The Game Design of FlatOut
Being a fan of stunt'n crash-laden titles like the oldie 4D Sports Driving/Stunts, its spiritual successor (the Trackmania series) or Destruction Derby, FlatOut always appeared to be one of the titles one should keep an eye on. To be frank though, when it was announced that the game will incorporate ragdoll physics, I started wondering if that just was an attempt to get some publicity through the addition of gore, pushing a product people may not care about otherwise.
That said, if you get to play FlatOut even only for a short while, you wouldn't want to miss that feature anymore. Not only does it make pushing an opponent into an obstacle during a race a lot more satisfying, it also is the basic concept working beneath the quite amusing mini games to be found in the game. So, how does one get the idea for this approach in the first place? Instead of speculating, we simply got in contact with Bugbear Entertainment and fired that question over to Finland. Jussi Laakkonen was so nice to provide an extensive answer and some fascinating concept pictures. Read on if you want to know more about the idea behind the game and the mysteries of.... jokamiesluokka!
It has been almost six months since the succesful European launch of FlatOut on November 5th. It is a good time to look back and at the same time talk about the near future as the US release of an improved version of FlatOut is looming in the horizon. [In two weeks, to be more precise. -Spun]
The basic concept of FlatOut, that is, high-octane arcade racing mixed with metal wrenching destruction derbies, is deceptively simple. Just take a bunch of cars, drop them to a track and let the mayhem ensure. That is exactly how simple good game ideas can be, but where did this particular idea for FlatOutÃ¢â‚¬™s concept originate? The answer is also simple: we had a look at whatÃ¢â‚¬™s cool and fun in motorsports.
We didnÃ¢â‚¬™t have to look very far. In Fall 2002 the team paid visits to different events taking place in Finland and among them was what in Finland is known as Ã¢â‚¬Å“jokamiesluokkaÃ¢â‚¬? which roughly translates to the Ã¢â‚¬Å“Joe AverageÃ¢â‚¬™s motor racingÃ¢â‚¬?. In this particular type of racing the underlying idea is that everybody can participate and have fun. You donÃ¢â‚¬™t need expensive sport cars nor professional pit crews. All you need is a couple of thousand bucks and an attitude. The races are all about pure enjoyment of motorsports. Take the car you and your buddies fixed up and go against several similarly beat-up vehicles in races on asphalt, gravel and of course snow. There is no lack of contact and the fight for the first spot is furious.
A good game can of course mirror reality is closely as possible, but despite our background with the criticall-acclaimed Rally Trophy simulator, we wanted to see how far we could push the envelope of arcade racing. With the original idea and direction of arcade racing we set about designing FlatOut. A key design direction came also from our tech team, who had been hard at work at creating our own physics system. From the very first amazing experiments with the system we knew, that physics would have govern everything about the way game would be played.
The production of the prototype started in the beginning of year 2003. Like all other game development studios we knew how hard it would be to convince the publishers of going with a brand new game, when the sales charts are ruled by sequels and license-based games. Still, we decided to take huge gamble with FlatOut and we went through months of hard development to come up with the FlatOut prototype.
Armed with the prototype the sales of FlatOut began in the second quarter of 2003. Even though Bugbear Entertainment as company wasnÃ¢â‚¬™t then and still isnÃ¢â‚¬™t a globally known studio, we had good success in getting game publishers to look at the game and quite a few of them became very interested what FlatOut stood for and what it could become. During those discussions one particular publisher had made note of the driver in the cars and asked if that the driver could be made to walk around.
That is when things started to cook for the ragdolls-flying-out-thru-the-windshield idea. [Interestingly enough, the 'walk-around' part was dropped again later, and it was the ragdoll physics element to stay in the game. -Spun]
Ragdolls were plenty already back in 2003, but nobody had had the idea to use them in a racing game. With the physics system and 3rd person view driver capable of moving outside of the car things were ripe for the innovation. The very first experiments with the ragdoll flying out of the car were outrageously hilarious and we simply couldnÃ¢â‚¬™t stop laughing at the comic replays. There was no way this would be taken out from the game!
Of course things had to go even more over the board with the ragdoll sports, but some catalysts were required for that to happen! Although we canÃ¢â‚¬™t exactly pinpoint who in the team was the main culprit for suggesting the wacky idea, we can certainly put some blame on our national drink of vodka :-). If the ragdoll through the windshield idea had turned out to be hilarious, than the ragdoll sports were simply well hilarious times two! The outrageous craziness of the ragdoll in a racing game was exactly something that very few game developers or game publisher dare to bring to the gamers. It is just too weird, but as FlatOut demonstrates, weird can be amazingly good game play!
There we have it. Game design of FlatOut started with observing, continued with maximing the fun and game play experience and took to a completely new direction more or less because of happenstance. Gathering by the response of the European gamers and press, the game definitely has found its audience!
But donÃ¢â‚¬™t take my word for it, go and try out the PC demo.
-Jussi Laakkonen, Director of business development at Bugbear Entertainment Ltd.
Thanks, Jussi! FlatOut is available for PC, PS2 and Xbox. The PAL versions were already released a while ago, the US versions will be shipping on July 19th. Unlike its Euro brother, the NA PS2 version also features online multiplayer support. More information on Bugbear, their previous games and FlatOut plus screenshots and trailers can be found over at their website. The official homepage of the game is here, the official website of the NA version is up here. Right now the company is working on an N-Gage racing title called Glimmerati. Their next PC/console project is still under wraps, but I guess, considering how the game was received, it wouldn't be too farfetched to say that FlatOut will get a sequel some day. Followers of the demo scene might want to take note that Jussi was a member of Future Crew and also happens to be one of the organizers of the yearly Assembly event.
-Spunior (still waiting for Crashday, which is slowly turning into the DNF of the stunt racer genre.)