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Real Racing 3 - The History of an App Store Icon

Posted by Rob Rich on January 30th, 2013

The soon to be released Real Racing 3 is on a lot of iOS gamers' minds these days, especially many of us here at 148Apps. Because of this we thought it would be a good idea to recap the series. In fact, we might have gone a bit beyond that and created a trilogy. First we'll be taking a look at the series' history and the history of Firemint, the Melbourne based studio that created the series. After that we'll be taking a look at the design factors and what when into creating the first two Real Racing titles as well as a little of the third. And in the third part of this series, we'll take a look at the new Time Shifted Multiplayer found in Real Racing 3.

Humble Beginnings

One of the best-known examples of how far developers can push Apple’s new iPhone 5 hardware is looming just over the horizon. However, it wasn’t always so. Sure the Real Racing series has steadily become pretty much synonymous with near console-quality visuals on mobile platforms, even going so far as to have a permanent spot on the App Store’s Big-Name Games and Racing Games lists, but there was once a time when no one knew the name Firemint. This was around four years ago, when most mobile games were still easily distinguished from virtually every other platform. You know, when Solitaire and box-pushing puzzles came preloaded on everything and acquiring new games wasn’t anywhere near as convenient as it is now. Oddly enough, the developer’s first major innovation wasn’t even based around graphics.

According to Kynan Woodman, Real Racing 3’s Development Director, the original Real Racing was actually more of an experiment than a real game. Specifically they were trying to figure out how to rig up accelerometer steering for a Nokia handset in a way that wasn’t awkward or unnatural. Keep in mind this was back in 2008, and up to that point attempts at such a control scheme would tilt the view along with everything else which wasn’t exactly conducive to a driving game. “To solve this problem we tilted the horizon dynamically to counter your steering of the device," he said, "so that regardless of where you moved the horizon in the game would match the real world. It seems obvious now, but no one had done it at the time.” Firemint didn’t just find a work-around for a common problem, the team developed a solution that set a new design standard for accelerometer controls.

Building A Unique Race

Once it had the horizon tilting figured out, Firemint began to construct the game that would eventually become Real Racing around it. “There was a lot more to the Real Racing franchise than great controls," said Woodman, "but it started with that as a key innovation.” As it turns out, innovation ended up being Firemint’s calling card of sorts.

The developer’s second major task was to construct an interior view that the series has come to be known for, “... so players could actually see the steering wheel move as they steered," Woodman said. It’s a feature that isn’t uncommon in console racing games these days (Codemasters’ Race Driver: Grid is a prime example), but it’s not prevalent in many - if any - iOS racers. The added level of detail, and by extension immersion, goes a long way to enhancing the “simulation” experience.

The decision to create a racing game built around closed tracks was made fairly early on in the cycle, however, but the rest of the design evolved as the game was developed. No one at Firement (now Firemonkeys) expected their project to become such a juggernaut on the App Store or to be the target of much speculation when early gameplay footage (above) was first revealed on PocketGamer in August of 2008. “We particularly enjoyed all the comments from consumers about how it was ‘clearly fake,’” said Woodman. Encouraged by these reactions, Firemint continued its work on through 2009, listening to fan and potential consumer feedback all the while. “We had a good idea of what people would like from the game," he said, "because we could read comments and talk to press and consumers about it. Although we couldn't do everything that players would like, we did use their feedback to help us focus the game design.”

Not Just A Racing Game Studio

Amidst all the hullabaloo surrounding console-quality visuals and innovations up the wazoo it can be easy to forget that Firemint doesn’t only make racing games. In fact, before Real Racing came out, it was already flying high (*rimshot*) thanks to the success of Flight Control. This casual mobile rendition of a day in the life on an air traffic controller began as a simple experiment concocted by Firemint CEO Robert Murray. It was meant to be a simple design exercise created over the winter break when the studio was shut down for the holidays, but garnered so much attention around the studio that fellow Firemint designers, Alexandra Peters and Jesse West, hopped on board to help turn it into a full-blown game--a good call considering that it’s sold over half-a-million copies in its first month and well over three million to date.

Award Winner

The original Real Racing went on to receive plenty of accolades, including 2010’s Apple Design and IMGA’s Excellence in Connectivity Awards, as well as a Best App Ever Award for Best Racing Game, Best Graphics, and Best Simulation Game in 2009. It’s also sold a whole bunch--and that’s just the first game. Not surprisingly, after Real Racing was launched in June of 2009, work on Real Racing 2 began roughly 6 months later.

