XBLIG Spotlight: Dirchie Kart


This weeks edition of the XBLIG Spotlight, bi-weekly segment on Clearance Bin Review where we put the focus on Xbox Live Indie Games and the developer’s that make them.  This week I talk to BrownBot’s Peter Leahy about his arcade kart racer Dirchie Kart, a digital offering that draws inspiration from the kart racers of the Super Nintendo era.  Check out the trailer below, follows by a brief Q&A and my take on Dirchie Kart; you’ll even get a chance to win something for your time. Add Dirchie Kart to your download queue!

First, tell the readers a bit about yourself, who you are and how/why you decided to start getting involved in making games?

I’m a .Net business app developer by day, moonlight as a game dev by night. I live in South Africa but work in Australia, I VPN in to work each day and fly back every few months to install whatever new system I’ve developed.

This situation is great for getting plenty of work done, but you do go a little crazy sitting around by yourself all day… Dirchie kart has sort of kept me sane… I think?

Since I learned to program I’ve been making games, it wasn’t a conscious choice it’s just something I’m compelled to do.  Sometimes I think life would be easier if I didn’t, it’s essentially a second job that pays really poorly (i.e. nothing), but I can’t help myself.  I think it’s the mental challenge and the instant feedback that makes it so exciting.

Tell us about BrownBot, your history as a game developer, previous efforts, etc.

BrownBot is really just my little corner on the internet, my wife and I like to travel (and have really bad memories) so it started as a blog/journal of our trips and life, then split into a separate code/dev blog, with Dirchie Kart’s release it has refocused more on my games.

I’ve got a long term dream to make it into a full time software company, but we’ll see, with a family to support I’m trying to build it up slowly. At $2.10 in my pocket for each copy of Dirchie Kart sold I’m not going to retire anytime soon.

As any game dev will tell you finishing games is really hard, for every game you’ve ever finished there’s a pile of half finished bits laying around your hard drive.

Here’s a brief list of the more finished ones:

  1. DOS ASCI space invaders clone in C (1995).
  2. Bill the Borg Buster – platformer in C (1996-1997).
  3. Tanka – 3D top down combat clone OpenGL/Delphi (1998-1999).
  4. Racer – 3D racing combat racing game OpenGL/Delphi (2002)
  5. Dispell – Side scrolling shooter DirectX/Delphi (2003 – 2005) Released for sale on Manifesto games, zero copies sold.
  6. Toad Muncher – Toad squashing driving game OpenGL/C++ (2006 placed 10th in some Mac game competition.)
  7. Eraser – Arena shooter XNA 1.0 C# (2007 Shooter competition entry, placed mid field).
  8. Dirchie Kart – Racer XNA 3.1 (2007-2011 Released on XBLIG)

In your own words, describe Dirchie Kart, and for those who haven’t tried the demo yet, please explain what a “Dirchie” is as I’m sure many are wondering.

“Dirchie” is a word a good mate of mine Rick Duggy made up to label something you can’t think of the name of, at that particular point in time, like “whose-wat-zit” or “Thingy-ma-bob”.

The definition sort of changed a bit over time, when I was traveling in South America I purchased three similar styled woolen masks (They’re like a colourful balaclava with a moustache and eyebrows sewn on to them), I think they’re used for some local parade or celebration… I didn’t ever get an explanation, they’re pretty hard to explain so they became referred to as “Dirchie masks”.

Rick, myself and another good mate have a reputation for dressing up in weird outfits (suits, shirts, skivvies etc) for parties, I purchased the Dirchie masks specifically add to this arsenal of outfits and inspire some madness at parties… which they certainly have over the years!

The pinnacle of which has to be the Chimp’s (Afro chimp) brother, “Hazard” donning a mask with matching underpants to fill in as a wildcard entry into the impromptu arm wrestling competition we started in a country pub after a day of motorbike riding (This is  where Hazmatt comes from).

In short Dirchie Kart is my retro retake of the kart racing genre, imbued with my personal (i.e. bent) humor and parodies of my friends.

If you had to pick one specific game (not series) to describe as your inspiration for Dirchie Kart, what would it be?

It’s pretty obviously inspired by the original Super Mario Kart. We didn’t actually own a SNES when I was young, but my cousin used to bring hers over for Christmas and we’d pretty much exclusively play head to head Mario Kart.

With the inclusion of the retro tracks in the DS version, I came to realize that I still actually preferred the old flat tracks to the new full 3D ones, so I set out to make my own.

