Quick, name a recent kart racer off the top of your head. Did you think of Mario Kart? No, I'm not a magic psychic man, I’m just painfully aware of the fact that there are so few kart racers around nowadays. The 90s are long over and the days of Crash Team Racing, Diddy Kong Racing and (the undisputed best of the list, don’t @ me) Chocobo Racing are long gone. But that hasn’t stopped Italian developer 3DClouds from trying to revive the genre, one fruit at a time.
Based in Milan, 3DClouds started life as an outsourcing company, but has now moved into developing its own games. The first of these is All-Star Fruit Racing, the company's own twist on the kart genre.
My dream is for several of our indie studios to grow significantly so a real industry can be born in Italy
Francesco Bruschi, 3DClouds
"3DClouds originated as a multimedia service company providing IT and regional FAD, or distance learning, services, but due to my video games background we soon also began to provide 2D & 3D modelling,” says founder Francesco Bruschi. “I’d been outsourcing to Italian motorsports developer Milestone, where I had previously worked, but I soon decided I wanted to create my own indie studio and we began work on a demo version of our first title All-Star Fruit Racing.”
While triple-A titles often go through layers of ideation processes, indie developers have the ability to be much more agile and spontaneous. A lot of indie games are born out of internal game jams, and some are even inspired more by the stomach than they are by the brain.
“It was born during a conversation at the coffee machine where we were moaning about the dearth of kart racing games outside of Nintendo consoles,” says Bruschi. “Many of us could not afford to buy yet another console just to play one game. We ended up chatting by a vending machine about why there are no karting games for current generation systems outside of Switch and how nothing major has hit Steam for a while. It was then I decided I wanted to make one. Problem was, we didn't have a brand like Mario or Sonic to build it around – we needed something everybody knows about to hang it on. Inside this vending machine was a carton of fruit juice, and so that was it, that was what we needed – we went with fruit!”
GROWN IN ITALY
Milestone is the largest, most famous development house in Italy and many employees have left to found their own studios. 3DClouds is one of these. “Working at Milestone was a great experience,” says Bruschi. “The studio is almost like a video games university for developers starting out in Italy. I learned everything at Milestone; teamwork, procedures and the importance of precision.
“What you learn at a company the size of Milestone you can’t learn anywhere else – at least in Italy – and it’s no coincidence that almost every indie developer in Italy is composed of ex-Milestonians.”
Since its founding, 3DClouds has seen an influx of development talent which has allowed it to create All-Star Fruit Racing. Bruschi has visions of Italy’s studios continuing to expand and pave the way for a bright future for Italian games development.
“We started out with our team of rookies,” Bruschi explains. “However, during 2016, several video game veterans bought into our project and joined our team. Tired of the constraints of larger studios, they jumped at the chance of creative freedom and have brought with them decades of experience that has given a massive boost to the team and the project. We now have a solid backbone of veterans in every critical area.
“Italy is well behind most other countries and is playing catch up. It’s only this year that the government has shown interest in the industry and new tax breaks should be available soon. Italy is the highest taxed country in the Europe with also the highest employee costs, so starting any business is not simple and most don’t see out their first year.
“Regarding the developer community, this is really just starting to bloom now. As mentioned before, most of the indie studies come from Milestone, which means most of us have worked together at some point or have people in our their team who have. My dream is for several of our indie studios to grow significantly so a real industry can be born in Italy.”
Making a game in an underserved genre is a risky move, especially for a first project. And especially when the genre leaders are so established, but 3DClouds believes there’s a market out there which will love All-Star Fruit Racers and are interested in seeing a new spin on the old karting formula.
“The choice of a kart racer as a studio’s first title puts you up against the Marios and Sonics of this world,” says Bruschi. “That’s something we didn’t really give enough weight to at the time. Don’t get me wrong, we love those games and would never pretend to compete against them, but the nature of the genre means the comparisons are automatic.
“Kart games are very difficult to create because not only do you have the classic arcade race with all the weapons and power ups to deal with, but you also have to create a smooth and credible racing experience within that. It’s a big challenge. We’ve added a twist to the typical power up system with the Juicer, which offers a totally different approach by adding an element of strategy to the race.
“All genres become labels, and as soon as you say your game is this genre or that genre, you immediately put yourself up against the biggest games in that area. As an indie, it’s like signing up to go 12 rounds with Mike Tyson as your first fight.
“What makes ours different, however, is that most of the big kart racers in history have been spin-offs from other IP, which means the idea of a kart racer as a standalone series isn’t really set in peoples’ heads. A lot of people just see new, standalone kart racers as being the same. That’s something we’ll need to overcome.”
With so many Italian developers having cut their teeth at Milestone, there’s a strong legacy of racing games being made in the region. The games Milestone is known for tend to be closer to simulators than kart racers, so how difficult is it to make that transition?
“Simulation racing games need everything to be perfect,” says Bruschi. “It needs to be as realistic as possible. With a kart racer, we could really let our creativity flow. The driving might feel less exact, but because you have no point of reference you have to create everything from scratch.
“It’s a big challenge – you’re not re-skinning last year’s title but creating something fresh, and that’s the challenge I would choose to take on every time.”
The studio continues to seek out these sorts of challenges as it works on its next projects. One of which may be speeding away from tyres and tracks entirely. “We have three titles on the starting grid,” Bruschi says. “One in pole position that we are already working on and another two that we will begin soon. One is a racing game, and the other is something different...”