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X3F Interview: Load Inc.'s Denis Bourdain

Coming soon from developer Load Inc. and publisher Southpeak is Things on Wheels, an RC racer for the Xbox Live Arcade that invokes memories of the classic, ReVolt. Hot off the heels of developing and releasing Mad Tracks for the Arcade, Load Inc. has been hard at work on their latest vision of fast-and-fun arcade racing.

In an exclusive interview with business developer Denis Bourdain of Load Inc., we discuss the inspiration and process of creating a new racer for the XBLA, the recent delisting controversy and the problem with retail in international markets.

Jump inside and fasten your seatbelt for the exclusive interview with Load Inc.'s Denis Bourdain.

After releasing Mad Tracks on Xbox Live Arcade, Load Inc. started work on Things On Wheels. What is the team's fascination with arcade racing titles?

First I'd like to thank you Xav for giving us attention and a place to talk. We love to answer questions about our game, hand out info, tease a little and give a lot. You know the core team comes from car games. We know the drill. It also makes sense considering driving is a universal theme - everybody drives!

We have one fascination on trying new things. Believe it or not, Things on Wheels is a whole new thing (on wheels) for us. First technically, we worked one year after completing Mad Tracks on upgrading VROOOOM, our in house engine. It's harder, better, faster and stronger. Then on the more mature event's - behaviors - look and feel for example, it will be completely different. We hope to unveil car visuals soon, they blew my mind a few days ago - I hope you'll like them.

Mad Tracks is described as a Car Arcade Party game while Things On Wheels is a more standard racing title in the spirit of ReVolt, what are the core differences between the two titles?

"XNA is wonderful ... but [it's] not quite enough"

We heard a lot about ReVolt when Mad Tracks was released. Now, (to pure ReVolt fans) we knew it was very different, but we liked the reference to that Acclaim hit! So we started working on Things on Wheels very early (Mad Tracks wasn't even approved by Microsoft at the time). We had a vision of how the game would be technologically, how it should look, and the mistakes we should learn from (looking back at multiplayer lobby management). Things on Wheels is a pure racing game. Physics are much more mature (like skidding), the scale is much different, as you can see (with the exclusive concept art sent to X3F above and the screen below).

While the approach of Mad Tracks and Things On Wheels come from different sides of the spectrum, the visual style is quite similar. Is there an internal fear that players might look at Things On Wheels and ignore it if they've already experienced Mad Tracks?

Not at all. As I told you, the genres are really different (party game vs. racing), the scale is different, ToW is more mature. Don't get me wrong, I could list as many similarities! But both games are very different, the good thing is that you'll get to experience it with the trial version - then make the choice of buying it.

Players are getting used to customizing their experiences in games, are there any customization features in Things on Wheels? Will you support the Xbox 360 Vision Camera?

No customization will be available in ToW other than choosing the color of your car. Don't worry, what you will expect from ToW is just racing!

The Vision Camera was thought about at first but quickly dropped. We just couldn't find a way to make it fit into the game in a way it would bring something to the players. In addition, we were not able to find out how many people use it regularly, so we didn't know if the development time was worth it.

How many different environments are in Things On Wheels?

One. But with a lot of sub environments. [It all takes place in the rooms of a house] The house is big, very big. And the garden looks like a park. A few places you'll get to race through are the sauna, the music room, the tennis court, etc. There will be 20 races in the original game.

Sounds like a hint for the future. So, Mad Tracks included various challenges on top of standard racing modes; what extra modes and online support can we expect from Things on Wheels?

You'll get a straight forward racing game with some twists. If you like to compete, there will be 20 races and 12 cars. For those not only into racing, there will be 4 different pick ups, all kinds of events, things to turn on/off, a huge house to explore and a park full of surprises...

There seems to be a strong push for independent titles on XBLA, especially with the XNA initiative and Community Games, how do you feel about all the new competition?

XNA is wonderful. If we had a tool like this when we started we would have been better off. But XNA is not quite enough, you still need to master professional tools and make some in-house developments for production specifics. So we believe XNA is a great step when you start. No doubt this kind of initiative will bring more new teams on the market and for us it's a plus. The more the merrier. We never felt like other studios were competition - it's like saying book writers or painters are competing. You know, studios love to get together and share. We share a lot of information on technology, business, industry. Other studios are a great source of inspiration, we even sometime comfort each other.

Looks like they might need the comfort soon. Microsoft recently announced plans to delist Xbox Live Arcade titles that fall into a certain criteria. Was this new system news to Load Inc. or was this something Microsoft had outlined to you as a past and current developer of the platform before taking the plan public?

