February 27, 2014 3:15 PM | John Polson
Racing games are one of the oldest genres but have gone a bit underserved in terms of devs reinventing the wheel. Aurelien Regard (former Arkedo co-founder) is going solo to explore the genre, bringing his top-down F-Zero and Ulysses 31 anime homage The Next Penelope to life with vibrant color and blazing speed, while pushing the boundaries of the HTML5-supported engine of Construct 2.
The Next Penelope isn't a 100% racing game, though. Currently it is split between three modes: races where driving skills are very important, solo events with special conditions (being chased by a monster, start with very low energy and find a way to get some back, find the exit in a labyrinth using the teleport); and boss fights, where the game is closer to a shmup.
Overall, Aurelien compares the game to a top-down F-Zero. "The view can be seen as less impressive than Mode 7 or full 3D, which is totally right, but it allows me to try to add a bit more of strategy gameplay-wise. I'm trying to make the player very powerful and vulnerable at the same time."
Players will explore the game's planets in any order, gaining a permanent special ability to use for the next worlds. There aren't power-ups to pick up on the track; players always have these items ready to fire. However, using all these special abilities cost a lot of energy, and players will be on the edge to explode very often.
"I think you remember the feeling in F-Zero to have a boost power ready, but your energy bar is critical low, and you're wondering 'do I want to be wise, or, well, let's go and play with fire!'. I hope to put the player in this situation nearly 75% of the time."
All of these tense moments crafted along with a story are important to Aurelien due to the feeling of progress they provide. "You were asking what I think of other racing games, that's the thing bothering me a bit: not having a goal or special moments. One of my favorite racing games is Ridge Racer Type 4. Not because of the gameplay, but because at the end of the game, you were living the countdown for the year 2000 with fireworks and all (the game was release few months before). THAT was special."
Aurelien tells me that being introduced to Construct 2 was also a special for him. While the engine is more made to publish small HTML5 games, he says he's trying to push its limits to make a "real" full game with shaders and all the trimmings. "The game runs offline on Windows, Mac, and Linux for now, and I'm very interested in console ports."
When asked about Construct 2 challenges, he says he's actually in love with it. "I spent 5 months making Penelope using GameMaker at first. Then I learned how to use PlayMaker for Unity. Both are really, really great. But when one of my students at a video game school showed me Construct 2, I knew I had to make the switch. It's so fast and so easy to have your ideas running, especially if your dev background is graphic artist!
"The main challenge is how you have to watch the performances closely. GameMaker compiles your game in native language for all platforms, where Construct 2 exports some HTML5 with the Chrome engine merged in a .EXE. It can be slow if you're not careful. But for now, the game is smooth and features tons of shaders, so now I know a 'real' PC game can be made using Construct 2."
Aurelien tells me the game is called "The Next Penelope" because at first he wanted to make a game about Ulysses, but upon re-reading the Odyssey, he began to wonder about his wife, Penelope. "What is she doing? Why is she so passive? I'd like to see her in another story, where she would be the true heroine. And as the story takes place in a distant future, I added the 'Next'."
Aurelien tells me that Penelope does somewhat mimic the anime style of Ulysses 31 (seen above). "[It] was one of my favorite anime when I was young. I'm trying to catch that vibe for the story part, not because I think it will be a selling point (I don't think Ulysses 31 is very popular worldwide, and first feedback from the US sounds like 'what is this thing?'), but just because I really like it. Anime and manga were popular in Italy and France in the end of the 1970's, because kids TV channels could buy it for very cheap.
"Here we all have grown up with that graphic style, and Ulysses 31 was one of the only Japanese/France coproduction ever done. It was the most weird, cool, unexpected anime too at this time, mixing Odysseus and Sci-Fi, with awesome disco music on top of it. So the kind of 'alternative Ulysses 31 universe' I'm doing now is just that: paying homage to something I really loved as a kid."
The road is long for The Next Penelope, but Aurelien is currently looking for native English speakers to help playtest the game. Those interested should reach out via Twitter.