Drift 84 is a game that doesn't look much at first, but it's so addictive that it will force you to play until the battery runs out - many hours later. And it comes with a good story.
Thomas Webb is a multi-talented person by all means. He will take your iPad, make some strange things to it that will make you feel like gasping for air in awe, then he will talk about it on a radio chat show while sourcing material for a fashion blog and he will turn all this into a video game at some point.
Recently, Tom has been working as a video game developer and as a 'digital magician' - most probably the one of his kind and under the pseudonym Tom London, but he has had other successful ventures in the past as well. For one, his game company - Reventador Games - is spelling a different sort of, but perhaps equally entertaining digital magic. Drift 84 is the latest game of the developer company that is coming out really soon to mobile phones and is also available to home computers as an alpha version. If Thomas Webb's name sounds slightly familiar, that's no coincidence: he is the son of the person who brought the best arcade driving game into your living room.
Just to give a bit of background and perspective: a few days ago I happened to thank Martin Webb, developer of the C64 version of OutRun his contribution to one of my favourite and most successful pieces I managed to put out and as an addition, I linked him the highly exciting Drift Stage game that was partly inspired by OutRun. A few days later this e-mail came out of the blue from his son, Tom, basically saying he had a similarly 80s racing game in the making, called Drift 84 and wondered if I wanted to give it a try. Of course I did.
The demo was quite limited and not finished yet, and admittedly I'm not too much of a fan of top-down-looking racing games, but instantly, I spent close to an hour trying to beat the final stage available. Sadly - as I learned from Tom later - the final stage cannot be beaten in the demo. But the final version will come out very soon that will look, sound and feel even better than this one. Is there a genuine 80s magic in there as one would expect? Absolutely. It is exactly like your 8-bit home computer or console blown up to HD quality with physics that has a great deal of touch of reality to it, but it's still kept fun. Oh, and by the way: both Martin and Tom loved Drift Stage, so there you go, dear Super Systems people: you got thumbs up, too, from where it matters quite a lot.
So now we have Drift 84, a game in the classic genre of racing games that was so much typical in the 80s due to hardware constraints and general game play with looking down on the hero car vertically. 'Drift' is no surprise in the title, but I had to ask Tom what was it with '84'?
I've always been a fan of Formula One. And the thing I love about driving is being on the edge of chaos with the car, and when you drift there's that balance between traction and no-traction. As you go around the bend you can feel the momentum. You push it a little bit too much you are going to spin out and if you don't push it enough, you're not going to drift. When I watch Formula One, that's what they are doing all the time. It's that balance of speed and control that enables you not sliding out. But in 1984 Ayrton Senna managed to drift his way around Monte Carlo in the pouring rain. And when I watched that video, I was like 'Wow, he's amazing, he's lapping everyone else on the grid' - because he was taking the bull by the horn instead of backing off in the wet. He was riding the chaos. So when I was making the game and tried to work out the physics, I watched a lot of videos of cars drifting, and there was that piece from the 'Senna' documentary I was watching over and over again. You look at it and go 'It's crazy'. He's totally in control but the car looks not to be in control at all.
So that's why it's '84', but the other reason is that I'm a massive fan of the 80s in general, especially the music. When I was writing the game, I was listening to a lot of artists like Mitch Muder and Miami Nights 1984 who were really inspiring during development. I would like to think I managed to pull off a distinctive style to the game. It's not strictly speaking an 80s game. There are definitely hints of it in there, like an 80s arcade way but done in a modern way. The music, the fonts, etc. are very retro, but it's a modern game, and that's really important to these app games.
The original game didn't look like that. The car was more like a spaceship moving around the screen and didn't feel like a real car at all. I showed my dad the game and that was his first reaction as well. I mean if you changed the graphics to a space setting, you probably got Asteriods. So I spent the next week with him refining the physics. Because when he first told me about it, I was like 'Ah, you want me to redo the whole physics of the car?' and he went 'Yes, it needs to be better'. So I did, and I think I went through two or three different versions of engines, but then we cracked it and it took about another day to tweak it. Even though it's a 2D game, it's working like a 3D one. You have layers, four wheels on the ground, friction, torque. The target was to drive something that felt like a real car, but still casual, so you can pick it up, play 30 seconds or five minutes.
Even those five minutes can be stretched to quite a lot of time on modern mobiles.
Because it's built with a 2D graphics engine, it uses a lot less of CPU and GPU than a 3D game, so it uses only a little of resources, less than half of that of the iPhone 5, for example. It doesn't look that great compared to 3D games, but I had all the backgrounds hand-painted by an artist, and you'll notice some details, like cracks across the track and everything - including the shadows - look very natural still with a sense of depth. There's even more coming to the final version.
Best thing? It's all free.
Recently the 'freemium' business model has emerged where you get the basic game for free, but you have to pay for the add-ons and for the full experience in general. And people pay those small amounts of money and thus some of these companies get stupendously rich. The highest grossing games have worked on this model in the last two years. It sounds great and looks like a win-win situation to both sides, but the problem is that some companies are going way too far with it. In many cases it affects the general game play as well if you are playing for free. Dad used to say a lot that games need to be rewarding. For example in Drift 84 if you do a great drift, you get free money and that is genuinely rewarding. With the freemium model it's like 'Great job, you won the next car, but you can't use it for another day, unless you pay for it now.' So I've done Drift 84 in a very straightforward way: it is 100 per cent free, you don't need to pay for anything. If I took away the purchases, you would think it's a general racing game, you just needed to drift through the stages. It does enable you to buy the cars you want if you don't want to play through the whole game and race it against your friends, but it's totally optional. It would support me, though, and I could expand on the game, putting other cars in it like a Testarossa or a DeLorean or something to make the game really-really fun.
The game is available for free download for home computers and for mobiles soon, but with an 80s game, surely an 8-bit version would be fun.
Here's the thing. The guy who wrote Lemmings, Mike Dailly, was one of the developers of the game's engine and he actually built a Commodore 64 emulation for the engine. And with some of the kickstarter projects flying around for retro programs developed for ancient machines, you never know what might happen.
You can try Drift 84 for free here.
Images are from Reventador Games' website.