Most of these games, albeit graphically appealing, are your typical street and track racers with few unique perks that really set them apart from each other.
SlotZ Racer [App Store] was one of the first games to break the mold and really bring back that old nostalgia of racing when you were a kid (and I'm not talking about video games). SlotZ Racer puts you back in your fleece jumpsuit pajamas with a plastic Tyco trigger grip in hand for some down home electric slot racin'!
With a one of a kind physics feel, tracks that make your finger beg to let up and a new way of making your own custom tracks, SlotZ Racer promises to stay snuggled your devices dock screen for some time.
Touch Arcade had the pleasure of chatting with Aaron “Zwilnik” Fothergil (pictured)l, Lead Programmer of SlotZ Racer, one of the more popular and unique racing games for the "iPlatform". We got more than we expected out of Aaron as he explained what it took to develop and extensively update this racer and also what's in store for SlotZ future. Can you say Wi-Fi multiplayer? Also, exclusive screenshots of our discussions content.
Vontara XT car with trailing view
Alex – TA: Hi, Aaron, how are you?
Zwilnik: Overworked as usual, but otherwise good.
Alex – TA: Before we begin talking on your latest game title, can you tell us a little about yourself and your development team?
Zwilnik: I'm the coding and game design half of Strange Flavour, along with my brother Adam who handles all the art and sound. We've both been working in the games industry for what's getting to be a combined total of nearly 40 years now and I feel really old.
Alex – TA: Your latest game is SlotZ Racers. Can you tell us a bit about how SlotZ was conceived and what developing the game was like?
Zwilnik: I've been a motor racing nut (especially Formula 1) since I was a kid and used to be very heavily into Scalextric (a UK brand of 1/32nd scale slot cars) models and track building. Despite this, I've never actually written a racing game and didn't want to write a 'normal' racing game on any platform. We'd actually been messing with a rough prototype of SlotZ that we'd knocked up a year or so ago, but with other projects on the go it was put into the "stuff we really should do at some point" file. Then when we started working on the iPhone, Adam and I saw that it might suit particularly well as it would give you a racing game that didn't rely on steering (bypassing the whole issue of what sort of tilt control to use) and we could even use the multi-touch to handle 4 players on one iPhone. We really like doing social party gaming.
As we'd just finished Flick Sports Fishing [App Store] for Freeverse, they let us loose to see what we could come up with. The major chunk of the game was written over the Christmas break, so Adam and I were able to sit down and get most of the game done without any distractions, so Freeverse could preview it at MacWorld while throwing their QA team into a "Happy New year, get to work!" mode.
Alex – TA: Your telling me this was accomplished with only two people?
Zwilnik: Yes, mostly. Adam and I tend to do most of the actual development work on our projects as we can throw data and ideas between us that much faster, having worked together for so long. We also get the benefit of our publishing partnership with Freeverse, who we can draw on for extra artwork, testing and handy snippets of code when we need them. We don't sleep much.
Alex – TA: Unlike any other iPlatform racer currently released, SlotZ physics are very tuned to the way actual electric slot cars work. What kind of research did you have to undertake to capture the feel?
Zwilnik: Research and Development is the fun part of working in video games. Apart from my experience of playing with Scalextric sets for years, we decided that we needed to get input on the other popular scales, so we bought a couple of Carrera 1/43rd scale sets (smaller, faster cars which rely more on magnets to stay on the track) and the guys at Freeverse happened to know a chap called Bob Marketos (Slotcar Bob as he's known, or SlotzBob in the game ) who's an expert HO scale racer and who's very involved in HO slot cars in the US. For some reason or other, our mum also caught the motor racing hobby, so we were also able to visit her on the excuse of being loving sons etc. and test all the cars and track she's collected. That gave us a pretty wide base of data to create the game with and then it was a case of balancing the needs of the casual gamer with the pro slot car racers, which is one reason why we decided to put so many options in SlotZ Racer.
Alex – TA: What hand did Freeverse have in your development and publishing?
Zwilnik: We're lucky with our publishing partnership with Freeverse in that we gain all their skills and resources to help us out. For SlotZ, we had most of the actual code and resources in hand, but Freeverse was able to do a huge chunk of the testing, sort out all the issues of marketing and submitting the app to Apple as well as general moral support and supplying a handy reality check from time to time. I also swap code with the team at Freeverse, so we help each other out with useful code tricks. Because we don't need to worry so much about a lot of the paperwork and general running around and shouting, we can focus a bit more on actually writing the game.
Alex – TA: Right now SlotZ has 4 players on one device. Any plans on making SlotZ into a network multiplayer game so 4 or more can race from their own screen?
