With the 90’s gaming scene offering a plethora of top-down racers – such as Micro Machines, Rock n’ Roll Racing, Super Cars and Super Off Road – it’s a shame then that the genre has experienced declining popularity since the advent of 3D consoles. But with digital distribution allowing niche ideas and concepts to survive, indie developer VooFoo Studios has been looking to reignite interest with their forthcoming Mantis Burn Racing.
Melding old-school gameplay with cutting edge visuals, Mantis Burn Racing is certainly shaping up to be a love letter to previous top-down racing efforts. And with the developer promising “fast-paced, bumper-to-bumper racing with intuitive, tactile gameplay“, all signs point towards VooFoo as living up to their promise by offering a game that takes the “top-down racer into the next generation“. As part of this, the studio is releasing the game on PC, Xbox One and PS4 – with the PS4 Pro version offering native 4K resolution, 60fps and 1080p for players in four player split screen races.
As someone who is a fan of top-down racing games, I thought Mantis Burn Racing was great when I played it at Gamescom this year. At the same time however, and with Interplay recently putting their games up for sale, I couldn’t help but wonder as to how VooFoo Studios would fare if it decided to give gaming audiences a more modern update to one of my favourite top-down racing games of all time – the SNES classic Rock n’ Roll Racing. With this in mind, I sat down with Shaun Read (Creative Director) and Sean Walsh (Marketing & PR Manager) so as to find out more about their game. Enjoy!
What is Mantis Burn Racing about?
Shaun Read: Mantis Burn Racing is a top-down racer. We have 8 tracks, each of them reversible, so 16 in total. We have nine vehicles, each are extensively upgradable. In fact, I think there are 300,000 combinations of upgrades that you can do on the top vehicles. It’s based on our own engine, which is actually called Mantis Engine, hence the name. Although Mantis Burn Racing is an arcade game, it’s kind of based in real-world physics as well. So the cars feel weighty and kind of how you would imagine a real car to handle. We have eight different event types, from general races to knockouts to… there’s an overtake event. Currently, we have two environments, both very different. One is Sand Town where there are sand dunes and everything. Whereas Metropolis is a city track. We have roughly a 12-hour solo career. We have old-school, four-player split screen. So four people can play on a single console. And we have an eight-player online mode.
What platforms is Mantis Burn Racing scheduled for?
Shaun Read: We’re currently on Early Access on Steam. It’s out. It’s been out since July. And then we are within weeks of announcing our launch date on XBox One, PlayStation 4, which will be soon… this year before Christmas.
Apart from offering native 4K resolution, 60fps and 1080p for players in four player split screen races, how else will the PS4 Pro version be superior to the standard PS4 version? At the same time, how will the PS4 Pro version compare to the game running on a high-end PC?
Shaun Read: Other than the improvements you’ve mentioned, the PS4 Pro will be the same as the standard PS4 verison as it runs at 60fps both. That said, the fact that the game runs in native 4k on the new console shouldn’t be overlooked. The graphical fidelity looks pin sharp, even on a huge TV screen, ideal for playing four-player split screen! The PS4 Pro really has helped us close the gap once more between the console and PC versions. As far as Mantis Burn is concerned, the PS4 Pro version will look and play identically to the game being played on a top-of-the-line PC.
Any plans for releasing it on the handhelds, even though I don’t think they’re that capable?
Shaun Read: We have done ports of previous titles onto mobile platforms. But our game is been quite high-end graphically. It would have to be a powerful handheld. We have no plans at the minute. But we wouldn’t rule this out.
Speaking of powerful handhelds… what about the NX?
Shaun Read: Yeah, we would certainly consider it. If Nintendo were interested in having it on their console.
I assume you haven’t seen or heard much?
Shaun Read: No, we haven’t. We’ve tried [Laughs].
Sean Walsh: Yeah. We’re talking to Nintendo. So we’ll see where that goes. But yeah, we’ll definitely consider it.
Obviously the vehicles are open to customisation. But how simple are the controls?
Shaun Read: The in-game controls are very simple. In fact, it’s just accelerate, brake, steering, and boost. That’s it. There’s no artificial slide button or anything because it’s all based on physics. If you’re driving around the corner at a fast enough speed, on a slippery surface, you’ll slide.
Any plans for releasing on tablets or mobile phones? I only ask that because the controls are so simplified. I thought maybe…
Shaun Read: No, but we wouldn’t discount it. We certainly wouldn’t discount it.
How long has Mantis Burn Racing been in development for, and what was the inspiration for the title?
