New independent game developer Pixelbionic announced today its first project, a new car combat game called Autoduel. The studio was founded by former Return to Castle Wolfenstein art director and founding member of InXile Maxx Kaufmann and long-time general manager and producer Mike Arkin. Other key members of Autoduel's team include Interstate '76 designer and Interstate '82 lead designer Scot Kramarich and The Matrix: Path of Neo senior programmer Rafael Paiz. Pixelbionic plans to start a crowdfunding drive for the online multiplayer title, which is slated for a PC-only release.
The studio also announced that Twisted Metal and God of War designer David Jaffe has joined its advisory board as a creative advisor on Autoduel. Interstate '76 creator Zack Norman and Chanel Summers, co-founder of audio production house Syndicate 17, will also join Jaffe on the game's advisory board.
GamesIndustry International spoke with Pixelbionic president Mike Arkin and creative advisor David Jaffe about the title. Arkin and Jaffe both believe that crowdfunding provides a way for niche genres like car combat to reach their most fervent fans.
"After watching what has been happening with other successful projects, like Wasteland and Torment, we felt that now is the perfect time to let people know about our plans and goals for this project. Kickstarter is so different from anything else Maxx and I have worked on in our careers, and the idea of being able to reach out directly to fans and players is something we've always wanted to do," said Arkin.
"I look at Pixelbionic as a group of indies who are looking to create games that traditional publishers aren't interested in funding anymore. That's exactly what Kickstarter is for. As far as I know, there's no a big car combat game coming and there are a lot of fans of car combat. The idea of using that resource to say, 'hey, let's bring those fans together and build a new game in the genre' is awesome," added Jaffe.
Jaffe was quick to dispel the notion that he was deeply involved in development on the game; the title shouldn't be seen as David Jaffe's Autoduel. Despite that, Arkin considers Jaffe's expertise from working on the Twisted Metal franchise invaluable.
"It's important to understand that my name is involved with this title, but it's not really-- When I was a kid you saw Steven Spielberg, who was and remains my favorite director, but you would see his name executive producing and stuff," Jaffe explained. "To me, this is more like that. I get to be involved in stuff, but I think it would be wrong - for better or for worse - for anyone to look at this and say, 'this is the next game that Jaffe's directing.'"
"The game that I'm working on with my own studio is already moving ahead; it's a game that I'm directing and designing. This was an opportunity that came to me from an old buddy of mine from the old Sony days, Mike Arkin. It was the ability to effect some change, to be involved in a genre that I really love and I think still has a lot more to offer fans, without waiting months or years to finish this game before I could jump back in and do another vehicle combat game."
"As Pixelbionic's creative advisor, David Jaffe brings an expertise within the car combat genre at a level that only exists within two or maybe three people in the world. As the creator of the largest car combat franchise ever, there's really no one in the world who knows more about cars shooting at each other and giant explosions than David Jaffe," said Arkin.
The last major car combat title was 2012's Twisted Metal for PlayStation 3, but the game didn't necessarily rise to the top of the charts. We asked both gentlemen how they felt about the strength of the car combat genre.
"To put it simply, the car combat genre is something Maxx and I will always be excited about. For us, cars don't get old. Guns don't get old either. Put those together, and you've got the most glorious thing ever: cars with guns! I see the upcoming Mad Max movie as a sign that interest in the genre and cars with guns is still alive and well," said Arkin.
"The other reason for the genre choice is that when we looked around for a great PC multiplayer car combat game that does everything we wanted, we couldn't find it. That's what we're trying to do here with Autoduel. We want to make it because it's the game we want to play that doesn't exist."
"I don't really make decisions based on if I feel there's a groundswell of support," said Jaffe. "Mike and the folks at Pixelbionic came to me, showed me the demo, and the [car combat] junkie in me just lit up. I think that's one of the really cool things about Kickstarter and one of the cool things about what this studio in particular is doing. Do I think there's a Call of Duty-level groundswell of support for car combat? Probably not. Do I think there's enough fans to justify going back to that genre and trying to move it ahead? Yeah, I think so."
Autoduel is currently PC-only at a time when next-generation consoles are becoming more like PCs themselves. The PlayStation 4 was designed to be more friendly to developers, and rumors place the next Xbox as a companion to Microsoft's Windows 8 operating system. We asked both gentlemen how they felt about the possibility of expanding Autoduel to other platforms like consoles.
"The game that we're building today is for the PC. That being said, we are building the game in Unity, which is cross platform technology and there's a good chance that we'll be developing for other platforms in the future. Both Maxx and I have a long history of both console and mobile development so we'll be interested to see what happens with the next generation of consoles and the possibility of doing something in mobile space," said Arkin.
"The more platforms the better, but if you're going to choose more platforms to be on, especially given that there's no real app for Kickstarter on PSN or XBLA - most people who contribute to Kickstarter campaigns do game on PC as well as console," added Jaffe. "So, I think it's fine. I think it would be great if it could branch out to other hardware."
I don't see this as 'fatigue,' I see it more as the market deciding what games they want to play
Pixelbionic's Mike Arkin
Finally, the conversation turned to Kickstarter, as the current leader in allowing developers to crowdfund their games. Some successfully-funded projects have ended in disaster, leading fans to be distrustful of backing new projects. In addition, some fans feels that they've backed too many unreleased titles, leading to what Arkin called 'Kickstarter fatigue'. Arkin believes that fatigue is just fans choosing what games they really want to see.
"I don't see a lull. Everyone talks about 'Kickstarter fatigue,' but I don't see it," he said. "There are examples of games that that people want to play like Torment and Star Citizen that have been very successfully funded. Look at what is happening right now with the Hex MMO project, it was funded on the second day. But there have also been games that aren't getting funded. I don't see this as 'fatigue,' I see it more as the market deciding what games they want to play."
"For the last 25 years that I've been in the business producing games and for 22 of those years, I'd say that the basic business model remained the same. In the last couple of years, we're now seeing developers without a publisher doing their own funding, and bringing out games that never, never, could have made it to market before. These are games that we've wanted to play, but never could have been made in the past. That's why I'm super excited about how Kickstarter is changing the nature of how indies, like myself, are able to make games. We definitely could not have made Autoduel under the traditional model."
As the platform matures and becomes more popular, fans have struck back against Kickstarter drives they feel are coming from creatives that should already have their own funding. Recent examples include Molyneux's Project Godus and Zach Braff's film Wish I Was here. Jaffe closed with some choice words for critics of those funding drives.
If you don't like something, don't fund it
"I do think it's kind of absurd; this idea of 'this is what Kickstarter is for and this is what Kickstarter is not for.' If you don't like something, don't fund it," Jaffe stated. "If you think someone has a name that's too big, whether it's me, Dyack, or Molyneux, don't #$%^ing fund the thing. It's so simple. That idea of saying, 'you're not allowed.' What a bunch of elitist bullshit. Go $%^& yourself."
Pixelbionic will have more details on Autoduel's Kickstarter campaign soon, and additional announcements about further members of the game's core development team.