Thursday, January 31

Warhawk Racing and Creativity

I don't think anyone was labeling Warhawk as "a sandbox game" when it was released last fall. And yet here we are. Marketed more so as a venue for online dogfights, Warhawk quickly fell into its intended gameplay role. And rightly so. Modeled after the proven Battlefield formula, Warhawk is an expertly-crafted playground of team-based warfare. But, as they say (not really), opportunity is the mother of invention. Where there is freedom, there is creativity. And gamers are some of the most creative people I know of. Warhawk Racing perfectly exemplifies this creativity.

Warhawk Racing was founded by a trio of hardcore Warhawk players: Fur0shus, Killudead, and gaming4HIM. Co-founder Killudead explains his enthusiasm for the game: "I am normally not interested in MMOs or online games. But with Warhawk, there are so many variations of the game. Maybe you want to fly today, or maybe you like the tank. The game is never the same, and with so many players, it can be exciting." This was also the impetus for Warhawk Racing. "The idea to race within the levels was to create some other meaning behind the game, something other what it was designed for," Killudead explains.

The story of Warhawk Racing began when founder Fur0shus (PSN Id), or PIE_Lover on the PlayStation forums, first saw a video of players racing 4x4's around Archipelago. "I saw the video and knew it had the potential to be something much more than that," Fur0shus said. Soon after, Fur0shus hosted a Jeep race of his own, using the PlayStation forums to spread the word. He explains, "The race was great, but not too organized. After that race, I immediately started work on a second, more organized race with many tracks and a practice date. The people involved absolutely loved it. That second race was the final test, and after, the PIE racing league was launched."

Though still developing, Warhawk Racing is now a long-term operation, including website and official racing league. The triumvirate behind the project, Fur0shus, Killudead, and gaming4HIM, divide their responsibilities to run a clean, organized program. gaming4HIM explains: "Killudead runs the website, Fur0shus handles the league details and in game things, and I, gamin4HIM, usually write stuff for the Internet. BUT all three of us also work together and we work together on everything."

The project is quite impressive. The PIE Racing League is currently comprised of twenty-four players, with room for six more. The league hosts official races for its members wherein points are distributed for a robust ranking system. Even racers placing last earn a point, just for participating. Most impressively, PIE understands that people have lives that can sometimes conflict with racing; players are not penalized for not showing up to a race, they just miss out on free points.

Warhawk Racing itself is also highly developed, complete with a full set of rules backed by intriguing design. "Many people have been very open to the idea of Warhawk Racing, but people only really get hooked on it when they race firsthand," Fur0shus said. Because Warhawk Racing is built off of an existing engine, the triumvirate was limited in their design of the game. But, sometimes, limitation is good; in fact, boundaries can even stimulate creativity. Fur0shus explains: "I always remind myself that games are meant to be fun, and when playing by the rules gets boring, you might just have to invent your own rules to play by."

The golden rule of Warhawk Racing is “If you can’t catch ‘em, You crash ‘em." This sums up the entire racing design. Their are three types of tracks, or racing modes, so to speak. "Circuit" and "1 Lap Long" has ten racers hop into ten different jeeps and race simultaneously around a predetermined track. The only rules are don't start early, don't cut corners, and if you die you are automatically disqualified. All jeeps are equal, so winning comes down to being the best of the pack. The third race type is "Drag," where players race between two points on a map, but must also pass through designated checkpoints along the way. Your biggest enemy in Warhawk Racing isn't the other players though, but the track itself. Given limited control, the triumvirate had to find something they could work with, some aspect of the game that allowed for fun racing. The key to the design is the track layout.
The track layout for Island Outpost.

Killudead said that, "Initially, the track layout was simple, run from one main base to the other and back." But this was not good enough. Fur0shus explains designing the track layouts:
I designated an entire day to practicing and choosing the track order. I had by myself come up with 18 unique track designs (3 tracks for each map). On practice day I took a small group of people along each track in a certain map, and after all the tracks in that map were completed, we all voted on the one we thought was:
A) The most fun to drive on overall.
B) The hardest to drive on, making catching up to the first place driver easier.

gaming4HIM elaborates: "On Destroyed Capital, we added a track through the rumble path and went all the way around the outermost part of the track instead of cutting in. This gave it a chance for minimal passing and real skill of the driver to be shown." And this is really the crux of Warhawk Racing; players with the best knowledge of the track layout and most driving skill win. The design is intelligent; since all vehicles are equal, if one vehicle gets ahead there is no means players have to catch back up (such as boost). The track layout was designed specifically to add complexity and challenge to the race, and, ultimately, fun.

Another nifty touch of Warhawk Racing is the dropship, available with the Warhawk: Omega Dawn expansion. Fur0shus explains:
One of the drivers in our race was helping put jeeps on the starting line via the dropship, and decided to stay in to watch the race from the sky. It worked out well because it can hold the cameraman as a driver and 6 other spectators who can watch from the sky. Before the dropship, the cameraman was in a warhawk and to make sure the camera view was not obstructed, no one else was allowed to fly a warhawk. The dropship solves this problem by giving the spectators an easy way to watch the race and stay out of the cameraman’s way.
The best part of all of this is the creativity that has emerged. Warhawk was not designed to be a racing game. But inventive players took the reins of the games' freedom and have developed a truly unique intragame. gaming4HIM said that, "There are some of the people that are 'points, points, points, points' and so they do not care about this and don’t like it. But I think that everyone needs to take a little break and do something out of the box and out of the ordinary."

Fur0shus said, "I really enjoy these types of open “sandbox” type games, where you can be free to do almost anything you can dream up. These types of games encourage me to be creative and try and find a new way to play the game. It is especially fun to take a shooter style game and turn it into something with no violent content at all, like we did with this jeep racing game."

I asked Fur0shus about other potential upcoming racing variants, like boat racing, flying, or demolition derbys, but all he had to say was, "Just remember, the website is not '' Give it about a month and you will get all sorts of new styles of racing, I guarantee it."

See the Official Warhawk Racing website for more information and league registration.

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