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Crazy Karting with Monkeys, Chickens and UFOs a Touring Karts post-mortem

by IVAN CASCALES on 01/14/20 11:10:00 am   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


This article is a conversation with Ivan Cascales, CEO and Founder of Ivanovich Games, in which he briefly goes through the history of the studio, and explains the key facts and circumstances that took them to create Touring Karts, to end up focusing on the unique aspects of the game development, their challenges and lessons learned.

The passion for video game making

I was lucky enough to attend a primary school (called Xaloc) that taught me Computer Programming from the young age of 12. Then I discovered programming and totally loved it, that passion took me to win the school’s gamedev championship for the 3 consecutive editions I took part in it. That fact was eye-opening for me, making it clear that I wanted to dedicate myself more to game development in the future, but sadly I couldn’t go deeper into that and ended doing management apps at an IT company (where I ended up as Project Manager). All that changed when the first iPhone was presented, back in 2007. I clearly saw the opportunity of creating my own game and trying to sell it, that was non less than 11 years ago. That first game was “IDonutConnect”, a puzzle game that got pretty good reception from players in spite of its simplicity. That allowed to create a second title called “Time Geeks”, started the company and jumped into working also with Android games, then PC games that we sold through Steam, and some years later, in 2016, we decided to move into the Virtual Reality market, where we found our niche for any platforms, including consoles as PlayStation 4 / PSVR.


The inception of Touring Karts 

I have always been a big fan of racing games, played every genre from the hardcore simulation titles (my favorite is Codemasters’ Formula 1 series) to the most casual ones. As a consequence of that, we launched Mini Drivers in 2016 for mobile devices, its frantic races with crazy power-ups conquered the hearts of many gamers from all over the World to this date, we are proud to say the game has about 4.8 out 5 and keeps selling well and is still attracting new players. 

Touring Karts represents the evolution of Mini Drivers into modern platforms, plus we got inspirations from Crash Team Racing, Mario Kart, and the Formula 1 games. We added all the features we can expect in a game launched in the year 2019: Cross-platform multiplayer, tons of content, even crazier and craftable power-ups, tons of accessibility options, both the physics engine and all the visual aspect has been re-built from the ground up with the help of nowadays tools and technology. 
The circuits deserve a special mention, as they have been enriched with tons of dinamic gameplay-disruptive elements (random slopes, new curves with superelevations and final jumps, optional side ramps, etc) many of those fit the culture and location of each place (a big slice of pizza that throws olives in Italy, giant Frankfurt sausage that hits the ground with beer jugs in Germany, etc).

To totally put you in context, there is no better way to describe Touring Karts than through a gameplay video of a group of good friends racing online in VR, that's exactly what content creator Terrifying Pumpkins did few days ago, and we did the following edit summarizing and remixing the best moments of what was a memorable real fun livestream

A racing game that can be played everywhere, from every device and with anybody.

The multiplayer and cross-platform elements of Touring Karts are what make this a truly unique project. It was a real challenge to create power-ups that were attractive to use in VR and also engaging and easy to use in any other platform, as non-VR PCs, consoles or mobile devices. The handling of the hammer, for example, is very precise in VR as you can move it in any direction you want, the same when using a touch-screen in a mobile device, or a D-pad, as you move the hammer following the position of your finger or direction of the D-pad. The implementation of the bazooka was another challenge, as we decided to use a hybrid approach, mixing auto-aim and manual aiming, so both in VR and outside of VR, you could easily regulate the precision you want for each shot when you aren’t aiming close to another pilot. If you launch an object to a rival, as a bomb or a furious chicken, the angle you are pointing you arm at in VR is the same that you’ll be using in a dual shock analog stick.

One of the main challenges in any multiplayer game, especially if it is premium, is to attract a minimum number of online players to populate the multiplayer mode. Sadly, that’s a hard spot to cover in VR titles, we did an initial study and discovered that there was almost no VR multiplayer titles with a consistent active online player-base. This fact made us go decidedly to implement cross-platform in our multiplayer mode, both with VR and non-VR platforms, like consoles and mobile devices.

It is a complex task to turn this into a reality, as you must have your own server, create an online infrastructure so there is an intermediate layer that talks to all the platforms. There are many different combinations of players that can get together in an online race. Everybody can race against everybody, so any situation can happen, this is really hard, not only from a technical point of view, but also from the testing side of things. 

