Rebooting Wacky Wheels
by Chris Jorgensen on May 27, 2014
Back on Track
Thanks to the successful release of 2-bit Cowboy on iOS, Cascadia Games is finally freed of its (many) GameDock-related obligations and debts. The goal was for Cavorite 3 to be the "liberator" but times are tougher in the iOS App Store. As a result, Wacky Wheels development has begun again— after being shelved since late 2012.
Despite very little marketing done on my part, Wacky Wheels has generated the most traffic and social media buzz of all our games, outside of launch weeks. Most fans of the original have reacted to our pending reboot with something along the lines of "OMG! Hooray!" There has been a vocal minority of folks, however, who have written me letters demanding I stick close to the original formula.
With that said, it makes sense to post a blog about my intentions for the game. I can't give too many details at this point, it's still "early," but I can share my thinking and hopefully allay some reboot-related anxiety.
First, some background: Wacky Wheels will not be my first kart-racing game, nor my second. In late 2009, I released Zombie Karts in the iOS App Store. It was a fairly barebones game with initially 4 racers, 4 power-ups, and 9 tracks -- later updated with more tracks and a mirror mode feature. Then in early 2010, I released Cascadia Kart, which was an iterative improvement upon its predecessor. Both were based on a product I sold through GarageGames called the TGB Kart Kit. The games began showing their age sometime ago and I pulled them from sale.
In late 2011, I reached out to 3D Realms about the rights to Wacky Wheels and we quickly came to a licensing agreement. I worked on the game in parallel to the GameDock project with the intent that it would be one of the killer apps for the hardware. (Wacky Wheels is one of the 6 games featured on the back of the box!) I even publicly demoed the prototype of the game at the 2012 Portland Retro Gaming Expo.
Unfortunately, as the previous two (and upcoming third) GameDock post-mortem blogs reveal, I simply had too much on my plate. My first priority became fulfilling the Kickstarter rewards and as a result Wacky Wheels gathered dust. Both projects remain my biggest risks in terms of budget, with GameDock putting Cascadia Games into debt for the first time in its history. This forced me to (twice) postpone Wacky Wheels in hopes that a low budget title could return enough money to get the bills paid. Fortunately for me, 2-bit Cowboy was the game to do just that.
Often when I was asked over the past year about Wacky Wheels' development status, I responded by saying that I didn't know. I needed time after over a year off to go back and reassess what I had done, what needed to be done, and so forth. I have now had the opportunity to start that assessment process.
The foundational art is in place: karts (9 in total), track themes (6), and music. Some sound effects are in place. There is a single test track that has some complexity, one simple test track, and a handful of others just started. It can support split-screen local multiplayer. There's also an effect inspired by Atari Karts— slight elevation changes on the track. On the flip side, there are no power-ups, no hedgehogs, no AI, no game modes (grand prix, time trial, et al), and a significant amount of polish is missing -- animated coastlines, for example.
The good news is this is based on the same code from my previous kart projects, so much work is simply enabling features rather than outright adding them. (In fact, the codebase is surprisingly more advanced than the last TGB Kart Kit version publicly released. I forgot how much work I had put into improving it.)
The bad news is that I still need more budget and the 20th anniversary of the game is in October of this year. I'd love to release the game right around that anniversary. But I don't know how much money I need nor do I know where it will come from. That leaves some questions yet to be answered. Can we get this game done by October? Do we release another small game before then to keep the cash flowing? Kickstarter? Alpha funding? Delay the game again? Finding the answers is the next step of assessing the project's current state.
Where I'm Headed
Right now I have committed myself to a single task: recreate a track from the original MS-DOS game, then tune the gameplay until it feels like the original. I don't mean to make an exact clone but I also don't mean to reinvent the game.
As far as the game's style goes, I'm imagining a world where true 3D gaming was never invented and instead advancements needed to be made within the constraints of a "mode 7" game. What would a reboot / sequel look like in this world? Rayman: Legends is a great example of what might exist in this 3D-free world. It's fluid and fast, yet completely 2D. The new Wacky Wheels frankly won't be as beautiful, but that's the general mindset I'm in. My hope is the game looks sharp, feels smooth, and evokes the original.
A big theme is to simply enhance some of the ideas already in place -- for example, making the vague themes in the original more focused by committing deeper to each one through visuals and audio. The game is about dangerous, wild animals that have escaped the zoo on go-karts made from lawn mowers. There's a devil that floats about watching as they race, concerned with the results. (What's his story?) In addition to the danger, there's an element of energy in the original (partially an artifact of its low framerate) that the new game needs to capture. The karts visibly shake while you race. The tracks are very tight and overrun with obstacles. All in all, it's an engaging game, which is the complete opposite of so many blah kart racing games that came out after Super Mario Kart.
There are a number of other kart games that I'm studying to help inform this one. I mentioned Atari Karts. It's a terrible game. BUT, its art is very sharp and the subtle hill effect was a nice pre-3D innovation. Another game I've studied a lot of is the original Konami Krazy Racers (for GBA). In some ways, it's superior to SMK -- it feels a little faster and the tracks are very creative. I believe KKR's big mistake was water; it's disorienting to falling into water, be completely stopped, then dropped back onto dry land. Wacky Wheels, by comparison, handled water much better; you fall in, but you keep driving at a slightly slower speed (with a periscope poking out of the water, indicating where you are). You still want to avoid the water, but it doesn't kill the action if you fall in.
I won't go into every game and consideration in this post, but that's the sort of thing I'm thinking about as I shape the new Wacky Wheels. The goal is a game that plays like a great early 90s kart racer yet looks like a modern, HD 2D game. Great game-feel is my top priority; putting in tons of features (or even content, really) is not.
In closing, here's a blurry Vine I took of the new Wacky Wheels running on my Mac!