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IG@FG: Joe Bain on Yucatan, a Neo-Mexican Racing Adventure Game

We speak to Joe Bain about Neo-Mexican racer Yucatan, submitting to EGX and the possibility of a Switch port.

Just under 2 years ago, at EGX 2017, I met a talented man making a very cool game. That man is Joe Bain and his game is called Yucatan. On the busy show floor I sat down, initially drawn in by the interesting Neon meets Day of the Dead aesthetic and was blown away by what I played. A racing game about exploration and survival on impossible tracks rather than doing laps, it was quite the experience that I described as “truly wonderful to play”.

Today, after a few more years of development, Joe launched a Kickstarter for Yucatan to see the game become everything it can be. We had a chance to speak to him about the game, the Kickstarter and his experiences as a developer and you can read it all below this excellent trailer that you should definitely watch.

Finger Guns: Where did the name Yucatan come from?

Joe Bain: I have a habit of naming games, at least after I’ve started work on them, after places I’ve been too that I think have interesting names. I used to live in Dundee many years ago and there was a building called “Magnum House”. I thought that was a really great name for a building. I made a game called Magnum House, which I never really finished in the end, which was a sort of 2D game where all the characters had Dirty Harry style magnum’s. I made a game later on, when I first moved to London, called “Rotherhithe” because I thought it was a really strange name for a place. I changed that at some point because it turned out lots of people didn’t know how to spell it or even pronounce it and it didn’t have much to do with the game.

The name Yucatan originally came about in a similar kind of way. I used to get the bus everyday past this pub called the Yucatan. It’s an Irish pub in London with a Mexican name. I didn’t know it was a Mexican name at the time and I hadn’t been to the pub. It didn’t seem to look Mexican themed at all from the outside. I thought it was an interesting name and it sounds cool so I thought ‘that’ll be the working title for this game’ that I was working on. At some points I thought I should change it to “Super Race Car Adventure” or something like that but I liked how Yucatan sounded and it was intriguing. As I learnt more about Yucatan and Mexican art styles I started to like it and thought it’d be a great theme for the game. I started to dream up these ideas of a Mexican colony in the year 3027 in space. The theme really blossomed from it but it was a bit of a coincidence I suppose.

I need to ask, have you been to the Yucatan pub since you started using the name?

Yeah. I have been in since and it’s an alright pub. It’s about as Irish as you can be but they do have a few sombreros on the wall. I didn’t go as far as to ask them why it was called that.

What inspired you to create a racing game this time?

I’ve made a few other games, like puzzle games, and I tried to make a 2D shooter game. I sort of enjoyed working on them but I never really got super excited about them. I made those types of games, particularly 2D games, because I thought they’d be easier and as I was learning how to make a game, I thought I should make something simple. But those aren’t the types of games that I liked played. Racing games are the kind of games that I liked to play. So Yucatan was the game where I said “Okay, this is probably going to take me forever but I’m going to make the kind of game I would most like to play that doesn’t exist yet”. So basically, I really like arcade racing games.

Regarding the art style, was the Mexican, Day of the Dead styled theme always something you wanted to do or was that purely based on the name?

That came after the name. There is an old build of the game on a hard drive somewhere that doesn’t have that theme at all. This is something I’m trying to improve on. I don’t want it to be too superficial. I had been working on the demo for a while and it was all sort of programmer art. Then I got in contact with some concept artist to do some designs based on some different picture that I thought could serve as inspiration like Hot Rod cars, neon signs, Mexican pyramids and Day of the Dead type stuff. He did some concept art then I got in contact with Ethan Redd. I sent across the concept art and some more images and he worked that together in his own style into more or less the stuff you see now.

It’s a very cool style, by the way. I’m digging the aesthetic.

Thank you. That’s mostly Ethan’s talent. He was given very free reign on it and I think it’ll be even better by the time the game’s finished. There’s still a bit more to do there.

When I played the game at EGX 2017, one of the things that stood out for me was the car handling. What general feeling are you aiming for with that?

It’s supposed to be quite arcady. The racing games I like to play are stuff like Crazy Taxi and Ridge Racer. There’s some inspiration in Yucatan from games like Rollcage but I wasn’t mad about the handling in those kind of games. I really love the concept of Rollcage and GRIP and they’re really great to play until you make a mistake and then the car goes flying all over the place. I was never a fan of F-Zero either but a lot of people compare Yucatan to F-Zero. Visually, there are some similarities and the way the tracks go all over the place but for me, the handling needs to be much more grounded. As part of the final feel of Yucatan, it’s basically me wrestling with Unity’s wheel collider physics system which is slightly buggy and isn’t widely used for racing games but it does do a semi-realistic wheel simulation. It does things like suspension and tire friction so it’s kind of realistic with the physics at the heart of it but it’s been really mashed around to where it is now.