Supporting such a broad range of control schemes and platforms also implies a considerable challenge, luckily we are able to get through a significant part of this work thanks to Photon. For you to have an idea of the complexity that goes into making this part of the game, I will describe some practical cases: When you play in non-VR, the game doesn’t need to control the character that is piloting the car, opposite to the case when you are in VR, that you control your head and the game responds to that reflecting it in the virtual environment. When in VR, the game needs to check if you are using a wheel, in that case it won’t have to worry about your hands, but if you play with move controllers, the game has to reflect your hands movements too. Additionally, all the control schemes and devices should integrate well with each other in the same environment, that happens also happens to the power-ups usage, when you use a hammer, or a bazooka, the behaviors of each item will vary depending on the control scheme of the player, if it’s in VR or not, but the final result should be equally fun and responsive in all the combinations of devices, peripherals and technologies used, looking like everything is well integrated for any pilot who is observing the action.

Taking the most out of the Early Access stage

On the 7th of September, we launched Touring Karts on Steam Early Access, and that helped us to improve the final quality of the game prior to launch it on other platforms, as the PlayStation 4. We got to detect and fix more than 100 bugs on the fly, especially on features that required heavy testing, as the multiplayer mode. Also identified many points to improve that were not initially in our to-do-list. The most important would be these here:

1. We received many criticisms about the circuits that coincided in indicating that they were all excessively similar to each other. To solve this, we introduced different elements in all the circuits, not only at the aesthetic level but also in terms of playability, giving each circuit its own personality.

2. There were also criticisms about the circuits that coincided in indicating that they were all excessively flat. To solve that we invented the dynamic ramps that allow the circuits to change at every turn with parts of the circuit that rise.

3. Other feedbacks were on collision physics helped us improve them considerably.

4. Also we received specific requests for features that we had not counted on, as being able to play in online mode only with friends, removing bots

The design of the circuits 

An important design choice we took when designing the circuits was to make them narrow, that was thought with the goal of increasing the fun and promote a fierce fight among pilots to reach the first place, find the gap and overtake the opponents. Also it is great when you are in VR and see the gestures of your rivals because they are close to you.

Power-ups Design and Sense of Humor

Something that really set our game apart from other titles in the genre is the absurd humor in the game. The monkey is a funny character that is very present in Touring Karts, he starts the race, his image is all over the place in ads that can be seen as decoration in the different circuits, his role is to annoy the players (particularly the one in first place) to make the races more balanced and interesting. Ah! and there is also a hilarious power-up that unleashes a bunch of mini-monkeys that hypnotize everybody racing close to you during a brief lapse of time!

Another animal that we found fun to feature in Touring Karts is the chicken, there is no particular reason for choosing that one, other than we found hilarious and cool to see yourself and other players smashed by a chicken in first-person while in VR. The giant chicken power-up has some really funny fusions, when you combine it with the bazooka you will see it with a military cap and dropping explosives everywhere as it stampede runs on everybody ahead of you. Also, when mixing it up with  the ice cube power-up, you will another chicken with a eskimo hat that runs like crazy while shitting ice cubes. 

We couldn’t forget that the aliens also have an important role in the game. There is a power up consisting of a mini potion that, when you drink it, a mini-UFO appears on top of every racer nearby and abducts them for a while. That one is hilarious and chaotic, especially when you are in a very crowded area! 

Avoiding Motion Sickness

We implemented 3 well differentiated cameras, among them there is one that we call “Arcade Cabinet” and it is great to avoid motion sickness, the player controls the game while sitting in a cabinet in VR, in front of a Touring Karts arcade machine with a big screen. The camera inside the cabinet monitor slightly follows the movement of the players head to improve the visibility compared to the one you will have by only playing in a flat HD screen. Also, when the player picks a power-up and makes the movement of throwing it into the virtual world (through the arcade cabinet monitor), the movements of the player are equally captured and the power-ups physically appear in the player’s hands (he throws the chicken into the cabinet’s screen) as if he was riding the kart in the real race, making the interaction much more realistic and immersive. 

What I like the most about Touring Karts

As developer, the most satisfying moment was when we got the multiplayer working with 8 players simultaneously and saw how much crazy fun it was. As a player, my favorite part of the game is that you can sit down for a race, have up-to 7 of your friends to join you online and go through a whole range of crazy and diverse situations, all sort of things can happen in a play session as short as two minutes, power ups battles, unexpected changes in your position, you can be first and then end up last, and vice-versa!​

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