Dirchie Kart was obviously planned for XBLIG, and you ported it to PC as well, but have you in the past, or do you currently have plans to work in any other platform?  What made you decide to develop Dirchie Kart for XBLIG?

Planned….That’s funny, Dirchie Kart was started before there was any mention of XBLIG, it was conceived purely as a game I can play with my mates over a few beers on PC.  There was no thought of selling it till about half way through its development.

I chose the XNA platform because it coincided with our move to .NET and c# at work. It’s pure luck that Microsoft’s direction happened to coincide with mine allowing me to release it on Xbox… which is really cool.

I’m interested in taking a look at iPhone in the near future, I’ve got a couple of non-game app ideas I’d like to try.

How long did you spend developing Dirchie Kart?  Can you explain, roughly, how the development process worked for you? What tools and programs did you work with?

Total development time on Dirchie Kart itself is almost 3 years, but the base engine code has been around a little longer than that. I’ve got a full time job so that is all after hours work, though I work from home so I can be pretty flexible.

Dirchie Kart grew very organically, the original code base was actually a managed direct X (the precursor to XNA) arena shooter called Eraser. That got converted to XNA 1.0 and a physics based platforming game called “Ride the fury”, which turned out to not be much fun.

The underlying engine had 3D graphics and basic physics at this point, so I thought “what if I tip the platformer on its side and make a kart racer out of it!”, and started hacking away from there.

I don’t use many outside tools, Dirchie Kart has a (really crap) level editor built into it and I use Photoshop to compile the track data.

If you had to pick one thing that you would improve or simply do differently in regards to Dirchie Kart’s development what would it be?

There’s heaps I’d do differently in the engine design, it’s complete rubbish. But I’ve learnt so much during its development, it’s a bit of a chicken and the egg situation.

I’m currently working on the XNA 4.0 port, and am going to re-jigger the engine a lot before starting any other projects.

Many gamers dream of starting to make their own games, and it is obviously easier than ever for them to do so.  What advice would you give someone hoping to make the jump from gamer to designer?

If you’ve got the passion for making games you’ll work out how to do it yourself, my advice would be to start small… really friggin small! and finish what you started.

Don’t set out to make an epic RPG for your first project, start with 2D space invaders and work your way up from there.

 

Have you found the XBLIG process to be a particularly easy or difficult one?

It’s possibly too easy in my opinion, no offence to those developers if a massage app is genuinely the best they can produce, but seriously, have a real go or piss off!

I presume it’s other massage app producers that vote them up because I certainly don’t!

XBLIG have had a mixed result so far, what is one aspect/idea/change you think would better solidify the platform as a contender in the gaming industry?  What one thing do you think would improve the service as a whole, from designer to consumer?

The whole XBLIG setup is pretty awesome, to allow a single person team like mine to hack together a game, have it distributed to an audience of millions at the cost of a few hundred dollars and potentially make some actual money off it, is brilliant.

Having an Australian Xbox live account I can’t actually see the XBLIG store but by all reports that needs some attention.

Overall I think the quality of the games has to be there before it’ll be recognized wider.

I’d like to see a rating system introduced to the review process, at the moment as long as the game doesn’t crash or violate the other terms and conditions your review counts towards it going up on the market place.

With a rating system I think you’d weed out a lot of the crap flooding the market, I’m not really sure how that would work in the community though, it might turn into a popularity contest.

Maybe they could cull off any games in the market that rate lower that 2 stars after 6 months.

What is in the cards for BrownBot after Dirchie Kart?  Are you planning a sequel?  If so, what aspects would you most likely improve, add or maybe even remove altogether?

As I mentioned before I’m currently working on a XNA 4.0 conversion of the current code base, I’m going to release an update when that is done with an extra 5 tracks and some tweaks.

I really want to make Dirchie Kart as good as it can be for now, I’d like to release another track pack as some stage, a series made up of player’s designs if I can get enough interest.  All I need is a 1024 x 1024 image file and I can easily make a track from it.

Long term I’d like to do a sequel with LAN support and a new look, I need something to separate it from being “just another Mario Kart clone”. In-between that I’ve got a couple of other smaller ideas to explore, my end game is a really big idea I’ve been brewing for years and years but that will be a long way off.

When can gamers expect the updates to the game?

I’m hoping to get the 4.0 update out sometime in June/July, code wise it’s almost complete right now, but the content will take a little time to create. I’m actually currently in Australia for 3 weeks work, so won’t be back to full speed till April, but am going to hit it hard when I get back.

