Monday, October 31, 2011

How To Make Good Independent Racing Games???

And a good October 31st to you.  Here's a programmer's joke:  Why do programmers always get Christmas and Halloween mixed up?  Because Dec 25 = Oct 31.  Haha, go eat your bag of Tootsie Rolls and candy corn.


So I want to say that it's good that fans are talking about Daytona USA again.  And Scud Race.  And Daytona USA 2.  And other Sega games.  We're getting emulators, fan projects (like Daytona Universe), strategy guides, loads of new media, this is very good.  Keep working at it, people.


But here's what I was really going to say.  Here at FIEA, the second and third semesters are devoted entirely to working on large capstone games.  Each game will have about 12-15 people working on it, maybe more as the semester moves on.  So which games do we work on?  The ideas are funneled through an American Idol-style voting system to find out the Top 3 games to make.

The first step is to deliver a 5-minute pitch/presentation to the class.  All producers (about 22) must present an idea to the class.  Then any programmers/artists who have a good idea may present their ideas too.  This means there will be, give or take, 30 ideas out there to choose from.  Students and instructors vote for their Top 5 games.  Games get narrowed down to Top Ten: five chosen by students, five by instructors.  Oh yeah, these pitches are scheduled for a week from now (Monday/Wednesday) so better get ready soon!

And that's just the first round.  The second round is where you pull all the stops.  You must give a 20+ minute presentation (Good Lord, everyone will fall asleep) devoted to the game.  Then the Instructors poll the audience again and they meet in their top secret lair to determine the Top 5 games and who works on what team.  This is at the end of the semester in December.

If your idea has made it that far then good job.  You actually get to start "working" on the game.  Well, for a little while that is.  You get up to around April/May EDIT: end of February (my birthday!!!) then you go through the "vertical slice."  The instructors bring a bunch of professional game designers from EA, Bioware, whatever (it's stupid) and then they determine the final cut.  Two games are cut so only three games actually get finished.  Everyone on a losing project must assimilate into another team and ride out the rest of the semester that way.


I want to pitch a racing game.  Oh Lord Jesus please have mercy on me.  I'm not surprised that the marketplace is hostile to racing games in general.  But the whole idea behind this presentation is to get the students to "feel it."  To want to make this game with me.  Cause they trust me or that nonsense.

Here's my idea.  It's really easy to say, "Make a Daytona USA clone" but that won't fly.  The idea is to come up with something new.  So the first thing I did was ask a crowd of producers what they would like to see in a racing game.  They actually came up with some good ideas.  This was some of them that I recall:

* Didn't like Gran Turismo or boring sim racers.  Stick with games like Ridge Racer (hell yes).
* Make games with wacky environments.  They need to look varied and pleasing to the eye.  I wholeheartedly agree with this.
* Needs strong competitive multiplayer.  Something like Mario Kart.  Or anything you can have fun with.
* Needs non-traditional powerups/items.  When this person was asked to come up with an example, he couldn't think of one.  This one is dicey for me.
* When making a racing game, try to come up with a more complicated system than just "go from start to finish."  Some producers want to produce more convoluted ideas and be challenged that way.  A traditional racing game would be too linear for his taste.
* Lastly from somebody who doesn't "like" racing games.  He pointed out some non-traditional racing games he liked such as Jet Moto and Wave Race.  Main reason he loved Wave Race was because of the way the jet ski bobbed in the water.  That's very interesting to point out--the way the vehicle "moves."

Well, I learned some interesting things.  But here's my idea and part of the things I want to include in the presentation:

* Racing games ARE a reasonable genre these days.  Mario Kart Wii sold over 20 million copies.  Forza 3 and 4 are critically acclaimed games.  There are also many other relevant racers such as Need for Speed, Burnout, Split-Second (I'm going to bite my tongue on that one).

* The problem with racing games is that no one really knows how to make them perfectly.  There's two categories of racers--simulation and arcade.  Here's some typical problems with each:

Simulation: too boring, too difficult, too reliant on intellectual properties, constrained to real life physics/visuals.
Arcade: too easy, too slow, too gimmicky/obnoxious, too many crashes.

But we can take the best of both worlds (swap parts) and make a superior racing game done RIGHT!

* I was thinking of a Stunt Race FX/Micro Machines-style game.  It would borrow many aspects from Daytona USA, OutRun, and maybe Mario Kart.  Hey, read my superb article on why Sega racers are so good.  Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V everything from that list.  Make use of drifting and manual transmission to win!  Drive your car faster than you ever have in Mario Kart/Sega All-Stars Racing!  Watch the way the car rocks back and forth on the suspension!  The way it trembles at top speed!  The way it turns on every bend!  You don't get this kind of adrenaline rush from sim racers when the car just turns left and right like a brick, demonstrating no emotion whatsoever.

Put all good racing games in the blender!

* Environments NEED to be colorful!  It's an uplifting, almost therapeutic game.  It should retain a cartoony atmosphere while throwing elbows here and there (should be some demerit for losing).  I think that track selection should go for the more absurd.  For instance, remember California Speed?  You drive through malls, roller coasters, super-computers, UFOs, volcanoes, golf courses, and so forth?  This is great stuff and would allow artists & level designers to flex their creative muscles.  While the courses are a bit crazy, they need to stick to some coherent theme--that is, they must be rational in whatever universe we're in.  Blue skies forever, baby!

* How about music and sound?  Most games go for the cheap dubstep music & tinny engine effects which don't do justice.  Let's get some intense rock & roll and deep sound effects in here and add icing to the cake! Any good sound producers here?

* I was thinking about some car customization options (with performance upgrades) in order to give the user an sense of ownership over the car.  Make it deep--give him things to score points and achieve.  Add various multiplayer modes with awards and whatnot.  This is where I begin to draw a blank so it's best if I talk it over with a few people and see what I can do here.