Shaun Read: I think it’s been in development for about 16 months. But saying that, we’ve also worked on other projects. We’ve been going for 10 years. And up until Mantis Burn Racing, we’ve actually been a “Work For Hire” studio. So we’ve made games for other publishers. We’ve made the Pure series of games… Pure Pool, Pure Hold’em. So we decided that we wanted to publish our own game. So Mantis Burn is actually, after 10 years, our first self-published IP. The founder of the company, before he started VooFoo, specialised in racing games. So he’s always had an itch to make a racing game. I’ve been in the industry for 25 years and I’ve never made a racing game. I wanted to make one and he had the experience. So that’s how Mantis Burn Racing came about.
Over your 25 year career, what sort of games have you made and how have they enabled you to gain the necessary experience in order to transition into making Mantis Burn Racing?
Shaun Read: I’ve never made a racing game before Mantis Burn Racing. I worked for Rare for 18 years so I made platform games…
Diddy Kong Racing?
Shaun Read: Diddy Kong Racing was the second game I worked on after Goldeneye. I did Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts. That had racing elements in it. But other than that, I guess the only experience I’ve had of racing games is playing them. I played a lot of racing games. It certainly was my favourite genre of games. But other than that, I didn’t have any experience of making racing games at all.
What are VooFoo Studios’ future plans?
Shaun Read: We’re going to support Mantis Burn…
Shaun Read: We have a DLC pack that we’re already working on now. So as I said, we’ve got two environments at the minute, Sand Town and New Shangri-la, which is a city. We’re adding a third. And we’re going to add extra content, extra events, two more careers to season, to the solo game. And there will be a free DLC pack shortly after lunch.
What sort of people are you hoping to cater for in terms of the market? In other words, what kind of players are you looking to attract?
Shaun Read: When we started making Mantis Burn Racing, I guess one of the biggest questions was “Do people still want to play top-down racers”? And the general consensus is they do. I think it’ll appeal to players that used to play top-down racers in the past, such as Micro Machines and Mashed and Rock n’ Roll Racing and all those games. But at the same time, it’s a pretty-looking game. So I think it will get the younger gamers in as well, just generally people looking for an arcade racing experience.
You mentioned Rock n’ Roll Racing. With Interplay recently putting their games up for sale, how would you modernise Rock n’ Roll Racing if you were able to obtain the IP?
Shaun Read: Rock n’ Roll Racing really was a stand out title for me during the SNES days. How to modernise it? I guess we could bring the graphics a bit more up to date! Aside from that, I guess the biggest difference between that game and Mantis Burn is the use of weapons. We spoke about weapons right at the start of development, but I always wanted to make driving the focus and adding weapons was always going to dilute that focus. That’s not saying we would not consider a vehicle combat game in the future. As for the music, I’d be loathed to bring it up to date, how on earth could you better ‘Born to be Wild’!?
Yeah… Are you looking to do anything similar with regards to Mantis Burn Racing in terms of licensing tracks?
Shaun Read: We work with a company that’s based in Birmingham, the same as us. And for our last five or six games, they’ve done all the sounds and written the music for them. So it’s all purpose-written music for the game. Our last game, Pure Pool, was set in a pool hall with a live band. So they actually wrote and recorded the live music for that. So we got a really good relationship with them. Obviously, Mantis Burn is slightly different. It’s a little bit more… techno?
Sean Walsh: A little bit techno. It’s sort of more an upbeat, frenetic to super stylo.
Shaun Read: The game is a little bit more jazz-orientated.
How many people are working on Mantis Burn Racing?
Shaun Read: Off and on, currently, there are eight of us.
Shaun Read: Yeah.
Sean Walsh: That’s the whole company. We’re a small team, but we’re growing.
Shaun Read: Yeah, seven of us actually work in Birmingham. And we have one programmer who works remotely from Vietnam, which works fine. It’s great. So we’re a really small team. In fact, there were months of Mantis Burn Racing’s development where we had one artist working on it. It wasn’t ideal. He was very busy [laughs].
VooFoo Studios is primarily based in Birmingham, with all the staff being located in and around the West Midlands. How has the development environment around Birmingham impacted and affected Mantis Burn Racing in terms of its design sensibility, soundtrack, and funding – including government grants? How has the Birmingham scene helped or hindered the development of Mantis Burn Racing?
Shaun Read: Being Creative Director, I don’t have an awful lot to do with the finance.
Sean Walsh: We’ve got some funding with Creative England. We funded the game largely ourselves. But we’ve had great help from Creative England who continues to support us, even though I’m not sure they’re local to Birmingham.
Shaun Read: But saying how big Birmingham is, there’s not a massive game development scene. There’s obviously Codemasters. Apart from that… I guess there are a few little studios. We’ve got Leamington an hour’s drive away that seems to be the hub of UK game development. But saying how big Birmingham is, I’ve always thought it’s quite lacking in studios.