Console game development can be a long and grueling process. Mobile games, on the other hand, are supposed to be quick and easy. But as Tag Games has come to realize, that’s not always the case. After announcing Car Jack Streets 2 all the way back in 2009, the company is still hard at work developing their upcoming pocket masterpiece.

What’s taking so long? We recently had a chance to talk to Simon Adams, Tag’s “Product Evangelist,” and find out – and the answer might just surprise you. In trying to create the perfect mobile game, a good deal of adaptation in the face of changing markets has gone on. As a result, Car Jack Streets 2 will be social, free, always changing, and reactive to player feedback.

Plus, you’ll get to blow stuff up. :)

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Work-in-Progress Image; Canyon section of map

First up Simon, we’ve got to ask the obvious question – what can you tell us about Car Jack Streets 2?

That we are working on it! We have a full-time team on the project and we are currently hiring new employees to add to the team and speed up the game’s development. This game is our baby and we want everyone to love it, but only as soon as it is ready! As far as ‘where the game is’ is concerned, we are a hair breadth away from the game’s vertical slice. The player can do a lot of things like entering and driving vehicles, moving around the environment, interacting with the environment and firing weapons, but the missions and social structure are still remaining to be done. So the game is coming on leaps and bounds, but unfortunately we cannot say when the game will be released just yet.

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Work-in-Progress Image; Weapon test

What lessons did you learn from the first Car Jack Streets? How will CJS2 vary from the original?

We learned that there are a lot of players out there who like to blow stuff up and let loose with a bit of reckless abandon on their phones. People always talk about how mobile gaming will never appeal to ‘core gamers’ in the way that console or a portable handheld gaming does. But really, the issue for core-gamers has not been with the mobile phone platform in itself, it has been with the games developed for phones that simply aren’t designed to satisfy them. We have seen a number of ‘core-casual’ studios like ex-Funzio, and ‘core-mobile’ studios like Madfinger, target core-players and experience the same success as we had with the original CJS, so we know that immersive action games on mobile can be very successful.

Car Jack Streets 2 will be an immersive, ‘core-focused’ game then, but unlike CJS, or indeed many other sandbox drive-and-shoots, it will not be a linear experience. This game will not have a defined ‘start’ and ‘finish’, and the world will not be static. The CJS2 world will be a living environment with new stories, new events and new landscapes being added all the time for players to explore and delve into. This dynamism will come on the back of community dialogue and in-game player actions, so players will be able to have a real impact in the on-going development of the game.

2009 concept video announcing the game

The game was announced with a trailer back in 2009 – why the delay?

A lot has happened since we started work on the game. Business models have moved rapidly to free-to-play, mobile games are delivered as a service as opposed to a product, and of course there has been a huge explosion in the use of social mechanics in games. With the advent of social free-to-play service games we knew that we had a lot of work to do in developing the technologies necessary to make ‘games of the future’.

With that in mind we spent substantial time developing moFlow, our 2D/3D cross-platform social mobile games engine, as well as a range of data and server back-end technologies which would allow players to play and interact with each other regardless of the platforms being used. That all sounds very convoluted, but essentially, we can now develop games for iOS/Android/tablet simultaneously and players can load their saved game and interact with their friends on any mobile device. This is technology that even the big studios ogle with jealous eyes, and it will help CJS2 and all other Tagplay games create truly unique experiences for players.

Tag as a small studio has had to manage these changes at a time when competition has grown exponentially. With no external funding and a desire to grow organically and profitably, the need to balance our own game development with work for external clients has at times diverted resources away from CJS2 to other projects to ensure the growth and wellbeing of the studio as a whole.

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You guys posted a picture of your guiding principles for the game. I was wondering if you could expand on them a bit.

Really, the principles are what they are : ). Their purpose is to ensure that everyone on the team has an understanding of the core concepts of the game, but vague enough so that new ideas and propositions can very easily be brought to the table. The mantra’s are intended to remind everyone on the CJS2 team that the CJS2 world will be a living, changing, dynamic environment, but a lot is yet to be defined with regards of CJS2’s design (other than the look and feel of the game). This is something we have communicated to players so that they want to get involved and help guide us by telling us what they do and do not want to see in the game.

