Few racing games are more therapeutic than Funselektor’s Art of Rally, a minimalist, top-down arcade rally racer with an emphasis on driving feel and pleasant vibes. It’s a singular experience — the kind of racing game that rightfully garnered plenty of attention and praise from novices and experts alike. An interview posted today with the game’s chief developer, Dune Casu, teases into what makes it so special.
Unlike many other modern racing games, Art of Rally is played from a pseudo-top-down perspective, as was more common in the days before polygons and sprite scaling. Personally, as charmed as I am by the game’s visual style and zen-like approach to driving, that’s always been a sticking point for me; I’ve never got on well with top-down racers. However, a fan-made mod for the PC version was actually created to address that, bringing the camera close down to the ground, directly behind the car, like a chase cam in a more traditional racing game.
ace youtuber DustinEden says, it completely transforms the experience. It also causes some graphical and logistical issues, as Art of Rally was never intended to be played from such a vantage point. Those flat-shaded, minimalist assets that previously merged to paint a rich landscape when seen from a distance now seem a little too plain, a little too undercooked this up close. The sense of speed is also heightened, and DustinEden reports a compulsion to brake and lift more frequently out of a fear of losing control.
But the bigger issues actually pertain to pace notes; or rather, the lack of them. In rallying, your co-driver’s warnings of turns and hazards ahead is essential to successful run on a course you’ve never seen before. These notes must also be relayed at precisely the right time, in the right cadence and obviously in a variety of languages for every territory in which the game releases.
Funselektor, however, is a small team that lacks the resources to record pace notes with the level of care they require. By pulling the camera up and back, the player could glean a better sense of what lies ahead without having to rely on verbal warnings. Casu explains this in a little more detail, in his interview with DustinEden, which you really should watch if you’re interested in this sort of stuff, or are a fan of the game.
The interview begins at about the 9:15 mark. Casu starts by explaining how the idea for the top-down camera came from a previous project:
originally with Absolute Drift it was a bit of an accident. It was supposed to be a third-person camera, like Need For Speed or the classic racing games. I was trying to make a main menu, like an interactive 3D main menu, so we just took this camera out and I brought it to this video game meetup, and someone said “oh this is way better, I like it better.” That’s the whole reason we did that.
the camera quickly became the glue that held the entire experience together; Casu recalls she having continually tweaked it “almost up until launch.” Still, he appreciates the chase cam mod presenting another option to the players that want it:
Some people seem to like it! It’s definitely an interesting mod that’s come out, it’s pretty cool to see. People would ask for it to be in the game, a chase camera like that. But then, since it’s a rally game you need pace notes, and the original goal of this game was to have a more minimal rally experience. By having this camera you get to do away with the pace notes. Because pace notes can [require] a lot of skill for a game, especially for localization — we have 12 languages in the game — and getting that for like all the voice acting for everything, and also tuning it so it’s right… I’ve played rally games where the pace notes were a bit off and it forces you to crash. So having it all zoomed out, being able to see everything, that’s like the core of the game.
There are certainly advantages and disadvantages to either camera position, and Funselektor decided this one would be the best option for the type of game they wanted to make — a love letter to rallying presented as a diorama, with a stunning degree of physical depth. Art of Rally is still getting new, free content almost two years on, and Indonesian stages are due to be added in the coming weeks. It’s also available on pretty much every modern platform now, so if you haven’t had the chance to settle in yet, now could be the best time.