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Road To The IGF:  Racing Pitch 's Jetro Lauha

Road To The IGF: Racing Pitch's Jetro Lauha

January 5, 2007 | By Alistair Wallis

January 5, 2007 | By Alistair Wallis
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Continuing Gamasutra's 'Road to the IGF' feature, which profiles and interviews Independent Games Festival 2007 entrants, today's interview is with Jetro Lauha of Skinflake, developers of voice-based racer Racing Pitch.

The innovative title was developed by Lauha, along with artist Sara Kapli, and allows players "to be the engine for a racing car" by mimicking the engine sound. The car is set on a "fixed track so you only have to control the speed with the pitch of your voice".

Racing Pitch features "different characters, eleven tracks and exhaust pipe awards", and has recently been announced as a finalist in the IGF for 2007, in the Excellence In Audio category.

We spoke to Lauha about the game, its entry into the competition, and his experiences with voice analysis during its development.

What is your background in the games industry?

I started over 10 years ago when a few small shareware games were created by me and my friends in our spare time. Later I started working alongside my studies and I was outside the games industry for two years. Then I joined a start-up company called Fathammer which created games and middleware for mobile/handheld devices. I stayed with them over four years and now I am working for Sulake (famous for Habbo Hotel), still making games for mobile platforms.

While I have professionally worked on games for quite some time, I have continued making indie game projects on my spare time. One of my first shareware games was a cave flier called KOPS, which was created over a decade ago. But the most widely spread of my games are the games featuring ragdoll-physics, namely Stair Dismount and its sequel Truck Dismount.

When was Skinflake formed, and what previous titles have you released?

Skinflake dates back to 2004 and to the release of the experimental "Dismount Levels" project. Since then Skinflake has released also Pogo Sticker and the latest one is Racing Pitch. Also the earlier Dismount games have been re-branded as part of the Skinflake's offering.

What inspired Racing Pitch, and why did you decide to make it?

Over a decade ago I created a small prototype of a game which was controlled only by mimicking certain pitches of sound with your own voice. That was fun enough that I knew I wanted to try again some day. With some of my friends we had also joked for years about making a car game with using pitch to control the speed, and having various wild ideas of the other parts of the gameplay as well.

I had some vacation from my day job and I wanted to create a new little game, having already done some research about making this voice racing game... but then I invented a new game idea which I was quite inspired about. I was almost ready to drop the voice game in the favor of this new idea, but my wife persuaded me not to drop it as it was "about the time" to try out the concept. So I put the other idea to back burner and set out to work on the Racing Pitch.

Why did you decide to use a microphone as a control method?

Well, it was more like the other way around - using the microphone would play the leading role. The question was what else to put in there with the microphone control? In the end, I decided it wouldn't be even necessary to let the player steer the car, but instead focus only on the microphone control. The game itself is very simple and the control method is what makes it so different.

What were your expectations from your game, and do you feel the end product lives up to those expectations?

I expected the game would give players some cheerful moments of laughter, just based on how much fun my friends and I had had with the idea beforehand. I think the end result does deliver that, although in the current form it's not very long-living one. The end results were analyzed afterwards to see what could be improved to make the game more fun and the temptation last longer.

What do you think the most interesting thing about your game is?

Relying solely on your own voice to control the game surely makes it to stand out from many other games. It's also good to note that this type of game works also for children. It's also fun to note that a company representing a major peripheral hardware vendor wanted to use the game for promotional purposes, and I ended up getting some free hardware from giving my permission.

How long did development take?

Most of the time calendar-wise went to initial research of technical side and constructing a few different prototypes to test out sound analysis. This wasn't full-time work, so it's hard to estimate the spent time. Actual implementation of the final game was done pretty quickly, maybe in a bit over a week of somewhat long days. I got some help for the graphics and level design, though.

What was the development process like?

In the early phase of the development I conducted a test among bunch of different test persons asking them to record their own voice to mimic a car, so that I could analyze both the different types of voice and the way how the testers used their voice to mimic the car sound.

Based on my findings I designed a few alternative sound input analyzing methods and after testing those I finally settled on one which was to be used in the game itself. Some of the methods left unused could be used for different types of gameplay, but there wasn't enough time to properly implement extra gameplay as there was a deadline.

What do you think of the state of independent development, and how do you think independent games fit into the industry?

I think there has always been a place for independent games in addition to the mainstream offering. One thing I miss is the possibility for indies to sell games for consoles, because by this far that has been practically impossible. It'd be great to make indie games, e.g. for Nintendo Wii.

Have you checked out any of the other IGF games?

I have checked out quite many of them at least briefly, mostly before reading this article series.

Which ones are you particularly impressed with, and why?

I think Armadillo Run is quite nice, maybe because I have created some physics games as well. Some of my colleagues got really hooked on it for a few days.

Which recent indie games do you admire, and which recent mainstream titles do you admire, and why?

Well, I really liked Chronic Logic's Pontifex, Triptych and Raptisoft's Hamsterball, although those aren't that new anymore. Some of the Zuma/Luxor-type games have really got me hooked for a while as well.

From mainstream I like Civilization 4. I should buy FlatOut 2 when I can find some time to play something new, as I liked the first one a lot. Trackmania Nations is also a cool game, although I didn't stuck on playing it like some of my friends! Lately I have also played Brain Training, New Super Mario Bros. and Mario Kart on DS, which are all well executed.

Do you have any messages for your fellow contestants or fans of the IGF?

All of you indie developers, keep on trying out your weirdest ideas!

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