Interview: Eclipse Games on Driving for the Podium With Super Toy Cars
Posted by Conor McMahon
Charging off the grid
Super Toy Cars is a recent arrival on the Wii U eShop, satisfying the appetite some will have for even more racing on the system; it's also on PC. It takes a fairly unique approach and includes a track editor, though at launch the experience is offline-only, with online leaderboards on the agenda; the emphasis is on local multiplayer, in particular.
It's another solid title on the store, which we awarded 6/10 in our review; like a lot of titles from small development teams, though, there's scope for improvement in subsequent updates. We caught up with the founder of Eclipse Games, Eduardo Jimenez, to chat about the title, learn more about its sources of inspiration and potential improvements that the studio may try to implement on Wii U.
To start us off, could you introduce yourself and give a little background on Eclipse Games for our readers?
Hi, my name is Eduardo Jimenez, although many people know me as Barkley. I’m the founder of Eclipse Games and its Technical Director — erm… that’s a way of saying I’m the only programmer in the team. The team has a 2D artist/designer (Toni) and a 3D artist (Lolo), too. We get some help from other people every now and then too but I think you could say that’s the core team at the moment.
Eclipse Games is a company I founded in 2011 after leaving Black Rock studios with the intent to do fun ‘little’ games. We wanted to do the kind of games we loved when we were kids and that sometimes you can’t find so easily nowadays.
You've likely heard the comparisons made between Super Toy Cars and the Micro Machines series before. Were those titles a major source of inspiration for your visual style?
Yeah, visually speaking Micro Machines is definitely our main source of inspiration along with the Toy Story films. In terms of gameplay, I wasn’t such a huge fan of Micro Machines as I was of Death Rally. I mainly loved the fact that you had weapons to destroy the opposition, which is something you didn’t have in the first Micro Machines games (the ones I played).
Would you describe Super Toy Cars as a 'kart' racer, or something else entirely?
Hm… You can’t say Super Toy Cars looks and plays a bit like a ‘kart’ racer, but it wasn’t originally thought like that. We started Super Toy Cars as a homage to Death Rally and Micro Machines (only top-down view). Then one day I tried to put the camera behind the car and the tracks actually worked pretty well, so we decided to go ahead with that view.
With regards to the handling, I’m not such a huge fan of kart racers as I am of arcade racing games. I love Burnout games (particularly Burnout Paradise) and some Need for Speed games. I tried to bring the variety of handling these games provide to our game. That has been a source of frustration to some people, while others are quite happy with it.
I developed quite a complex physics simulation of the car. We simulate everything from the wheel physics to the engine and transmission. Obviously it’s not a simulator like Asetto Corsa or iRacing, our physics simulation is way simpler than theirs, but still it’s relatively complex (we even simulate ABS and ESP), and we did it all to try to provide a deep experience to our players.
I think that’s where our game differs most from a typical kart racer, we have a lot of variety in handling models, ranging from very stable and ‘sturdy’ cars to very loose and drifty ones. Where I believe we could’ve done a lot better is in communicating which cars are which to the player.
It must have been a fun process deciding what kind of everyday environments would feature as race tracks. Were any team favourites left out during development?
Yeah, it was quite fun, particularly the kitchen and the baby room. Both of these had lots of objects that were left out due to time constraints.
With regards to environments that didn’t make it to the game there are 2 that we still feel we should add at some point: a candy store and a pinball table. We’ll see if we get the time for these at some point…
Using the Unity development engine, how easy was the process of bringing this title to Wii U?
It was pretty easy to be honest. We developed both the PC and Wii U versions in parallel so that helped a lot too. We only branched out the 2 versions when we started submitting versions to Lotcheck (the Nintendo QA process). That’s why the PC version has some fixes that the Wii U doesn’t.
In general I have to say it was a very painless process most of the time.
What appealed to you about porting to Wii U as opposed to other gaming platforms?
First of all Nintendo was very approachable. They also helped us a lot loaning us a dev kit and a test kit. They have been really close and approachable during the whole development process, from concept to submission. I have to thank particularly Nintendo of Europe for all their help, and Tim particularly.
We may give it a go in other consoles in the future too, but going first to Wii U was the right choice in my opinion. It’s a great console and the team behind it is really helpful and approachable.
