Never tired

The cre­ators of Spin­tires on the long, long road to an un­likely Steam smash


How Rus­sian off-roader Spin­tires con­quered the Steam charts

Spin­tires was in devel­op­ment for six years be­fore it be­came the un­like­li­est of Steam num­ber ones for a few days in June. “It’s not as com­pli­cated as you might think,” says Zane Sax­ton, MD of Oovee Game Stu­dios. “As the years went on, we just sort of ploughed more money and time into it.”

Devel­op­ment on the muddy driv­ing game be­gan in 2008 as the brain­child of a lone Rus­sian de­vel­oper, Pavel Za­gre­bel­nyy. After mak­ing a pro­to­type that at­tracted the at­ten­tion of Oovee, Za­gre­bel­nyy teamed up with the UK de­vel­oper to make his con­cept into a proper game, and they’ve been plug­ging away at it for years. In fact, they’re still work­ing on it to­day, weeks after re­lease.

The ef­fort paid off. At launch, Spin­tires oc­cu­pied the num­ber-one best­seller slot on Steam for a solid four days, right up un­til Steam’s sum­mer sale threw the charts into chaos. Eigh­teen days later, the team an­nounced Spin­tires had sold more than 100,000 units.

“We were sur­prised to be num­ber one,” Sax­ton says. “I’ve al­ways said to any­one who works for me, no mat­ter what we do, we al­ways try for the best. It wasn’t too much of a sur­prise that it was go­ing to be suc­cess­ful, but I wasn’t ex­pect­ing to get to num­ber one when there’s so many other good games in the [Steam bestsellers] list as well.”

Spin­tires is a sim­ple game about nav­i­ga­tion and slow, me­thod­i­cal driv­ing along mud-clogged Rus­sian roads in heavy­weight ve­hi­cles. As the trucks set out across the open-world maps to make their de­liv­er­ies, their tyres chew up the coun­try lanes and their sheer weight col­lapses the makeshift wooden bridges. Me­chan­i­cal shift­ing, all-wheel drive and a winch all come into play as driv­ers seek to nav­i­gate the dif­fi­cult ter­rain and knee-deep mud. The most ba­nal of math­e­mat­i­cal co­nun­drums – mud physics – be­came the most im­por­tant con­tribut­ing fac­tor to the game’s ap­peal, set­ting it aside from ev­ery other driv­ing game. Sax­ton knows it, too.

“One of the things we no­ticed in the off-road­ing genre was that, at least as far as I know, there hasn’t re­ally been a mud de­for­ma­tion sys­tem,” he says. “So that was the main fo­cus of the game, and we sort of went from that.”

“Orig­i­nally, it wasn’t as it is to­day,” stu­dio man­ager Reece Bolton says. “It was more just like cool mud par­ti­cle ef­fects that would come up be­hind the wheels. You could dig in a lit­tle bit, but it wasn’t ex­ten­sive. It was more like driv­ing on re­ally hard clay or some­thing like that.”

At first, the mud physics were sim­i­lar to Sega Racing Stu­dio’s 2007 Sega Rally re­boot, but by launch the muddy roads had be­come mires. Not only is the mud im­pres­sive in its re­al­ism, but also in its abil­ity to re­tain per­ma­nent signs of your pas­sage across the maps; Spin­tires’ ter­rain is like noth­ing we’ve ex­pe­ri­enced in videogames be­fore.

The mud was use­less for a racer – Spin­tires’ roads are driven at sin­gle-digit speeds – so dur­ing devel­op­ment it be­came a sort of puz­zle game. “I al­ways said from the start that I wanted it to be the muddy Por­tal,” Sax­ton says. “You have to stop and think about what you’re do­ing, and nav­i­gate. I think the nav­i­ga­tion el­e­ment and the fact that it’s not lin­ear was the bit we fo­cused on and made sure it stayed that way. We also want stuff to be un­pre­dictable – bridges and stuff like that. If you drive on the wrong side of a bridge, it’ll twist and you can fall off.”

The re­sult is a game like no other, with a typ­i­cal ses­sion last­ing any­where from sec­onds to hours, de­pend­ing on how adept you be­come at han­dling the mud and read­ing the map. It’s pun­ish­ing, too – ag­gres­sive driv­ing might get you down a boggy road but the dam­age you do along the way will leave it im­pass­able for the re­turn trip. Such quirks made

Spin­tires a hit, but it’s an un­fin­ished gem.

After the game’s warm re­cep­tion, how­ever, the stu­dio has the money to keep work­ing on it, and Bolton and Sax­ton have many ad­di­tions planned. “What we want to do is add proper 3D cock­pits with all the nee­dles and gauges,” Bolton says, “and then we want to change the dy­nam­ics of the han­dling, and im­ple­ment a proper RPM sys­tem with a clutch, a proper gear­stick sys­tem, steer­ing wheel sup­port…”

Oovee is al­ready col­lab­o­rat­ing with Pole Po­si­tion Pro­duc­tion – a sound ef­fects com­pany re­spon­si­ble for ve­hi­cle sounds in the likes of Bat­tle­field: Bad Com­pany 2 and Driver: San Fran­cisco – on a new set of truck sounds for Spin­tires. Once some of the other im­prove­ments are im­ple­mented, a full over­haul of the trucks’ throaty rum­bles will fol­low. Oovee has ev­ery in­ten­tion of turn­ing Spin­tires into a long-lived project, and Sax­ton says that the en­gine the team built will al­low it to do all sorts of other things, too. First off, it’s talk­ing with com­pa­nies want­ing to use Spin­tires’ tech­nol­ogy in train­ing sim­u­la­tors. After six years’ work, Spin­tires’ cre­ators are just get­ting started.

From top: Zane Sax­ton, man­ag­ing direc­tor of Oovee Game Stu­dios; stu­dio man­ager Reece Bolton

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