For anyone who grew up loving racing games, it only takes one glance at the forthcoming Drift Stage to understand its appeal.
But beyond just tapping into nostalgia, Drift Stage aims to go deeper and resurrect something that has faded from the gaming world: the arcade racer. Its retro-inspired, ‘80s day-glo graphics have the pixelated facade of classic games like Out Run and Pole Position, but judging from the teaser, it will play more like a 3-D-style racer from the '90s, adopting some of the same batshit-insane mechanics which made Ridge Racer so addictive.
Despite dominating the genre in the ‘80s and ‘90s, hyperbolic, physics-violating classics like Out Run and Ridge Racer have been replaced by more hardcore simulators such as Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport—racers that put you in the cockpit of real production cars, performing to their factory specs, simulated down to their dashboard trim. And while these newer games are excellent in their own right, they’ve embraced an increasingly niche definition of fun.
What made the great arcade racers of yesteryear so great was that anyone could pick one up and instantly enjoy themselves, but still discover a hidden complexity that rewarded the extra time and effort that went into mastering the game. Every car had its virtues and pitfalls—like insane acceleration but slow top speed—which became evident after a few minutes of play. Getting around the track was easy enough, but elbowing your way up to first place required riskier tactics from an expert hand.
The tracks, too, were characters unto themselves; situated in unlikely—often urban—locales, they were filled with improbably-placed shortcuts and impossible terrain changes. San Francisco Rush, in particular, made its name on folding these shortcuts all over its city tracks. Depending on the game, you might have face a loop of never-ending twists and turns which required you to commit a set of twitch reactions to heart. Or it might be a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure-esque course which forced you to channel your inner-Robert Frost, constantly picking one of the forks in the road.
"We're largely trying to capture that easy-to-learn hard-to-master gameplay of ‘80s and ‘90s arcade racing games," explains Petit. "The sort of games that were flashy and fun on the first quarter but kept bringing you back to try to earn that top podium spot after you were several dollars deep."
Now all they have to do is make the game, which is just a month into development.
Drift Stage is a labor of love for the duo, who both have jobs that lie outside of the game industry. (Petit is a software engineer, while Blanchard is a print and web designer.) After revisiting the aforementioned classics, along with others, such as Super Hang-On, Petit got the idea to offer his own contribution to the genre. But he needed someone to handle the visual aspect of the game, so after stumbling upon Blanchard’s online portfolio, he pitched his idea.
As it turns out, Blanchard has some savvy ideas of his own, and even simpler details, like the color schemes, aren’t without deeper meaning.
"A lot of those early games on machines like the Commodore 64 used very strange color palettes due to the hardware's limitations," explained Blanchard. "These bright color palettes, combined with some inspiration from '60s "red line" Hot Wheels cars, are what gave way to the saturated complementary color schemes I assign to each car."
So far the game looks great. That said, there’s still a lot of work left to be done, and in the hands of two first-time game developers, it’s entirely possible the potential of a project like Drift Stage could overshadow the finished result. And as with any video game, the experience will need to feel as good as it looks. But if the duo can deliver on their vision, Drift Stage could end up being something special.
Drift Stage is being developed for Mac and PC, but a release on console and mobile is a possibility. Check out the Drift Stage Tumblr for updates on the game’s progress.