Zwilnik: Absolutely. Wi-Fi multiplayer has been on the board from day 1, but we want to make sure its spot on. Given all the options and the speed of SlotZ, that's not a straightforward task, so rather than include a not so great network game experience in the release version of SlotZ and rather than delay the release of the game when most people will play it on a single iPhone, we decided to work on it for a future update. That way we can add it in when it's fun to play and right.
Alex – TA: You just released a rather large update in version 1.1, can you tell us about the major additions to the game and how they differ from any other racer out there?
Zwilnik: The v1.1 update gave us the chance to put a lot of features in that weren't practical to do for the initial release. It also gave us a chance to see how gamers were playing the 1.0 version and get useful feedback from them.
It turned into quite a large update, but the main features were that we were able to get our track server up and running, so we could add the Track Manager and the ability to send tracks to one another via email or over Wi-Fi, as well as adding a scenery system to the track editor along with another 4 new cars, new camera modes and a lot of new options.
SlotZ is unique in having such a simple control system, so you can focus on racing the other cars without worrying about the steering. That means it can be a lot faster action and reaction and of course makes it practical to have 4 players sharing the touchscreen to play at once! It's also pretty unique in having a full blown track editor. This was a critical part of the design as all slot car fans know, making the tracks is half the fun!
Alex – TA: Multiplayer won't see the internet light of day?
Zwilnik: It may at a later date, but it'll take a much heavier code and may require the internet to be upgraded. When you've got a high speed racing game where you can do a lap in 3 seconds, a 1/5th second lag (pretty typical across the US) is a bit of a problem. There are 'ways' and there are always options. One thing we've considered as an extra option is to be able to record ghost car laps so you don't have to be online at the same time and can try and beat the best laps on the server. Internet play would be technically rather cool, but unless there's a large core group of players to keep it going, it's not really worthwhile for a casual game.
Zwilnik: Of my own tracks, the Loopara SF track I designed while testing the new scenery editing features in the 1.1 update is probably my favourite, but my overall favourite tracks are from the user created tracks that have been appearing on the server. This is something I kind of expected as the tracks I were designing for the game had to be balanced across all the different car types and user skill levels, so there was a little bit of compromise in them. That and some of the users creating tracks obviously have a serious talent for it.
Here are some of my favourites (and their download codes).
Dusty Water (Code: HGMNR): This one's a nicely balanced track with a great fast section and a club style twiddly bit.
Mountain View (Code: GPMRH): I really like the use of scenery on this track.
Italian Stroll (Code: RNTTL): One of the earlier tracks to show up on the server, a great track that uses the new bridge heights to emulate a climb through twisty mountain roads.
Adam and I are toying with doing a “Track Cast”. A sort of top 5 tracks video podcast with track editing tips..
Alex – TA: Anything new your working on that can be announced during this interview?
Zwilnik: We've started on our next game, but that's top secret for the moment. We've also got localization of SlotZ underway (another benefit of working with Freeverse) and should have French, German, Italian and Spanish versions soon. As per requests of so many Touch Arcade readers, I'm also working on adding stunt track style sections. These appear to have been more popular in toy slot car sets aimed at kids in the U.S. rather than the more normal racing sets, so we decided to hold off on them until we could get some good data and work out the best way to add some of their features in, but once I get them working properly, they'll be fun!
SlotZ Track Editor - coming soon
Now we've got the track server up and running, we're adding functionality to it both for further updates to SlotZ Racer and our new free SlotZ Track Editor app which is just about to be submitted to the app store. The SlotZ Track Editor duplicates the editor that's in SlotZ Racer, but also gives you an online track browser that lets you look at and download all the user created tracks (over 250 so far!), edit them and copy them to SlotZ Racer or send them to your friends. It also acts as an extra set of storage for another 100 tracks and gives gamers who've not bought SlotZ Racer yet a chance to have a look at the track editing that's in the game.
SlotZ Racer Track Editor
We're also expanding the server's functionality so that you'll be able to access it through the web. The 1.1.1 update to SlotZ Racer that's going through Apple approval at the moment already lets you create SlotZ track URLs that will automatically download and launch a track into SlotZ and we're looking at letting possible fan sites have the ability to add track search functionality to their sites.
Alex – TA: Is there anything else you'd like to say?
Zwilnik: Thanks for letting me waffle on and I'd also like to thank the Touch Arcade users and all the other gamers who've been giving us feedback on SlotZ and helping the game grow around its players.
Alex – TA: Thanks for your time Aaron “Zwilnik”.
Zwilnik: No problem. Glad to do it.
Guest post written by Alex