Interview

Inspired by Jet Set Radio, Apple Arcade racer Warp Drive brought composer Hideki Naganuma onboard

"We were thrilled when he agreed"

Inspired by Jet Set Radio, Apple Arcade racer Warp Drive brought composer Hideki Naganuma onboard

The process of creating a game is difficult, long, and often stressful, but it's one that can reap many rewards alongside actually seeing your ideas come to life.

No matter the size of the game or how long it ultimately takes to make, each new title involves a lot of hard work, tough decisions, and a little bit of luck before it even gets out the door and onto devices. And in the current mobile and handheld games market, that's only the first step to making the title succeed.

To highlight all of the extensive work that often goes on unseen in the background, PocketGamer.biz is reaching out to developers to learn more about the general rigmarole of releasing a video game, with our 'Making Of' series.

This week, we spoke with Supergonk founder Ben Ward surrounding the development and release of arcade racing title Warp Drive on Apple Arcade.

PocketGamer.biz: Can you start off by telling us about Warp Drive?

Ben Ward: Warp Drive is our studio's second racing title and is all about high-speed anti-gravity racing with lots of surprising game mechanics built-in. Cars can teleport around the track, racing upside down at a moment's notice. We wanted the gameplay to feel fast and fun, being a mix of racing game and rollercoaster ride.

We wanted the gameplay to feel fast and fun, being a mix of racing game and rollercoaster ride.
Ben Ward

We shipped the game on both desktop and mobile platforms, as well as it being part of the Apple Arcade service. The reaction since launch has been great! We're now collecting feedback and continuing to add more content to the game post-launch...

Where did the initial idea for the game come from?

As a studio, we try to innovate as much as possible. Specifically, we focus on introducing new ideas to the racing genre and make games that simply haven't been tried before. Our last title, Trailblazers, was the world's first co-operative track-painting team racing title.

Warp Drive focuses on unexpected traversal i.e. being able to flip onto the ceiling and race up there instead. We had some interesting ideas in the realm of teleportation, so we doubled down and integrated that core mechanic directly into the gameplay loop. It's worked out really well, and players really enjoy the freedom that Warp Drive gives them. It makes the racing feel more creative and dynamic than other similar racing titles.

How long did development take, and how many people worked on the game?

We're a very small team - there are only four of us right now. The advantages of having a small team size are that everybody gets to touch a bunch of different areas of the game, including areas that they wouldn't normally work on. Case in point: our audio developer is also our race track designer, our composer, and he's a gameplay programmer too.

Warp Drive launched on Apple Arcade on November 27th, 2020.

It's an intimidating way of making games. You need people who have broad and deep knowledge. Fortunately, the Supergonk team is very experienced and passionate, so we take on the challenge well. Warp Drive has occupied just over two years of our lives and we plan on working on it for a while longer yet!

What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome during development?

Game development is full of hundreds of challenges every week... there are way too many substantial ones for me to list here! Probably one of the toughest things for a small team like ours was to support so many different types of platforms. Getting the graphics and gameplay scalable so that they run well on all of those platforms has been a challenge too.

That challenge is amplified for us, as we don't have a big QA department with lots of hardware to test on. We've had to make use of automation a lot (to make up for our lack of people!), and focus on performance from day one. Fortunately, the team has lots of experience in multiplatform development so this came a little more naturally to us than it might for most teams...

At what stage in development did you feel you had a game that you were happy with?

Has any developer 'ever' been truly happy with a game that they've shipped?! There's always more stuff to put in, and a few little niggling issues to fix. Of course, Warp Drive is no exception... we've got plenty more ideas which we want to get in the game.

We are planning a long period of post-launch support though. We've already shipped our first set of updates, with more on the way very soon. The team is committed to working really hard to implement a bunch of the cool ideas we have in our brains... watch this space!

For Warp Drive we reached out to legendary Jet Set Radio composer Hideki Naganuma and asked him to write the title track for the game,
Ben Ward

Talk to us about the music and style of Warp Drive? What inspirations did you pull from?

We've always been huge fans of the music of Sega's Jet Set Radio - it's been a huge inspiration for several of us throughout our careers. We love that bright, active vibe, and we try to expand on and extend it with our own titles.

