I’m Karol Miklas, one of two main developers of the recently published #DRIVE mobile video game.
The game is a free-to-play endless-runner (driver) genre, where your goal is to drive the farthest possible, while avoiding crashing.
Quoting our store page: ‘#DRIVE is an endless driving video game inspired by road and action movies from the 1970s. As simple as possible, it allows the player to pick a car, pick the place and hit the road—just be careful not to hit anything else.’
And that’s basically it. But we put extra effort into the quality of the game, both visual and technical. Even though our first goal was to make a proof of concept as fast as is reasonably possible – let’s say 2 or 3 months – we saw the potential it had and decided to fully commit to the project, without a real deadline. It eventually took us exactly one year to finish the first version of the game, with 3 environments, 20 cars and a pretty solid roadmap for further development.
So far we’re 2 million downloads strong on Android only and the game is just releasing on iOS. It will include a whole new environment and a set of cars—with a Japanese theme.
We decided to go for Japan as it was our original plan. But also most of the new content requests were for exactly that—for their iconic roads, cities and, of course, vehicles, with strong anime and movie correlations.
How #DRIVE was made
As it is a mobile game, we had pretty strict limitations with regard to device performance. Of course there are top flagship models from Samsung or Apple with top-notch internals, however the majority of mobile players still use a vast amount of older or low to mid-end devices.
In short: we wanted the game to be reasonably playable on your 5 year old phone or tablet.
It required us to break down the basics of how the Unity Engine works in this case, how we could optimize shaders, model geometry, texture usage or lighting to achieve that goal. We decided to go as simple as possible, but we also wanted the game to look pretty.
One way is to make models with solid colors and just shine some light on them, some shadows. But it turns out the performance drop with shadows enabled is pretty dramatic and it soon became a no-go for us.
Another option was to just paint the models, but if we wanted to produce a large amount of content and keep the memory usage low, texturing each of the models would soon become impossible. Another thing is visual consistency, as you need to be aware that during the style development and making new models it’s pretty difficult to maintain the same level of detail or shading (when texturing each model separately).
So, there is no light in the scene, no shadows cast, we can’t texture and paint all the models uniquely. We were left with either flat colors or…gradients.
To maintain the look from the initial concept art (mainly driving in the sun’s direction) we took advantage of what the game type actually is—it’s based on a road. And even though the road is linear, it’s procedurally generated (did I mention that?), it is still a predictable environment. So we asked ourselves:
Can you actually notice that you ALWAYS drive in the sun’s direction?
We thought: not really. Therefore we found our solution.
What this means is that all of the models in the game are modelled with that one simple rule in mind. So all the buildings, cars, props, even the road shader, is taking that into consideration and is visualized in the way the gradients are mapped onto the model.
From a production point of view, it allowed us to create the models in matters of minutes, maybe hours for the most complex ones. One car from start to finish takes approximately 1 hour.
For some of the cars we had a help from Robert Bubel and Mariusz Ruksztełło.
A whole environment is done in less than a month, as it requires more thorough planning and visual design for the assets.
The ‘extra effort’ – how we pushed the quality further
As much work goes into asset production, a good game is not only a model showcase. It needs to run well and be a pleasure to use. It has to put a smile on your face or at least make the player feel it’s a complete product.
Working from the principle – ‘inspired by road and action movies from the 1970s’ – yet trying to keep it simple, we looked for details that could support that phrase.
We had brainstormed about what makes a movie look like a movie—and here, pardon our total incompetence in this area, a few ideas popped up:
- We definitely need mats (black stripes in the top and the bottom) – we can also use the space for UI
- As we’re in ‘70s, yellow text is a must.
- And subtitles – with voiceovers! The driver will comment your actions. And our voice is George R. Ledoux, fantastic actor and professional to the bone.
- Proper color correction – and it’s easy when you have only a few textures and when they define how the game looks exactly.
- Funky logotypes for the cars, tracks, you name it. The detail, if present, must be well-executed.
- All the names and texts shouldn’t be bland, yet they should be okay for children – no swearing or anything sexual or anything you wouldn’t want your child to learn. We didn’t want the ratings to go up and we aimed for PEGI 3+ and E – and succeeded!
- The music has to match the environment and the era. (This is why you can hear a dance-pop euro-disco synth in ‘70s Holzberg in Germany and British rock in Snowplough in the UK)
We also wanted the cars to have an interesting design and refer to car culture and historical nuances. The more content we add, the more inspirations from various eras, movies, and locations they will have.
The business model
As the game is free to play, it means we need other ways to earn from it and as much as we loved making it and put our hearts into it, we still had our costs and would love to develop it further.
So, you guessed it – the game has ads. Yet we still wanted to make them the least possibly intrusive while still allowing you to have fun in the game. Needless to say many of them are on demand for extra bonus in the game. There is an option to remove them for a few bucks, too.
Also, we wanted the game to be playable and fun for everyone, no matter if one decides to spend any money on it.