A View from the Pit Crew: How We Revamped Racecar

If you’re a fan of fast cars or unusually skilled dogs, you may have already noticed a major overhaul to one of the original VirZOOM Arcade experiences: Racecar driving. And if you haven’t checked out the new Racecar experience yet, go take a look!

We’ve always seen Racecar – still known by some of our oldest fans under its alpha name, Go Fast Car! – as a core part of the VirZOOM experience. As we’ve studied how people play, however, we realized we could do better. Even as we work on new games for VirZOOM Arcade, we also want to make sure we polish and provide added depth for the games already available. Today we’ll take a look at the design and decision making that goes into a major update like this.

How Things Used to Be

Races are an obvious fit for an exercise game – pedal faster to go faster! – but a tough fit for an online VR experience. We originally set up the game to work like car races: Everybody starts together, and first one across the finish line wins. This worked great if you coordinated a specific time to get together and play online with friends (like through the online friend challenge interface at My VirZOOM). If that’s not how you played, however, things got a bit trickier.

In the original setup, if someone just happened to drop into Live Race mode looking to join a game, they’d either have to wait for the current race to end, or the player who initiated the current race had to restart it for everyone. We were fortunate to have excellent players who used this system responsibly, but it put a lot of decision-making pressure on the starting player. Do you restart as soon as someone new joins, even if you just restarted a lap ago? Do you hold off on restarting if you’re losing just to be a good sport? And perhaps most crucially for us, how long is too long to leave one or more players sitting waiting to start their workout until a race finishes?

There were, of course, alternatives in the form of other race modes: AI Race (which was basically Live Race but with no possibility of multiplayer), Ghost Race (where you race against the ghost of your own avatar from your previous laps), and Survival (where your max speed improved each lap, but you had to get a better time to keep playing). These let players try out a lot of different things, but splitting into so many alternative modes presented its own issues. Some players lamented that they were bored with a flat, oval track – they never realized they could get a different track if they just chose another mode. Plus, having one online mode and three offline modes fragmented the player base, so even if several people were playing Racecar, it was less likely they’d get to race against each other.

How Things Changed

We wanted to rethink Racecar in a way that would take the best things from each mode, and also make it as rewarding to play online as our other VirZOOM Arcade games. Now, when you choose Racecar from the game menu, instead of seeing four different modes with somewhat mysterious rules, you make a simple choice: Play on a flat, oval-shaped track, or play on a curvier track with more turns and elevation changes. (And for the sake of variety, we periodically change the direction you drive on each track!) Whichever track you choose, you’ll get to interact with other players, and the goals are the same. Go fast, car!

When you join a race, you start racing – no waiting required. You’re not trying to beat the other racers across the finish line, but finish laps as quickly as you can. For your first two laps, push for the best time you can muster, or pace yourself for what comes next. Starting on lap 3, you need to beat your own ghost – a translucent after-image of your avatar from your previous lap – or the race ends. No matter who you share the road with, you are your own fiercest competition.

That said, it’s still important to keep an eye on the other drivers. Sometimes they’ll be computer-controlled, but other times you’ll see a username above them indicating that there’s a human player at the wheel (or the pedals). Pass other drivers for a scoring bonus, earning more coins to spend on an even fancier car upgrade.

We also rebuilt the tracks a bit, pushing back the walls and adding an extra-wide dirt path around the track. This was more of a comfort issue than a gameplay issue. Racecars go fast, but dropping from high speeds too suddenly when you slam into a wall is a terrible feeling in VR. The dirt now slows you down more comfortably, for a less jarring transition and a gentler reminder to keep your wheels on the asphalt.

And if part of what you like about Racecar is going fast, we’ve got some more good news for you: Now, the higher your resistance setting, the faster you go. We avoid this in most VirZOOM Arcade games so you can customize your workout separately from the gameplay, but for more straightforward races like Racecar and Cycle, it just makes sense to reward you for pushing yourself harder.

How To Pull Ahead

We think that the new Racecar is more approachable than ever, but there’s still some strategy involved. Let’s go over some tips for how to burn rubber and turn some heads in front of the competition.

Time your boosts: Speed boosts are still scattered across the tracks, but you don’t necessarily want to activate them as soon as you grab them. Hold onto your boost until you know you can make the most of it, like just before you hit a straight stretch of track. If you time it right, you can hold multiple boosts and blast through a long straightaway without losing any energy to a hard-to-control turn.

Calibrate resistance: You’ll only get the speed bonus from stronger pedaling resistance if you remember to calibrate it in the game options. And remember, you can even change twist the tension control knob during the race as you ride, shifting gears when you need it most (as long as you’re willing to provide the extra fuel by pedaling furiously).

Share your feelings: Okay, it won’t actually make you go any faster, but blurting out an “Eat my dust” shout is a great way to feel like you’re a total speed demon. That’ll show those Labradors what’s up.

Got any other tips for your fellow racers, or feedback on these new changes? Drop by the blog or the forums and let us know!


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