Work with the community – the experience of the authors of the arcade racing Distance 

Reviews from players and when to listen to them.

September 18 from the “early access” on Steam came racing arcade Distance from the studio Refract. Its distinctive feature is in the elements of the platformer: the player does not just need to get to the finish as soon as possible, but also to avoid all the obstacles in the way. In this case, it is allowed to drive not only along the roads, but also along the walls and ceilings. In addition, Distance has a level editor with which anyone can build their own track.

Refract Director Jordan Hemenway told Gamasutra about how player reviews influenced the development and how users met the innovations. We chose from the main material.

The gameplay Distance is the fruit of eight years of iterative design. The developers wanted to take a fresh look at the arcade races of the nineties, so in the end they got a game in which you need to accelerate, jump, spin in the air and fly.

Even during the creation of Nitonic Rush – a kind of forerunner of Distance – the developers realized the potential that opens up the “parkour on cars” mechanics, even though their physics engine was not designed for this. The authors of the game wanted the walls and ceilings to become part of the gameplay in their next project.

After receiving feedback from beta testers, Refract reworked the gameplay and even hired three level designers to complete the creation of the campaign. Jordan Hemenway admits that the plot component of the game was initially conceived as a simple science fiction, but over time it became more and more towards the horror genre and the opportunities it provides. This made him write a story with elements of “psychological horror” to see how they can integrate into the racing arcade.

The developer admits that in 2012, during the Kickstarter campaign, his studio promised backer too much, so when it came time to get to work, the entire team was confused. However, the community support helped Refract to complete the project. The players left their reviews about each update and several times even pointed out to the developers that they had “gone astray”.

Thanks to the feedback of users, Refrect was not too worried when they released Distance version 1.0. However, the developers were not completely open with the players. Since much emphasis was placed on the storyline campaign, the story was kept secret until the release itself. However, several players decompiled Distance and “leaked” its details into the network. According to Hemenway, some critical spoilers were avoided only by a miracle.

The developer also acknowledges that each new update was accompanied by disputes with the players.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Players who really like the current build may forget that the game is still under development, so they spend hundreds and thousands of hours learning a mechanic that may change or disappear altogether. We had it a couple of times, and the decision was sometimes rather unobvious.[/perfectpullquote]
Jordan hemenway
Refract head

According to Hemenway, the most difficult was to decide exactly how to handle feedback. He wanted to immediately make it clear to the players that not everything in the game will be the way they want. “To begin with, I try to achieve my artistic goals, and then observe how my vision is met by the players: positively or negatively,” says the developer.

He believes that Early Access has helped Refract not only better understand the desires of the audience, but also financially. Thanks to revenue from Steam, the team was able to hire new employees. However, he does not believe that “Early Access” is suitable for all projects.

Hemenway is sure that the developers managed to build a strong community around Distance. Regular events like the DistanceAdvent Calendar, Speedy Saturday and various tournaments helped them with this. In addition, Refract supported the levels created by users in the in-game editor.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]I would say that the players met those innovations that we did not promise them the best. For example, I added a thing called Boombox Mode. Thanks to her, the lights and other visual effects on the level began to pulsate in time with the music. I just added it because I thought it would be interesting to create it, but it surprised me how many players took advantage of it.[/perfectpullquote]
Jordan hemenway
Refract head

There were other cases. For example, when developers introduced a grip-mechanic that allows a car to go along walls or ceilings, many players began to think that Distance would become too simple. However, later in the “workshop” Steam began to appear user levels that used this system – the players themselves found it a new use.

According to Hemenway, most of the major updates for the game are related to the level editor. In the early stages of development, there was a player in the community who used everything in the editor as “building blocks” – buildings, obstacles, and other objects. Upon learning of this, the developers added simple shapes to the editor, such as cones, cubes and spheres, from which you can create anything.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]I’m not particularly surprised at how Distance came out, because the features of the project were outlined even years ago. We added a lot of things and tools that we didn’t even think about at first, but on the whole the game turned out exactly as we imagined it […][/perfectpullquote] [perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Probably the level editor surprised me the most. Not only because he pushed the players to create stunning content, but also because of how much he influenced the development process. This is truly an example of how powerful tools are useful.[/perfectpullquote]
Jordan hemenway
Refract head

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