Nitronic Rush developers discuss Distance, Kickstarter, and who or what is in that flying car
How straightforward a decision was it, for you guys, to go fully indie and Kickstart a sequel?
JH: It was actually kind of funny, because when we initially thought about doing any game after DigiPen... we really wanted to start a company, and we wanted to work on experimental games like we had been doing. A lot of our friends got AAA jobs in California and Washington, stuff like that... but we just loved working in these small teams at DigiPen and didn’t want to stop doing it.
We were thinking about doing a much smaller experimental game, kind of a 2D thing - we talked about doing it for iPad, but we still wanted to stay with PC. Then we looked at what we could do if we were using something like Unity and if it’d even be possible for us to go and do another racing game like this again, and we set out to just try it. If we we’re able to do it, it’d be amazing because there’s so much stuff... mainly the atmosphere and the experimental edge of the car was the most exciting thing for us there. It was really cool what we were able to do with Nitronic Rush, but what if we were able to take that further? That’d give us a really interesting chance to mess with racing, still. So we just went out and tried it, and that’s what we’ve been working on for the last few months. Once we got to the point where we thought we really could make this, we thought we’d go back to the community that supported us in the first place and see if they were interested in us making this game.
KH: Yeah, and a lot of the community initially wanted multiplayer in Nitronic Rush so that was one of the big decisions on that whole process - looking at Unity, seeing how their multiplayer worked, and once we were happy with it we thought “you know what, I think we can do this.” at that point we thought about and designed a lot of different modes for multiplayer, and that’s something we’re going to be experimenting with still. We do want the multiplayer to be more than ‘race on a track against opponents’. One of them is tag, for example, where one player is ‘it’ and you have to go tag them. One of the more unique mechanics in Nitronic was the stunt system, so we’re going to be integrating that into the multiplayer - an easy example there is just like a stunt mode where whoever gets the most points wins, but another mode that we’re looking at is combining racing and stunts. It’s one that I’m kind of excited about, where the end result is based on how many points you got in the race as well as the time that you finished with so it factors in both.
It sounds like you never really considered not being a studio, after DigiPen?
KH: The decision was sort of easy. After going to all of the indie conferences we were at with Nitronic we were really inspired to try to stay indie if we could. That’s one of the reasons that we’re doing the Kickstarter - just “hey, let’s see if we can raise some funding by ourselves”. Another reason is the friendship that we gained by working on Nitronic specifically, between Jason, Jordan and myself. It was so powerful that, okay, I want to work with you guys - and I know that these guys wanted to work with me. That made the decision on its own really.
You’ve graduated into an indie scene that has matured quite a bit. Kickstarter is far more of a known thing than it was. Do you think that has changed the status quo substantially for graduates of the kind of courses you guys were on?
JH: It’s definitely changed a lot, even at DigiPen. When we first got to DigiPen we were told “every year, this is the school where they win the IGF”. Once you’re in your junior year is going to make an amazing game and it’s going to win the IGF and everyone is going to throw jobs at you. You’ll be living the dream, or hoping that’s going to happen one day.
Kyle in his first year actually got a game into Indiecade, and it’s like “oh, I guess more people are able to create content at this point that is competing with the professional indies.” In my sophomore year along with Jason we both got into a few indie competitions, and people are like “okay, it’s strange that sophomores are now the ones going to IGF.” By the time we got to Nitronic Rush, there are so many competitions to enter... we submitted it to everything, and luckily got into quite a few things. We even got to go to Toyko Game Show, to show a game... not Nitronic, actually, a totally different game called Solstice. We were both in IGC for different things.
In terms of what DigiPen’s scene’s like... not only are you able to get into a million different competitions now, which gives you a lot of interesting opportunities for jobs and what not, but the games that people are making at DigiPen are just like professional indie games in a lot of people’s eyes. The game class at DigiPen has always been a really big deal in that every year you make a game, but now it’s not just “can you make a game” but “can you market it, get people playing it”. I don’t know about other schools, but that seems to be what has happened.
Certainly there seems to be less pressure to sell yourself to a developer. Going back a few years, even teams with really great game ideas would often be adopted wholesale by a bigger company.