Thank you Peter.

Add Dirchie Kart to your download queue!

This edition of the XBLIG Spotlight features Dirchie Kart by BrownBot.  More than just a funny name, Dirchie Kart is a throwback to the kart racers of the SNES era.  Featuring a cast of unique characters, avatar support and colorful track design, does Dirchie Kart take us back to the days?

The first thing anyone is likely to notice about Dirchie Kart is the intro sequence, which simply screams, “Remember Super Nintendo?” at you.  As the full cast of characters scrolls by anyone old enough to have played Super Mario Kart is bound to start getting excited at what they are about to play; and as anyone who has read this site before should be well aware of, I love me a good kart racer.  Once the intro sequence has finished, we are given a few basic options, I really do recommend giving the how to play a look as Dirchie Kart does some interesting things with driving mechanics that aren’t immediately obvious.  Once you are ready to start your race you select between either of the two current cups available and what cc you would like to race at.  Each cup features five tracks and is scored very simply with 3-2-1 points for first, second and third.  Next you can pick between your avatar or the cast of original characters that include a knife wielding sailor and a muscle bound chimp with an afro. (Begging the question, just who are these friends whom BrownBot based these characters on?)  The last choice before we can start racing? The type of car.

Dirchie Kart features three vehicles, well four technically.  The all-purpose Caddy which has a balanced out speed and health. The Truckasaurous, which is more health less speed, and the Hornet, which is a lot of speed with little health.  I personally found the latter most to my liking, as it was by far the easiest for me to control.  The missing fourth vehicle?  That would be the tiny dirt-bike styled motorcycle you ride when your vehicle has taken too much damage.  It offers superior maneuverability but sacrifices the ability to use power ups and is only used till you drive over a pit and replace your car.

The cartoonish design of the racers fits well into the colorful and unique tracks.  In this regard, Dirchie Kart stands out from the other “kart” competition on the XBLIG marketplace.  There is the customary professional racetrack level, but the rest of the tracks are often slightly strange (Like the one that looks like a lime and lemon wallpaper), colorful and visually just plain good old-fashioned arcade racer fun.  Some maps include intriguing “traps” like assets that shoot randomly into the track and in the farm level a truffle that get stuck to your kart unless you make contact with another driver and makes the pigs in the level go after you. Little touches like these not only elevate the game’s quality above any other offerings of this type I’ve personally seen on the service, but highlights the developer’s love of the genre.  In fact it was the game’s vivid track design that initially drew me to try it in the first place, and while most of them are unfortunately very short, they are without a doubt my favorite aspect of the game.  Dirchie Kart currently features ten tracks total, all of them fairly unique from each other, with the developer planning to add more tracks in a future update. My main complaint from a aesthetic point of view would be the game’s music and sound effects, which just barely scrape by as good enough to not be distracting.  Expect to hear the same couple of royalty free tunes over and over.

So it looks good, but does it play good?  The short answer is yes, with a but.  The game plays on much of the same mechanics you are already well familiar with if you have ever played Mario Kart or any other kart racer.  There are offensive and defensive power-ups, and for the most part they do exactly what you would expect power-ups in an arcade racer to do.  Firing them can be tricky, as in most cases shooting them forward requires use of the right stick.  In fact, once I got accustomed to using the right stick to launch all of my power-ups, both forward and back, my ability to use them properly greatly improved.  Driving is in many ways also what you would expect, but Dirchie Kart throws a curve ball in there.  Drifting is important in most kart racers, but in this instance not only is it important, a quality draft results in an extensive boost coming out of the turns.  Dirchie Kart is not a game where you will be able to just press down on the gas all the way through, it will not only require the use of the break, but proper use of it.  Once you have these two quirks down the game is relatively simple to play. Additionally, the game does not feature any online components, but does have a four player local multiplayer option, and without a doubt this is the way the game was truly meant to be played, much like the Mario Karts of old.

There are some issues with the gameplay though, most notably how incredibly hard the AI is.  As I first started my play through to write this review I felt annoyed at the game, but as I learned the controls and attempted the lower cc levels I realized it wasn’t so much the game but the fact I wasn’t very good at it that was annoying me.  Finally managing to win some races I quickly improved most of my technique, specifically drafting properly, but found some issues remained as I continued on.  Bumping into a wall almost always meant being stuck, and using reverse tended to have issues of its own; often even after letting go of reverse and pressing down the gas again my kart would still steer as if I was going reverse. Basically getting stuck on a wall sometimes ended your chances for winning, especially with how short the races are.  It is incredibly easy to get caught on another kart, and in several cases was forced off the track as a result. The power-up boxes are rather bulky, and in a couple of levels where it is easy to fall off or turn into a wall they tended to impede your vision of the course leading you into a wall or a descent into nothingness. Lastly, the power-ups seemed to not have the same effect on the AI racers as it did on me, with several instances of firing a missile at another racer and have them seemingly unaffected.  It makes your ability to drive far more important, but also made the power-ups feel at times worthless.

