Remember the days of R.C. Pro-Am? Rare’s classic top-down racing title provided many hours of fun in the NES days and it’s been a while since any game has attempted to cash in on that nostalgia. For good reason though because in this age of Forza, Gran Turismo and DriveClub, what’s a racing title without oodles of realism (and yes, we know Mario Kart is a thing)? Fortunately, that hasn’t stopped VooFoo Studios from going to the top-down racing well with Mantis Burn Racing, an Xbox One, PS4 and PC title that offers an in-depth single-player mode, progression systems and much more to keep you enthralled.
GamingBolt had a chance to speak to VooFoo’s marketing and PR manager Sean Walsh and technical director Mark Williams about the game, it’s inspiration, direction for the future (including support on the PS4 Pro) and much more.
"The races are fast, frenetic and highly competitive as you race across highly detailed, visually stunning tracks, in high-risk, high speed races where winning is everything!"
Before we begin can you please tell us a bit about yourself and the studio?
VooFoo Studios is an independent games studio based in the centre of Birmingham, in the UK. We were formed in 2007 by a small team of passionate games industry professionals who set out to make fun, commercially successful games using our own in-house proprietary game engine. We collaborated with Sony on our first project, Hustle Kings, which went on to top the PSN charts and earned us two Develop Award nominations in the process, we’re also the development team behind the million selling ‘Pure’ series of games, which includes Pure Pool and Pure Hold’em. 2016 has been our busiest year to date and has seen the studio move into publishing with the release of our first self-developed and published owned IP, Mantis Burn Racing, which is out now on PS4, Xbox One and Steam.
So what exactly is Mantis Burn Racing? Where did the idea came from?
Mantis Burn Racing is an arcade style top-down racing game that harkens back to classic top-down arcade style racing that you know and love, with impressive graphics and immersive gameplay features such as a comprehensive single-player campaign and an in-depth RPG-style vehicle upgrade system. The races are fast, frenetic and highly competitive as you race across highly detailed, visually stunning tracks, in high-risk, high speed races where winning is everything! We wanted Mantis Burn Racing to be a credible top-down racer that is really fun to play with friends, so we have highly competitive local four-player split-screen racing and multiple online modes for up to eight players. Our founder and Technical Director, Mark Williams, got his first start in the industry with the Amiga classic, Max Rally. Mantis Burn Racing is a game that we’ve wanted to make ever since,so we have a connection and history with top-down racing games.
For a studio that has developed games like Big Sky Infinity, Pure Pool and Hustle Kings, why shift to the racing genre?
Ultimately we make games that we are passionate about. We have a history with racing games and a team that are all enthusiastic about making Mantis Burn Racing the best it can be. We’re proud of our reputation for developing visually impressive, best-in-class games and whilst we aren’t in a position to compete with Forza or GT, we saw a real opportunity to apply our trademark visual quality to a modern, credible top-down racing game. In the process we also understood that we’d be showcasing our abilities in other areas, we have a really talented team and we certainly don’t want to get pigeonholed for making only one type of game.
How long has Mantis Burn Racing been in development for?
Around 18 months in total.
"We have a substantial 7-season single-player career structure that is designed to test every aspect of players’ driving ability; it’s not just about flat out racing."
How many tracks feature in the final version of the game?
The racing takes place in two main environments as players jump the sand dunes of sun-scorched Sand Town or burn rubber on the asphalt city streets of New Shangri-la. Each main environment has 4 tracks, which are reversible, making 16 in total. We’re supporting the game post-launch and will be releasing a free DLC pack that will add a completely new and different racing environment with at least 4 new (reversible) tracks.
Will the game have any sort of a customization and progression system?
One of the stand-out features of Mantis Burn Racing is the progression system. You earn XP in all areas of the game including the comprehensive 20-hour single-player career, which unlocks both visual and performance upgrades for your vehicles using a RPG-style slot system. Each vehicle has up to 18 upgrade slots available that allow you to customize your vehicles’ suspension, gear-box, engine, tyres and boost. With thousands of possible vehicle variations, the game allows you to fine tune your vehicles to your exact preference and playing style.
Is there any sort of a career for solo players to play through?
We have a substantial 7-season single-player career structure that is designed to test every aspect of players’ driving ability; it’s not just about flat out racing. There are 3 career seasons to progress through from Rookie, Pro to Veteran and each season comes with a variety of different race types to keep the racing fresh and exciting, including Knockout, Accumulator, Overtake and Time Trial. Each season has a final championship which is unlocked by obtaining a set amount of gears that you acquire through competing in the various events.
What can you tell us about the multiplayer component of the game?
Mantis Burn Racing’s fast-paced, frenetic game play lends itself perfectly to highly competitive multiplayer racing. It’s the perfect game to play with friends both locally, with 4 player local split-screen racing and online, where up to 8 players can take their finely tuned, upgraded vehicles online to compete against the rest of the world with global leader boards separating the best from the rest. All 8 game modes in the game are all playable both online and locally too, so there’s plenty of depth and variety to the racing in all areas.
