State of the Wheels
by Chris Jorgensen on October 1, 2014
I can't believe it has been over a month since my last blog post! Much has changed in that time. There is some good news and bad news.
The Bad News
Since I'm an optimist, I'll get the bad news out of the way first: Wacky Wheels will not be released in October. There are no issues or roadblocks or anything like that. We're simply not going to be done in time. Delays are nothing new to us (and by "us" I currently mean the talented Matt Mitman and myself). I hope given our track record of successfully launching products affords us some patience from those following this game closely.
Additionally, I'm on the hook to deliver an app for an important client right around when we wanted to release Wacky Wheels. As much as I wish I was able to, I simply can't give two projects 100% of my effort and attention at the same time. Paid work always comes first.
Finally, there's a stack of other game projects that need some short term, immediate attention. I am updating 2-bit Cowboy for iPhone 6 and porting it to Android, PC, and Mac. The Cavorite series badly needs an update as well. So while most of my energy goes into client work, I plan on using the little bit left to push out these updates. Then I'll hop back onto Wacky Wheels with the goal of releasing this year.
The Good News
The good news is that significant progress has been made on Wacky Wheels since the last blog post-- some of it absolutely critical for the game to succeed creatively. Specifically, we:
- Revised the HUD and began work on new menus
- Gutted and rewrote surface code (ie water, mud, etc)
- Refined kart collisions with each other and their environment
- Rewrote multiple resolution handling
- Completely changed how we build tracks -- cutting easily 80% of creation time
- Got the game running on PC
- Integrated in Mac USB gamepad support
- Continued to refine the game content and feel based on study of classic kart games
By far the most important progress is our new ability to build tracks rapidly. What used to be a tedious combination of Photoshop and the (ancient) Torque Game Builder (yes, we still use this in limited capacity) has been replaced with Tiled and per-pixel map scanning. It used to take almost 20 hours to build, test, and tune a track. Now it takes under three. Given that we're planning on 24 race tracks and 6 battle / hunt tracks, it's pretty obvious how crucial this content creation optimization is for us.
Our new track building method opens up a lot of possibilities. (It may even ultimately open up player-designed tracks!) Specifically, track sizes are no longer bottlenecked. Before, recreating the small tracks from the original Wacky Wheels seemed like the most viable route... and even then, it may have only been a subset of the source material. Now this has changed.
I'll be honest — I was dissatisfied with those small tracks. While most kart racing games' tracks have evolved closer and closer to the large courses in arcade racers like Hydro Thunder, the opposite, small tracks of the original Super Mario Kart and Wacky Wheels have always felt too short to me. After quality time with Mario Kart Super Circuit and Konami Krazy Racers, I knew we needed to go bigger. Now with the track creation bottleneck removed, I am 100% on board with making the new Wacky Wheels' tracks similar to the ones found in those games. This means new tracks, inspired by the original game, but 100% original.
Out of all the "mode 7" racing games I've studied lately, Mario Kart Super Circuit sticks out the most. First, the track length of about 20-30 seconds per lap feels just right. Three to four laps gives the player time to learn the course and apply their learning without the race feeling repetitive. It also provides enough space to put multiple experiences per lap (a rough patch here, a curvy spot there, etc). In short, it affords enough room to design a track that can keep the player engaged. In fact, after designing a few tracks this way, I realized where our track tilesets were falling short and ordered additional tiles to fill in missing experiences.
The Mario Kart series as a whole has always had the best powerups in the genre. I'm not interested in simply cloning those. But I am paying attention. In fact, gaps in our powerup designs have been exposed thanks to Mario Kart as a reference. Specifically, what can be tweaked to add some rubber-banding to the game without upsetting the balance of powerups available? I've also paid attention to subtler ways of rubber-banding. For example, boost duration is longer for karts falling behind the pack. Conversely, kart spinout durations increase for those ahead.
No Video... For Now
I know I tweeted that I would share a video of all our progress. That won't happen this blog post. Instead, I'm going to hold off a little bit longer until a few final things fall into place. I want to make sure the next video really highlights how far we've come in bringing our HD mode 7 kart racer to life. I am eager to share everything new. But we need a bit more time. I know, however, that the final result will be worth the wait.