For us here at Power Up Gaming, kart racers are some of the best multiplayer games around: they’re easy to pick up and play with your friends, provide countless moments of fun, and you only have to invest as much time into them as you want to. Unless you’re a fan of Mario Kart and happen to own a Nintendo console, however, your options for solid kart racing games have been severely limited as of late.
It’s not all bad news, though. At this past weekend’s Play Expo in Manchester, Power Up Gaming got to spend some time with Coffin Dodgers, a quirky and often hilarious kart racer that may just be the answer to our prayers.
The game, created by independent Liverpool-based developer Milky Tea Studios, launched on Steam in July, having successfully passed through both the Greenlight and Early Access programs. After playing several races, in which we had to guide our cartoony OAPs through a number of colourful and challenging tracks on their mobility scooters, we sat down with Milky Tea founder and managing director Jon Holmes to find out more about the game.
Chris Mawson: To start off Jon, could you tell us a little about the game in your own words?
Jon Holmes: Coffin Dodgers can be best summed up as Mario Kart meets Wacky Races meets Pixar’s Up. It’s about seven old age pensioners who get paid a visit by the Grim Reaper one night, who says ‘I’m here to take your souls.’ So they all group together and challenge him to a mobility scooter race. It’s all about pimping up your scooter and battling it out in a 3D open world against the Grim Reaper and his army of zombies.
CM: I believe Coffin Dodgers is available on Steam at the moment?
JH: Yeah, the game just released on Steam three months ago; it’s fully launched now. We’ve just updated it with loads of new features, add-on products and other little additions in the game. It’s available for PC, Mac and Linux.
CM: We only had chance to have a go on the quick race mode today, so I wondered if you could walk us through the other options that are available in the game?
JH: So yeah, there are a number of different features. I think I mentioned earlier that Coffin Dodgers is built slightly differently to Mario Kart, so the biggest feature of our game is that it’s built around a 3D world. Unlike Mario Kart, which is made up of independent tracks, ours is an open world where you can cordon off certain streets and create different races. But we also have open world race modes, where you can basically go online and play against a variety of different people and just blast the hell out of each other!
CM: To me, the open world concept brings back memories of Crash Team Racing and Diddy Kong Racing. While they didn’t have fully open worlds, they had hub levels which led into the races themselves. I’ve always felt that adds a bit of depth to kart racers, which can be quite shallow games, so it’s good to see you’ve gone down that route. How does the story mode actually play out in Coffin Dodgers?
JH: What we’ve done is we’ve split the world into four designated areas: the village; the town, which is like a shopping area; the farming area and then the graveyard. In each of those areas you play three races, and in each of those, you’d better finish outside of the bottom three otherwise the Grim Reaper will take your soul! He’ll then bring you back in the next area as a zombie in a mobility scooter under his influence – to take you out of the game, basically.
It progressively gets more and more difficult. For instance, you start off in the village in the daytime. The game will end up at nighttime, with the thirteenth and final race taking place all around the whole 3D open world. There’ll be zombies on the track, police cars after you – zombies driving cars, and other things.
CM: What sort of power-ups does the game have? Have you gone for geriatric-themed weapons?
JH: It’s funny, because we did start off with loads of geriatric themes; one of the original ideas was to throw a colostomy bag over your shoulder. But we got loads of local school kids who play games on Steam, and we put these ideas to them, and I think after about an hour, someone put their hand up and goes, ‘What’s a colostomy bag?’ And no one knew about it. So we thought, ‘What are we going to do here? We can’t put things in that people don’t get and understand.’
So we went back to oil in the end for the item that you throw behind you, and we’ve added other bits and pieces like rockets and EMP blasts, and a few other little weapons – but there’s nothing in terms of our weapons that are particularly unique.
What we really feel is unique to Coffin Dodgers – and what Mario Kart didn’t have – is this hand-to-hand combat. One thing we wanted to introduce was this melee attack, so it’s as much about knocking other players out of their scooters as using the weapons. Our characters have ragdoll physics, so you can knock them out of their scooter, run over them; you can crash into fences, and flip out. But you can also upgrade these hand-to-hand weapons, so the Grim Reaper has a scythe, and your OAP can upgrade theirs from anything like sausages through to rolling pins; there’s a variety of different items that you can use to knock people out.
CM: Was that added in lieu of a powersliding mechanic? I didn’t notice one during our races.
JH: When we met up with the school kids and got them to playtest the original ideas we had, they were saying, ‘We just want to pimp up our scooters and blast the hell out of each other!’ So we said, ‘Okay, let’s build a scooter configurator, where you can drastically pimp up your mobility scooter and modify the physics.’ In Mario Kart, you can’t really modify the physics; each character has their own physics. So in Coffin Dodgers, we wanted to be able to go, ‘Right, we want to change the engine, and we want to balance it up to suit how we drive.’
We’ve used real physics in our game engine; in the real world, you don’t just press a button to do a power drift, do you? So it’s all about those real physics; we wanted to create that feeling of natural physics, and natural movement. The [boosting mechanic] itself is in the game: once you upgrade your scooter and it becomes more powerful, the more drifting you’re able to do around the corners and perform powerslides.
CM: I guess you’ve very much tried to made the game accessible for kids to pick up and play, as well appealing to people like myself, who grew up with the likes of Super Mario Kart and Crash Team Racing?
JH: Exactly. So the game was originally designed for an older audience than Mario Kart. We wanted to really tap into the people who watch things like Family Guy, The Simpsons, and South Park, and really have something that’s a little bit more of a dark, comedic racer. And it does feel a little bit more adult in the way it handles: the tracks are a lot narrower, the game overall is a lot faster. But one thing we wanted to do when we designed it… I said to my dev team: ‘Eventually, one day guys, this has to potentially work as an animated TV series’, so it had to have this in-house style that Milky Tea is synonymous with.
Over the years, most people know Milky Tea for the Lloyd’s TSB advertising campaign; those kind of funny, long-nosed characters. Coffin Dodgers is kind of an evolution of that style; it’s a little bit more American – but it’s Milky Tea style, you could say.
Adam Lloyd: That must inform the art style you’ve gone for as well, then?
JH: Definitely. For me, the cartoony look was always intentional from the beginning. I said to the guys that it has to work as an animated TV series; maybe a range of vinyl toys eventually… But also, it allows us to do other things with this Coffin Dodgers world. Without revealing too much at the moment, we’ve actually built Coffin Dodgers as a bit of a franchise, so we want to build all these other characters in the world that we can create break-off stories and games for. So we’re hoping this won’t be the last time you see these Coffin Dodgers.
CM: Is there any chance of the game coming to consoles or mobile in the future?
JH: There’s a strong chance. I can’t reveal anything at the moment, but hopefully in four weeks’ time we’ll have some really interesting news for you!