'Rip up the track with blistering visuals, without being sick'
Radial-G was one of the highlights of this year's Develop Conference Expo. Tammeka Games are currently Kickstarting an antigravity racer in the same basic vein as WipEout and F-Zero, seeking £50,000 to bring the fierce project to Oculus Rift and potentially Project Morpheus, and aren't afraid to let us try it out. Suffice to say that the hands-on prototype was intense... and yet somehow managed to throw me through twisting geometry-defying space tubes at breakneck speeds without even the slightest hint of simulation sickness.
You don't even have to take our word for it, because the demo is free to download and fully-playable on regular monitors.
Keen to know more, I grabbed Tammeka Games producer Sam Watts for an interview, who proceeded to explain how military precision, genre experience, years of preparation, careful planning and smart design have led to Radial-G becoming a very different kind of racer.
Jonathan Lester (Dealspwn): Thanks for talking to us, Sam. First things first, can you give us the elevator pitch? In your own words, what is Radial-G?
Sam Watts (Tammeka Games): It's a high-octane futuristic arcade racer, filling the slot that's been woefully left open by a lack of F-Zero and WipEout, to bring a high-octane antigravity racing to the current and next generation!
Dealspwn: Not to mention Virtual Reality platforms such as the Oculus Rift and Morpheus. I was very impressed by your prototype – what opportunities and challenges did you face when developing a game for VR?
Sam Watts: I don't want to blow our own trumpet too much, but we are very experienced in creating VR experiences. We've done a lot of high-level military virtual reality simulations before with multi-channel output and a lot of back-end networking...
Dealspwn: “Proper” simulators, then!
Sam Watts: Proper simulators, using very high-end tools. We've spent probably 2-3 years coding our Unity experience, knowledge and abilities, then brought all of our experience with the high-end into Unity to support Oculus Rift and hopefully Morpheus as well.
Dealspwn: It's always great to see developers on Kickstarter with real pedigree. I'm told that Tammeka has experience in terms of racing games too.
Sam Watts: Yes, the game director Geoff Cullen came from Black Rock studios and Acclaim, so he actually worked on the original Extreme-G, Pure, Split/Second and MotoGP. I came from NCSOFT, so I worked on Guild Wars, City Of Heroes, Aion and what is now called WildStar.
Dealspwn: So your netcode's going to work, then?
Sam Watts: Yeah, I think so!
Dealspwn: You mentioned that Radial-G plans to fill the void left... shockingly!... open by Sony and Nintendo, who don't seem to want our money. How have F-Zero and WipEout influenced Radial-G beyond the core concept?
Sam Watts: They've influenced us in concentrating on the core simple gameplay loops and mechanics; to keep the smooth high-speed entertainment factor, not overcomplicating it.The emphais is on speed, racing and competition, all with glorious visuals for VR DK1, DK2 and hopefully Morpheus.
Dealspwn: How difficult was it to convey that sense of speed without, erm, making players start convulsing and throwing up? I frequently suffer from simulation sickness when testing in-development demos, but could have played Radial-G all day!
Sam Watts: So we've got two key main points: which is a high frame rate and a high screen resolution. These two combine to boost your level of immersion, of presence, and we give people the opportunity to acclimatise and look around the cockpit before the high-speed action. Then there's ten or so other specific design considerations that we made to reduce simulation sickness.
Some of it is based upon the nature of the game, in that it's a Sci-Fi, fantasy, futuristic setting. Your brain automatically goes, “oh this isn't real, I'm not going to worry about it!” You've also got a track in front of you, which gives you elements to focus on, and the cockpit gives you sitting and a setting to familiarise yourself. You expect to be sitting in a cockpit in a spaceship, when you're racing, and we give you that opportunity.
We do want to add a body! That's one of our main things, because at the moment you look down into an empty seat. We have a very far-off horizon, so you can't really see when the world's spinning around. Because we don't have obvious up/down ground planes that rotate around you, you do get the sense of twisting around, but it's not so violently that people are going to be hurling!
Finally, it's giving people smooth, highly accurate and responsive controls so the ship does what they want when they expect it. There's no delay, no lag, there's no latency. Oh, and the final final point is that there's no significant differences in speed changes. Even though we've got boost pads, it's at a level that you would expect. There's no sudden jarring to throw you out.
Dealspwn: Well it worked – I expected to be writhing around on the floor and actually I was ready for another go. Speaking of which, let's talk features. What can we expect from the full game?
Sam Watts: The first release of the full game will come with three worlds. We've shown the concept art already: a futuristic city world, the Dust Pits which are all kind of Mos Eisley, podracer style, and we've got the Mining Sector, which are set in space in and around asteroids. Each environment will initially have three tracks to choose from, so that's nine in total.