Now that the title is available to home console players as well, are you excited for them to try some classic four-player splitscreen and maybe even cause a few couch fights?
Yeah, definitely! I know a lot of people find the Track Editor the main point of the game. I personally think that offline multiplayer is it. Back in October last year we went to some Spanish showroom in Segovia and had the chance to play the game 4 players split screen… on a wall! They had this massive projector and we played on a wall and it was a blast! Even at the state the game was at the time it was very good fun. I believe it’s even more fun now.
With an upcoming patch aiming to add online leaderboards alongside a few other features, can we expect to see some form of online multiplayer implemented in the future as well?
In this patch we are adding leaderboards (global and friends only), off-TV play mode, and we’ve ironed out most collision issues highlighted by reviews. We’re also fixing a couple of crashes too. We may still need another patch for bugs in the editor and other stuff.
Online multiplayer is not currently planned. Why? Well, for starters as you know developing online multiplayer for a game is no easy feat. We already have it working for PC, but we’re using Steam libraries to help us with that. We would need to write a lot of new code to port the online version from PC to Wii U.
Finally, and this is particularly important, we only have a test kit and a dev kit. That means we can only test 2 player multiplayer and not in the best circumstances (2 dev kits would work better). Even if could afford to buy more kits, which we can’t at the moment, we’re only 3 people in this team, we can hardly do 4-5 player tests.
In PC it was so much easier because we could just release a beta version to some friends and do 4-5 players tests. That’s not so easy in Wii U.
That all said, we may talk to Nintendo about it and see if there’s some sort of middleware we could use to try to get online multiplayer up and running with what we have. I’ve heard there are solutions (like Photon) that could be of help with that. I’m not sure how reliable it is to do most tests in PC and then only 2 player tests on Wii U. It sounds very risky if you ask me, but on the other hand so many people are asking for online multiplayer…
What are some unique features that you feel makes this title stand out?
The Track Editor is pretty unique among this kind of games in consoles. I know we should do something to allow players to share their tracks, we’re currently thinking what’s the best way to do this.
I believe the variety in handling is also a relatively unique selling point. It’s a controversial one though, as explained before, since not everyone likes it.
The Wii Remote controls differ greatly from other racing titles – Mario Kart 8 for example. Was this an intentional design choice?
Well, there we did the best we could. The game uses 3 main buttons (Boost, Power-Up and Drift/Brake) plus the steering and the Respawn button (and the acceleration which is automatic in the Wiimote). That’s a lot of buttons to have easily accessible in the Wiimote, that’s why we went for the upright position rather than the horizontal one.
We also decided against motion controls because they require a lot of work to get right. We could’ve thrown some motion controls but they would really feel unbalanced. You need to help the player when using motion controls because the precision you get is miles from the one you get from controller sticks. And that takes a lot of time and testing to get right.
Anyway I have to agree that Wiimote controls are one of the things we have to improve on.
As you seem to greatly value fan feedback, will you be checking in on Miiverse now that the game has launched?
Yes, definitely! I’ve been in Miiverse since the start and I think the experience has been very positive so far. I didn’t expect Miiverse players to be as involved as they are! Really, I think it may be even more crowded than Steam forums and that’s in spite of the limitations Wii U provides (it’s always harder to write on a virtual keyboard than a real one).
I’ve tried to answer questions wherever possible. We’re now organizing some contests where you can win a redeem code for the game if you get the best time in a concrete track. I’m trying to get involved with the community. I think that’s one of the few things indie developers can do to market their game and I think it goes a long way.
With an in-game track editor included, do you think players will be able to recreate their own bedrooms to race in?
I’m not sure the Track Editor is as versatile as to do that. Still I’d love to see that! 2 pictures next to each other: the real bedroom track and the virtual one. That’d be awesome!
Have you any final messages for our readers?
Well, I have to say that I hope you enjoy the game. We have put a lot of effort, care and love in this game. It’s been a long way to get here and we know it’s not without its fair share of faults and defects, but we expect you can find a fun game to play there anyway.
Also, feel free to send us your comments suggestions etc, both in Miiverse or, if you prefer, droping us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you very much for reading all this!