For Warp Drive, we reached out to legendary Jet Set Radio composer Hideki Naganuma and asked him to write the title track for the game, and we were thrilled when he agreed. Naganuma's track - Pumpin' Jumpin' - adds so much attitude and vibe to Warp Drive that it's become an essential part of the game's identity. Working with Naganuma-san has been an incredible privilege for us, and we're thrilled to have him contribute to Warp Drive.

How did the partnership come about with Apple Arcade?

Well, we initially applied to Apple Arcade through official developer channels, making a formal application for Warp Drive to join the service. Thankfully, the team at Apple saw the promise of a racing game with ambitious new core mechanics and I think the company were looking to expand their racing game offering, so it was good timing for us.

We've previously shipped a bunch of stuff on iOS/tvOS/macOS as well, so we had all the experience required to get up and running on Arcade quickly. We're grateful that Apple took the time to speak with us in detail at that initial stage. As a tiny team, that level of attention and care isn't something we'd necessarily expect from a big mega-company, but Apple was really great to work with, in that regard.

Why did you feel this was the right time to launch on mobile?

Shipping on mobile is part and parcel of being an Apple Arcade title. It worked out pretty well for us as we were already on a big performance push with Warp Drive. We learned a lot of techniques to really squeeze a lot of performance out of the Nintendo Switch when we ported Trailblazers to that platform, and many of those techniques were applicable to Warp Drive too. Whilst we were able to bring forward some of the technology from our last game, we also wrote a lot of new stuff for Warp Drive too.

One of the secrets behind Warp Drive's good performance on mobile is our customised anti-gravity physics system which we built from the ground up. As we had this early emphasis on performance, it didn't take a huge amount of work to get the game running effectively on mobile. It's a tough ask to get a game to be scalable between mobile and PC, but I think the team did a great job in this case.

Has the Covid-19 pandemic impacted ongoing development in any way?

We're a UK-based game developer, so we've been working remotely for several months now, with our team always having an element of remote working built into our technology. We've built all of our tools with the capability of remote working from day one. That certainly helped us when the pandemic struck, as all we needed to do was basically put our dev machines in the car and relocate.

In terms of the actual impact to workflow, yes it has had an impact. It's difficult to be creative on a video call, especially during design meetings or brainstorming sessions. Body language and subtle social cues are so under-appreciated in those meetings, and when it's not possible to read those signals any more it can make things difficult.

Was the game soft-launched? If so, what did you learn from the soft launch period, and what were the biggest changes you enacted as a result?

No, we didn't do a soft launch period. It would have been useful to do so, but unfortunately, the schedule didn't allow it this time.

We've taken some feedback directly from the community and built it into our upcoming content plan...
Ben Ward

How happy are you with the game's launch so far?

As I've already mentioned, we've still got lots more content we'd like to build into Warp Drive, currently putting the finishing touches to new tracks, car parts and game modes. The launch has gone well and it's great to hear the positive feedback from players, but we don't see our work on Warp Drive as being finished yet.

Who do you find to be the game's main audience?

As with any new title, we saw a big uptake of new users at the launch of the game, which is great! I think a lot of people from all walks of life saw Warp Drive's cool graphics and heard the interesting soundtrack and gave it a try, which we're very grateful for!

We've been listening carefully to feedback from players since launch and making adjustments to the game based on what they'd like to see. It's great to have direct interaction with the community in that way, and we're making the most of it to tweak and expand the game in the next few months!

What can you tell us about your plans in terms of updates?

We have plans for new content (tracks and cars), modes and options (game modes and different ways to play), alongside also some quite major tweaks and improvements to the core mechanics too. In addition, we've taken some feedback directly from the community and built it into our upcoming content plan, so we're grateful for the contributions from gamers.

There are lots of good ideas in the schedule, so we're working through them as efficiently as we can. We'll be rolling out these updates to Warp Drive on an incremental basis, so keep your eyes on the App Store for updates.

What can you tell us about your future mobile projects?

We're 100 per cent focused on Warp Drive right now and will be continuing to improve it and expand it for the foreseeable future. Of course, we have some new game ideas planned out at varying stages of development... but you'll have to wait and see for those!

Features Editor

Matthew Forde is the features editor at PocketGamer.biz and also a member of the Pocket Gamer Podcast. You can find him on Twitter @Forde999 talking about stats, data and everything pop culture related - particularly superheroes.

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