Then we'll have 3-4 ship types that have different handling characteristics, so you can choose speed over agility or shields over speed, for example. We'll introduce a number of singleplayer and multiplayer modes – we're looking to support 32 players online.
Dealspwn: Yeah, that's super-ambitious. Are your tubes... the tracks, that is... big enough to support so many players?
Sam Watts: We're looking to change the shape of the tracks so there'll be narrow bits, wider bits, jumps, splits, twists, turns, obstacles to avoid, and there is a fair amount of space. You soon get people stretching out, and with the speed boosts and player-controlled speed boosts that they can build up – like a Formula One KERS-type system – once we've got the collision in we can deal with slipstreaming and shields.
Everything we do is iterative; it's playtested thoroughly so we don't introduce a whole load of new features that break the game, make it unplayable or reduce its fun factor.
Moving on from that, we'll add more content, more modes, more worlds, more tracks and hopefully a track editor as well. If you don't like our tracks, you can make your own, share them, challenge your friends etc.
Dealspwn: Brilliant – Steamworks on PC, I take it?
Sam Watts: It will probably be Steamworks, we are on Greenlight. We are 85% of the way to the top one hundred after nine days.
Dealspwn: Considering that you already have a functional prototype demo that you can download for free, I'm not surprised!
Sam Watts: It was through the Steam community that we discussed and tested Linux with, too, so we now support Linux – once Oculus have re-enabled the Linux support for SDK community. On our Kickstarter, the £15 early bird price will give you access to all of those versions and all of the updates. We want to be generous to our backers, to hopefully bring them all on board and get them behind us!
Dealspwn: It's high time we talked about the Kickstarter campaign in earnest. For such an ambitious racer, £50,000 does seem like a very modest sum.
Sam Watts: We're already developing the multiplayer demo whether we hit our Kickstarter goal or not. The payments that we're asking for, the bottom pledge we're asking for for the multiplayer demo, that will feed back into creating the first version.
I don't want to sound like we're EA and charging for demos! Every little bit helps and everything we put into it helps us get it to you sooner.
Dealspwn: Well in fairness, you've already released the prototype demo for free. I don't think that anyone could accuse you of being too stingy in that regard.
Sam Watts: We felt the demo was necessary to provide the evidence to you that we can walk the walk as well as talk the talk. We've had some comments about Oculus and Facebook adverts in the demo, but people don't realise that those 'Facebook' adverts are actually for our game's page! It's not adverts from Facebook.
Dealspwn: So we're not going to be constantly getting notifications then?
Sam Watts: [Laughs] No, no. All of that is just purely... subliminal messaging to support us! [Laughs]
Dealspwn: What did you make of the Facebook buyout?
Sam Watts: It needed to happen. [Oculus] needed to be bought by a company with enough money to allow them to take that next step to get them to comercial release, and to increase their popularity. In some regards, yes, it's a shame that it had to be Facebook. I can understand why they bought it, it's a very long, long game for them.
I don't reckon that they'll have anything to do with it for at least 5-10 years, until they reach a certain critical mass. But I don't see it as a bad thing in terms of people complaining based on the Kickstarter: “we got behind this idea, we didn't just back it so you could sell out.” That's a very naïve approach in terms of business.
It had to happen to take [Oculus] from a unique niche tech toy to something that everybody can experience.
Dealspwn: I find myself agreeing with you there. Oculus Rift is already a thriving community of developers, but there's a difference between that and a genuine commercial industry. So... what about PS4 and Project Morpheus?
Sam Watts: Yes, that's our big stretch goal. It's a fairly expensive Unity license to take your content and publish on PlayStation, so most of the money will be going towards paying that license. Obviously, if the discussions we're hoping to have with Sony means that they're happy to waive that license because they want to support the game, that money raised will go straight back into developing the game and releasing more content sooner.
Every Penny is allocated for a particular purpose, any that ends up being saved will go towards to bringing future releases forward. But we're very excited to have the opportunity to potentially release on Morpheus. It's going to be a very strong product, PlayStation 4... sorry Microsoft, they've clearly won the next-gen battle, I think, and we want to be part of it.
UPDATE: Two hours after conducting the interview, Sony's Shuhei Yoshida personally tested Radial-G and entered serious discussions with Tammeka Games. They have now received a Project Morpheus dev kit. Watch this space!
Dealspwn: And even without VR, it seems like exactly the sort of thing I'd like to play on a big telly anyway.
Sam Watts: Yeah, you can play on a regular TV or a regular monitor.
Dealspwn: So to conclude, we like to ask a question that often gets bizarre results. What is the defining moment, the most epic thing I suppose, that players can expect to in Radial-G?
Sam Watts: I guess... just rip up the track with blistering visuals, leaving your eyeballs bleeding, but not being sick.
Dealspwn: And that's our tagline. Thanks again for talking to us, Sam!