July 18, 2012 8:00 PM | John Polson
[Driving Discussion is a week-long feature aimed at examining unique racing and driving indie games and the developers who are pushing the genre forward.]
The creators of procedurally generated racer Krautscape may not have licenses to drive, but they have no such restriction on their ability to imagine and innovate.
Michael Burgdorfer and Straight, No Chaser and IGF finalist Mirage developer Mario von Rickenbach are working on their first racing game with gorgeous landscapes that allow for flying or driving to get to a goal, somewhere in space, as quickly as possible. While the leader in a multiplayer race creates the path with the direction he or she veers, others can create shortcuts often by flying to take the lead.
Mario von Rickenbach had experience with a physics-based engine in Rakete, but he says its physics are very basic compared to Krautscape. It may be his rich background in illustration and animation that allows him to see the possibilities of driving games differently than most, but it no doubt helps make them look breathtaking.
In this discussion, von Rickenbach explores the freedom of adding flight to his procedurally generated Krautscape, why there are so few driving games, and where indies can go right and wrong with making the next great racer.
Let's "dive" in. Does the fact that Krautscape uses winged-vehicles suggest innovating with roads/wheeled racing is near its end or is limiting?
When looking at current driving games, you see that certain styles of such games have evolved during the last decades: We have great arcade racing games like Wipeout or Need for Speed, highly polished racing simulations, fun racers like Mario Kart and of course mash-ups between those subgenres like Trackmania and so on. Most of the arcade racers focus on similar things: it's all about speed, crashes, reaction and adrenaline while the simulation racers do great simulations of all possible vehicles.
I think all this is great, but it's close to the point where it's very hard to do a more action-packed arcade racer or a more realistic simulation. On the other hand, I think the surprisingly less crowded field of high-quality fun racers still show a lot of potential to explore, mainly because it's easier to include new ideas when you have no constraints by "real" cars or similar circumstances.
Another thing we noticed when we started developing Krautscape is that a vast amount of racing games are very linear - except from a few well-placed shortcuts you drive most of the time on a predefined path with little room to move or be creative. By introducing the ability to fly, we tried to open up the gameplay to make the game flow less constrained and a bit more chaotic. But this flying mechanic wouldn't have much impact to the gameplay of a normal racing game, where the goal is to reach the finish line as fast as possible - in Krautscape you have to reach a point in space, it doesn't matter how you get there. Instead of only driving as fast as possible, you always have to orientate yourself to not get lost.
Why do you think there are so few racing/driving indie games?
Compared to popular indie genres like platformers, I think it needs more work to create a very simple driving game with good driving physics and good tracks. And racing games are normally expected to be in 3D, so this is another challenge. Additionally, maybe the average indie developer is just not that interested in playing racing games (?).
What tools can help developers advance the genre?
I think there are currently a lot of great tools and engines (like always, Unity) out there which make it easy to create games of any kind, so I don't know a tool which I would want to have, except maybe simpler ways to create vehicles with easy physics setup. I haven't heard of any engines targeted at racing game development which are easy to handle, so that would probably be nice to have.
Where can indies innovate in racing and driving?
I'd like to see indie trying to make driving games where the goal is not only to reach a finish line or to destroy as much as possible. It would be interesting to have more driving games which involve tactics - I'd love to see a hide-and-seek or tag game with cars (I know there are some games with game modes like that, but none of them is really focused on that). Or it would be great to have more experimental input concepts like in Enviro-Bear, or vehicles with new abilities (I'm not talking about shooting - be creative!).
And there should be more calm, weird or humorous racing games. Another very interesting thing would be to have a track, which is procedurally generated during the race :)
Where should they imitate?
In the first few versions of Trackmania there was a puzzle mode, where you had to complete a track with a few additional track elements and find a fast way (not always the obvious one) to the finish , which I found very interesting. And, when I remember playing Mario Kart as a kid, I suggest it to be obligatory for every racing game to have a split-screen mode (or something comparable) to be able to beat your opponent right in front of the screen. And there are a lot of good driving games with great arcade driving physics to steal, like Flatout or, again, Trackmania.
What mechanics and types of racers should we put the brakes on?
I'm tired of seeing tuned and realistic cars of any kind in games, as well as huge explosions and do-damage-to-get-boost mechanics.
[Be sure to check out yesterday's Driving Discussion with Proun developer Joost van Dongen.]