Interview Mini Motor Racing X The Binary Mill

Start Your Engines – Interview: Mini Moto X Dev Talks PSVR, Future Development And More

Australian development company The Binary Mill has spent the last five years transitioning from being a very successful mobile developer into being a very successful VR developer. After two great releases that defied the VR convention of being “tech demos” by being chock full of content (Gun Club VR and Rush VR), The Binary Mill has released its biggest and best title yet, the PSVR/flat RC Racer Mini Motor Racing X.

Having greatly enjoyed Mini Motor Racing X during review, we took the opportunity to reach out to The Binary Mill with some questions about the transition from mobile to VR, the challenges of VR game design, The Binary Mill’s rejection of in-app purchases, and the company’s extraordinary responsiveness to player feedbeck.

Studio Director Ingmar Lak was kind enough to take the time to respond to our questions via email.

Interview With The Binary Mill

Moving Away From Mobile

PSU: The Binary Mill first made its name in the mobile marketplace with titles like the original Mini Motor Racing and Gun Club. How was the decision made to pivot to VR development?

TBM: The mobile space for us was becoming a very different place to what it was when we started. We were among the very first developers on iPhone back in 2007 and like I say it was a very different time then. Over the years, the race to 99 cents and eventually freemium IAP [in-app purchase] fueled releases became the norm and frankly it just wasn’t something that we enjoyed working on.

We love to make great games, but mobile had become a place where the great game part became secondary to freemium spreadsheets, microtransactions and live ops. IAP morality issues aside, we frankly weren’t very good at fitting our games into the new mold and it all became a grind.

The Binary Mill’s Gun Club VR is one of the biggest and most detailed games available for PSVR.

In the meantime, we had been following VR closely, with just about everyone in the office having backed the original Rift Kickstarter. It was a dream back then to be able to develop for VR, but alas it seemed it was still a ways off. A couple of years later, Oculus reached out to us about the Gear VR. We had no idea that it had come as far as it had. They already had a store in place, a deal with Samsung which pushed a lot of units into the market, and honestly, the experience despite its flaws was way better than it had any right to be.

So it was right then that we knew this was it – VR was happening and we should get on board on the ground floor, just as we had with mobile. We started with a port of one of our most popular IPs, Gun Club which was a big success while also beginning work on an all new VR-only IP, RUSH.

PSU: Is The Binary Mill still producing games for the mobile market?

TBM: We are of course still fully supporting our mobile library, but updates have slowed due to the success in the VR space and the points raised above. However, the new subscription service that is starting to permeate the mobile space is of great interest to us, once again breaking free of IAP and focusing on great games. So we certainly are looking at how those subscription models might work for us.

PSU: In what ways did the company need to evolve to start developing for VR? What resources did you need to add to pivot over?

TBM: Being a mobile developer put us in a great position for VR. Gear VR was obviously still a phone so we were already familiar with how to get great performance out of mobile hardware (one of the reasons Oculus reached out in the first place). So it was pretty easy for us from that perspective.

Learning all of the do’s and don’ts of VR was a far more difficult task, and with VR being so young back then there were a lot of other challenges tackling not just a new platform, but essentially a new medium were if you get things wrong, people get sick.

Moving to PlayStation was total power-overload for us. When you’re used to wringing every last drop out of a mobile chipset, a beast like PS4 Pro opens up lots of cool options which is how we were able to support 120fps (at max render scale mind you, which is why it looks so sharp in PSVR) and full 4K 60 on flat. Truth be told, we target 120fps on the base PlayStation too, and it gets there most of the time.

Making Design Decisions With The Player In Mind

PSU: Mini Motor Racing X looks fantastic on the PSVR, but it is also very fun to play “flat.” How early in the development cycle was the decision made to support both versions? Was it a tough decision?

TBM: Well Mini Motor Racing was originally ‘flat’ on phones, however it was always locked in an isometric top down view. You couldn’t look around, it was a fixed position and that was the only way to play so we were planning on that same level of support for PlayStation out of the gate regardless.

However, since VR lets you see from any angle you like, down low, up high, even on the car itself, there was nothing that we could hide. As we started developing the VR version of the game, we realized that everything would need to be rebuilt. All the ‘shortcuts’ taken to build the initial mobile experience; no skies, nothing was back-faced (meaning everything looked like a movie set as soon as you look behind it – nothing was there), environment detail didn’t hold up at ground level etc. The list went on and on.

Once we worked out that everything had to be rebuilt anyway, we found that we could now add new ‘flat’ camera positions like we did on the car, which adds a whole new dimension to the game. Not originally planned but something we thought was really cool, so we thought “Why not?”.