The sequel to Firemint’s critical darling turned its fair share of heads as well when it was released in December of 2010. In addition to carrying over all the new concepts and special features that made the original Real Racing so noteworthy, Real Racing 2 added plenty of new items to its pedigree. The career mode was greatly expanded upon by allowing players to earn cash to purchase new cars and even upgrade their current ones. More camera options were added along with a special TV broadcast-style instant replay system. Vehicles were given damage models so that particularly rough races would leave telltale signs all over the racer’s cars. Online save options were added to allow players a chance to carry over their racing career when they installed the game to a new device. It was one of the first games to incorporate Apple’s Airplay technology which allowed players to view their games on their TV, using their iOS device as a stand-in for a controller. Actually, it allowed up to four players to view their games on the bigger screen all at once by way of the special Party Mode.

Last but not least, and in keeping with the whole “innovation” thing, Firemint also managed to include 16 player races (against AI in single player or 15 other people online), which was a first for iOS games at the time and no small feat in and of itself. All of these various features reportedly pushed Real Racing 2’s development costs to over $2 million. So it wasn’t just a first for iOS multiplayer, it was also a first for iOS development costs. Real Racing 2 has received a fair share of success with a combined (critic) Metacritic score of 94 to date along with taking the Best App Ever Awards for Racing and Graphics in 2010. With so many hits on Firemint's hands, it’s no wonder large publishers like EA took notice.

Big Changes

The following year, Firemint was absorbed into the collective that is Electronic Arts. Some were understandably concerned about the acquisition, as it’s not uncommon for smaller studios to lose most of what makes them special (or get dismantled entirely) once they become a part of a much larger whole. However, Firemint CEO Rob Murray, as well as EA Interactive’s Executive VP, Barry Cottle, were quick to put those fears to rest by recalling the developer’s history. Many of Firemint’s pre-Flight Control and pre-iOS releases (Need for Speed Most Wanted, Madden, etc) were created while under contract for EA Mobile. One could even argue that EA helped to shape the folks at Firemint into the dream team they are today. Getting bought by one of the largest video game publishers in the business while being able to maintain their creative freedom made for an exciting opportunity for the already quite successful developer. But it didn’t end there. In July of 2012, Firemint joined forces with IronMonkey Studios (Dead Space, Need for Speed Undercover) to create Firemonkeys. I hope they braced for all the inevitable Infernape jokes beforehand. Since then, EA’s involvement has most likely influenced Firemint’s/Firemonkey’s pricing structures, but overall it seems like they’ve left the developer to do their own thing, which is to make fantastic games.

A more recent and potentially troubling development was the announcement that Rob Murray--former CEO of Firemint, mastermind behind Flight Control, and Executive Producer at Firemonkeys--would be leaving to spend time as a full-time dad. It’s a perfectly good reason to step down and Tony Lay, EA’s Melbourne Studio GM, has more than enough experience to see Real Racing 3 to its release as the new Executive Producer, but it’s difficult not to have a little concern over what this means for Firemonkeys. Development heads come and go from time to time, as is the nature of the industry, but sometimes major shakeups can be difficult to shake off. There have also been rumblings of another kind of shakeup for Real Racing 3. The App Store is still a tough market to predict when it comes to pricing structure, and it’s rumored that Firemonkeys might do away with the premium price tag for their new racer. In fact, if the rumors are to be believed Real Racing 3 just might be free-to-play. It’s not definite by any stretch of the imagination at this point, but it is possible.

It’s impressive to think that Firemint accomplished all of this--several multi-award winning games, millions upon millions in cumulative sales, and a significant acquisition by a major publisher--in about three years' time. Where they go from here is anybody’s guess, but with Real Racing 3 looming on the horizon, the future definitely looks exciting, and pretty shiny.

Tomorrow, we'll delve into the design decisions and what it took to make the premier iOS racing game series, so stay tuned.

Noble Nutlings Review

By Rob Rich on January 10th, 2013
Is Noble Nutlings really the next Angry Birds? That's a matter of opinion. However, it *is* a fun casual game.
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Repulze Review

By Rob Rich on January 7th, 2013
Almost all of the basic elements are here: speed, sleek and shiny surfaces, impossible angles, etc. But where are all the other racers?
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Word Derby Review

Posted by Rob Rich on December 4th, 2012
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Developer: Chillingo Ltd
Price: $0.99
Version: 1.2
App Reviewed on: iPhone 3GS

Graphics / Sound Rating: starstarstarstarblankstar
User Interface Rating: starstarstarstarblankstar
Gameplay Rating: starstarstarstarblankstar
Re-use / Replay Value Rating: starstarstarstarhalfstar


The iOS world has seen its fair share of word game hybrids that encompass virtually every conceivable combination out there. And yet, new ones are still popping up. New ones like Word Derby that partner spelling with what can best be described as “those weird racing games at carnivals where people spray water at tiny targets to make their rider on a stick go faster.” It’s as unlikely a pairing as I could imagine, and yet it works exceedingly well.