In short, Dirchie Kart is a fun, albeit surprisingly difficult throw back to the kart racers many gamers such as myself grew up with.  There is no denying the inspiration of this game, and you are likely to be keenly aware of it during your entire play though, in the good way. If you have been looking for something to capture the spirit of the games you played as a kid, but have either played those old games to death or no longer have them, Dirchie Kart can help fill that void in your gaming heart.  There are some issues with the game’s mechanics, but the difficulty gives you a reason to keep trying and the game is simply fun to play.  The short races do make for a convenient time killer in the single race mode if that is what you are looking for, and the cup mode provides longer game play for when you feel like really getting in some time with a kart racer.  With the promise of more tracks and content to come, as well as an upgrade to XNA 4.0 in the future, this is a case of a game likely to get better, both in game content and value, making an already good time even better.  The only thing Dirchie Kart is likely to leave you asking for, is more.  It is far from perfect, but equally far from being a bad game.

Final Rating: 8/10

CBR Break Down:
Console Played On: Xbox 360 – XBLIG
Approximate Time to Completion: Less than 1 hour to complete races, far more to actually race them well
Gamer Score Earned: N/A
Price Bought at: N/A – Review copy furnished by BrownBot
Current Price: 240 Microsoft Points ($3)
Recommend Purchase Price: All this kart racing action for the same price as a Rock Band pro-upgraded song?  Just bust out the 240 points.

Add Dirchie Kart to your download queue!

Thanks to Peter and BrownBot we have three copies of Dirchie Kart to giveaway this week.  This time the contest is going to be a little different, and I’m personally really excited for it.  So if you would like a chance to win one of the three copies we have to give away, read on:

You may have noticed in the interview that not only is BrownBot planning to expand the number of tracks, but is considering user submitted ideas as well. So we decided that this just had to be involved in the giveaway.  So rather than the traditional 2 entry method we’ve had in the past, this contest will feature 3 ways to gain entries! (And more!)

First entry, comment on this post and tell us what theme you think would make a fun track.  Simple as that.  Wild Wild West? Ocean? Get creative!

Second entry, follow us on twitter and send the following tweet: “@ClearanceBinRev is giving away 3 copies of the XBLIG Dirchie Kart! Details here: http://bit.ly/dSIMcs”

Third entry, anyone who actually designs a track for Dirchie Kart will gain one bonus entry, and far cooler is the fact that if liked well enough, BrownBot may even use our entry in an update of Dirchie Kart.

So imagine that, you could win a game, and then race your friends on a track you designed in the game you won.  Pretty cool huh?  Designing a track is fairly simply, the image simply needs to be a 1024×1024 PNG image, from there BrownBot can manipulate your entry, adding details, and other assets to it. (For any area that the drivers would be able to “fall off of” simply leave the “background” of the track transparent.)  Here is a sample of what the very first track in the game looks like, as well as a sample track I made up the other evening in Photoshop.

Dirchie Kart track                          My Track

Please provide a link to your track image at full resolution, so use Imageshack or something similar.  Feel free to submit more than one track, but only your first track will count as a bonus entry.

That’s it!  Get to work!

Contest will go until Tuesday at 6pm Central Standard Time.  A pool of all eligible entries will then be randomly selected from and the winners will be notified. CBR reserves the right to disqualify any entry we feel either violated the rules or spirit of the contest, including attempts at duplicate entries.  By submitting a track design you are giving CBR and BrownBot permission to use those images as they see fit.

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About Tristan Rendo

I've made movies, written and performed music, and in January of 2011 got bored and started the awesome gaming site you see before you. My gaming roots began with the original NES, and endless hours spent spilling quarters into machines at the local arcade. I have a personal collection of over 200 Nintendo 64 games, and for many years it was the only system I owned. I re-entered the modern generation of gaming consoles when I decided to purchase a 360. I typically prefer the single player experience of games, so I’m usually playing through some single-player campaign, but can occasionally be found doing some damage in Halo Reach.