Remember when the futuristic racer was a thing? When we'd occasionally get an F-Zero, Wipeout, Extreme-G, or Jet Moto? Those days are long since since gone: Sony closed Studio Liverpool in the middle of developing a new Wipeout game, Nintendo has no clue where to take F-Zero, and the latter two have been dead for years.
Now one intrepid developer is stepping up to the plate to provide a new futuristic racing experience. Tammeka Games is pitching Radial-G on Kickstarter as a new take on the anti-gravity racers we used to love. If funded, up to 32 players will take a variety of ships around a tubular anti-gravity track, all seeking to be number one. All told, Tammeka is promising nine tracks, three ship classes, pilot customization, various multiplayer modes, and Oculus Rift support. Yeah, you read that right.
And unlike many Kickstarters, Tammeka is putting its money where its mouth is (well, I guess it's your money). The team has a short single player demo available for download, allowing players to take a look at the bare minimum that Radial-G will offer. There's not much to the demo; just an infinite run on a single track, all alone, but it does give you an idea of what to expect from the basic experience.
I loaded it up and eased into my first few laps to see what was in store. As promised on the Kickstarter page, I got anti-grav racing action at 60 fps. Racing was smooth and quick, reminding me of the feeling of gliding along tracks in F-Zero X/GX. In fact, while some have brought up the Wipeout comparison - possibly due to Tammeka Games being a UK startup like Studio Liverpool - the F-Zero feel is strong with this one. When you reach top speed - which is achieved by hitting boosts pads in succession - I think you'll feel that the breakneck F-Zero pace is alive and well. Currently, the Radial-G demo is missing all the things that will ultimately determine how good a racer it will be. There's no drift/additional speed mechanics, no other racers, and no weapons, so there's no way to get a feel for the pole position, which can mark or break a racing game.
The demo made me so curious that I reached out to the folks at Tammeka Games to ask a few questions. Tammeka producer Sam Watts was kind enough to answer my questions and offer up some insight on Radial-G. If you like what you hear, head on over to the Kickstarter: Radial-G has eight days left to reach its final funding goal of £50,000! If it does, the team is promising PC, Mac, and Linux versions of Radial-G, with a possible Morpheus-powered version for PlayStation 4.
USgamer: How did Tammeka Games come together?
Producer Sam Watts: We had been working together creating serious simulation software on high-end hardware for years and decided, once we received the Oculus Rift DK1 as part of the Kickstarter, that we could do something really fun with the hardware (as well as other serious uses). So we decided to club in together to raise some initial funds to allow us to spend the time creating the single-player demo.
Two of the team, myself and Geoff Cullen (Game Director and Designer) came from a AAA games background, in development and publishing. Geoff had previously worked at Acclaim, Climax Racing Studio and Disney Black Rock Studio, working on titles such as Extreme-G, Moto GP, Pure, Split/Second amongst others, so there was already a racing game pedigree in the team. I (Sam Watts) have previously worked on MMOs such as Guild Wars, Aion and WildStar whilst at NCsoft and other viral, sticky games that have that strong fun, just one more go factor. The rest of the team brings the pedigree of building complex simulation and VR environments for the pickiest of clients so we know the quality bar required.
USgamer: Why is Radial-G the first game the team is developing? What about the concept excites you?
Watts: As mentioned, we have a racing game background with some of the team and the AAA games side of things too but we wanted to be masters of our own destiny and go it alone as indies, without the pressures of a publisher leaning over you, waving milestone sticks whilst dangling budget carrots. Everyone in the team loves racing games and it's something of a regular point of competition internally, so it was a natural choice for us to make something that we love and everyone else is missing out on; a modern take on a futuristic racer. Being in the cockpit and able to look around whilst you race provides a level of immersion never before possible.
USgamer: Radial-G already has a single-player demo available, how long did it take you to get that up and running?
Watts: We spent about three months on it, on and off from January this year, with ongoing tweaks as we get the newer SDKs from Oculus VR to implement and widen our platform support. We started off supporting PC only, worked towards Mac support but had to wait for a new SDK to come out as we had some major issues with the ship floor in VR. Thankfully the early Oculus VR SDKs for DK2 headsets fixed that solution for us and we were able to move forward with our plans to widen support. Now we're just waiting for a new SDK to re-enable the Linux & Rift & Unity support that it's currently missing.
USgamer: Is in built on a proprietary engine or something like Unreal?
Watts: As have alluded to already above, we're using Unity3D for the game as we have years of experience using this for VR and it allows us to create multiple platform branches fairly easily. I think we'll stick with Unity3D for now, see what v5 has to offer and then perhaps look at other engines like Unreal4. Being a small team with limited resources, we need to weigh up the pros and cons of switching engines mid-development.
USgamer: Is the 60fps a hard minimum?
Watts: It has to be for the VR side at least, well for Oculus Rift DK2 we're looking at maintaining a rock solid 75fps, as per their guidelines. So far, we've had reports of players being able to reach 175+fps with full detail so we know we have room to play with and a buffer. Gamers are getting used to 1080p/60fps with PS4 aiming to be as standard but obviously we are aware PC gamers have been able to achieve these stats and much higher for a long time now.
