Super Laser Racer Postmortem
Aug 10, 2009—
After completing my previous game New Star GP I was considering replacing the racing cars with space ships and putting weapons in the game. It seemed like a fairly simple way to reuse the code that I’d spent the previous three months working on and quickly create an entirely new game. Meanwhile I had been playing PuppyGames’ Gravitron which I’d purchased through Steam and was mulling over the prospect of making a similar retro style game. It suddenly hit me that I could create the combat racing game with a neon vector look. Throw in some cool explosions and a techno sound-track and hey-presto, I’d have Geometry Wars meets Wipeout.
Like most of my projects, Super Laser Racer was already perfectly formed in my head the moment I conceived it and required little in the way of design documents or planning. This is perhaps my biggest fault as a designer as occasionally I have to rethink a certain aspect of the game and waste time re-coding it. However, this doesn’t happen too often, if at all with Super Laser Racer, and it never deters me from plowing on with the creation of the game with nary a thought for planning — oh the joy of being an indie game developer! I don’t deny that preparation is key for some projects but I find that the sheer joy of programming is what keeps me going each day and if I make some mistakes along the way, so be it. I find the journey much more enjoyable than actually reaching the destination anyway.
Unlike my existing sports games I decided to stay away from a detailed career mode in Super Laser Racer and keep it strictly arcade. One reason for this was to reduce the development time, the other being that contracts, sponsorships, shops and casinos don’t really suit an abstract vector game. I also wanted to strip the game right down to the basics and concentrate on the gameplay, trying to achieve that elusive fun factor without the distraction of statistics or management.
Super Laser Racer was created in BlitzMax. I love BlitzMax because it encapsulates everything that I love about programming. Put simply, it gets results fast. I don’t mean the speed of the actual code, I mean the time it takes to get stuff on the screen and to get it flying about. When it comes to programming code I don’t really care how it works, so long as it does what I want it to do. If it’s inefficient but runs OK, that will do for me and it’s on to the next milestone. With that in mind it won’t surprise you to learn that I’m all for using third-party modules if they help me get to the finish line quicker and this project was no different. I used several BlitzMax modules, the main ones being Liam McGuigan’s FryGUI (which simplifies the task of creating the interface) and a bunch of Bruce Henderson’s fine mods for backend stuff like localization and network connections.
The graphics were created by myself using my ever trusty Paint Shop Pro X. The great thing about this project was that I didn’t have to outsource any artwork. The simple neon style was all done with a few colored lines and a bit of Gaussian blur. The sound effects were mostly from Freesound.org and the music came from a Shockwave-Sound.com collection which at $99 was an absolute bargain.
What Went Right
In terms of development, everything went perfectly. Being built on existing game code meant that there were very few bugs to track down and I could do most of the playtesting myself. It also kept the development time down and in the end it only took around 4-5 weeks. The fact that I created the graphics and used royalty-free sounds and music meant that the cost of developing the game was purely in coding man-hours.
What Went Wrong
The main missing feature from the game is an online multi-player mode. Network coding is not a strong point for me so I felt that it might be time wasted if the game doesn’t prove popular. On the other hand, the game might be more popular if it included a multi-player mode! Its absence though does mean that I have something to include in a future update or sequel.
So far sales have been a little slow but at the moment it is only available through www.newstargames.com which very much draws in soccer and racing game fans. My mailing list is largely built on the success of New Star Soccer and as such they aren’t too interested in a retro style combat racing game set in outer space! For a project with such a short development time though it is definitely paying its way.
This was always an experimental project for me, breaking away from traditional sports games and reaching out to a different audience. In that sense it is doing well as there is interest from some of the larger gaming portals which hasn’t happened with my sports games in the past. I hope to release new content in the form of new tracks and tournaments and the built-in editor is allowing players to share their creations via my forum which is great to see. The initial reviews have been very favorable at around the 70-80% mark so I obviously got something right. All in all it was a fun project with a quick turnaround that reminded me of the importance of creating clean re-usable code. It was also great to get back to basics and concentrate on the fun factor.