Rollcage Developers Talk GRIP
If you’ve been following Kickstarter projects lately, and it seems to be increasingly vital to do so as a fan of retro games, you might have noticed a futuristic racing project called GRIP gaining attention. If not, take a look at the video above. The goal is CAD$657,000 and the campaign runs until 10th September.
If you’re up on your futuristic racers you’ll know that the project is inspired by the Rollcage series, developed by Attention To Detail for Psygnosis in the late Nineties. The first game arrived on the PlayStation and PC in 1999, followed by the sequel Rollcage Stage II in 2000. Later on, Attention To Detail developed the very similar Firebugs for PlayStation in 2002, which released in Europe only.
However, GRIP’s heritage goes beyond simple inspiration – Rob Baker was a coder on the first two games, and David Perryman was a level designer on the first game and producer on the second. Together with Chris Mallinson, the director of GRIP who created its initial demo with Rob, they’re part of the Caged Element team developing the game. They’ve all come together to answer some questions about the new project for us too, so without further ado:
How did this project come together?
David Perryman: Rob Baker and I have been friends from back in the ATD days. We were having a beer one night and reminiscing about how great it was to work on Rollcage and Rollcage Stage II. I recalled a time during development when he’d got all prophetic and said that it was the best project he was ever likely to work on. We looked into our glasses and nodded agreement. It never occurred to us at that point that we might want to make the spiritual successor.
A few months later Rob was banging on the door with his laptop and demanding I have a look at what he’d done with this guy Chris from Canada. I was totally blown away with what they’d managed to come up with and I instantly agreed to lend a hand getting GRIP made.
Rob Baker: Coincidentally, soon after that, I was approached by a group of Rollcage fans who wanted to try and update the game in order to be able to play it well on modern machines. Binary decay had left it with some issues, yet they still loved playing it anyway, even after all these years. Nostalgia hit, and I happily fixed up a few things for them on both the original Rollcage and Stage II – now they’re excitedly kicking seven shades out of each other in their regular network games. Not long thereafter, Chris approached me with the idea of doing a whole new version of the game. Still warm from the glow of working on Rollcage again, how could I say no? It’d been too long; it’d been way too long.
Chris Mallinson: I was browsing the web one day, looking for any morsels of news on a sequel to my favourite racing game of all time. I came across something called Rollcage Redux that Rob had put out for current versions of Windows.
Intrigued by his passion and pushed by my own excitement, I shot him a rather disjointed proposal to make a game – a spiritual successor to our most beloved racer. Miraculously, he said yes! And here we are.
We started off slow, getting a feel for each other’s work ethic and personality, then pretty much exploded into developing the prototype you see in our media. It’s been a lot of work for two guys.
15 years have passed since the Rollcage games came out, and technology has moved on. How is GRIP using that extra power?
RB: Two things really, physics and rendering. Of course many things are better now than they were then, but these two in particular stand out as being far in advance. Rollcage was developed on the original PSX with two 33MHz processors and 3MB of RAM – it was another world. Already the physics and handling in GRIP make Rollcage look like a cartoon by comparison, and it’s only going to get better. As for the rendering, well, we’ve all seen what Unreal Engine 4 can do. Things like ambient occlusion and depth of field blurring were just a dream when we originally wrote Rollcage. It’s been a fulfilling experience, to say the least, to tread that ground again but with so many options in hand.
DP: When we did Rollcage we had to write all the tools and editor ourselves. A large proportion of the time was spent wrestling the editor into submission and pushing it beyond its limits. Now all that work is taken care of with UE4. I’m really looking forward to getting stuck into building some tracks again. From a design perspective this extra power is about having the opportunity to realise all the cool ideas we had when we were making Rollcage, but weren’t possible then. Like, massive skyscrapers falling from the sky and creating alternate routes over the track or a suspension bridge buckling under the barrage of rockets. We want the experience to be epic and every race to tell a unique story.
CM: Rollcage was a technically impressive game for its time: beautiful effects, never-seen-before physics, destructible environments and incredible AI. We want GRIP to be similarly impressive by today’s standards.
UE4 is pretty damn powerful. It allows for a ludicrous amount of polygons, textures and effects on screen at once, and it’s blueprint system is just incredible. I’m no coder, but I’ve built blueprints in Unreal that work, and work properly.
Not only that but it’s integration with other programs like World Machine make a world (ha) of difference, so you can easily dump beautiful landscapes into the engine. And then the spline tools allow you to draw and shape terrain and meshes into a proper track. It’s going to be a lot of fun coming up with tracks for GRIP, I can’t wait.
What else will GRIP do to build on the Rollcage template?
