Monday, 8 February 2016

Interview: Greg Pryjmachuk (Jalopy)

Road trip simulators have become popular as of late - the Euro/American Truck Simulator franchise is going strong, Spintires was a surprise hit last year, and who could forget ol' Desert Bus, the original long-distance driving game. Greg Pryjmachuk, a former developer of the F1 series, is trying to break into this newly-popular genre with Jalopy, a Cold-War road trip through a crumbling Eastern Europe. We sent Greg some questions about his latest game, and here's what he replied with:

Essentially, Jalopy is a road trip game through a procedurally-generated Eastern Bloc, but it also has many survival and exploration elements. What is there to do in the world of Jalopy?

So Jalopy is a game about maintaining and running your own 2-stroke vehicle, while embarking on a great journey. So not unlike Euro Truck Simulator, you'll be expected to drive from place to place, only in Jalopy you'll need to get out the car and interact with the world in order to get anywhere.

So from time to time you'll encounter conflicts in your journey. Maybe you picked a route where the roads were too rough, and your tyres have degraded to a point where you need to change them. You'll have to get out and fit them yourself (and hope you packed spares). Or maybe it's just time you needed to refuel and restock on certain supplies, you'll need to stop off at a petrol station, get out the car, refuel and pay.

While your addressing these small conflicts, the day and night cycle is running along without you. You'll be mindful of time because you want to make sure you're in a town early enough for the markets to be open, so you can trade some goods you either bought in the previous town, smuggled through a border or just scavenged along the way. Making money in this new capitalist world is important, but not always easy to predict as the markets are dynamic and can change drastically (what was a surplus good in one country, might be banned in the next for instance).

When you're not trading goods, you'll either need to sleep in Motels to start the next day of your trip, at the Laika Dealerships or garages installing new extras like roof racks, bull rams, etc, or replacing faulty parts. At the border, convincing border guards to let you pass without inspection, even though you've accumulated a lot of fines. Or just pottering along in your car enjoying the brief momentary peace of your car running without hitch.

With many games, procedural generation can be an issue - objects can glitch together, some areas can be completely drab or jam-packed with stuff. Why did you decide procedural generation was right for Jalopy?

So you are exactly right about procedural generation not mixing well with level generation. In Jalopy, I try to focus the procedural elements on things like item generation, weather, road conditions, and journey length. Keeping focus on these aspects allows me to have a stronger influence on road design.

So for example, I create a load of jigsaw segments of roads. The system then arranges them in a variety of ways, at a variety of lengths, with all the details within - such as road condition, traffic, weather, item density, etc. This allows me to create levels that feel like routes, but different enough to make a second play-through interesting.

I'm really interested in the hybrid of level design with procedural elements. Left 4 Dead hinted at this with the Mall map, routes would be blocked off, changed, item placement was always different but familiar enough. I think the trick is to get these two elements working together in harmony; familiarity that can still surprise.

The visual style of Jalopy seems to be centred around Brutalist architecture and bland colours - what effect do you intend to have on the player by choosing this style?

The art style actually started off as a compromise to myself in hopes of being able to finish the game. It's now sort of become it's own thing, though it does still feel like a crutch at times. I've muted the colours slightly, I think that helps give off a more 90's washed out vibe since that's when the game is set, but vibrance will definitely become more pronounced in some of the later countries.

I'm hoping that each country has a distinct enough palette to be recognisable by the player, so they know where they are, how far they've gone. Though emotions will more be drawn from weather conditions. If it's raining you're going to have a tough time, though at least it saves you filling your water tank up to use your windscreen wipers!

What are your favourite road-trip/long-distance driving games, and which ones have served as inspiration for Jalopy?

Euro Truck Simulator 2 was huge for me. In fact, it was one particular moment in that game where you turn your head to look at your mirrors, and if you keep turning your head you can stick your head out the window like a real trucker. There was a week at Codemasters where I wouldn't shut up about that feature, that was huge for me.

Talking of which, I used to work on the Formula 1 games, I was really into the simulated aspects of those games, and how we never really capitalised on them. We were simulating tyre heat, tyre pressure, tyre wear, tyre wetness, and none of it was ever played around with. I always felt those simulated aspects were great and that it was such a shame to keep them locked on a track, driving round in circles.

I also used to work as a tester on Fuel way back before that came out. That was such an interesting game to me. You'd get all these testers just slacking off to take a break from filling in bug reports to go off and drive for a bit, to see what was out there in that digital world. I loved that.

The Cold War has plenty of material for a good game that very few developers have utilised. Are there any Cold War events or concepts that you think would make a great game?

I mean every day the Berlin wall was up has so much potential for developers to play with. There was intrigue, romance, sorrow, joy, and you don't get much more iconic than a great big wall built by the east and supplied by the west. But Jalopy isn't about that, it's about what came after, during reunification - the changing of times.

At the same time, this reunification sends ripples through all the other fraternal states. You've got Czechoslovakia becoming the CSFR after the gentle revolution, Yugoslavia heading towards a really dark period of it's history and caught in amidst all of this are people just trying to find there way.

I think what's important that if you tackle this time period, is to just make sure not to turn it into a dialogue that's about left vs right. There were people amongst all that change and influence and they were just as unknowing or uncaring as we are today about what our governments have in store for u.

Follow Greg on Twitter @MinskWorks. If you want to know more about Jalopy, visit its Steam Greenlight page 

No comments:

Post a Comment