It was news to us, but doesn't make a lot of difference knowing we work on titles for a full year, so a few weeks will not tip the scale. Microsoft has a much broader view of the Xbox Live Arcade market than any other studio or publisher. We trusted them back in 2005 to enter the Xbox 360 development circus, we trust them now.

The requirements for delisting include, XBLA titles that have been on the market for over six months, have a Metacritic average lower than 65% and a conversion rate below 6%. While we don't know the conversion rate of Mad Tracks it does fall within the other two categories. Have you been notified by Microsoft about a possible delisting of Mad Tracks?

Not yet, I trust they will do it gradually. Our conversion rate is much higher than 6%, but Microsoft remains the only one calling the shots. They could delist Mad Tracks - or decide to keep it.

You seem pretty calm about something journalists and gamers are pretty concerned about!

"We feel privileged to have had [Mad Tracks] last this long."

You know prior to making XBLA games, we were making retail PC titles. You get removed without notice after 6 months in most stores. Mad Tracks XBLA is one year old on May 30th (Happy B-Day Mad tracks!) we feel privileged to have lasted this long.

In recent months there have been changes to the XBLA platform that strongly affect developers and how they create games, from changes in royalties to the new de-listing plan. As a developer for the platform, do these changes affect future decisions on working with Microsoft?

We as a small studio get affected by everything. USD exchange rate, GTA IV's release (because our dev teams play it so much), new industry shifts like NDS yesterday, PSP today, recruitment, standards, new hardware, etc. So when they are changes like the ones Microsoft announced for XBLA, well prepared in time (6 to 8 months prior), we can still make a strategic decision easily. Like going to other platform or selling ashtrays made of oyster shells.

Our overall feeling is that no matter what change is made good or bad, the community will often have the final word. I'm thinking about the new 1600 price point and heard a lot about it. In the end, the players will give it a green light or not. That's our biggest challenge. Putting our work in the hands of players.

In case the ashtrays don't sell, you mentioned the possibility of working on other platforms. Mad Tracks was originally a PC title and then came to the XBLA, Things on Wheels started as an XBLA title and is coming to the PC as well -- are you looking to work with Sony or Nintendo on their respective download platforms (PSN, Wiiware)?

Things on Wheels will be a PC game. We're looking into PSN but with nothing certain. Sony's download service is OK – with its good and bad sides, just like the XBLA. Nintendo, we're not sure. We don't feel confident in the Wii, even if every development team is going Wii crazy. One thing for sure is that the more platforms the game is ported on, the more money we get out of it.

As a small developer, is it more financially viable to focus all your attention on the new console download platforms or is PC just as important to you now as it was when Load Inc. was formed?

It's more viable to do all of it. Now, Xbox 360 and PC have a lot in common technically, there are a few changes to make for the PS3, but it is viable in most cases. You need to find the game that suits all platforms! That's the biggest challenge!

You mentioned releasing to retail for PC titles. Is that the only option or would you like to distribute digitally too?

We have to deal PC retail locally. Deals are way different in the US and in Russia. In some high profile countries we can't go online, some have very poor retail channels and encourage us to go online. We'll continue to sell PC versions on our web site as well as in stores and online partners where possible.

And then you can take over the world! So, how close are gamers to playing Things On Wheels?

"We don't feel confident in the Wii, even if every development team is going Wii crazy."

Can't tell you anything else than it's going according to plan up to now. We passed a few tricky milestones rather easily (multiplayer implementation, AI) and are on good tracks. You also know software is alive and it can turn around so quickly!

On the other hand we play it everyday and we even have a score board with every best times :) I'm just a tease!

What's next for Load Inc., will you do downloadable content or do you have a new title on the drawing board?

Why choose? We'll do both! Keeping our life line firmly: entertainment for everyone, quality and great value.

It seems with every title your team works on the vehicles get bigger. Will Load Inc. jump the scale again with their next title? Maybe a kart racer or a full-scale racing title?

Hehe, I don't think so! Full scale car games market tends to be a bit crowded with big guns. Why risk it? We'd rather come with something original and amusingly entertaining.

Is Load Inc. looking at a different genre or is it an Arcade Car/Racing studio?

As a matter of fact, we could well do something not car related! Opportunities are numerous; we have a lot of ideas!

We want to thank Denis Bourdain from Load Inc. for spending time with us to discuss the Xbox Live Arcade and their upcoming racer, Things on Wheels. It's always refreshing to speak to someone who is passionate about the title they are helping to create.

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