Developer Workshop: Rocket Racing League

Developer Workshop is a series of profiles exploring the current state of the mobile marketplace from the point of view of the software developers mapping out its future. Each profile focuses on a developer with a compelling story to tell, and offers their perspective on what the industry's doing right, what it's doing wrong and how to make it better. Check out our previous workshops on Shazam, InfoMedia, Viigo, Meet Now Live, Shortcovers, Pint Sized Mobile, Geodelic, Spark of Blue Software, Tarver Games, People Operating Technology, Booyah, Bolt Creative, Thwapr and Monkeyland Industries.

This week FierceDeveloper profiles games vendor Rocket Racing League.

rocket racing league

Sports applications are one of the hottest segments going--according to recent data issued by mobile advertising network Millennial Media, developer revenues from sports-themed apps have increased 279 percent since the beginning of 2010. Of course, most of these applications are based on sports and athletes familiar to even the most casual fan. That's not the case with the Rocket Racing League's new iPhone app, the first in a proposed series of multi-platform games inspired by the real-world RRL, a fledgling competitive league featuring rocket-powered aircraft navigating through three-dimensional virtual courses projected 1500 feet above the ground.

Rocket Racing League is the brainchild of two-time Indianapolis 500 champion team partner Granger Whitelaw and Peter Diamandis, founder of the Ansari X-Prize (an aerospace competition offering a $10,000,000 prize to the first non-government organization to launch a reusable manned spacecraft). Each Rocket Racer craft consists of a Velocity airframe and single 1,500-to-2,500-pound thrust liquid oxygen and ethanol rocket engine capable of speeds as fast as 350 miles per hour and emitting flames as long as 15 feet; all aircraft are equipped with a customized cockpit-based augmented reality system projected onto the pilot's 3D helmet display--spectators can witness the races live or in real-time on televisions and PCs, with each event bolstered by interactive social technologies.

Rocket Racing League is slated to begin live competition as early as next year. In the meantime, league officials are relying on the mobile platform to nurture interest in the sport: The $2.99 Rocket Racing League title for the iPhone boasts single-player and head-to-head gameplay spanning four race types (Lap, Drag, Arcade and Ground) as well as five track locations (Nevada Canyon, California Coast, City, Tropical Island and Space). An iPad version is scheduled for later this summer. FierceDeveloper spoke with RRL executive producer Jeff Smith (a 15-year interactive entertainment industry veteran) about the league's future and the challenges of developing a game based on a sport that doesn't exist--yet.

rocket racing league Jeff Smith Jeff Smith on the Rocket Racing League: It's the NASCAR of the skies. You get planes flying through virtual racetracks in the sky. The pilot sees the track in front of him--it's like a tube that follows a rollercoaster path, and he has to fly through the tube. The rocket engines toggle on and off, and the planes can go from zero to 350 miles per hour in under four seconds. Handling these crazy aircraft and staying inside the tube path is a huge challenge. Training pilots is our biggest challenge, really.

Because it's already like playing a video game, we're making the league interactive for spectators. I can't tell you the name, but we're working with a company known for pulling real-time telemetry data from live racing events. The future is to have Rocket Racing League events at different venues along with televised coverage and Internet coverage--users are going to be able to download the tracks pilots are getting ready to race and compete against them live. It's a crazy concept, but it's going to work.

Smith on creating a mobile game based on a sport still in development: We're interpreting a vision of what the Rocket Racing League will be, and working within the constraints of the device. The whole approach is based on questions like "Who is this game for? Is it for a casual gamer, or is it for a hardcore simulation gamer?" The balance we're going for is casual gameplay with precision pilot maneuverability. We went for an arcade-style game that doesn't overwhelm the player. It's easy for a non-pilot to pick up and play and have fun.

Smith on extending Rocket Racing League to other devices and platforms: I really like what Apple is doing with iOS 4--it's nice to have a single API for a shared leaderboard [via Game Center], and we're going to do what we can to exploit that. We're also looking at Android. I like Android--it's like Linux versus Windows. I've never enjoyed an Android phone because of some of the syncing problems with Outlook, but I see it emerging, especially with the Droid. But we won't release an Android app until they have phones with an accelerometer and everything else we have on the iPhone.

We're also going to develop other applications that allow for different kinds of interactivity. They may not be gaming-only.

Smith on advice for aspiring mobile developers: Get out! Stay away from me! I don't need any competition.

It sounds cliché, but you have to dream big. Anything's possible. Never in my life did I imagine I would be making a game like this. You just have to be able to design a product you can finish--a project with a completion target. Whatever vision you have, make sure you know how to start and finish the damn thing, no matter what the outside influences are.