RB: It’s a fine line to tread here. Of course we want to please the original fans of Rollcage, but we also have to write a new game for a modern audience. There’s a core of precious gameplay there that we have to be very careful with. But we’re also adding value in things like weapons, where the Scorpion homing missile has a much more realistic flight path and has a much-evolved intelligent homing ability. We’re also adding new weapons like the Quaker proximity mine to take out any tail-gaters foolish enough to linger behind you. But it’s also in the little things, like possibly being able to destroy pick-up pads to deny your rivals, and in collecting salvage from around the racetrack to upgrade your car after the race. We’re thinking of enumerable ways to improve and enhance the Rollcage recipe. And we’re looking to the community for their input.
DP: It’s been 15 years and Rollcage has always been in the back of my mind. I think for me, it’s about building ‘moments’. One thing that stands out for me are the cool moments Rollcage offered: Rocket jumping off of a hill, hurtling through the air and timing it just right to get a boost off an exploding billboard before some deft movements get you back on track and carrying your speed to overtake your mate on the line. It’s a game that rewarded skill and offering these moments is something I’m keen to build on for GRIP. I know Chris has some great ideas on how to create those moments too.
CM: Rollcage is a great inspiration to us. But GRIP is a new game and a brand new IP. It’s going to be different in many ways.
For one we’d like the track layouts to further take advantage of the car’s design, with interesting ways of navigating. Like having 4-way split tunnels that have you steering onto the wall or ceiling to make it through, or trick jumps that have you going from ground to ceiling or spinning through a tight gap to an alternate route. And every route must be balanced so it’s not the dominant one, but an alternative with the right mix or danger and reward. Whether that means making it shorter but much harder to navigate, or having a pick-up along the way to lure people to take the more dangerous path.
Routes that are only accessible using weapons (like the missile) would be awesome as well. So you’d have to choose whether to use that missile against an opponent or open up another way to get ahead… or even rocket jump into different section of track. Now that would be cool.
This stuff takes a lot of fine-tuning though, and some things may not work in the end. It’s why we’re keen to get the community involved and are offering Alpha access to backers on Kickstarter, it’s not just a gimmick, we really want the community to feed back on how things work in game. David tells me that during development of Rollcage the whole team would play the game in their lunch hour and after work. I think that passion shines through in the quality of the original. We’re humbled to know our fans are passionate about GRIP too and we hope to capture that in the game as well.
Destruction is another big one.
Rollcage touched upon destruction as much as it could for tech era it was released in, but with UE4 and their destructibles system, we want to make it a big part of the game. Blast out a bridge support to bring the sucker down behind you, or ram an opponent into an adjacent pillar, sending them flying in a spray of debris. Again it’s about gameplay balancing, though, so for instance that bridge you brought down needs to have some arches or something that create ways through and not block the player entirely – while still creating a decent obstacle.
We also want to improve upon the feeling of weight with these cars. They’re big, hulking machines that are sometimes 5 times the size of a regular car, so they need to feel that way. You need to feel their tires tearing into the track as well as their mass as they smash into an obstacle or opponent. So far we think we’ve done a great job with this, and the vehicle this time around doesn’t feel as much like a toy, but without taking away that fun arcadey feel.
Pick-ups, as in weapons and power-ups are super important. We’re trying to give them a more tangible feel, adding a bit of realism where it works. Like the standard missile, which deploys out the side of the car and then ignites. Rather than just appearing and shooting forward, it lights up and propels itself at whatever angle it got thrown out of the car. Although it’s deadly accurate, it weaves and twirls as it finds it’s target. This way it just looks and feels a little more… well, cool.
How long did it take to create the one-track prototype that features in your pitch video?
DP: Rob and Chris have been working on that full time, for free, for most of this year. As you can see, from the work so far, they’re incredibly talented. I am so looking forward to having the opportunity to show off what they can achieve, if we’re lucky enough to reach our Kickstarter goal.
RB: The short answer, longer than we planned. But this was a prototype, and we did all the learning that a prototype is meant for. We took most of this year to develop the game and this particular track, but we believe it will take considerably less time for future tracks now that the learning curve has been summited. We’re actually pretty proud that just two devs, one artist and one coder, have produced everything in the game so far. This is testament to the power of UE4, and we’re very excited about getting a few more devs on-board post-Kickstarter to really get things moving. These are exciting times.
CM: Having to handle the art by myself has been pretty difficult at times. There’s been a lot to juggle. But one thing that I’m really pleased about is how the track turned out, all things considered. Truth be told, I was going to completely ditch its landscape and start fresh, but I salvaged it with a revamp on the lighting and textures. Then I took whatever assets I built and threw them into the map as best I could in the time that I had.
