An interview with Space Dust Studios (Space Dust Racers)
Space Dust Racers is an upcoming party racing game inspired by popular titles such as Micro Machines and Mario Kart. You play as various non-human characters in space, racing and blowing each other up for a gold medal.
Space Dust Racers has successfully been Greenlit on Steam and is currently in an alpha stage, being developed by aptly named Space Dust Studios, an indie studio consisting of “AAA developers gone rogue.” I sat down with Grigor Pedrioli, the Senior Artist, to chat about everything Space Dust Racers!
Ford James: Your website states you’ve all collaborated before on games such as Tomb Raider, Battlefield and Dead Space. What made you all decide you’d prefer to become an indie studio and work on games with smaller budgets?
Grigor Pedrioli: A collaborative working environment is all about the people first, then the projects. We’ve all enjoyed working together on and off over the last decade or more and had often discussed starting our own studio, developing the games we wanted to make rather than just being a little cog in a very large machine on projects that we may not have been entirely invested in. I guess for us that dream just sort of became a viable option not long after the closure of the Visceral Games Melbourne studio and when Nathan returned from a stint at Crystal Dynamics in the US. Michael and Glen were soon to finish up working with DICE so the timing was right and we decided to take the plunge and go for it.
FJ: Have there been many changes in the roles you have undertaken at Space Dust Studios compared to working at triple A studios?
GP: Quite a few. Basically when you work at a larger company with 10’s if not 100’s of employees you work within your set discipline, for instance an artist will work in a specific area ie; character modelling/animation, environments and props, vehicles, UI, lighting and VFX etc. As a small indie though you need to work across all the areas in any given discipline, so as an artist I find myself doing a bit of everything, which is really rewarding and challenging at the same time. The biggest changes to our roles however involves all the other “non development” work that needs to be done running a studio. The budgeting, marketing, accounting and day to day management of running a small business. It’s a massive time suck that unfortunately can’t be avoided.
FJ: Space Dust Racers has a lot of likenesses to older console games such as Micro Machines and Mashed. Were there any other titles or ideas that influenced your decision to create Space Dust Racers?
GP: Space Dust Racers is a true combination of many old favourites. The ones you mentioned are big influences as are Crash Team Racing, Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros. Basically it’s cherry picking elements that we really like from them and rolling them into Space Dust Racers. These titles are all big gameplay influences for sure but we also draw artistic inspiration from titles like the Ratchet and Clank series, Portal and even styles outside games. We love the bold use of colour and form while keeping texture noise to a minimum and we’ve directly applied these qualities developing our own unique art style.
FJ: What aspect of the game are you most proud of so far? The ability to have 16 local players via smartphones, tablets and laptops is what stands out to me, or is there a different aspect to Space Dust Racers you’re fondest of?
GP: The controller tech is definitely very cool. Allowing players that don’t happen to have a traditional controller at their fingertips the ability to use their smartphone instead is pretty great. Hell, the ability to play with 16 controllers (if you have them) in the one room via hubs is also pretty awesome. To me though, the thing I’m most proud of is the fact it’s damned good fun for all ages to play. We set out to build a game that was enjoyable to kids and adults alike and I feel we are delivering on that in spades. As a father I’m proud we’re building something that we can play with our kids, with our parents, or over a few tasty refreshments with our friends.
FJ: Have there been any particularly memorable or funny bugs you’ve encountered during the development?
GP: For sure! As Space Dust Racers relies heavily on physics for its gameplay, we’ll often see unexpected results when adding new features. Our first pass at the shark missile (a guided projectile which is meant to sneak up behind racers like a shark, scaring them as it edges closer) wasn’t quite capable of homing in on the target properly. The thing flew wildly around the target like a pressurized gas tank with a bad leak.
We’ve also added some physics hacks for gameplay reasons, like throwing wrecked vehicles upwards once they’ve been hit by a player to get them out of the way, as they were a bit irritating in our playtesting. Of course our initial guesses at the correct physics forces were way too high, and sent wrecked vehicles into the stratosphere, dragging the other racer along with them. Whoops!
