is no Vita version, or is there? Thanks for answering my questions last time as well, really appreciate it, and even if there isn’t a Plus discount on the bundle, i’ll still be picking this up day 1. Thanks for the awesome game. :D

    • Thank you for your interest!

      There are 10 playable songs in the game, but the soundtrack has 14 or 15 tracks on it (menus, credits, etc). There is no Vita version. We are pushing the PS3 to its limits and have a ton of platform specific code, so doing a Vita port would be a huge effort.

  • you start from the end and finish on the beggining? anyway, this looks like another great game that will come among a great psstore update the 21 th

    • The game begins with the final boss fight. I am anxiously looking forward to our release on the 21st, and I hope you enjoy it!

  • Oh, that’s fine about no Vita version. Just a mere curiosity. I can understand the whole specific code thing. My brother is a programmer, and having to even port stuff from PC to Mac is an arduous process. I can tell the limits are being pushed. This game looks amazing. See you at the beginning, and thanks for answering my questions again. :D

    • The more you take advantage of a platform’s specific strengths, the harder it is to port. If we had done a 2D game, we could bring it to every platform under the sun without too much effort. I’m glad to hear you think it’s amazing. All of our optimizations paid off! :-D

  • Awesome! Been waiting on this since the PC demo with the great EULA last year.

    Any chance of RB3 Keyboard support, with the standard lanes shifting lanes and the pitch modifier unfiring?


  • This game looks really good. I also love the fact that two people developed it and found the means to self publish on PSN. I hope Sony embraces more and more indie devs because big time developers would never have made something as cool as playing an entire game in reverse. Even starting with the end boss fight is just brilliant. Hope this does well and the other indie devs take notice that the Playstation Nation is interested in other games than just first person shooters.


    • Thank you so much for your kind words! It’s been a difficult road finishing the game, but we hope the rest of the PlayStation audience is as enthusiastic about the game as you are.

  • Underow shut up.

    This game looks really cool! Definitely on my radar.

  • I commend you on this game. 2 Person company and you made it to PSN, thats awesome. I had such a dream with my buddy but it didnt come through. Congratulations.

    • Thank you very much! It was a difficult road as I imagine you are aware. I saved up a lot of money and ended up having to borrow money to see the game through. Hopefully the love and effort we poured into Retro/Grade pays off.

  • This sounds very interesting. People can say what they want about SOny, but they do a great job supporting the small studios/developers. They could have easily had this as part of the PSN Play program, and gotten rid of the Expendables. I wish I could return that purchase.

    • Sony has been very supportive of Retro/Grade but also hands off, which is exactly what indie developers want. I think the Expendables would have been better if they let you play as Chuck Norris because then you’d be invincible!

  • I dont understand, why not for Vita ?????
    A have the money and a want play this in my Vita
    Why God, Why

    • We began working on this game 4 years ago long before there was a Vita. Porting the game to Vita would require a large amount of work. We do support Remote Play, so you can get it for PS3 and “play it on your Vita”, but I wouldn’t really recommend doing it anywhere but your home due to the delay that internet latency introduces. Since it is a rhythm game, latency can make the game a lot more difficult.

  • Don’t know if this was even on your radar, but this reminds me of my favorite passage in “Slaughterhouse Five” by Kurt Vonnegut as his hero watches a World War II movie in reverse:

    “American planes, full of holes and wounded men and corpses took off backwards from an airfield in England. Over France, a few German fighter planes flew at them backwards, sucked bullets and shell fragments from some of the planes and crewmen. They did the same for wrecked American bombers on the ground, and those planes flew up backwards to join the formation.

    The formation flew backwards over a German city that was in flames. The bombers opened their bomb bay doors, exerted a miraculous magnetism which shrunk the fires, gathered them into cylindrical steel containers, and lifted the containers into the bellies of the planes. The containers were stored neatly in racks. The Germans below had miraculous devices of their own, which were long steel tubes. They used them to suck more fragments from the crewmen and planes. But there were still a few wounded Americans, and some of the bombers were in bad repair. Over France, though, German fighters came up again, made everything and everybody as good as new.”

    • I’m a huge Vonnegut fan, and I’ve read everything he’s ever written, so it was definitely an influence. “Slaughterhouse Five” is absolutely brilliant!

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