UE4’s spline system has been a life saver with creating the track’s tunnel sections. I’ve got a decently complex spline blueprint made (with some tech help from a talented friend) and that allows me to just drag out portions of tunnel to wherever I want, complete with all it’s meshes and lighting. So yeah, the track went through a lot of issues and iterations so it’s kind of a miracle it turned out ok, ha. It’s hard to say how many hours I put into it since I was jumping back and forth from task to task, but I have been working on it since early this year.
All that said, the current track was put together to showcase a decent level of graphical fidelity in our videos, and is not a true representation of tracks that will be in the full game – graphics-wise or design-wise. Those will not only look better, but have more interesting layouts.
How important is it to have original Rollcage team members on board?
RB: I think it’s a big plus. Writing Rollcage wasn’t easy, and neither will writing GRIP be. We’re having to extend and enhance our own version of UE4 to be able to do the things that GRIP needs to do from a physics perspective. In a way, that is testamant to the power of Unreal. Rollcage-style physics brings particular challenges. When there is no right-way-up any more, no real up nor down along with that tremendous speed, all the standard racing physics goes out of the window. This requires some particular experience, and some particular pedigree to be able to get done right. Knowing that our Producer also designed some of the best and most creative tracks in Rollcage is also no small thing, we’ve been very lucky in enticing David back into the scene.
DP: Cheers Rob. I think there are a lot of talented people in the World that I have absolutely no doubt could make a decent spiritual successor to Rollcage. However, to get that ‘feel’ just right and to create those ‘moments’ it needs a deep understanding about what’s at the heart of GRIP. This is not just a spiritual successor, but a heartfelt one too.
CM: Rob and Dave have been integral in this project getting off the ground. Without Rob’s programming skill and previous experience, I’d essentially be lost. There would be no GRIP. I’m sure he’d say the same about me, but all my art means nothing if it doesn’t actually do anything. In such a short time, he’s brought so many gameplay features to life and conquered so many unforeseen obstacles. It’s truly been a privilege.
And although David joined the team somewhat recently, his experience as a Producer has been a giant help to the Kickstarter campaign. Without him, we’d have been asking for an unrealistic level of funding that would not have covered full development, just to reach the goal. He’s identified a ton of pitfalls we would have found ourselves in. Although, some have criticized that our goal as too high, it is a realistic target to make the game we’re promising. Bearing in mind the original Rollcage cost the equivalent of $1,500,000 CAD back in 1997, we think that after years of inflation, $650k is a bargain when games of a similar quality are costing upwards of $5m to make these days. In that light, our goal is pretty low. So, bottom line is, Dave is as level headed and realistic as a Producer can be, and that’s extremely valuable.
And it definitely helps that both Rob and Dave have prior Rollcage experience. These guys know how to make a great combat racer, that much is obvious. We have all the ingredients in place to make this game and make it awesome. It’s really up to the fans to decide if we should have a shot at it or not.
There’s been a few games attempting to revive futuristic racing recently – as well as GRIP, there’s the likes of Formula Fusion and Redout. Why do you think that is?
CM: When people think of their gaming good times, they usually think about the older titles they’d play way back when they’d have sleepovers and sit for hours on the couch with their friends doing things like beating each other to a pulp, exploring exciting new worlds or burning rubber. Having a chance at those feelings again all these years later but with a brand spanking new game is pretty enticing.
The futuristic racing genre specifically needs a revive, since there haven’t been too many titles in the past decade or so that fit the category. We’re glad to be doing our part to bring it back.
RB: They say things move in cycles, and I’m sure they do. People follow fashion and plagiarise each other in every aspect of life, and gaming is no different. Things have their time, then we slowly evolve away from them to make room for the new, only to revisit them again in the future when we crave what once was. Formula Fusion and Wipeout are a little different, as Wipeout never really went away. It was a lone voice for the longest time however, in a world that has been seriously devoid of arcade racers. But that was then. People like to experience something different, and the power of nostalgia is strong. So harking back to that hardcore arcade gameplay that Rollcage sported so well, after having not experienced it for so long, was an easy choice for us.
DP: As a kid I was brought up on futuristic racers like Powerdrome on my Amiga, and then I got a chance to help make Rollcage. And then kids were brought up on that. Quite a bit of feedback is from those kids, who have now grown up, and find there’s something missing in the present day line up of games. I’d say futuristic combat racers are a staple genre that’s been lacking in representation for a decade and the time is ripe to redress the balance. I miss them and I want to play them, and I can absolutely appreciate that the big developers and publishers may consider the market too small to invest in. But, I still want to play them! I can’t be alone in that, surely?