Our AI racers were initially too smart for their own good. If they got flipped around 180, instead of doing a u-turn and continuing they’d just casually start reversing their way around the track. Impressive, but not quite what we were after!
FJ: I remember reading somewhere, although I’m not exactly sure where (maybe the Kickstarter page) as I can’t find it anymore, that Space Dust Racers will have a narrative and a single player story. Is this true, and if so can you give us an idea of what it’ll be about?
GP: All I’ll say is that there is a full narrative and backstory behind Space Dust Racers. Also, there is a single player experience on the cards, however it is not the primary focus for Space Dust Racers. A super fun local multiplayer and online multiplayer are the two primary modes that we’re focusing on. However rest assured that the ability to have a blast with the game by yourself will be supported.
Glen, Grigor, Stephen, Nathan, and Michael make up Space Dust Studios
FJ: What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far developing Space Dust Racers?
GP: There have been two. Firstly running a business while developing our first title at the same time has been a big eye opener and challenge both time and skills wise. We’re content guys first and foremost and pretty good at the game making side of things, but all the other stuff that comes with running a business and successfully marketing yourself has been a huge learning curve. Secondly, we’ve built Space Dust Racers on a shoestring budget, paying ourselves very little (we call it survival money), and focusing resources on keeping the project moving forward. Honestly, it can be very tough sometimes but the key is to always look at the bigger picture and stay focused on hitting our internal milestones and eventual release. And besides who really needs to eat anyway?
FJ: Do you guys have an estimated release date in mind yet? It’s been Greenlit on Steam by the community, are we far away from seeing a consumer version in Early Access?
GP: I won’t commit to an Early Access date just yet but I can say that we are on schedule for a Q1 2016 release on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.
FJ: On a similar note, any ideas for the potential price point?
GP: Again, I won’t commit to anything here but can say there’ll be no nasty surprises, we want Space Dust Racers to be enjoyed by as many people as possible, so our eventual price point won’t break the bank.
FJ: Have there been any features or mechanics you really wanted to include but haven’t been able to due to restrictions with the engine or current technology?
GP: We’re using Unreal Engine 4 as you know and it’s a very feature complete and robust engine to work with. At this stage we’ve not run into any situation where we’ve been unable to include a desired feature, which has been fantastic for us. The only limiting factor is time, as that’s a very finite resource for a small team such as ours. When it comes to optimisation, we will say the Xbox One has required the most work so far and has effectively become our minimum spec or 'baseline' platform.
FJ: Is there any chance of a huge LAN event with sixteen players in each round racing/battling it out for a cash prize?! Ever since my brothers, my dad and I would crowd around the TV with a multitap playing Micro Machines and Mashed I’ve wished for a more competitive environment. I guess what I’m asking is, is there any chance of Major League Gaming picking up Space Dust Racers and adding it to their events? (I am partially kidding, but a guy can dream!)
GP: To be honest, I think that would be an awesome thing and something we would love to be involved in. We have already been approached by an organiser of such an event so interest is definitely there. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what evolves in the lead up to release, but we love the idea of Space Dust Racer tournaments both in person and online!
FJ: Finally, is there anything else you guys want to add that I/we haven’t touched on?
GP: I’d just like to say thanks to everyone who has supported and shown interest in Space Dust Racers and we really look forward to you all getting your hands on the game and enjoying it. One thing we’ve learned is that pretty screenshots and videos can never replace actually playing the game so we’re working hard towards getting Space Dust Racers into your hands and making it the best experience it can be.
I made a video on Space Dust Racers back in April after I was granted access to the pre-alpha, which you can find here: What is Space Dust Racers? It's definitely one to keep an eye on, the driving feels smooth and blowing up opponents is very satisfying. Crowding around a TV with friends and family is undoubtedly a recipe for fun with Space Dust Racers and I'm excited to see what content gets added when it releases.
If you want to chat with the Space Dust Studios team, or learn more about Space Dust Racers, you can sign up to their forums here. You can follow them on Twitter here and like them on Facebook here. The official website is here and here is their Greenlight page.
Huge thanks to Grigor for taking the time to do this interview and we here at GameSkinny wish him and the rest of the team the best of luck with Space Dust Racers!