"We still have to wait a year before we see the Scorpio, but it looks like it will definitely dominate in terms of performance."
Top down racers are a rarity these days and I am not sure how much market value this genre holds in these age. How are you ensuring that the game will stand out and appeal to gamers?
The best way to stand out is to have a great game. Luckily we do and that’s something that has been borne out by the positive feedback we’ve received from fans and media alike since launch. There’s been a bit of a resurgence in top-down racing games recently and whilst we’re really happy to appeal to players’ fond nostalgia for past games we wanted to help bring the genre right up to date and showcase the modern, immersive game play features of Mantis Burn Racing. High quality visual fidelity (including full native 4K support at 60fps on the PlayStation Pro), a comprehensive single player career campaign and an in-depth RPG-style upgrade system are just some of the ways the game stands out in the genre.
Will the game run at 1080p and 60fps on PS4 and Xbox One?
Yes, and at 2160p at 60fps on PS4 Pro.
I am already aware that the game runs at 4K and 60fps on PS4 Pro. What are your thoughts on the PRO GPU’s capabilities and how significant did you found the jump from the base PS4 to be?
I was actually very pleasantly surprised. Not initially – the specs on paper don’t sound great, as you are trying to fill four times as many pixels on screen with a GPU that is only just over twice as powerful, and without a particularly big increase in memory bandwidth. But when you drill down into the detail, the PS4 Pro GPU has a lot of new features packed into it too, which means you can do far more per cycle than you can with the original GPU (twice as much in fact, in some cases). You’ve still got to work very hard to utilize the extra potential power, but we were very keen to make this happen in Mantis Burn Racing.
In Mantis Burn Racing, much of the graphical complexity is in the pixel detail, which means most of our cycles are spent doing pixel shader work. Much of that is work that can be done at 16-bit rather than 32-bit precision, without any perceivable difference in the end result – and PS4 Pro can do 16 bit-floating point operations twice as fast as the 32-bit equivalent.
I am sure you must have heard about the PRO and Scorpio, How do you rate Sony’s relatively more conservative approach with the PS4 Pro versus Microsoft’s more radical overhaul with the Xbox One Scorpio? Which excites you more, from a development perspective?
We still have to wait a year before we see the Scorpio, but it looks like it will definitely dominate in terms of performance. That will certainly help devs and will undoubtedly mean far more games on Scorpio will hit true native 4K @ 60fps. It has generally been more difficult to reach 60fps on Xbox One than on PS4, so Scorpio will be a very welcome change. I’ve yet to see the functional differences in the Scorpio GPU, so it remains to be seen how much of a difference there will actually be, but Scorpio definitely has a significant advantage in terms of memory bandwidth, so we’ll definitely be seeing higher fidelity games on there.
"We have to maintain parity from a functional and gameplay point of view, but we can really go to town on ramping up the visual quality."
What is your take on Sony’s Checkerboard technique for 4K rendering versus native 4K rendering that Microsoft are espousing with the Scorpio? To the naked guy, what will the difference be? And what are the differences from a development and programming perspective?
Checkerboard rending is a neat approach to achieving 4K when you don’t have the performance to do it natively, but it requires more work from a development perspective, and it can be tricky to make it look right. It’s never going to look as good as full 4K, though on relatively static scenes it can get close. In Mantis Burn Racing where everything on screen is moving by pretty fast, you’d see much less definition in the pixel detail than at full 4K. If the screen is changing much less per frame, then you can do temporal reprojection between frames to fill in the detail that you miss with checkerboard.
The Xbox One Scorpio is being touted as the most powerful console ever made. And yet, given Microsoft’s diktat that all games have maintain parity with standard Xbox One systems, and that there can be no Scorpio exclusives, do you really think that the Scorpio’s power will be able to be put to any meaningful use?
Yes, definitely. We have to maintain parity from a functional and gameplay point of view, but we can really go to town on ramping up the visual quality. It’s like having a PC game where you get a new graphics card and now you can ramp all the graphics settings up to maximum – it’s the same game, but it looks a hell of a lot nicer.
From a development perspective, what does suddenly having two additional SKUs for game development do? Is supporting these upgraded consoles seen as being worth it, especially with all the policy constraints that are placed on game development for the Pro and Scorpio?
It’s really not an issue. We use our own proprietary engine for all of our games, which already runs cross platform, and which already scales to meet available power on PC. Pro and Scorpio are just extensions to that really. The game code doesn’t even need to be aware of Pro and Scorpio, it’s just like we’re running on a high end PC.
Are you planning to bring the game to NX, Pro and Scorpio?
We’re already out on PS4 Pro – when the system launches this month you’ll be able to play Mantis Burn Racing from day 1 in full native 4K @ 60-fps. We’ll almost certainly look to support Scorpio too. We’d love to take a look at the NX, as I reckon Mantis Burn Racing would be a great fit – it’s definitely a game that will work very well in handheld mode.