With a new year and various game releases upon us, it is well past time for a new developer interview. The last time we talked with Eugene Jarvis, CEO of Raw Thrills, it was about Jurassic Park. Fast forward to today and his company is busier than ever, pumping out Space Invaders Frenzy, The Walking Dead, Cruis’n Blast along with some other titles in development. I asked him questions about that as well as some other things about the business so let’s jump in:
Arcade Heroes: Raw Thrills has been very busy with new game releases in 2016. How does that compare to your past experiences in the industry and why do you think that Raw Thrills is enjoying such success?
Eugene Jarvis: What makes the game biz so fun and crazy is that it is unpredictable. Sometimes you create a bunch of turkeys, and sometimes you have pure gold. The last couple years have been magical for our development teams – probably our best creative work ever coupled with some killer licenses. The Walking Dead, Cruis’n Blast, Space Invaders, MotoGP, and Jurassic Park – we are on one helluva a roll. So its been working hard and smart combined with a lot of stupid good luck!
AH: If you were to judge the “State of the Industry” in 2017, how would you rate it?
EJ: As an industry we are on a roll right now with some of the best arcade games ever made and a tremendous variety of product, along with the emergence of new and incredibly entertaining arcade and FEC concepts that are accessible to all levels of players. This is driving growth and a lot of excitement.
AH: Raw Thrills has also received some high-profile international attention this past week by appearing at JAEPO 2017; there was also an interview with your team there by the popular Japanese news site Famitsu. What is your strategy for those traditionally challenging markets like Japan?
EJ: We have been selling Raw Thrills games in Japan for many years. The market is incredibly competitive with amazing quality thresholds. You have to be very serious about localizing the game for the Japanese market if you want to make it. Due to cultural differences, it takes a special game to make it in both USA and Japan. Jurassic Park did very well there, and we think The Walking Dead could be our next Japanese hit. The TV show is huge in Japan. And I think the precise and skillful crossbow game play we go over well with hard core players, as well as casual players looking for a new thrill.
AH: What brought about the desire to revisit Cruis’n after almost 20 years?
EJ: Cruis’n is a timeless driving concept and the most successful arcade driving series worldwide. It’s a fun and casual experience – and we’ve been waiting 17 years since the last one! A lot of great tech is now available to make Cruis’n cooler than ever!
EJ: Nintendo loved the original Cruis’n USA so much that they commissioned it to be a launch title for N64. Cruis’n World and Exotica were also prominent titles for them, so they’ve been involved with the series IP forever. They were super excited that we wanted to do Cruis’n Blast, and helped us capture the true Cruis’n spirit of a fun adventure racer.
AH: Speaking of Cruis’n USA on the N64, one thing various Cruis’n fans keep asking about is a port of Blast to the Nintendo Switch. Has Nintendo shown any interest in a conversion to that platform?
EJ: Being arcade guys, we really weren’t thinking about creating a home game. We wanted to make it the ultimate arcade driver – so its going to be an arcade exclusive – a special treat for arcade players only! We were thinking about using a Switch controller to activate hidden features in the arcade game. We’ll see what happens!
AH: That would be pretty interesting to have that kind of cross-over. How large was the team for this project and how long was the project in development?
EJ: We had about 10 designers on the core team for over two years. The budget kind of got away from us – we probably redid everything three times, but we love the game!
AH: What was the biggest challenge in the development process?
EJ: The toughest thing is after you formulate all these super ambitious goals for the new game, you then develop the first early versions of it and typically the real early stuff is horrible. The team rewrites everything from the ground up, mods up the rendering and lighting engines, and everything just is super unrefined because no one has any experience on the new game engine.
You really have to suck it up and keep working through the chaos, and fix the bad stuff one thing at a time – kind of like climbing a mountain step by step – you eventually get there. Sometimes there are strong passionate opinions on the team and you have to get a consensus of where to go so the team can move forward. After many months of suffering, we finally got things under control.
AH: How about the most enjoyable part?
EJ: The initial concept phase is super fun because in your dreams everything is amazing! But then brutal reality hits trying to match dreams with reality The real rush happened when the first tracks – London and Madagascar, got fleshed out and we finally could see the magic – that Cruis’n Blast would undoubtedly be the most dynamic, interactive, and captivating arcade racer ever created.
Lamborghini was kind enough to let us do some “research” test driving for a day at the Lamborghini Track Accademia, Las Vegas Speedway. The power, handling, aerodynamics, and exhaust notes of the Aventador really lets you escape from your day to day existence. Hopefully we can sell enough games to fund some more serious training time for the team at the Lamborghini home track, Autodromo di Imola. Then we visit the factory and museum in Sant’Agata Bolognese, Italy!
AH: Take me with you, for “research purposes” of course (laughter). Are there any plans to do different cabinets for this, such as a motion version like the original Cruis’n USA had?
EJ: We spent so much time and energy on our insane cockpit cabinet – it truly is a work of art! I hope we don’t have to do another model! But never say never!
AH: Will we see additional tracks offered for the game in the near future?
EJ: There’s a bunch of places that would be cool to add. I was thinking about Namibia, Bali, and Iceland. It can happen if the demand is there!
AH: What is the hardware configuration that powers this game?
EJ: HP hooked us up with a real powerful but still reliable Linux PC, and we threw a kick-ass Nividia graphics card in there to handle the visuals. I think the original Cruis’n games ran 2 cores at 50 Mhz [AH Note: Link to the original CUSA Hardware], and with our new Nvidia boards we have 640 Cuda cores at a pixel rate of over 112 Gbps. So it’s at least 10,000 times faster than our old games!!!
AH: When this game was originally seen on test, it was shown with a card vending/data save system. Is there any chance that might make a comeback?
EJ: We were really excited by the card system, but just didn’t have time to refine it. Stay tuned for that one in the future!
EJ: Luckily we got everything we wanted in there, and didn’t really cut much. We just didn’t have a lot of crappy stuff that had to be cut.
AH: Since we’re on the subject of a racer, what’s your favorite sports car?
EJ: I’ve always been a Lamborghini guy – they’re ultimate, extreme, and super rare and exotic. And Lamborghini made sure we got a ton of Lambos in Cruis’n Blast. From the classic Countach and Diablos to the state of the art Adventador. Now I can drive them all I want without the speeding tickets!
AH: What’s your favorite racing game apart from Cruis’n?
EJ: I’m a huge fan of the original Daytona game and the SF Rush series from Atari back in the ’90’s.
AH: That said, with Cruis’n and Daytona coming back, I’ve been hearing many fans ask where SF Rush is. Where Raw Thrills has a good relationship with Atari/Midway IP owners Warner Bros., has there been any discussion about resurrecting that series with them?
EJ: I think the Rush fanatics would kill for a new game! There are a lot of details to work out with licensing and funding. I can tell you a new Rush game would be a joyride to insanity and back! Maybe we can sign up Arcade Heroes to sponsor one of the player cars!!!
AH: Sure, I’d be down for that! Final question: You are currently working with Housemarque on the Robotron-like game Nex Machina. Are there any other titles that you created in the past that you would like to revisit?
EJ: After seeing our giant Space Invaders discrete LED screen, we got to get Defender up there in its full glory! It’ll take some work cause we have to tilt the screen horizontal and then add a couple more feet of LED modules cause its higher res. Add in the Dolby 7.1 Surround sound and watch what happens. Our CFO can’t wait for the budget on that one!
World’s Largest Defender? That’ll turn some heads. I just wanted to thank Eugene for taking the time to answer these questions. Here are more Cruis’n pics via slide show, enjoy!