Wacky Wheels: Now on Greenlight
by Chris Jorgensen on April 20, 2015
Wacky Wheels is now on Steam Greenlight! Please vote and spread the word. Every eyeball counts.
When I first licensed Wacky Wheels from 3D Realms and Andy Edwardson in 2011, I never imagined it would take until 2015 for the project to finally near completion. (Why so long? Blame GameDock and a long-term health issue for my youngest child.) I originally had pitched a pixel-art remake for iOS. Since then, it has evolved into an HD sequel for PC, Mac, iOS, and Android.
While obviously I'm no stranger to nostalgia-centric game design, Wacky Wheels has presented new challenges. Striking the balance between making the game feel like the original and finding places to innovate has required a lot of thought and adjustment. For example, I liked the idea of throwing hedgehogs as a simple weapon, but felt the original's unlimited collection of 'hogs over each race was unbalanced. Similarly, while I liked the idea of picking up powerups without the need of picking up a random item box (ala Mario Kart), that in and of itself took away the anticipation caused by the mystery— so I added random powerup items as well. That had the added benefit of allowing for a bit more rubber-banding. (Rubber-banding is giving better powerups to those further behind, in other to snap first and last place closer together.) I'd go on, but you get the picture.
Creating an interesting game, of course, is a challenge with every game. But I believe the key with recreating an old game is building it as it is remembered rather than how it actually was. Time has a tendency to make old games look better in our minds. I've often seen folks review games with art reminiscent of a mid-90s console (like a Jaguar or Amiga 32CD) and state it looks just like their childhood NES games. The same goes for gameplay— standards have gotten higher in the 20 years since Wacky Wheels was first released. So I've been keen to play both older "mode 7" racing games as well as modern kart racers, in an attempt to assess what has been appropriately dropped and what features arguably should have been kept around.
My guiding principle in general has been to imagine history taking a different direction in the mid-90s. Rather than video games (often painfully) taking the leap in 3D, I've pretended instead that 2D remained the dominant form. That lead to the idea of high definition "mode 7" artwork; Atari Karts was an inspiration here. It is, in my opinion, the best looking game in that style.
The more I followed this principle, however, the more I realized that the genre itself has changed. While the early faux-3D kart racers featured tight courses with cramped tracks, modern kart racers tend to be more like Disneyland rides with larger tracks and an emphasis on the scenery. In a way, I feel like Mario Kart 8 is closer to arcade racers like Hydro Thunder than it is to the original Super Mario Kart. My hope is this new Wacky Wheels feels more like these kart games of old.
Of course, these conclusions I've drawn need to be vetted. Steam Greenlight is the first step in that process. It will take many more adjustments until the game feels right— simultaneously modern and retro. I believe in this idea though. I've bet my biggest game budget yet on it— a budget bigger than my last 5 games combined. So if you believe as I do that this is an awesome idea, then please vote "yes" for it on Greenlight!