Happy New Year!
First off, I’d like to wish you all a Happy New Year! I hope the festive season has treated you well, brought you lots of new games to play, and left you in good spirits for the start of the year. It’s been a long time since I’ve written a blog post here, mostly due to my editing business taking off and going from strength to strength, so my focus has been elsewhere. The New Year seems as good a time as any to make a fresh start with something completely new. And so enters: the Dev Diary!
After many years apart, a good friend of mine named Kenny and I have recently reconnected and rejoiced in our newly-discovered shared interest of tabletop gaming. Not that we both haven’t enjoyed gaming in our own separate ways over the years, just that last time we were in touch, we never really talked about it, which meant we never understood just how passionate and enthusiastic about it the other was.
Since reconnecting in September 2019, we’ve met up several times to discuss and play board games. I’ve also introduced Kenny to a couple of modern games in the form of Resident Evil: The Board Game and Nemesis. We’ve also played some novelty and lighter games like Zombie Dice, Judge Dredd: The Cursed Earth.
Almost immediately, we realised that not only do we both like playing games; we both like the idea of designing our own. A few weeks ago Kenny started brainstorming a few game concepts, bouncing them off me for thoughts and feedback, before we settled on one of a Mad Maxian car racing game. This weekend, we actually made a start designing and speed-prototyping it and we had a blast!
Both being creative at heart and possessing at least some discipline in organised thought, the sharing of ideas, and constructive criticism meant we had an enormously productive session that saw us take the idea from pie in the sky (i.e. nothing) to a functional game in one sitting (i.e. something). Sitting here writing this, I’m actually pretty astonished we achieved as much as we did yesterday. Neither of us have designed a game before and due to our prolonged separation, we’re still tuning back into one another’s brains as we go. However, we managed to discover and overcome various challenges in the design in one sitting – some of which seemed like show-stoppers when they cropped up.
Inspiration and Theme
The general idea of the game is to race a car around a track (we’ve started with a simple oval) whilst battling with other racers. Think: Deathrace 2000 and the video game Road Rash. We initially focused on how players get around the track and how movement would work. The idea of a grid system (not a starting grid) on the track to represent units of distance was quickly established, and we then toyed with several different mechanics for how players would move their cars. We needed to decide on how to move cars forwards, as well as how to change lanes, and whether cars would be able to do a 180 and end up facing and perhaps even driving in the opposite direction. The latter principle of driving the wrong way around the track has currently been shelved in favour of maintaining the central theme of this being a race to be won by crossing the finish line after a number of laps.
For the time being, we have stuck with the idea that cars will always move forwards, regardless of other player decisions such as direction/turning/manoeuvres, to represent the momentum of a car in a race. Although players might be able to brake and slow down to inhibit their progression, if they don’t do this, their car will continue its journey around the track by default.
Chaos and Car-nage
See what I did there? I humbly apologise, hehe! Anyway, moving on…
One consideration remains the scale of the track, its spaces, and how far one car can move per turn. We want this to be a fast-paced and somewhat chaotic experience with lots of player interactions and confrontations. We don’t want it to be the case that each lap of the track takes ages to complete. We want players to hare around the track whilst blasting each other to bits! We also don’t want players to just go in a straight line and for whoever gets to move first wins the race every time – it was surprising just how many times this ended up happening when playtesting! Although simply gunning it to the finish line will remain one possible strategy, we’ll make it difficult to achieve due to obstacles, hazards and combat with other vehicles.
The Rubber Band Principle
We also want to prevent competing cars becoming too far apart from one another for the majority of the race. We want them to be close enough that players have to often jostle for road position, initiate combat, and compete to collect pick-ups like boosters and currency. In my head, I think of this as ‘the rubber band principle’, by which I mean: it’s fine for cars to gain a lead or trail behind for a while, but for the majority of a race we want the players’s cars close together. If they do get separated, we want plenty of events and/or player decisions (e.g. pitting for repairs), to bring players back to close proximity with one another.
Breaking through Designer’s Block
We stumbled for a moment trying to find a player’s motivation to not just drive in a straight line as fast as possible to the finish line. We had been trying to keep our design simple in its early phases, so as not to over-complicate things with too many elements. We had so far solely focused on the bare mechanics of driving around the track, but it was just too vanilla. As soon as we added some of the other game elements into our calculations, such as combat, hazards, and pick-ups, players had more than enough reasons to dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge between the lanes on the track. When players need to avoid driving through an oil slick or into the explosion of a Molotov cocktail tossed onto the track by the crowd, funnily enough they get the hell out of the way! In this case thinking about more stuff simultaneously was helpful; not hindering. Tom Hardy’s line from Inception came to mind: “You mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.” Indeed.
It’s still VERY early days for our little Untitled Racing Game, but we’re both really excited about what we’ve done so far and have a load more ideas to throw at it the next time we sit down for a design session. Watch this space for more dev diaries, which will hopefully develop in quality alongside our new game – perhaps by including more photos for a start! 😉 If you want to be notified of new posts on the blog, you can subscribe to email updates, here.