Interview with Speed Zone Developer, Archer Maclean

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Archer Maclean to talk about his upcoming game, SpeedZone, a graphically stunning, futuristic racing game for the Wii.

Archer has a 30-year track record of award-winning hits, including the seminal PSP launch title Archer Maclean’s Mercury. Among Maclean’s other acclaimed works are Pool Paradise, World Karate Championship (a U.S. #1 hit in 1986), IK+, and the classic Dropzone.

Here are some excerpts from our interview.

How did you come up with the idea for Speed Zone?

There were many factors, including the opportunity to get the original Mercury PSP team back together and to do a really fast and fun racing game that would stand out against other race simulations available for the Wii.

In terms of deciding which console to pursue, we felt that competing with the PS3 and Xbox heavy-weight driving game franchises wouldn’t be commercially worthwhile when the development budgets are often into the tens of millions. And from a commercial perspective, the Wii market is potentially the largest market for causal gamers, offering a large audience with 50 million Wii’s installed and there’s no indication that GT5 (the current racing game frontrunner) will be available for the Wii anytime soon. We were also surprised at the lack of high-quality, fluid driving games for the Wii, with most competing products being either focused on children or bad ports from other platforms.

Since there wasn’t really anything out there taking advantage of the Wii’s unique capabilities, we set about creating a driving game optimized to really push the machine’s graphics and show just what the Wii can do.

When did you begin working on it?

Late 2007

Tell me a little about Speed Zone and what makes it different than other driving games.

In a nutshell:

* Player experiences the sensation of very high speed driving whilst still feeling like they are in control of a car
Quality and speed of the graphical effects
* Instant control of the car on the screen that we believe is better than any other Wii driving game.
* Familiar-feeling vehicle dynamics even if we’re pushing them to the equivalent of nearly 400mph on some tracks.
* Open-level structure in all game modes, visually summarized on one 3D pyramid menu
* Achievement-based unlocks, cash rewards, secrets to find, car mods and enhancements
* Selection of car skins to cater for all tastes – male and female
* And much more …


What’s the advantage of playing Speed Zone with Logitech Speed Force Wireless?

With Logitech Speed Force Wireless, you can feel every bump in the track through the wheel’s kickback. You’ll also find that it has a level of physical control and force feedback that is better than any other Wii driving game. Finally, the wheel’s accuracy, and the fact that it has analog throttle and brake control flaps (whereas the Wii Remote has on/off braking and acceleration control), make it a must-have for getting the best game experience.

What type force-feedback effects are used with the Logitech force feedback wheel? And how do these enhance game play?

I remember the first time I played a sit-down Sega Rally Arcade game in 1994/5 with its force-feedback steering. I recall how brilliant it was at making you feel you were power-sliding around a race track hairpin, skidding on rough dirt, or in mid-air when leaping off jumps. They did it all by making the wheel go smooth and floppy or stiff and jiggly.

We wanted to provide the same range of sensations using the Speed Force wheel. When playing Speed Zone, the feel of the wheel adjusts according to the type of surface you’re driving on. For example, when on a tarmac stage, the wheel feels very firm and responds immediately, whilst on slippery, icy or metallic surfaces, the wheel feels much looser and the vehicle is less responsive to steering inputs .

Basically, the Logitech Speed Force Wireless transforms the feel of the game from good (with the Wii remote), to amazing.

Your multiplayer modes sound pretty ambitious, supporting up to eight racers at a time. Can you tell us more about your multiplayer support?

Yup. Technically, the Wii can support a combination of up to 12 controllers on one console, although you can’t have more than four of any type at one time. Also, Nun Chucks have the same motion sensors as Wii Remotes, so it seemed like a good idea to try an eight-way game with four Wii remotes and four Nun Chucks simultaneously. Initial experiments proved it was possible, but to force the Wii hardware to render eight separate mini-screens at once was a real challenge and we had to make all sorts of optimizations to mesh detail, graphic content and frame rate to get it to work, but it does work surprisingly well.

Because our render pipeline is highly optimized for the Wii, Speedzone allows four players in quad split-screen mode running at up to 60fps. With four speed force wheels this is really addictive and fast.

Also, it’s worth noting that Speed Zone in quad screen mode runs faster than other games in single player mode, but that’s what happens when games are written for higher-spec consoles and down-converted rather than built from the ground up for the Wii.

What’s your favorite nuanced feature of the game, perhaps something that gives it more depth than some similar games?

There are too many to mention, but here are some thoughts off the top of my head.

We set out to be NOT just another realistic-looking driving game modeled on real-world tracks because most driving games have done this to death. Instead, we wanted to put the player in some surreal locations while keeping the familiarity of driving a vehicle.

The multiplayer modes are a real blast, especially the Battle levels where it’s all-out warfare using some big weapons and scoring the most damage points whilst trying to avoid being targeted.

Because we wanted to build some longevity into the game, we have a cash-earning structure that allows players to mod their car and adjust various performance aspects to suit the variety of track challenges.

And for those players who’ve managed to unlock all the levels, we give them an APEX score which is basically the sum total of all their best outright lap times on all the tracks, the idea being that they’ll want to make this APEX score time as low as possible and revisit previously unlocked tracks using various modified cars. This single value represents their overall game ranking or ability and allows any two players to compare skills and see who has the lowest overall APEX score for the whole game.

With Speed Zone II, we’ll be developing this side of the game much more – maintaining on-line leader boards, as well as supporting on-line play.

You’ve had a long history in gaming and developing for various platforms. What was it like making this game for Wii?

Developing for the Wii is very straightforward. The dev hardware is very cost effective, relatively speaking, and you’re not tied into specific tools. All in all, its been a blast.

You’ve always been very hands–on in your development projects. In fact you’ve often been a one-man dev team. What was your team like for Speed Zone?

Yup – I might not contribute to coding anymore, but I do get very involved in all aspects of the code, art, music/sfx and general day to day steering of the whole design and polish. But everyone here chips in and that’s what makes for a great team.

The Speed Zone name carries an obvious element from one of your early successes, DropZone. Are there any gameplay or game design similarities?

Any resemblance to current or past games is purely coincidental.

The game originally had a different title, but it didn’t translate well into other languages. “Speed Zone” came about fairly late into the project when we all realized that when playing the game in solo mode, the overriding feeling is one of being “in the zone” due to the immense speed you can obtain on some tracks – so much so that you barely blink on a flying lap and when you stop, hours seem to have past by without even realizing it.

In fact, the other night I was playing Speed Zone on a 50” plasma, in 480p high resolution mode with the sound turned right up to 11 on the amp, and when I came off the game, I had to go cool off in a dark corner – I was literally ”zoned out!!!”

When and where can folks buy Speed Zone?

Speed Zone should be available beginning in July in a selection of game stores, on all the usual online sites, or direct from www.detn8games.com.

What else is your crew at Awesome Play working on?

We’re a small, tight-knit team, so we don’t have dozens of projects on the go as I feel this would spread our efforts too thinly.

I can tell you that there are currently two projects in the works, one of which uses the Speed Force wheel again.

Author

Senior Global Marketing Manager, Gaming