USgamer: Most Kickstarters have a name and a few shots of concept art. Why was having the single-player demo available important for Radial G?
Watts: And most of those Kickstarters that have a name and a few shots of concept art typically fail, which is why we knew we had to launch the Kickstarter with a strong demo available to show that we can walk the walk as well as talk the talk. We have had overwhelming positive feedback on the demo, and some players have set incredibly fast lap times (beating our own internal times) all whilst generally not feeling sick. This is something we have worked hard on to reduce.
USgamer: Are the tubular tracks the only track style that will be available in the final game?
Watts: We're looking to add variety to the tracks but the essence will remain tubular. However we plan on creating tracks that include wider sections, narrower parts, obstacles, areas you can't travel on, flatter sections, splits, jumps, loops, twists and more.
USgamer: Will ships be modular, or are there just different types of ships?
Watts: We aim to add an element of modularity and customisation to the ships, depends how much initial funds we raise as to when this feature gets implemented. We ideally want to have a base set of ships but allow players to choose a chassis and build their own up from there, based upon the components they want to add to suit their racing style; speed over agility, shields over offence, etc.
USgamer: Will there be customization of ship aspects like top speed/grip/etc?
Watts: Assuming we can add the modular custom ship elements, specs of each ship will come from the components players add to make their own ship but we're looking at a top level points system to spread across these sorts of stats too to further tweak and customise a ship to a player's preference.
USgamer: I noticed pilot customization concepts on the Kickstarter, is that a major part of the game or a planned future idea?
Watts: Everyone wants to be unique in a game and this helps players bond to their character more if they are invested in the appearance. Most racing games just plonk the player in a pre-defined character with a storyline already plotted out for them to work through. Coming from the MMO side of games, I felt this was boring and we needed to do something to liven up the racing genre. Again, we hope to add the initial features to the 1st release but to what extent depends upon funding received. As outlined on the Kickstarter, we have many ideas for features we want to add, which we will work on through the releases based on sales and income post-launch. The beauty of the Kickstarter is for a relatively low price, backers can get access to all these features and future content updates for all platforms we support for one cost.
USgamer: How many tracks are planned for your initial release?
Watts: For the initial release, we're looking at three worlds; the future city, dust pits and mining section. Each world will initially have three tracks, so nine in total but we plan on adding unlock features such as mirrored and reversed tracks to increase the selection, then create more world and more tracks to release as DLC post-launch (again, backers on Kickstarter will get access to these without having to pay a penny extra).
USgamer: How important do you feel the track editor will be to the potential life of the game?
Watts: Hugely! If you look at games like Little Big Planet, which has millions of levels created for it and still being created today years after release, it's obviously a great feature we want to be able to implement. People with a love of racing games have favourite real-world tracks and just because we are set in the future, why shouldn't you be able to race on a variant of Laguna Seca or Suzuka, Japan for example. One of the favourite parts of ModNation Racers for me was the track creation tools, it's just a shame the racing experience didn't match once you had made one.
USgamer: How did Oculus Rift support enter into the picture?
Watts: As mentioned, we had Oculus Rift DK1 from Day 1, after backing it immediately on Kickstarter. Since receiving our hardware, we've always seen the potential for it with games and based on our backgrounds, interests and skillsets, a futuristic VR racer was an obvious choice for us.
USgamer: Do you feel there's a bit of confusion with the Oculus Rift support on the Kickstarter and some potential backers believing the game won't run without Oculus?
Watts: Yes, but that can only be expected to a degree. People have got used to seeing the dual-channel screenshots of Oculus Rift titles and automatically assuming it only supports VR. We are trying to break the mould and offer choice so it's not only either VR or non-VR, you can have both! So we have great support from the VR community, now we are targeting the non-VR gamers to get them on-board for the game that they too can and should want to play. We're achieving this by only releasing non-VR screenshots and trying to focus on that first in videos, interviews etc. Having Shuhei Yoshida play the game and appeal to the PS4 gamers has helped, even though we are specifically aiming for releasing with support for Project Morpheus, there's no reason why we shouldn't have a following from non-VR gamers on PC, Mac, Linux & PS4 too.
USgamer: How do you feel about the F-Zero/Wipeout comparisons?
Watts: I think it was inevitable since we are a futuristic racer and there are elements that borrow from both games but we're not exactly unhappy by them! There is a sad gap in the market open since the demise of Sony Liverpool and the Wipeout team, and Nintendo don't seem to be in a rush to release another F-Zero so we are more than happy to step in and fill that gap!
USgamer: Why do you think those audiences are under-served? Where did all the futuristic racers go?
Watts: The racing genre in general is fairly stagnant. There are some new games coming with interesting ideas but ultimately, the main purpose is going to remain the same; race around a circuit of some description in vehicles, trying to come first. AAA publishers are so risk-adverse and money-aware these days, unless they can predict they'll sell x-millions of copies of a game, they won't put funds into these games. It needs indies and developers willing to take a risk with new technology and ideas to refresh the genre and bring new, exciting ideas to the table. Hopefully gamers will agree that this is what we are trying to achieve.