As anyone who grew up in the ’90s can attest, Road Rash was awesome. You played as a guy on a motorcycle, racing other guys on motorcycles, and bashing their heads in with pipes. It was the perfect game from the perspective of a 10-year-old (and remains that way from the perspective of a 25-year-old). The series has essentially been dead since the early 2000s, leaving a hole in my heart the shape of a crowbar that a rival driver stuck there. Luckily, the people over at DarkSeas realized that the unique niche that Road Rash filled remained empty in its absence, and set about making a bigger, better Road Rash inspired game titled Road Redemption. With the recent success of their Kickstarter campaign, we sat down with DarkSeas to ask them a few questions about their upcoming game.
[Hardcore Gamer] Where did the inspiration come from to create a spiritual successor for a series that has been dormant for over a decade?
[DarkSeas Games] Road Redemption is a game we’ve wanted to play for years now. We’re all huge fans of the Road Rash series, particularly the iterations on Genesis/Megadrive, 3DO, and N64. We think that EA really dropped the ball when it comes to doing a Road Rash follow-up. They were too busy chasing the tails of Call of Duty and World of Warcraft, that they seemed to have forgotten about this series despite all the fan demand. That’s what happens when you’re a huge company, I guess. If it’s not going to make you $100,000,000, it just isn’t worth doing. So the Road Rash series is our main inspiration. Other games that have influenced us are the Burnout series, Rocket Jockey (bet you don’t remember that one), and obviously, the movie Terminator 2.
[HG] How big is the DarkSeas staff and what brought you all together?
[DSG] Right now the team consists of five core individuals with four others working as satellite employees, filling in where’s needed. We are hoping to expand the team if we reach our Kickstarter goal. The DarkSeas staff is comprised of friends and colleagues that have worked together in the game industry at one point or another. We all seem to share a mutual respect for retro game development, and games as an art form. You might call it mutual reverence. We rallied around the idea of recreating a classic game that fans would enjoy, and using Kickstarter as a means to develop the game independently. We consider Road Redemption to be a game for the fans, by the fans.
[HG] Were you all big fans of the original Road Rash games? What aspects from those games did you want to make sure you captured in Road Redemption? Were there any specific things you knew you wanted to improve from the beginning?
[DSG] We were most definitely fans of Road Rash series. Road Rash was the top of our list of games that we were hoping to see a remake of. We didn’t think it would take nearly this long. One of our employees actually wrote this gamasutra article back in 2009 explaining why the Road Rash series is so great. One of the best things from the franchise that I enjoy is being able to use the environment to your advantage. Even if you have a weaker weapon, and less health than your opponent, if you can get him to crash into a telephone poll or oncoming vehicle, you can win the skirmish.
We think that the series could most be improved simply by incorporating all of the technological advances of the last decade. Some games, like Sonic the Hedgehog, Worms, and Lemmings, may not benefit by attempts to bring them up to date. Racing games are not like this. Modern technology allows us to make bigger tracks, more realistic physics, more riders and objects on screen at the same time, and far better AI. People don’t realize it but AI affects the framerate too, and corners are often cut on AI to get that great performance. With modern tech, we can have amazing gang-vs-gang battles that would have been extremely difficult to pull off on the N64.
[HG] So, let’s see. DRM free. Microtransaction free. Releasing the source code and encouraging gamers to make their own mods to improve upon the original product. I’m sorry, but this sounds dangerously close to listening to what gamers actually want in their games. Do you really think this makes sense from a business standpoint?
[DSG] Absolutely. People are going to pirate Road Redemption no matter what we do. Only the most advanced always-connected, crash-prone DRM has actually thwarted pirates. We don’t have the desire to make our players wait in a server queue just to play – especially if they only want to play the single-player campaign. We think that all of EA and Maxis’s justifications for SimCity’s DRM are bullshit. Honest and truly, they sound like PR spin. Being able to trade with a neighbor’s city is cool I guess, but it’s nowhere near a vital game feature. Basically they implemented their DRM strategy to keep SimCity off the torrents, and it has. I hope it was worth it.
As for releasing the source code, we think this is a great business strategy. The more people are modifying Road Redemption, the more it’s in the public’s conscious. The only things that we’re not giving up is the rights to the Road Redemption name, some of the character names, and some of the specific single-player mission settings (such as the specific variable settings of certain characters in certain missions). So an individual could take the source code and make a game that’s very, very similar to Road Redemption, but it still wouldn’t be exactly the same. We hope people are a little more creative than that, though.
[HG] Do you think the audience is still there from the old Road Rash games? Or are you looking to draw in a new crowd using a formula that worked well in the past?
[DSG] We think the audience is definitely still there. The Road Rash style of game is completely unique. There’s no other game that even attempts to make combat the focus of a racing game. There’s no action or fighting game that attempts to make the combat environment such an important factor in determining the winner of a fight. We don’t know if Road Redemption’s kickstarter campaign is drawing in people who aren’t familiar with this type of game. We absolutely expect the finished version to draw in a new crowd — specifically after they read the reviews.
[HG] It seems like introducing something like a gun might end up breaking the game for the talented player. Why did you decide to introduce guns into the game, and how do you plan on keeping the balance in gameplay?