PSU: With all of the vehicles available in Mini Motor Racing X, how do you handle balancing them against each other so that players can remain competitive in multiplayer?

TBM: Painfully 🙂 We have scripts where AI run the gauntlet of tracks for hundreds of laps with each car and then we take that data to compare and tweak as needed. Honestly a lot of it is just actually racing hundreds of laps ourselves as AI doesn’t drive like a human, so it is a long process that is always difficult to get ‘right’ — it can be somewhat subjective as you want the cars to each have their own unique feel and strengths, so yeah it’s a constant thing that’s happening.

We’ll be monitoring what people think of the car balance as we go as we’re sure there’s going to be some OP vehicles in there…

PSU: Each track has its own unique sound design. After playing for a while, players can identify the track just by the sound alone. How much work went into creating these unique soundscapes?

TBM: We try to make each track look and feel unique – we do consider a lot of little touches as the devil is in the details as they say. Creaking windmills, birds chirping, goats neighing, planes, trains and of course automobiles – we tried for every track to have something only it has, and it might take players a while to discover them all. Discovery in VR in particular is magical, and we spent a lot of time adding little details everywhere for players to enjoy.

Adapting The Past, And Looking To The Future

PSU: Not being familiar with the previous titles in the Mini Motor Racing franchise, how much of the content in the current title has been adapted from earlier games? How difficult was this adaptation process?

TBM: As mentioned, the game was completely rebuilt – even the core codebase started from scratch as we wanted to incorporate really robust multiplayer and squeeze all the performance out that we could – legacy code is never good for that. But I digress.

MMRX is a collection of all the tracks and content from previous iterations of the series, turned up to 11 with VR, local co-op (first time in the series) and some fun other modes like Bumper Ball. We’ve been working on this version of the game for the better part of a year, so it was rather time-consuming. We wanted MMRX to be the definitive version of the game, really going the extra mile on polish.

PSU: Mini Motor Racing X has already been patched to alter some features in response to player feedback. Is this sort of quick responsiveness part of The Binary Mill’s product plan? How do you decide which features to look at first after release?

TBM: I’ll let you in on a development secret: no game ever launches the way the developers would like it to. There’s ALWAYS more we’d like to do but there are commercial realities that we need to be realistic about, release dates that need to be met, etc. So, when MMRX launched, we already had a list of around 100 things we still would have liked to do (excluding big content pieces of course). Just quality of life stuff or things we think would make the overall experience even better.

When we release, we can see what the community is most keen on, and 99 out of 100 times, it’s on our list. So, we bump it to the top making it a priority (if it hasn’t already been added in the meantime anyway) and try to get a patch out ASAP. Other bigger features or things we might be able to consider that were outside of the scope of the original project, we can add to the list and see how we go down the road.

PSU: The Binary Mill releases PSVR games with much more content in them than is typical. Mini Motor Racing X, for example, has two full (large) career modes, Bumper Ball, VR and flat functionality, all of the vehicles to unlock, etc. How do you decide when a game is “done”?

TBM: A big gripe that we have and I think it’s fair to say most people who have already adopted VR this early feel, is that there aren’t enough ‘full’ games in VR. They’ve tended to be shorter experiences and it’s understandable why – VR is expensive to develop for and the market is small. But we’re in a position where we can spend a bit longer on titles to ensure that they are a fuller experience than has been traditionally available in VR.

Adding modes like Bumper Ball takes a lot of time but we figure it adds a lot of extra meat to the experience, especially online. We actually had many more of those mini games planned but, as I say, you need to draw the line at some point. The plan is to release extra local/multi minigames in the future, but we don’t have any more to share on that just now.

PSU: Is there anything in the future for The Binary Mill that you are able to share with our readers? Future projects? Fun hints?

TBM: Beyond supporting MMRX with additional content, we are working on other VR projects but there’s nothing we can reveal on those just yet. We’ll be sure to keep PSU in the loop!

The Binary Mill Settles An Argument. I Win.

PSU: Please resolve an argument between me and my son: What aspects of driving does the “Handling” upgrade impact? Is it turn radius? Tire grip? Speed at which you can take turns without sacrificing control? What does “Handling” do?

TBM: Handling will help to keep control of your vehicle at higher speeds. You can corner sharper with less drifting so you can take cleaner, more controlled racing lines. It’s not particularly important early on, but critical later when the higher speeds come into play. Think of handling as better suspension and tires, increasing grip and reducing body roll. Hope that helps! 🙂

PlayStation Universe would like to sincerely thank The Binary Mill and Ingmar Lak for their participation in this interview.

Mini Motor Racing X is currently available for PS4 and PSVR.