High Voltage Interview: High Voltage Hot Rod Show

We love a good racing game here at WiiWare World. As D2C’s SPOGS Racing failed to deliver the goods we pinned our hopes on another racer to come to WiiWare and save the day. Perhaps High Voltage Hot Rod Show is that game?

We got in touch with our pals at High Voltage Software, developers of the rather good Gyrostarr and the upcoming awesome looking FPS 'The Conduit' to find out more. Thankfully the game’s producer Josh VanVeld took some time out of his busy schedule to tell us more about this upcoming game:

WiiWare World: Where did the idea come about to make a racing game for WiiWare?

Josh VanVeld: The origin was a simple Penny Racer toy car that Eric Nofsinger, our Chief Creative Officer, had sitting on a coffee table in his office. One day, he and Matt Corso, our Art Director, were playing with the car and it got them talking about the old Micro Machines video game and how cool it would be to do a modern version of that. That got the ball rolling and the idea grew and matured from there into what it is today.

WW: Were you inspired by games like Excite Truck when putting together the concept for Hot Rod Show?

JV: We certainly thought about Excite Truck and Mario Kart Wii, but the bigger influences were simpler, older games like R.C. Pro- Am, Micro Machines, and Racing Gears Advance. We wanted a game that felt really tight and competitive, where players felt that they had total control over their vehicles and the way to win was to master the gameplay mechanics and memorize every detail of each track. Once racing games start to get really complicated, for instance with the dozens of weapons and power-ups in the most recent versions of Mario Kart, or with gigantic tracks and deformable terrain in Excite Truck, I think they lose some of their focus.

WW: The ever versatile Quantum 3 engine powers Hot Rod Show, can you tell us more about the benefits of using your proprietary engine?

JV: For this title, the biggest benefit was the maturity of the engine and the toolset, which allowed us to get up and running very quickly. Within days of kicking off the project with a very small team, we had a little truck driving around on a simple track. When you can get the basic game elements into a build that quickly, it maximizes the time you can spend adding secondary features and tweaking gameplay.

WW: What controller options are available? Is it D-pad control or tilting mayhem like Excite Truck?

JV: This is a point we're really proud of. The default option is to use Wii remote in a horizontal position like Excite Truck (you can use the Wii Wheel accessory if you like). Steering is motion-based, as are stunts. You also have the option to add a Nunchuk and use the thumbstick for steering. Or you can use a Classic Controller, or even a GameCube controller. Early in development we decided that giving players options to suit their preferences was really important. In the end, I think it was totally worth the extra effort the team put in.

WW: How do you pull off stunts in order to build up the boost bar?

JV: As far as control goes, it's very simple: either a shake of the Wii remote or a button press will make your Hot Rod perform a stunt while you're in the air, depending on your controller configuration. What makes the system interesting is that there's a lot of additional strategy and skill involved. Doing a series of stunts yields progressively more boost, meaning that the third stunt you nail off a ramp is worth more boost than the first stunt. If you're in the middle of a stunt when you hit the ground, you'll crash and lose all of your boost. So part of the skill is measuring how much hang time you'll have off of a particular ramp so you know how many stunts you can hit before landing.

All of the ramps are the same, but Bunny Hopping off a ramp will give you bigger air, as will hitting a ramp when you're under boost, so you have to take those factors into account for each jump. The more complicated element of the strategy is that you slow down when you're in the air, so if your boost meter is half full, you may want to think twice about getting a huge jump because the net result will be that you lose time. It's nothing super-complicated, but it keeps you thinking throughout the race.

WW: How will the AI play out in Hot Rod Show? Will it be rubber banded like in Mario Kart?

JV: Great question! While we can appreciate how a good rubber-banding system keeps you in the middle of the action, the team decided that we wanted the racing to feel really competitive and never cheap. In almost any racing game, there's nothing worse than losing a race on the last corner to an AI that was obviously cheating the laws of the game. We built our AI to obey all of the game rules during a race (although I do admit that we give our hard AI a special edge at the start of a race).

We then plotted multiple racing lines along each track for the AI to try to follow and gave them decision-making abilities similar to the player's. We also built in error percentages, so hard AI will never misjudge a trick, where easy AI does a lot of crashing. We ended up with a result that we're happy with, namely easy AI that beginners can beat, and hard AI that provides a challenge even for veteran players.

WW: Is there a danger that with only 6 tracks that this will get boring? What do you do to spice things up?

JV: We built eight tracks for the game initially, but we had to cut two of them due to the WiiWare memory restrictions. Additional tracks would have meant a serious visual sacrifice across the board, which we weren't prepared to make. The good news is that I don't think this hurts us at all. To set a competitive lap time in Time Trial mode or compete against strong opponents in Multiplayer mode, you really need to have every detail of the track memorized and a good strategy worked out.

Each of our six tracks has a totally unique layout and feel that sets it apart from the others, and I expect that the game will still feel fresh after many hours of racing. I've lost count of how many hours I've spent playing, and it never gets boring, especially in split-screen mode.

WW: Was it tricky to maintain a decent framerate when playing in 4 player split screen?

JV: We didn't have to sink a lot of time into that. The single-player game runs extremely fast, so four player mode just required us to reduce some of the visual effects that you wouldn't see anyway due to the smaller screen real estate and establish a draw distance limit. Four player races, especially longer races against skilled opponents, could be the best experience you'll have with the game. I highly recommend it.

WW: What stats will the online leaderboards keep track of?

JV: The leaderboards are tied to Time Trial mode, where you can locally save your top ten best lap times on each of the six tracks. If you choose, you can upload your number one time for each. The Online Leaderboards display your initials, your best time, and your ranking. You also see the top times worldwide for that track, along with those ranked just above you.

WW: What made you decide against implementing online multiplayer on this occasion?

JV: The decision ultimately came down to budget. Online multiplayer is a pretty huge feature in any game and demands a great deal of additional coding and testing, so we wouldn't have had much of a game to deliver if we had gone for it. The Online Leaderboards were not initially part of the game design, but we stretched the budget to make that feature happen and we think it adds a dimension of online competition to the game.

WW: The character artwork is quite interesting, can you tell us a bit about that?

JV: For that answer I went to Benjamin Savage, the game's Lead Artist, and this is what he had to say:

We wanted to combine all of the influences and art styles associated with Hot Rod Kulture and Midwestern Americana, and create a look that was both cartoonish and realistically textured. So, we looked to artists like William "Bill" Campbell, the father of Weird-ohs, Ed “Big Daddy Roth, Von Dutch, Ryan Wood, Todd Harris, Jason Seiler, Marcelo Vignali. We also listened to a lot of Psychobilly and Surf music like the Ghastly Ones and Nekromantix while working.

WW: How many Wii points should this retail for roughly and when are we likely to see it in North America?

JV: I can't reveal pricing info right now, as it is still being determined, but we think gamers will be getting good value for their money. As far as a release date goes, the game is basically finished; it's just a matter of fixing a few bugs and getting it through Nintendo's certification process. We hope you'll be able to play it very soon!

WW: So far your earlier WiiWare games V.I.P. Casino: Blackjack and Gyrostarr have not been released in Europe - what gives?

JV: This is something we've been considering, but no final decision has been made yet. We know that there are a number of fans in Europe who would love to get their hands on these titles.

WW: What WiiWare game to date has impressed you most other than a High Voltage game of course?

JV: I'd say the Strong Bad series is pretty impressive. The Wii really is such a perfect platform for adventure games because of the ability to use the pointer interface. On top of that, they're doing episodic content, which lessens the impact of memory limitations.