Today seems the launch of your Kickstarter Campaign. What can people expect from it?

Essentially, why we’re doing it is to get the game finished. It’s to pay for the cost of the audio and art which are done on a freelance basis. As for rewards, obviously the main thing is a copy of the game (EDIT: There’s also cool t-shirts and stickers).

It certainly seems that Sony and Microsoft are being a bit more stingy with Kickstarter keys these days while Nintendo seem to be a lot more accommodating at the moment. Is the Nintendo Switch a console you’re looking to explore?

We’d basically like to do all the consoles in a perfect world but I’m mainly focusing on the PS4 right now as I have a dev kit so it’s a good place to start and doing one platform at a time is more achievable. I’m definitely interested in doing a Switch port and I’ve got a friend in Edinburgh who does Switch work and we’ve talked about doing a port already.

When do you expect to have Yucatan finished?

To some extent, it’s done when it’s done. It has been almost 4 years that I’ve been working on it and I never expected it to be this long so I definitely want to get it finished this year. My hope is that it will be finished towards the end of the Summer. Maybe August of September. I’ll be doing my best to get it completed this year but I’ll be moving home later this year and I’m sure lots of other things will happen so who knows.

Why Kickstarter? Have you explored publisher deals or is this a way to keep hold of your creative vision with Yucatan?

I have spoken to quite a few publishers. I’ve had a few that a little more interested than others and I’ve had chats with them but in the end, nobody wanted to sign it. The Kickstarter is a small goal so I hope it’s a bit more achievable and it has been a learning curve getting everything together. It took months just to get the video together. I’ve spoken to a few people who’ve recently done successful ones and unsuccessful ones and I’ve spoken to a PR firm who do consultancy for other Kickstarter games and they’ve given me loads of great advice. I’ve had a lot of feedback but there’s always more you can do.

Will the Kickstarter have an early bird special?

Yes. There is. There’s also an £8,000 custom arcade cabinet for the game. It was supposed to be £10,000 but Kickstarter won’t let you ask for anything more than £8,000. There’s these 2 guys in Edinburgh called We Throw Switches that I’ve met a few times at events in Scotland. They also did the Alt.Ctrl.Party at GDC and they did the same thing at London Games Festival. They also did 3 or 4 arcade cabinets for the video game exhibition at the V&A in London. I’ve got in contact with them and they’ve designed an arcade cabinet for Yucatan.

If you could give your 3-year-younger-self, the Joe Bain who’s just starting out on Yucatan, one piece of advice, what would it be?

I’d tell myself not to waste 3 months on making an inventory system because it’s a stupid idea and it’ll never make it into the game. There were a few weird decisions I made at various points that I scrapped later on. That’s part of this project. The thing with a smaller game, like a puzzle game or something, you can start out without a clear idea of what the mechanics are going to be necessarily because they’re likely to be a small part of the code and part of the game in a weird way. Whereas with Yucatan, not having a clear idea of the features in scope it has been interesting exploring that as I’ve gone along. That does make everything take a lot longer. It’d be interesting to see the finished product when I was beginning and all of the revisions but it’s hard to see what I had in mind when I started.

One of the things I see banded around indie developer twitter right now is the skill of “Knowing when to kill ideas”. You mentioned an inventory system which didn’t make it into the game. Having spent time on ideas for Yucatan that didn’t make the cut, could you offer your insight into that?

Looking back on it, I’ve tried to keep it to the most essential parts of the game. The parts of the game that really make it different from other games and are essential to the theme. There was this whole idea at some point there was going to be a little village and you could do things for people and earn coins and buy things from a shop like different hats for your car. It was kind of poking fun at like Rocket League or games like that but for a weird little joke it was way too much effort. Some of that still made it into the game. There’s a chicken collecting mini-game which appears in some of the demo. That kind of stuff is nice because it adds depth and richness to the whole thing but for a small project like this, you can’t expect to be like a AAA game with loads of easter eggs or cooking systems. You have to stick to the core part of it which for me is the racing. That’s important to me. Getting the handling right. Making sure the tracks are right.

Having looked at a lot of gifs of Yucatan on twitter, I’ve seen the obstacles and mines and winding tracks. Is there anything you’ve held that you haven’t shared yet?