KH: Yeah, and a lot of that is attributed to Unity, and other engines just making games a lot easier to make. We built Nitronic from scratch - we went through the hell of doing that - and I think Unity is just so much easier than going through that process. I’m actually kind of excited to see, beyond today, the future of where games are going. I think it’s very cool that a five year old can draw a picture with crayons - I’d love to see what a five year old could do making games, and I think it’s headed in that direction.
Do you think there’s a lot to be gained, then, from lowering the technical barrier to entry for game development? I.e: maths?
KH: Yeah, I think there is.
JH: At the end of the day, though, having done four years at DigiPen if we hadn’t done that there’s no way we could make this game. The math involved - especially for the car physics, getting that stuff right - is just incredibly challenging. Luckily we’ve got Jason on the team, who is excited about doing that kind of stuff [laughs]. It’s a good way to learn, I guess.
It may have the result of course that a lot of games are extremely similar, all of a sudden, because everyone is using the exact same tools and you don’t have that much flexibility. But it could also creative a bridge between the the super-crazy Unreal engine people and the people who are using the super simple stuff.
You guys all multi-task, given how small your team is - so you’ve got to cover a lot of bases.
Do you find that more satisfying? If you’d all gone off and gotten jobs at big companies, chances are you’d be more heavily focused, more milestone-driven.
JH: We definitely get a kick out of it. Even for me personally - okay, I’m working on business, PR or whatever. Later I’ll be working on music. Later I’ll be working on tweaking the visuals in the game, or I’ll be writing some random game logic. We’re all balanced people, I guess, in terms of both technical and art, and we love both areas - so it’s a lot of fun. Jason can randomly switch between the car art to making the car controls with the physics, and then Kyle can do pretty much everything in-between. That’s definitely something I thought of personally when I thought about getting a AAA job - it’d be tough to sit and just be focused on one goal all of the time. It could be a really big goal, of course, but that’s something that isn’t as interesting I don’t think.
KH: There are definitely moments when we can focus on a task all day or potentially all week, but I think the ability to be able to jump around is a healthy thing. I’d be pretty bored if I only had to work on one task every single day. That’s just my personality, I guess, but I do like that we can do different things here and there.
Again it seems to be something that engines like Unity have freed up, in that having some of the baseline tech sorted gives you more freedom to do other roles. Is that the case, in your experience?
KH: I’d say that’s true. Especially for me, doing the networking... I’ve done a lot of internet related stuff but I’d never done multiplayer in a game before. I understand how the basic logic works but Unity’s handling a lot of the low-level stuff. It makes it more satisfying, I guess, that you don’t have to spend a month or two just writing the base level stuff. You get to the point where you have something moving on the screen and you’re like “yaaaay, I’m glad that exists now” - but it’s a lot more satisfying to be able to bust something out in a night and get it moving and doing stuff.
It’s starting to sound a lot like modding, actually.
KH: It’s similar to that in some ways. We’re making a game from scratch in that all of the design and all of the art is going to be new but as a developer it is more similar to modding than it is to building a game from scratch, because when you build a game from scratch there are a zillion things that you know about this engine, you know all of its limitations, all of its quirks... you treat it differently, than when you’re modding another game because you don’t know any of those things. You’re trying to make things that are cool! Making games in Unity is a little bit more like that.
JH: The downside is looking at documentation, looking at things online and trying to figure out the quirks of that engine because you don’t know the guy that made it. That’s definitely similar to modding - there are things that are blocked off. How do I get this little thing to work? They don’t explain it very well on the website, so you just keep poking and prodding until something happens.
You’ve only just set up a studio, but what’s your long term plan? Do you anticipate expanding? Is this a stepping stone to something else - or is this the status quo you want to maintain?
JH: I think the core of it right now for us is that we really love small teams. And a small team... well, technically Nitronic had eleven people that were involved with the project and that’s still a pretty small team to us. But I definitely think that we do want to grow, and our mentality as a company is like a bigger company, but we do love to work like indies.
We love the fact that we’re handling every single part of the game, the business, the art, and everything - and as we bring more and more people into it we’re going to try to keep that mentality. Everyone has a strong say in what’s happening in the game.
Thanks for your time.