Published on October 13th, 2009 | by AppTrawler0
Developer Interview : True Axis
True Axis’s Jet Car Stunts was described as “a fun, over the top, 3D driving game, with massive jumps, mid-air hoops, floating platforms, spiral roadways, outlandish maneuvers and impossible environments.” Controls are accelerometer based along with mid-air flight controls to nudge the angle of flight or adjust speed with air braking.
We loved the look of the game video, but had some questions about the game’s playability from that video alone. We’ve since had a chance to interview Luke Ryan and Andy Coates of True Axis about their upcoming racer. They also provided this exclusive hands-on video showing their game and controls in action:
Q: We understand Jet Stunt Cars is based on the True Axis Physics SDK. Can you give us a little bit of history on this game engine and the company?
Luke Ryan: The True Axis Physics SDK was a bit of an accidental development. It started back in 2002 as part of a game demo I was developing. The physics engines back then were not good enough, and I already had a few years experience involving lots of physics programming, so I made a much better one. I started getting a few requests to make it commercial. In-between doing contract work for mobile and handheld games, I did all the extra work necessary to commercialise it, which was the reason for the formation of the company, True Axis.
Since then, the physics engine scene has changed unrecognisably. I’d always kept in touch with the mobile gaming scene here in Melbourne and I started to fall back into that. I met my co-owner at True Axis, Andy Coates, while I was helping out at Firemint. In 2008, I decided to take True Axis into independent game development which has always been my dream.
Back at Firemint, Andy was motivated to get into iPhone development after working closely with James Hui. James went on to form Epicforce and released the excellent iFighter. In turn, Andy approached me and convinced me to move into iPhone development together. Andy joined me as co-owner as True Axis moved from physics engines to mobile games.
We have a few projects in the works, but Jet Car Stunts came from thinking about a good use for the physics engine, a gap in the market Andy noticed on the App Store, and many years experience developing driving games. Jet Car Stunts borrows ideas from many places, but the core of it goes back 10 years to when I was coding a rocket power-up for a sand box driving game. I learnt that fast cars, massive jumps, plus rocket power is even more fun than it sounds.
Q: In our first preview of the game, we questioned how good the controls were for the game. So, how are the controls?
Luke Ryan:: Accelerometer controls were a concern when we were deciding to make this game. I put a lot of effort into early prototyping, borrowing from many years experience working on mobile and handheld driving games. To my surprise, the controls actually worked much better than I had hoped for. The game was immediately fun to play, and has improved a lot during development. Making this game has really been a lot of fun and we’ve been having a lot of fun playing it too.
Q: How does the game perform on last generation devices (iPhone 3G, 2G iPod touch) vs. current generation units (iPhone 3GS, 3G iPod touch)?
Luke Ryan: Obviously the announcement video was not recorded on iPhone hardware. However due to precision driving nature, we were very keen to make the game as responsive and as smooth as possible. We currently have the game running at a perfectly smooth 30 FPS on a 1G iPod and 60 FPS on the 3GS/3G iPod. The 2G iPod can do 60 FPS most of the time, but we found that locking to 30 FPS gives smoother overall performance and is very hard to differentiate from the 3GS.
Andy Coates: A lot of research has been put into building the iPhone game shell to be as efficient as possible, plus a good understanding of the underlying OS, using our own custom sound mixer, and a lot of years experience in optimising the GPU side of things has made Jet Car Stunts run very well on the lowest denominator hardware (1G iPod). I don’t think many developers really push the older hardware to the limits. We believe that if you can get the older hardware closer to the newer hardware, in terms of performance, then the end user will have a better game experience. What I mean is that you can spec the game design to have more eye candy content that will work on all devices really well.
Q: The game seems to be flat-shaded vs. texture mapped. Is that key to the game’s performance?
Luke Ryan: We are really happy how the nostalgic graphics style of the game turned out. Part of the choice was for performance, but we also wanted to just focus on making a game that played really well, that was really high quality, but at a really affordable price. The ‘flat shaded’ style let us concentrate on what is important, that is, making a fun game.
I should point out, as any computer graphics buffs will be quick to guess, there is more going on than simple flat shading. The game uses pre-calculated lightmaps generated with a custom radiosity renderer. Radiosity can give really natural lighting and shadows. The light maps aren’t as fast to render as flat shading, but they are still quite efficient.
Andy Coates: Also, to point out we are using 32bit colour and the game looks absolutely gorgeous.
Q: As far as we can see, the game is single-player only. Any plans for multiplayer or online leaderboards?
Luke Ryan: No multiiplayer, but an online leaderboard and achievement system are very important to us. It is the last task we have before we can complete the game, and we are working on that now.
I’m not sure how suited multi-play is to this style of game, but obviously it would be cool to figure something out. Unfortunately, multiplayer is also a lot of extra work and we don’t want to do something tacked on. Our goal is to make the highest quality best value for money game we can. Having said that, future updates are always a possibility, you never know.
Andy Coates: We may consider a type of challenge mode for future updates but we have to see how the game is received.
Q: At certain times in the preview video the camera angle rotates about the traveling vehicle. Are these scenes playback moments?
Luke Ryan: Shh, don’t tell anybody. Much of the video was done from the games replay mode, and these camera angles where actually created purely for the promo video. I’ll tell you what, I’ll give [your readers] an opportunity to influence the game. Do you think we should waste a bit of extra time to put a button to change cameras during the replay? Think carefully about your answer, if you answer yes, I will blame you for any release delays.
Q: What is TrueAxis’ view of the iPhone platform in general? What lies ahead for your studio?
Luke Ryan: We have lots of experience working on mobile games back to around 2002. The people I was working on projects with back then now seem all run very respected mobile game companies. Anyway, after fighting with so many devices with horrible controls and crippled operating systems, for so many years, working with the iPhone is a dream full of endless possibilities. As a platform, it feels more like console development. However, I’ve always been hesitant to do an iPhone project. I’ve been afraid of the day when the market becomes saturated. But, I was talked into it, and the shift to centralised distribution is really exciting. We are also excited about other platforms, and the move of the DS and PSP to digital distribution.
We are very excited about the possibilities for the future. We are overflowing with ideas, but you can probably expect to see some more driving titles somewhere. We also have to finish off the port of Pompom Games arcade space shooter, Space Tripper, that is long delayed, but fingers crossed, will be released not too long after Jet Car Stunts.
Andy Coates: There’s a lot of excitement for independent game developers at the moment, with all those new App Stores springing up all over the place – if you have quality product then it will sell. When I lived in the UK I was involved with a mobile game studio sometime around 2002. At that time it was very hard to get phone product accepted by the Telcos, it was a closed shop… thank God those days have ended now.
I’ve spent a lot of time and research building an optimal graphics engine on the iPhone. It’s really a nice piece of hardware to program for but things have to be done the correct way to get good performance, if you don’t then you will end up with a jerky pile of rubbish.
The plan after Jet Car Stunts comes out is to get Space Tripper finished off, then port everything to every other digital distribution channel. Once that is all out of the way we can start working on newer content.
By Touch Arcade