Saturday, October 12, 2013

Things Are Looking Up For 90's Arcade Racer/Arcade Games

A recent update from the guys over at The 90's Arcade Racer.

At this point some of you may feel like we’ve been working on ‘90s Arcade Racer since the ‘90s. That’s not entirely true, while Antonis and I were indeed playing Scud Race (Super GT in the US) and Daytona USA some 20 years--that was just preparation for the game we’re developing now.

Here’s what’s been happening the last couple of months with ‘90s Arcade Racer.

Physics, physics and more physics!

In the 100+ hours I’ve spent on racetracks combined with the thousands of hours logged playing racing video games, there’s something that feels quite counterintuitive to the genre. You would think super realistic racing games would have super accurate and lifelike physics -- but that doesn't necessarily always make a better product. To really give the sensation of speed, gravity, lateral gravity, as a designer you end up removing many functions that make a vehicle simulation “real”, in the theoretical sense. A driving simulator, more often than not feels like a floaty, unresponsive boat. Part of that is because you can’t feel yourself slinking around a bucket seat, you don’t have the sensation of a vehicle’s weight shift between the four corners; there’s an entirely missing dimension in racing games.

Antonis and I are going for a fun and arcade racing feel, we’ve said that from the start. Those two descriptors are equally important to the project. Getting to the balance of an arcade feel while offering a challenging experience and still giving the car some complex real-world behaviors is where our own challenge begins.

Once you start playing a racing game, especially an arcade-style one, terminology like camber, caster, differentials, toe, torque and drivetrain are quickly forgotten. Initially I spent a lot of time trying to get an arcade feel out of a real vehicle simulation. After extensive experimentation what Antonis and I found was that it just wasn’t working.

In this case it’s much easier to build something from zero and create an experience that perfectly recreates the perception and expectation we all have of a typical arcade racer. Version 2.0 of ‘90s Arcade Racer physics is built within the expressed intention of creating a real arcade racing game. What that means is that the game is really feeling like should. The car reacts in a way that is indicative of an arcade racer, it moves and accelerates properly and now we have a really fun grip and drift mechanic within the game. Although it’s been challenging having to build physics from nothing, this has allowed us to really build the vehicles exactly how we want and how they should feel.

I’m pretty confident that we’re very much in the right direction with the physics and you’ll probably agree once you have an opportunity to play it. Antonis, has been doing great work on creating the world of ‘90s Arcade Racer. But I’ll let him do that update.

Recently, I was concerned about the progress that was made towards the car handling in the game.  I even sent them a note beforehand asking "are you going to post a new video of the car handling?  what's it going to be like?" to which they replied "we're working on it."  I get a good vibe from this recent post--that their heart's in the right place and they aren't going to half-ass the most important part of a racing game.  Visuals are great and all but if I putter around in a car that feels like something spawned from a Unity tutorial, then the whole thing is for naught!

I bolded part of the post above because it's really damn important.  I talked about it before--sense of speed in racing games.  Sense of speed is almost incompatible with realism.  As long as you're in your living room sitting on a couch, you're not going to get a sense of speed by looking at realistic car physics on screen--the "floaty, unresponsive boat" feeling--unless you're willing to break some rules and go unrealistic in some aspects (i.e. excessive vibration of the suspension at high speeds).  I'm glad they recognize this golden rule!

You know, I've programmed vehicle handling over different mediums--Unity, Unreal, and stupid OpenGL car sprites.  With Unity and Unreal, you make these "wheel colliders" that you attach to the vehicle and do all the nitty gritty physics work for you--you set the torque, braking, suspension, skidpad, etc. and let the "realistic" car handling take over.  Yet I don't think it's possible to recreate a Daytona, Scud Race, or OutRun using built-in tire physics--the power comes from the entire car itself, not the four wheels.  Since these are 15-20 year old games, I doubt they were so advanced as to use realistic tire physics anyway.

If you're confused, imagine the car is pushed forward by one big invisible wheel instead of four tiny visible wheels.  By not using wheel physics, you're simplifying the vehicle handling but it allows you to precisely program the car handling the way you want, hence giving the car some predictable effects--like being able to slide at a fixed angle or accelerate/steer normally with your tires shredded up from a wreck.   In other words, you look at the handling of a 2D game like Super Sprint that technically doesn't "recognize" wheel torque and whatnot--it's just a block sliding on the screen--nowhere in the code does it mention "suspension" or other real-life handling terms.  The tire effects are dictated by the car, not the other way around, so when the tires kick up smoke and whatnot, the tires aren't really doing "anything," it's just for show.

I really want to see how they pull it off code-wise because I'm a nerd like that, heh.  If Super Sprint has taught me anything, it's that car handling takes a LOT of iteration to get it right--you can't just skimp on it.  Sadly, me passing on realistic car handling is why I'm often confused by real-life tuning like in GT and Forza.  Oh well, it's a fair trade--would rather make fun racing games than realistic ones! :)

There's still more to do.  They really need to implement manual transmission into the game (which I don't doubt they will), plus get some great audio too.  I want to hear roaring engines and a kickass soundtrack.  Good luck trying to do so without Takenobu Mitsuyoshi or Dennis St. James.  If in doubt, then just emulate AC/DC since that's not bad at all. :)

Just an aside while we're on the topic of realistic vs. non-realstic games.  I stumbled upon a very interesting Grand Theft Auto 5 GameFAQs topic and read a very intriguing post.  Yes, something good that came out of GameFAQs, it's a miracle.  But here's a post from NeonYoshi11:

Just played san andreas 3 months ago.

It looks like crap.

any game going for "realism" will eventually looks like crap.

This is why Art Style matters more than realism.

This is why Wind Waker still looks better than most games today, even the GC version.

IF you look closely, to disguise the old tech in the PS3/Xbox360 they use art that resembles realistm mixed with cel shading.

So it's got a bit of Street Fighter 4 in it, but in a realistic way, this allows them to improve "graphics" while not taking away performance of the game.

That's dead on.  Realism is basically an always-moving bullseye.  Even if you hit it, the bullseye keeps moving without you.  It's why a lot of games which sell off realistic graphics (Forza, Madden, etc.) often go through numerous iterations and why games like Daytona USA and OutRun 2, while super-old, still stand out and look fun to play.  Sadly, I wonder if the gaming gods get the memo since they're fine and dandy with destroying console backwards compatibility and DRMs that shred old games.  Just make sure to give your game differentiators so that your game won't become GameStop used game filler ten years down the road.  Antonis and The 90's Arcade Racer have a firm understanding of this!  Okay, you get the idea, I'm done for now.

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