This weekend marks around one month since I started working on the current iteration my latest (aptly titled) project, #UntitledDrivingGame. I state current iteration because when I started working on what I initially thought was going to be the game, I was prototyping it inside of another project I’m working on (Drive Bye - but more about that & Project T.A.R. another time).
This quickly became a problem as I was simply further prototyping ideas for Drive Bye instead of working on a completely new game. Luckily I realized this around the end of the second week into the project and decided to fully pivot away into a new game. I loaded up a new blank project in Unreal Engine & created a git repo under the alias `THPD`. If that doesn’t immediately ring any bells, I announced the change via Twitter in my daily project thread.
Watch the video version of this devlog on my YouTube channel!
I’ve had this Twitter thread going since July 13th when I officially started working on Drive Bye. Since then I’ve been posting daily updates on the three driving games I’m working on:
I am planning to keep this thread going while each of these games are still in development, so connect with me on Twitter & follow me on the journey!
I can already tell this map is going to be extremely fun to drive around in! #UntitledDrivingGame— Tristan Cole (@elocnat) September 10, 2020
I just wish I could become an expert at #UE4 #leveldesign overnight and bring the idea into reality quicker/easier. 🤣#indiedev #gamedev #indiegame #IndieGameDev #UnrealEngine pic.twitter.com/ZIzApHLvbG
Let’s back up for a second and talk about what my motivations for #UntitledDrivingGame are. Why not just work on one of the other two projects that I announced? Simply put: while they all revolve around driving (which will allow me to focus on a specific niche of games that I want to make), they each have very different styles and focus.
I’ve left specific details out on purpose, but in a way I came up with the games in the opposite order I plan to make them. Drive Bye started out as the first commercial game I wanted to make and quickly evolved into the first game I feel like I really need to make - but also the one I need to take my time on & get right. Project T.A.R. will allow me to prototype and implement a more realistic vehicle system as well as allow me to focus on a very small singleplayer story. #UntitledDrivingGame will allow me to go through the process of building and releasing a commercial game, but more importantly a multiplayer (driving) game so I can figure out what it actually takes to build & support one. All of these projects will bleed into each other at some point and I’m excited to take on each of them for different reasons.
Now back to #UntitledDrivingGame; honestly I wasn’t exactly sure what I was building at first. One thing I knew for certain was that I wanted a more fun focused driving experience & that realism was not the goal in gameplay or graphics. With that in mind, instead of using a vehicle plugin from the marketplace, the base vehicle started out as the hovercraft from my game Veehickle to which I quickly added wheels & updated the mesh with a placeholder sedan I’ve used previously. This base just uses 4 corner raycasts that each extend from a point on the physics body to the ground and push the vehicle up with force. You can then just apply force to move & torque to turn the vehicle.
Below: Fantastic ~5 minute rundown by SpaceDustStudios explaining how raycast physics vehicles are implemented!
Above: an example showing why you should implement substepping for advanced physics simulations in UE4!
I’ll just say it right now: I can’t really recommend creating your own vehicle system for a solo commercial project unless you know what you’re doing. I definitely don’t but luckily I’m stubborn & have an existing base + plenty of time to play around with and tweak the vehicle. Ignoring the base & granted I added more functionality than driving around, it took almost a full month to get the vehicle to a place where it felt good enough for me to be okay with switching focus and it’s still nowhere near finished. It might look good in the videos, but what you don’t see is how many times the vehicle still spins out grinding a rail or how when it lands sometimes the ass end pounds the earth 100 times a second until you jump (okay it sounds funny but it’s annoying). That’s not even to mention things like network replication or the need to ensure that your physics are tied to a fixed timestep so that they don’t break when Timmy tries to run the game on his toaster.
So I have a working physics vehicle base that can jump around, grind on splines, flip & roll in the air; what now? While I was working on that I also started prototyping some small gameplay elements here and there. I first started by adding in a passenger that you could deliver to a destination. Crazy Taxi? Next I added a package that you could deliver. Smuggler’s Run? Then I added some letters to pickup. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater? Seeing the previous tweets you wouldn’t be off base if any of those titles came to mind as they are all among the games being used as inspiration for #UntitledDrivingGame.
The goal of #UntitledDrivingGame is to be a combo based stylistically fun driving game with multiplayer elements. That’s the route I’m headed toward; it’s not the best elevator pitch but I don’t want to go too much deeper into it until I have some gameplay actually ready to show off. I want the game to have both singleplayer and multiplayer modes but I think the game will really shine in multiplayer & I am building the game mechanics with that focus in mind. I want the game to suit a wide range of skill & playstyle while still remaining fun and “competitive” for everybody. I very much want to craft an experience that’s easy to get into & succeed in without being a mechanical genius or memorizing the single best route for the most points but that still offers players the ability to dominate. Hopefully that’s not digging myself into a bottomless pit from the beginning.
In shooting for a stylized driving experience, I am also aiming towards a stylized art direction. I’ve always preferred 3D games & loved seeing graphical improvements over the years, but my honeymoon with loving hyper-realism in games ended somewhere in the middle of the PS3 era. When indie gaming started really hit its stride around that time I developed a love for more “artistic” styles that didn’t pop up very often in mainstream AAA games. I’ve never been big into comics and I’m not into anything anime related so a lot of these styles were new to me. It constantly blows my mind to see how these playable experiences can be depicted in so many different styles and palettes. The fact that today so many shaders exist to give you the base of these effects and instantly transform the look & feel of your game is even more wild. One particular effect I’ve always loved is toon shading plus using an outline effect to go with it so I’m going for that as the art direction for #UntitledDrivingGame.
Above: Early game footage showing off outlines!
The level you’ve seen up until now is just a playground level. It’s possible that I’ll leave it in the game as a tutorial or home level (or maybe even as a secret unlock) but it will not be the first main level in the game. The first level I’m working on codenamed LATC is under construction. One of my goals for the first map is to focus on verticality instead of making it span a massive area. I want the player to feel like they are driving a vehicle but controlling it more like a pawn that’s rapidly moving through a landscape in ways & areas a vehicle normally wouldn’t traverse. This map will feature an sprawling brick campus nestled in the middle of a downtown area surrounded by some other to be determined landmarks: I’m not exactly sure of the scale yet but I have a main area to focus on building out now.
What’s next? I’m going to continue building out the LATC level while prototyping gameplay elements and tuning the vehicle. I personally feel that I really need to have at least one ‘first pass complete’ map to implement the gameplay and tweak it in any meaningful way. I need to test out basic networking to ensure that my physics vehicle can be replicated and that I can at least have two controllable pawns in a server at one time. After that I can start honing in on tying the gameplay mechanics together and really work towards a playable prototype. I estimate it’s going to take me around two months to get to that state without any major roadblocks (which means it will take me four if I’m lucky).
That’s about it for now. I didn’t want to get too technical because to be honest I haven’t done anything super technical in the project yet, I’m still barely scratching the surface of the hard parts that are yet to come. I’m aiming to have (at the very least) a vertical slice of this project done in a year which means I need to have something ready by September 2021. I think that’s doable and so far I think I’m on a good track. I’d be lying if I said I feel like this project by itself is going to provide me any sort of income or profit at all when it’s all said and done, but I feel really good about it so far. I can’t wait to see what it becomes & share it with everybody.
Follow me on Twitter to stay up to date with my work & watch #UntitledDrivingGame evolve!