If I go in there, polish my presentation, and actually have the guts to present this, I may sway a few people.  If I have the only racing game in the room (and I most likely will), some people will get behind this because they want to work on something nice and clean without some overbearing plot/gimmick.

Well, there's two problems with this contest.  First, assuming I do manage to get past the first round into the Top 10, then that means I have to put a lot more work into this game concept.  I need to come up with a lengthy presentation and discuss this with other producers.  That's going to take more time away from other assignments that I may have due.  And should I somehow get to the Top 5, then I can't be the Lead Producer on the project.  Someone else will.  While I can talk with this person, there's no guarantee he'll keep in touch with me.  He may take this in the completely wrong direction so who knows.  Plus I'll have to work my ass off (even during the Christmas break) trying to avoided the dreaded "vertical slice" so my game makes it to the Top 3.

And the second problem is that I'm probably not going to win.  I mean, I got into this GameFAQs "Win a Private Message Board" contest about a year ago and I was all stoked cause I had a good video but was let down when I didn't even crack the Top 3 entries.  So let's not pretend that I have a good shot at this one either.

But if I have that attitude going into this project, then why bother in the first place?  Even if I only make it one or two stages, at least I'll have tried.  I'd much rather work on a racing game for a few months and have it canned than never to work on one at all.  If I have to see another Tolkien/sci-fi adventure story of epic proportions for the 1,672,278th time (or even work on one), I'm going to kick a puppy through the uprights.  Maybe my fallback project will be decent, I sure hope so...

Also, I read somewhere that the best time to embark on grandiose projects is while you're in college.  You have the time and resources on your hands (you're at college, duh).  You don't have to disrupt the norm of your average career to work on petty side projects.  So if I'm going to make a racing game, now's my best chance.  I hope I catch lightning in a bottle.  That is all.  Let you know if I get any ideas as they happen.  Wish me luck that I give my Winston Churchill speech next Monday, haha.

"Never give in--never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy." - Winston Churchill, 1940.


  1. Wow. Half of that sounds exciting, the other half a headache, Mr. Churchill incarnate. Well, good luck with it. Not looking forward to any group projects on my end whenever they come up, as it'll also probably be a "Tolkien/sci-fi adventure story of epic proportions for the 1,672,278th time"

    Or remake the Beginner course from Daytona USA, except replace Three Seven Speedway with the Roman Coliseum and the cars with Gladiator Chariots with turbo-powered rockets, and use molotov cocktails against the competition to slow them down. Just make sure to keep the soundtrack and the slot machine. And the sense of speed of course. Just because chariots (or the horses for that matter) don't normally go 200 mph is more reason to make them do so. Just mention Maximus to the group and you're gold. XD

    But seriously, although this may not need mention, make sure whatever happens to back up anything you create for your dream/fallback project. With that I should heed my own advice. Heck, that line about working on grandiose projects in college worries me since that's what I should be doing.

    Oh, and I caved in and got an XBox Gold account for a couple of months for Daytona. "SestrenNK" if anyone sees me on there. Won quite a lot of races, though racing "with" certain players I've got my butt handed to me hard. Still fun!

    Well, again, good luck and may the schwartz be with you.

  2. Okay, I'm still going to work over my idea. The game itself may not be perfect--I need to see my game idea through another pair of eyes... I think that if I somehow don't work on my good game idea that I'll fall back on some decent strategy/action game.

    Gonna be busy with a couple of things in the next few days so I may not be on Daytona USA often. Glad you had fun with it. Tried to persuade a few people at school to buy it, but didn't take.

    Be sure to follow/subscribe to this blog if you plan on posting a lot!

  3. Were you critiquing my game idea or the entire post in general (how to get the game green-lit)? Wasn't sure...

  4. No worries, I'm hooked on Sonic Generations at the moment, and many others it seems considering the Daytona lobbies seem more empty than before. And consider this blog "followed" =D

    Critique? Oh, that first paragraph or couple of lines. The whole green-light process. Since I've got nothing similar on my plate... yet, looking at your post gives me some insight of what to anticipate/dread when the time comes for me to join a group project to make a working game and coming through with a good game idea that gets approved. We have experienced 3D modelers, animators and production artists, but no experienced game producers or designers (I don't consider the buffoon who got fired as "experienced").

    And we only have programmers and artists as students, and while there are egos on both sides, the programmers take the cake, as much as I'd hate to say it. And it's to the point where game artists aren't seen as people to cooperate and work with, but peons to hurl the whip at. I already had one guy attempt to shoot down my dream of leading a team and directing a dream project by telling me I'd only ever work under people like him while he creates the game ideas.
    There are certainly exceptions, don't get me wrong, but I'd imagine having a game idea get shot down purely for ego purposes. That or an unwillingness to program something other than Tower Defense again.

    But back to your question, I've got no qualms about the game idea, then again I agree with much of it as a fellow Sega Racing nut and also analyzing what made me glorify Sega racers of yesterday when just about every other one then and now made me feel bored. Although "blue skies" can be accompanied nicely with stars at night and sunsets. Very colorful sunsets. And with Sega arcades they not only played well and had an intense sense of speed, but had a visual element that immmersed you. Just the first few seconds of the beginner courses in Scud Race, it's rival to none... maybe Daytona 2's original beginner course and OutRun2 in its entirety.

    Minor tidbit. Did you know Daytona CE in Japan had a code of sorts to change the time of day in each stage? I thought racing Seaside Street Galaxy at night sounded like the coolest thing ever, until I saw it in action, holy cow. I only found out about this days ago myself.

    Again, good luck. Toodles for now.