There are a few bits. It’s not that I’ve held them back but it’s more because I haven’t done it yet. I’m not sitting on any GIF’s that I’m waiting to reveal or anything like that. The reason there’s been a lot of GIF’s around about the bomb throwing mechanic is because it’s the most recent thing that I’ve completed – although that’s been in the game a while, I’ve started to flesh out more tracks with that mechanic and try and work on more puzzles involving it. The next bit of work involves a shield mechanic. So there’ll be a shield on the car which you can put on for short periods of time that can protect you from some of the mines and dangers but it affects the way gravity works on the car so it’ll affect the handling too. There are some bits to do with the story that I won’t reveal. You’ll have to discover that in the game.

What are your hopes for Yucatan? Obviously, for it to be successful, but having spent years of your life on it, where would you like it to go?

Quite a long time ago, I decided I wouldn’t continue with the project unless I could be happy with it on its terms and it would finish when I’d finished it without expectations of acclaim or sales or whatever. The dream would be that it sells enough so I can make another game and do it fulltime. It’s already been a great project though because when I started the game, I was working as a web developer for fairly boring websites and based on the demo at EGX and things, I’m now doing games development work as my job which is nice. There’s already been benefits like speaking to people like you and going to shows. It’s been really fun project to work on anyway.

Let’s talk about the shows for a second. You were selected for the Leftfield Collection at EGX 2017. Was that a surprise? Can you talk me through that process?

It wasn’t a surprise that much. I submitted to Leftfield for the EGX Rezzed collection in the Spring and I wasn’t selected, which was fine. I hadn’t expected to get in but I went along to the show anyway because I knew a few of the other developers that had been selected. I’d actually met David Haywood who runs the collection a few times before and he’s a really nice guy. I was speaking to him in the pub afterwards and he said he really liked the game and I should submit it next time because I was really close to getting it in. So, I submitted it to the main EGX 2017 and I’d done a whole new demo with all new graphics, art and it was less buggy. I thought “he’s going to love it” because it was almost selected last time and this build was better. Then I was selected and I was very pleased but I checked the metrics on the download link and noticed that nobody had downloaded the new demo. He hadn’t even played it the second time. He must have thought it was good enough the first time but they just had too many games submitted I suppose. I guess it shows that it’s difficult to see what’s going on behind the scenes on whether you get selected or not. It really does pay to try a few times.

At least when I was at your stand at EGX 2017 there was a crowd around the game. Was it valuable to have people playing the game at a show so early on in development?

Yeah, it has been. Different shows have different values. All of them are valuable in some way. I had pages of notes to take away after EGX. There is a limit to how much feedback you can really process. You have to be probably ignore more than you’d like. You have to take some stuff on but not be paralysed by how much criticism you’ve had. I also had the benefit of having worked in a co-workers place that was full of games developers. They are the worst critics really. If you show your game to the public, they’ll always be quite nice, generally. They’ll say “Oh, I liked this and I liked that”. Sometimes they’ll tell you they don’t like it. But show it to other developers and they’ll immediately tell you everything you can see that’s wrong with it. How the fonts aren’t rendered properly. Something’s clipping into something else. The physics aren’t working in certain situations. For a show like EGX though, it’s really nice to get people coming up to you and saying they like it without noticing all these things that have been starring at you. I have massive list of things to fix in the game but you can show it to the public and they don’t notice a lot of things. They’re seeing it with fresh eyes, give you a confidence boost and reinvigoration to finish it because that’s the audience and you’re pleased that they like it.

As you approach the finishing line, how do you feel about being a solo developer over the past few years? Have you found that difficult?

It’s been tough but firstly, I’ve definitely had a lot of help in terms of Ethan doing the art, Dicky doing the sound and others doing play testing or offering suggestions. It’s never really a solo effort. I think I would be more keen in the future to try and do something more collaborative. I think it helps keep you on track and it’s nice to share the load. I don’t mind doing all the programming but I’ve spent ages over the past couple of years putting together videos, editing them, application forms for shows and editing key art. I’ve got the same key art in a load of different resolutions for all the different stores. There’s so many other little bits and bobs that you need to do that it takes up a lot of time so it’d be nice to be able to get others involved and share that load. But then you’ll never get your perfect game. You’d have to compromise and find a middle ground with people so that’s the disadvantage I suppose.

The Kickstarter for Yucatan is live now. You can view it here. Alternatively, you can follow Joe on Twitter as well as the official Yucatan twitter account and you can Wishlist the game on Steam here.

Disclaimer: I backed Yucatan on Kickstarter.

IG@FG (or ‘Indie Games @ Finger Guns’) is a an irregular feature exploring the world of indie games. If you liked this, or anything else we create, please consider supporting our Patreon.

Sean Davies

Ungrateful little yuppie larvae. 30-something father to 5. Once ate 32 slices of pizza at an all-you-can-eat buffet.

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