Drive, drive, drive, drive, drive to the radio…
This month, Transmission transports us to a world of chilled-out car rides and 1980s nostalgia.
Fresh perspectives on existing genres are no bad thing as far as we’re concerned. But a driving game being made by someone who can’t actually drive? That’s a new one. “One of the other guys worked on the first three Forza Horizon games and is helping me balance all the cars,” Jon Dadley explains. “So they’ll have a good feel to them, but I’m trying to avoid a dry simulation. It’s more about what feels nice and relaxing.” The focus of Transmission, you see, is less on driving, and more about engaging with the world around you. Dadley cites Euro Truck Simulator as an influence, but is aiming to offer an experience that feels less passive. Taking place in the 1980s, it casts you as a courier, making night-time deliveries. The more you complete, the more money you’ll earn, giving you the chance to upgrade your vehicle. At first you won’t be able to get very far, but you can unlock additional bases which let you stagger longer journeys over several nights. This in turn lets you see more of the world, as does buying a faster or more efficient vehicle with the proceeds.
Setting the game in the ’80s has two main benefits. “We wanted people to feel more connected to it emotionally, so it wouldn’t be this dry, ‘Here’s a car, just drive down the motorway’ experience,” Dadley says. “That’s why it’s got those orange sodium lights you used to get. I’ve got really strong memories of being a kid, and my parents driving us on holiday to Wales. I remember being on the back seat at night and seeing those orange lights flashing over me. It’s such a strong memory and I thought we could bring that feeling back for people.”
It also means you can’t rely on satnav to guide you to your destination. You’re not simply following an arrow or a dotted line until you get there. Instead, an LED readout on the dashboard will let you know which locations you need to look for: it’s your job to keep an eye on the road signs to see where you should be headed. Then when you want a wider overview of your environment, there’s a
“You can make your own anachronistic mix tapes via the in-car stereo”
diegetic roadmap you can bring up. “Did you play Far Cry 2 at all?” Dadley asks. “It’s the same kind of thing. It physically comes up to your screen.”
It’s a way to involve the player more deeply, but Dadley recognises that the appeal of Jalopy and Euro Truck Simulator is that they aren’t too stressful. To which end you can apply a cruise control that keeps the car at its current speed while following the curve of the road, then when a corner is coming up, you can disengage it and turn manually.
“It actually sprung from the AI,” Dadley explains, “because all the AI drivers are using the same underlying system, and I wondered if it could be interesting if the player could engage that for themselves. Basically, you can decide how much you want to be in control.” It certainly doesn’t bother Dadley that the technology – from the dispatch device to the cruise control – didn’t really exist at the time Transmission is set. This is more about making an evocative experience than being a slave to historical accuracy. In fact, you can make your own anachronistic mix tapes by listening to your own mp3s via the in-car stereo. One thing Dadley is keen to avoid is penalising the player, though this is apparently something he and his team are still playing around with. “Penalties can be a bit frustrating and take you out of the experience,” he says. “So we might limit speeding based on how fast the car can go rather than you being fined for going over the limit.” And it’s unlikely you’ll be told off for late deliveries. Missed turns are bound to happen, he concedes, so rather than letting the player fret about mistakes, he’s keener to offer better rewards for timeliness instead. “We don’t want to just create this horrible feeling of tension where you’re like, ‘I’ve got to get there as quickly as possible.’ It should be more about exploring the world and not feeling too much pressure.”
Features of the night
Transmission is a lovely looking thing, all deep purples and blues contrasting with saturated oranges, reds, and yellows. So it’s great to hear that not only will there be a photo mode, but Dadley is looking for ways to make it more than a bonus feature. “It feeds into that feeling of almost being a tourist,” he says. “Having the ability to photograph different locations and record each environment as you go seems to connect really obviously to the experience. And we’ve got some ideas of how we might blend that into gameplay.”
Just one question remains, then. If our mysterious driver only comes out at night, is there going to be a surprise twist where he’s revealed to be Dracula? Dadley laughs. “Funnily enough, I kind of suggested this to Transmission’s writer – the idea of being a vehicular vampire rather than an actual one. He said, ‘Don’t tell that to anyone, that’ll give them the wrong idea!’”
You meet various characters on your deliveries, engaging them in conversation before you head off. Format PC Developer Sea Green Games ETA Q1 2020 Web bit.ly/gm_transmission
The cars have a tangible sense of weight, but their handling isn’t going to be true to life, Dadley says. This game’s more about pleasure than realism.
There won’t be any licensed vehicles in the game, but some may have familiar features: “The higher-end cars you unlock might look a like a Delorean, for example," Dadley explains. But will that give us extra time to make deliveries, eh?
The photo mode will come with an impressive range of settings and filters. Taking souvenir snaps of the places you deliver to is part of the game’s fantasy.