July 17, 2012 3:00 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. Much like the seven-day first-person shooter (7DFPS) challenge was a response to stagnation, this feature draws attention to a relatively neglected genre.]
Co-founder of Awesomenauts and Swords & Soldiers developer Ronimo Games, Joost van Dongen spent six years working on his psychedelic racer Proun, which released last year. While withstanding a visual onslaught of intense geometry, players in Proun must avoid obstacles by rotating around the outside of a tube to gain as much speed as possible.
While not the first idea that comes to mind when thinking of racing or driving nor a profound commercial success, Proun for Windows does what any good racer should do: capture the sense of speed with appealing sounds, visuals, and physics.
In this exchange, van Dongen explores Proun's roots and creates at least two interesting racing game ideas in the process: a big open-world top-down racing RPG with the kind of exploration in Star Control II and an expressive experimental racing game with "the kind of melancholia that lots of the most successful indie games seem to aim at."
What were your goals in creating Proun?
To create something really unique with a vibe all of its own. Mostly to create something with a minimalistic abstract graphics style, something that is usually only done in the form of retro-graphics or Tron-style graphics. I wanted to show that there are many more possibilities with abstract minimalism.
Have you worked on any racing or 3D physics games before that helped with Proun?
I made a completely failed racing game in school once. It was way too ambitious and the main lesson from that was to make something small and doable. Proun's gameplay and graphical style are such that it is possible for a single developer to make a really polished game with it, so that was very important for me. Proun's code was at first also very much a back-and-forth with the code of the original version of De Blob, with improvements to tools and physics going into both games.
What did you research to help make Proun?
Abstract art, lots of it! I made Proun in my spare time during six years, and in that period I visited tons of modern art museums. I also read books on Kandinsky, cubism, futurism and other topics around the art of the first half of the 20th century. Lots of incredibly exciting experiments happened in that period and my future projects will definitely gather more inspiration there.
Do you think more tools could help developers get into racing development especially?
Physics for racing games are pretty difficult to get right, so more tools there sounds sensible. However, there are already so many realistic racing games that any progress in that direction is kind of irrelevant. So I don't think new tools are needed: they would be too specific and thus limit innovation. Developers should fool around with their own mechanics.
What design constraints do you think exist that prevent indies from experimenting with racing/driving games?
Indies often want to express themselves and want to create something for which story and setting are important. These are difficult to combine with racing games, I guess. Especially the kind of melancholia that lots of the most successful indie games seem to aim at would be difficult to achieve in a racing game, I suppose. (Hmm, while typing this I realise that trying to do just that would be a mightily interesting experiment!)
Where can indies innovate in the genres of racing/driving?
In all kinds of directions, just not on the core racing itself, I think, since that is aimed at so much already. Style, story, context, emotion, exploration: so many topics that are not explored all that much in racing games. How about a racing game with lots of mechanics around fluid physics, or a team-based racing game in which you have to work together like in Lost Vikings?
What classic games should we revisit to explore their mechanics more?
Specifically for racing games I wouldn't know all that many interesting ones. I think the ancient ball-racing game Scorcher had a quite unique vibe to it and has been forgotten by everyone. More in general, I guess a big open-world top-down racing RPG with the kind of exploration that is seen in the ancient Star Control II would also be interesting. This game is one of the few games I know where the universe is too big to visit it all. Gathering information about what spots contain something relevant is a core mechanic. Why not do that in a racing game?
What are you tired of seeing in racing/driving games?
Cartoony Mario Kart rip-offs without any style or personality.