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Distance: making a spiritual successor to Nitronic Rush

by Ozzie Mejia, shacknews.com, Oct 22, 2012 1:00PM PDT

Racing fans may recognize Refract Studios as the makers of last year's breakout indie racing title, Nitronic Rush. What started out as a student creation quickly gained a cult following, thanks to its neon-lighted atmosphere and survival racing mechanics. With Nitronic Rush in the past, the team is now focusing on their latest racer, Distance, which started its Kickstarter campaign earlier this week.

"Distance is a survival racing game that combines the intense action of arcade racing with the exploration of an atmospheric world," said Kyle Holdwick, Distance's creative director. "Unlike most racing games, it's not about racing around looped tracks, but instead about surviving the challenges of obstacle courses. The gameplay is inspired by racers like Rush 2049 and Burnout, while the atmospheric world is inspired by games like Half-Life and Halo. You control a unique car that allows you to boost, jump, rotate, and even fly through a chaotic and twisted city. This allows for you to not only drive fast on the track but also upside down and on buildings and walls. You'll also be able to fly to discover hidden areas or shortcuts around the track and within the city."

The studio is looking at Distance as a spiritual successor to Nitronic Rush, since the DigiPen Institute of Technology owns the IP rights to the first game. Distance focuses more on survival, bringing back some of the best obstacles from Nitronic Rush (saws, blockers, shard buildings), while also introducing new ones. Holdwick isn't ready to reveal these new obstacles, but he teases the possibility of intelligent AI ships that will try and destroy racers as they progress. Distance looks to build on the original game's most heralded mechanics, while also refining them.

"The primary mechanics in Distance will be similar to the ones in Nitronic Rush," Holdwick added. "The abilities of the car will still be in there, but we are rethinking them a bit. The flying has always felt slow and we're hoping to fix that. We'll be experimenting with and rethinking the overheating in an effort to keep the gameplay engaging, while not feeling restrictive. We're also focusing on streamlining the abilities a bit and making the controls simpler and more accessible. It can be a tricky balance between having intuitive controls while not sacrificing freedom when playing the game."

One major difference between Distance and Nitronic Rush is the addition of multiplayer. Holdwick goes so far as to say that Distance's multiplayer is a primary focus for the team. Distance will include competitive Classic Race, Stunt, Challenge, Tag (both normal and reverse), Capture the Flag, and Speed & Skill modes. More details for these modes will be revealed in the coming weeks, but Holdwick also mentioned that the team is looking into the idea of co-op modes, where players will have to work together to survive particularly harrowing tracks. Holdwick isn't ready to reveal how many players will be supported, but says that the team hopes to support as many players as possible for each mode.

Another of Distance's new features is a level editor, with the team putting a heavy emphasis on user-friendliness. "We're working as hard as we can to make the level editor in Distance very powerful, flexible, and easy to use," Holdwick explained. "We already have a number of features in the current version of the level editor like interactive icons for placeable objects, free or snappable object translating, rotating, and scaling, as well as tweakable properties like material colors or lighting attenuation. A more advanced feature, that is already fantastic to work with, is the level editor's spline-based procedurally-generating track system. You can select one of the ends of a road piece and move it wherever you'd like or snap it to another end of a different road piece. Using a spline curve, it will generate the track based on the end points. It makes building levels and iterating on them much faster and, honestly, more fun!"

Holdwick then briefly talked about how much the team has grown since working on Nitronic Rush. Beyond focusing on multiplayer from the start of the development cycle, Holdwick says the team has learned the value of playtesting. "Playtesting is essential to making a great game," he said. "We playtested almost every week while developing and improving Nitronic Rush. Some of the most fun and innovative features in that game were there because of playtesting and iterating on what we had all the time. Going forward, we'll continue to playtest Distance every week to make sure the game is a ton of fun."

In addition to that, Holdwick wants to focus on user-friendliness. "A lot of systems in Nitronic Rush were not the most user-friendly and slow to work with. Painstakingly working with those tools was a great lesson to learn and with Distance, we are focusing on improving upon that right away. You can't teach experience and I'm glad we had the opportunity to make and learn from Nitronic Rush while at DigiPen."

Nothing, however, is as important to Refract Studios as community feedback. "At the end of the day, we're making the game for them," Holdwick added. "We had a fantastic community surrounding Nitronic Rush and it was always exciting for us to follow their posts and videos. They've sent us a lot of ideas over the past months and we looked at every one of them carefully. One of the most requested features was multiplayer and that's one of our major focuses with Distance. A lot of community members also wanted Mac support, so I'm proud to say that Distance will be supported on Mac. Some members wanted an official user-friendly level editor, so we're working on that also. Overall, the community has been incredibly supportive of us and we want to be supportive to them, too. We want to build an incredible experience around the experience so we're doing our best to listen to their requests and be actively responsive."