Steel Rats Interview: Ride or Die

Tate Multimedia talks about its strange combination of Dieselpunk action and Trials racing.

Posted By | On 26th, Feb. 2018 Under Article, Interviews

The worlds that make up the “punk” aesthetic are many and varied. Dieselpunk is one of the lesser explored universes but finding the right ideas to innovate on well-worn tropes like fuel-powered technology. So why not throw in a motorcyle, killer robots and a Trials level of required mastery? Tate Multimedia’s Steel Rats is just that, taking a more hardcore approach to its gameplay design and sensibilities. It’s grimy and grim but incredibly intriguing.

Gamingbolt spoke to PR manager Michał Azarewicz, lead game designer Rafał Sadowski and lead programmer Krzysztof Siewiorek at Tate Multimedia to learn more about the game and some of  the challenges of development.

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"he motorbike’s wheelsaw introduces some new and totally original mechanics for the player. It was one of the most core elements of our game concept from the very beginning."

With a 2.5D perspective and “Dieselpunk” aesthetics, there’s certainly a lot going on with Steel Rats. What inspired the concept?

Michał Azarewicz: Hah, well Steel Rats emerged from a DLC idea for Urban Trial Freestyle [Tate’s stunt bike game franchise]. There was an idea for zombies in the DLC, where the main weapon would have been a wheelsaw on the front bike tire. When our team started to develop the project we devloped so many ideas and concepts that it evolved into a standalone project. We changed the setting, the colour palette, and camera view point. Our concept artists Kamil Smala and Marcin Basta have done awesome work creating this new feel and aesthetic for the game. It was an evolution like any game’s development, so there have of course been many iterations and versions of Steel Rats.

What challenges did you face in getting the game off the ground? How difficult was it to implement the core concept?

Michał Azarewicz: We didn’t want to make a standard arcade game, so we decided on a few core concepts. Firstly, the player character would be on a bike the whole time as opposed to running and jumping. We needed to create gameplay that would be interesting for modern gamers and that’s why the game’s perspective is 2.5D. Secondly, we needed to make riding the motorbike feel unique and distinct, that’s why we came up with the idea of vertical riding and the realistic bike physics. The physics of the bike and the way it handles is integral to the feel of the game, we actually received a grant to creating the in-game model for the bike.

The grant project didn’t have the sexiest title ‘Developing innovative project and prototype of a stunt motorcycle physics with a set of major and secondary game functionalities faithfully imitating real model’ but this should show you that there is a great level of realism in how the game plays, meaning that although the game is very accessible to all players, it’s not a casual title. You will need some skill to master the bike and learn to control it, but players shouldn’t worry, we’re creating tutorial levels, so they will be well looked after!

What is the overall story of Steel Rats? What can you tell us about the overall length and potential replay value?

Rafał Sadowski: The top level story is that you play as the ‘Steel Rats’ a motorcyle gang who are their home city’s last line of defense against an invading robotic, alien army. Right now we’re looking at a roughly 8-10 hour long campaign if you burn straight through it, with many secrets to be found in each level that will provide players with a lot of replay value.

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"In Steel Rats, there are parts of the game where you will need to “go fast” but this won’t be all the time."

How do the physics of the bike’s saw blades operate and feed into both navigation and destruction?

Krzysztof Siewiorek: The motorbike’s wheelsaw introduces some new and totally original mechanics for the player. It was one of the most core elements of our game concept from the very beginning. Its most important feature is that it allows the bike to drive up walls, go upside down or wherever you want it to go. This created a huge range of possibilities in level design and has allowed us to redefine the classic platforming/acrade genre. The wheelsaw also takes a big role in combat and clearing your path on missions. Keep in mind, this is only one of many things that make our game a unique experience. We’ll be releasing the first gameplay footage in the coming months so everyone will be finally able to see ‘Steel Rats’ in action.

What can you tell us about each playable character? How do their weapons and abilities alter the overall experience and difficulty?

Rafał Sadowski: You will play as each member of the Steel Rats who have their own unique weapons and bikes. This allows different plalystyles to be catered for. In terms of difficulty, we’re not going to punish the player too much. The fun of Steel Rats comes from the blending of physics based motorbike simulation and crazy “melee-bike combat”, so there was no need to make the whole experience too difficult.

Levels have multiple tiers and pathways to race through. In terms of altering the experience, what do they provide besides different routes to take?

Rafał Sadowski: The main thing is a sense of discovery, we want the player to explore each level. Who knows what you’ll find on the rooftops for example, it might be a small secret or a whole new hidden challenge.

Is there a Sonic the Hedgehog-like proficiency to be learned where players pick the best routes and execute the best runs for the highest scores?

Rafał Sadowski: We all love Sonic! It’s hard to ignore such a well established franchise when you’re designing a fast-paced arcade experience of your own. In Steel Rats, there are parts of the game where you will need to “go fast” but this won’t be all the time. There are many different play styles, from stunts, melee combat, ranged combat and slower paced exploration, so we won’t be try to keep pace with Sonic the whole time.

Are there any additional challenges or modes to pursue once the main story is complete?

Rafał Sadowski: We’re still considering a bunch of options. We already have one really cool, significant new feature for when you have completed the main game and we’ll of course continue to think about additional content and game modes.

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"For us it’s easier and much faster to develop games for multiple platforms than in past generations of consoles."

For the music, what was it like working with the The’s?

Michał Azarewicz: It was a brilliant experience for both them and us. The’s came in to perform a remastered version of their hit “Hoovering” that we used in our trailer. This version was recorded in the Midilive Studio in Paris, which has an awesome history, and this was the first time the girls have worked on this kind of project. We later implemented the track in our first demo level and can be heard playing in certain sections as you drive about the world. This worked really well and has been well received by those who’ve played it. Regarding the rest of the game music, we have our sound designers Dawid W. Mika, and Arkadiusz Reikowski, who previously worked with the Polish studio, ‘Bloober Team’ on their recent games ‘>observer_’ and ‘Layers of Fear’ so they have brought some incredible experience to the project.

What resolution and frame rate does Steel Rats run on Xbox One X and PS4 Pro? Will you have separate modes for 4K and 1080p TV owners?

Krzysztof Siewiorek: Our team is constantly working to deliver best gaming experience possible. We try to keep our game’s focus on rich, diverse environments and unique gameplay all the time. We have to keep in mind the game’s technical performance as well of course which is very important for us. You can be sure that we are taking advantage of this new tech and we have already achieved very good results from the hardware, but it’s too soon to say what the final numbers will be.

Do you think consoles are now closing to PC in terms of performance because of the common x86 architecture?

Krzysztof Siewiorek: A more unified architecture is one of the most important features of modern gaming development from our perspective as it is both the player and the developer who benefits. For us it’s easier and much faster to develop games for multiple platforms than in past generations of consoles. The result is that we can focus more on delivering a content rich title and a superior in-game experience and focus less on low level tech differences. The player also then gets a much better and way more polished game for the same or even lower price. We are pretty sure that the game console manufacturers took a lesson from previous generations and will continue to do their best to provide the fastest machines possible in the future.

When can we expect Steel Rats to release in 2018?

Michał Azarewicz: It will launch in 2018 for sure, most likely early in the second half of the year, but the exact date will be announced later. If you want to follow our social media channels, you will be kept up to date with all the latest on Steel Rats and we’re preparing lots of incredible things before launch.

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