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Work-in-Progress Image; Map transition from desert to prairie

“CJS 2 allows a player to create the story through their actions.” What does this mean? Branching paths? What’s the real nitty gritty behind this statement?

We like to talk about our ‘modular mapping process’ and this cutting of the map into modules, which can be interchanged and added to at will. As we are building CJS2 in modules, and as all users who play CJS2 will have a user profile saved on our servers, it is possible for us to monitor player actions and develop a player’s world to reflect their individualistic actions. For example, if a player blows up a building in the game, we can alter that module of the player’s world to forever show the building’s rubble (unless, of course, the building is rebuilt).

But what if that building was key to another storyline for another set of characters? Well, perhaps by blowing up that building, the story for those characters has changed somehow? Maybe those characters initially wanted to blow up that building because it was run by a competing drug baron? Maybe the player now has bigger fish to fry for those characters? Essentially, we want the player to feel like their actions, whether prompted by missions or not, have real ramifications on the future of their game.

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Work-in-Progress Image; SWAT character, SWAT robot

You’ve mentioned that the game will be free. Was that always the plan? Or has that changed during development, when free-to-play starting coming into its own post-2009?

Car Jack Streets 2 was initially intended to be a pay-to-play game in the same vein as its predecessor. However, the studio’s management saw that freemium was the emerging trend so the game’s business model was re-evaluated to freemium as a result. Our experience with Funpark Friends has shown that the business model and game design are intrinsically linked and therefore the sooner you lock down the business model the better for the design of the game.

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Work-in-Progress Image; Comics may be distributed in-game and in online communities to tell unique stories and provide background info on characters

The three C’s – compete/collaborate/collect. What does this mean for Car Jack Streets 2? How will the social aspects work, and will this game be just as playable solo as it will be with friends?

We want CJS2 to be the first ‘social’ sandbox driver-shooter, so we want a lot of inter-gang and intra-gang interaction. This does not mean that players will be able to play together in a synchronous sense. What this means is that we want players to be able to ‘gang up’, trade armour, weapons, etc, with each other and ‘hire’ each other’s player avatars into their game for assistance. So, for example, if I had developed my character to be more of a weapons specialist, but seemed to be dying quite a lot trying to complete a mission, I could go to my gang (or pay a merc) to recruit a ‘tank’ character into my game – someone who had invested into the health of their player. This character would then be present on-screen as I was playing and would be controlled by AI to help me out. Both players would then share in the benefits of completing this mission. This is one of the social interactions which we plan on developing into Car Jack Streets 2, but there are many many more.

The concept video from 2009 featured a really unique visual style. How close will the final product look to this?

Very similar. We had awesome feedback to the visual style. The only real tweak is that things are a little less boxy and toy like.

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Work-in-Progress Image: very early birds-eye view of a city section – plenty of visual details still to come

The inspiration for Car Jack Streets seems to be games like Grand Theft Auto. That said, what would you say helps to set CJS2 apart from its inspirations?

The most important thing to note is that the Car Jack Streets 2 world will develop over time, and that this will be unique to CJS2.

Starting off with a small, tightly focussed world map and a limited number of characters, missions, vehicles and weapons, the game will be updated on a regular basis (weekly or even daily) with new content. The development of the world will depend on what players are doing in the game or saying on online forums, Twitter, Facebook, etc, so that, for the first time, players will have a game where what they do and say really does matter.

We want the Car Jack Streets 2 world to constantly bombard the players with awesome. They will constantly have new upstart mafia bosses to ‘put down’, new rival player gangs to push off their turf, new items to trade on the black market, new segments of world to explore, etc. Players, through their dialogue with the studio, will be able to help develop the stories within the game. So, when in the Don Calzone mission set, the player told the snitch to ‘get out of town’, maybe the fact that all players loved that character will bring him back, but this time with a posse! Do the players want him to be set for revenge against the player, or will the character want to gang up with the player to take over Don Calzone’s turf? It’s up to the player community to decide.

Wondering what else Tagplay is up to? Check out the Tag Jam 2012 on Thursday, June 28th!