[DSG] Guns are not the focus of Road Redemption. A lot of missions don’t have them, and those that do, give them a minor role. Basically ammo is very scarce in the world of Road Redemption, and aiming a gun on a speeding motorcycle is as difficult as it would be in real life. We do think that guns adds variety to the combat, and opens up tactics that weren’t possible in the Road Rash series. A shotgun is powerful, but it is not always advantageous to be fighting with one, considering the reload time and the limited ammo. At close range, a weapon like a lead pipe is actually advantageous.
[HG] How open are the courses? Are they designed with one specific path in mind or will there be various short cuts or alternate routes in the maps?
[DSG] There are forks and alternate paths. Like in the Road Rash series, in Road Redemption, you’re not doing laps around a track. So it’s not as though you’ll see the entrance to an alternate path more than once. So you’re not going to get a huge speed advantage by taking an alternate route. It’s possible that taking a more risky path could reward you with a new weapon or other upgrade.
[HG] One of the most exciting things that you’ve talked about so far is an online multiplayer that allows people to join biker gangs with their friends. I was hoping maybe you could give us a few more details on the game modes you plan on including for multiplayer. For example, some of the moves you can use on your opponents look pretty fatal, and I don’t imagine someone getting hit by a semi-truck is going to just get back on the bike after locating their various appendages. If you die in multiplayer, are you just done until the next mission starts up? How long do you expect matches to last? Will the focus be more on competitive matches or co-op?
[DSG] In terms of multiplayer, we’re making things very configurable. So if you want to play a match where death is permanent (Counter-strike style), you can. If you want to play a match where you respawn, you can do that too. We think Road Redemption’s matches work best when there are a lot of riders playing. So in multiplayer, if you just want to play with your 3 friends, we encourage the use of AI-controlled racers to fill out the race. Co-op and free for all are both great modes. There’s a lot to gain from teamwork in Road Redemption. We really like the idea of two 8 person gangs encountering each other and getting into a massive brawl at 90mph.
[HG] Are there any current plans to allow for any customization within the game? Specifically in multiplayer, will you have the ability to modify your character, motorcycle, or weapon of choice?
[DSG] We want to make things very customizable in multiplayer. You can modify the look of your character, and you can choose your own motorcycle and customize its look. We’re still deciding how many of these attributes will be configurable by the game moderator and how many each player gets to decide for him or herself.
[HG] Could you talk a bit about the tone you anticipate the game having? The storyline and game in general seem to be fairly serious, and perhaps even a bit dark. Any chance we might see some levity along the way? Will we see any bikers wielding mallets or something similar?
[DSG] Yes, the storyline has a serious tone, but we feel the gameplay, the action, and the nostalgia will offer a certain appeal. We want to capture the skill-based mechanics of old school games, so when a player performs a series of death-defying maneuvers, we want to illicit a feeling of genuine accomplishment and giddiness that a lot of us remember during the 16-bit era. You’re going to see a whole bunch of weapons in Road Redemption. We’re not going to let tone get in the way of something cool. So you’ll be seeing stuff like sledge hammers, samurai swords, and even grenades.
[HG] The promise you’ve made to incorporate good ideas suggested by fans (even non-backers) into the game is one of the more clever game design strategies I’ve seen. Have you received any good suggestions yet? Care to share any with us that might make it into the game?
[DSG] Absolutely. We’ve already gotten a lot of fan suggestions about the game’s music. We’re currently leaning toward something that captures the soundgarden-esque sound of Road Rash 3DO but that could change. One particular fan suggestion that we thought was really cool was to include an ‘endless ride’ mode where you drive on an infinitely long track, and try to take out as many combatants as you can. It would be similar to Horde mode in Gears of War. Like it Gears of War, the enemies would become more and more difficult, the farther you drive. You’d also get bonuses for keeping up a good speed, so the mode would retain the racing aspect. We think this suggestion has a lot of promise.
[HG] What’s next for you guys? Do you currently have any plans for after Road Redemption? If you’re looking to revive any other beloved series from the 16-bit era, we’ve got a few suggestions…
[DSG] We think that certain revivals make sense and certain don’t. Look at Earthworm Jim, for instance. That game got a LOT of attention for its graphics, which today are nothing special. The gameplay itself, in my opinion, was incredibly stiff. There was no flow to any of the levels. When it was revived in HD, it got pretty negative reviews despite being a perfect port. If we are going to revive a series, it’s got to be one that had really unique GAMEPLAY, not just theme or aesthetic. People often talk about reviving Zombies Ate My Neighbors, but what did that game do differently from other top down shooters of the era? How would a Zombies Ate My Neighbors revival differ from the scores of co-op zombie shooters that exist today.
If we were to revive another genre, it would have to offer something really interesting and unique. Rocket Jockey comes to mind. The Rampage / Blast Corps style of game, where your goal is to cause the most destruction possible, is another thing you don’t see much of lately. We also think 3d shoot-em-ups like Panzer Dragoon and Star Fox are in short supply. There’s a lot you can do with on-rails-shooters that hasn’t really been explored.
The only bad news is the expected release date of August 14 seems forever away. Stay tuned for more news on this upcoming title.