IGM Interviews: Space Dust Studios (Space Dust Racers) – Part Two


Nobody thought it was possible to change the past. Even when scientists discovered a wormhole that would lead to the future, it was deemed too dangerous to travel through; too unstable to even take that chance. But where they saw danger, I saw a chance to set things right. That’s why I came to this planet, and ended up discovering a race of bizarre alien creatures beyond my wildest dreams. My theory is that they hold the key to saving humanity in the past. So I began observing them from a safe distance, amidst the familiar, shallow clouds of sulfur. When I found the secret base of Space Dust Studios, a team dedicated to studying the aliens, I was overjoyed just to be speaking to humans again! But I was also intrigued. They told me of their ideas to make a party game based on these aliens, Space Dust Racers. And I listened.

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IGM: Being able to use smart phones as controllers is one of the things that makes Space Dust Racers extremely unique. Can you explain how that will work when players are racing?

Davies: Yeah absolutely. The basic idea of it is that when the game is running, it actually runs as a web-server. So anything that’s on the network; if you connect your phone to WiFi, you can go to a browser and type the URL of the game, and that will take you to a controller app so that loads up straight away on your phone. It works with laptops as well, any device really you can connect. Obviously we have to design the interface for it so it detects what device it is, but the easiest way to find the game in the browser is just to install a QR code scanner on your phone. And when the game is running, it’ll display a QR code that you can just scan.

That takes you straight to the controller app, and then depending on your device-like Android lets you save it as a full screen app, and iOS lets you add it to the home screen. Then after that, it will try to connect it to the last address that it was at, so yeah it’s all using HTML5. And it’s using some of the latest PhoneGap technology. Glen would know a lot more about it than I do but on consoles, we haven’t identified yet if we’re going to do it through-Xbox One has Xbox Smartglass for example, and PlayStation has the PlayStation app, so the specifics on consoles will differ depending on the requirements. But on PC it’s all browser based.

IGM: Space Dust Racers was originally constructed using Unity before a shift saw it move to Unreal Engine. What factors shaped the game’s art style, and did the change of game engine influence the visuals in any way?

Pedrioli: Sure, well the art style is heavily based on the Ratchet & Clank art style. So it’s very saturated, it’s very cartoony, and it was Nathan who came up with the art style and we all signed off on it. That was decided before we chose what engine we were going to go with. Unity had quite a lot of issues, which Glen has kind of spoken in depth about with the real world materials and that sort of stuff-the physically based rendering in Unity wasn’t really up to par with what we wanted. That coupled with a few other things that we found was a bit of a bottleneck for us. Networking and source, like having access to the source code of Unreal is a massive thing. So it wasn’t just the art style that made us switch from Unity; Most art styles can be translated into any engine provided it has a decent shader. I work with both Unity and Unreal, but from an artist’s point of view, Unreal has a much more powerful and flexible set of materials and shaders-that sort of stuff. We can manage our art much better in Unreal than we could with Unity.

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IGM: The current trailer music sounds like a really energetic, pumping rock track. What made you choose it?

Davies: We actually looked around for quite a while trying to find the right vibe. At the time of making the trailer, we knew we wanted to have an upbeat, energetic direction for the soundtrack, but we hadn’t found the artists that we were going to work with yet. So we ended up looking around for royalty-free music online and picked that one because it was closest to what we wanted. But in our latest trailer, you’ll see it’s going more in a swing, big band kind of direction. We’ve been working with The Other World Agency in Perth, and they represent a whole bunch of indie game artists. They’ve been talking to us and we’re trying to get a soundtrack – completely original soundtrack – put together with them. It’s all influenced by electro-swing, and a little bit of jazz, a mix of live instruments like upbeat drums and synths as well.

Pedrioli: I guess a really good reference point is the Cantina music in Star Wars, which is like this strange, future jazz. So if you just YouTube Star Wars Cantina, that’s a pretty good direction of where we’d like to take it.

Davies: We want it to have the feeling of being fun, alien, and very energetic.

Pedrioli: It’s an E game right? So it’s stuff that I want to play with my son when he’s a little bit older, and Nate wants to play with his girls. We want it to be a game that everyone can enjoy, so if you’re going for a broader demographic, it’s nice to have a quirky soundtrack. And I think The Other World Agency is doing a great job helping us there.

IGM: You’ve been showcasing Space Dust Racers to a worldwide audience-winning awards at the Free Play festival, iFest, and attending GDC as well. What was that like?

Davies: That’s right, yeah we did GDC this year. And that was at the Unreal Engine booth.

Pedrioli: That was a reward in itself. We were 1 in 8 of about 100 companies that were selected from around the world.

Davies: They paid to get us over there and showcase the game, so that was fantastic.

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IGM: What have been the reactions of people who have played Space Dust Racers thus far?

Davies: Everyone’s overwhelmed to begin with. The thing about Space Dust Racers is that if you’ve never played it before, once you start a round you really need to accelerate or you’ll get knocked out. So usually people take one or two rounds to get that. Once they understand that, they get into it pretty quickly. And it’s really easy-I mean we’ve seen kids playing it, picking it up quicker than adults actually. And people immediately say, “Oh, this is like Mario Kart!” Or Crash Team Racing, but then they start playing it and say, “It’s more like Micro Machines,” because it’s one shared screen for everyone. The feedback we’ve gotten has been really good. People love the characters, which is really encouraging to hear. We’ve based them all around a mix of aliens and robots.

Pedrioli: Yeah, so it’s broad and appealing to everyone. Even from within just the 4 characters, but once we have the full set you’ll be able to find a character that will please anyone. But you’re always going to have your favorite-I mean, I already have my favorite. I won’t say what that is, because I actually made most of them (laughs).

A keen retrogamer who grew up playing classics like Prince of Persia, Aladdin, and Diddy Kong Racing, Katrina believes that digital games are not just fun, but a great way to learn. These days she enjoys studying Japanese language acquisition, and designing her own games.