The ultimate goal of Word Derby is to just have fun competing with other players. Sure there are some riders (many with special abilities) that can be unlocked but the real focus in simply on playing. Experience is earned and levels are gained with each turn taken that provide players with special profile badges to show off, but they’re just for show. The race is the thing here. Once a match is set up (between 2 and 4 players) and a bet placed (players bet tickets; the game’s all important currency), both players are given a small set of jumbled letters and are tasked with spelling something. The first letter is locked in, however, and all players’ turns are submitted simultaneously, which not only complicates things but penalizes the submission of two of the same word with zero points. It can happen, believe me.

Word Derby’s presentation is pretty neat in that it’s like an adorable cartoon carnival game. The characters are weird and cute at the same time, and everything just seems “friendly.” Playing it is also a lot of fun, which surprises me a little since I was a bit wary of the simultaneous turns thing. But it adds an element of excitement to each round. “Did the other person find the same word I did? Did they find a better one? Are they using a power-up to boost their chances?” As does the bonus points meter that gets more and more empty the longer a turn takes to complete. But those power-ups, wow. What’s clever about their implementation is that none of them are game winners, they can only be used once per game, and players have to pay for each use with their own tickets. So no spamming and no decided advantage for players with a larger bankroll.

It’s unfortunate that Word Derby can only be played with an online connection (i.e. no subway play), but that’s sort of how it goes with multiplayer-only games. And while the inclusion of a pass-and-play option is nice, it’s fairly pointless when the game needs an online connection to simply start up. Still, once a game (or several) is going it can be plenty of fun. Especially earning the ticket pot after coming in first.


Jet Trains Rushing To The App Store For December

Posted by Rob LeFebvre on November 27th, 2012

Realore, the folks behind the Roads of Rome series of games, today announced a new competitive arcade racer with, you guessed it, jet trains. Check out the trailer below; the game will release in December.

Jet Trains takes place in a world of gangs and rivals where players take on the role of the son of the gang's leader that was killed in a race. In the chaos that followed, the gang split into separate groups, with members of each fighting for control of the gang, and the ultimate position as best racer. In this environment players must embark on numerous missions, face off against challenging bosses, customize their trains, and execute outrageous stunts in order to be the first across the finish line.

Skyriders Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
By Dale Culp on November 2nd, 2012
Our rating: starstarstarstarblankstar :: FAST AND FANTASTIC
High-speed thrill seekers will have plenty of fun with this one. Race through 40 challenging tracks filled with obstacles, gaps and other hazards.
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Carmageddon Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
By Rob Rich on October 18th, 2012
Our rating: starstarstarhalfstarblankstar :: START YOUR ENG-AAAAAHHH!!!
Does the move from classic PC game to iOS port suit this little piece of ghoulish nostalgia?
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Pocket Trucks Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
By Angela LaFollette on September 10th, 2012
Our rating: starstarstarstarhalfstar :: HECK YEAH
Pocket Trucks is a side scrolling physics racer that is almost impossible to stop playing.
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Shaun the Sheep - Fleece Lightning Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
By Rob Rich on April 26th, 2012
Our rating: starstarstarstarblankstar :: SHEAR RACING
Britain's stop-motion ovis aries goes for the gold in this unorthodox barnyard racer.
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Ion Racer Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
By Rob Rich on March 30th, 2012
Our rating: starstarstarstarhalfstar :: ENDLESS RACER
Ion Racer takes mission-driven progress and combines it with third-person racing to great effect.
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Reckless Racing 2 Review

Posted by Greg Dawson on February 3rd, 2012
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Developer: Pixelbite
Price: $4.99
Version: 1.0
App Reviewed on: iPhone 4

Graphics / Sound Rating: starstarstarstarstar
User Interface Rating: starstarstarstarstar
Gameplay Rating: starstarstarstarstar
Re-use / Replay Value Rating: starstarstarstarstar


There is a reason the original Reckless Racing received an Editor's Choice nod from 148Apps when it first debuted at the end of 2010. It was pure, feel-like-a-kid-again racing with slick controls and fast cars. Reckless Racing 2 is even better. This third-person racer now has more tracks, more modes and more excitement.

I'm sure from a developer's standpoint racing games with their quick movements are probably one of the most difficult genres to develop. Not only do they have to dial in hairpin turns, they also have to make the driver feel like every turn they make is on a dime. Lag is a racer's worst enemy. The silky smooth physics of Reckless Racing 2 are phenomenal. The car reacts to every touch in an instance without lagging, jigging or chopping along. It's like butter.

The amount of gameplay is impressive with 24 routes of dirt and street options as well as several modes to choose from, including career, arcade, single, and multiplayer. While I tested out all thoroughly, I'd have to say I got the most out of career and multiplayer.

Career offered a ton of racing, points, achievements and leaderboard runs while multiplayer gave me the bragging rights (not all the time) of taking pinks against human racers. The one negative I noticed was that the other opponents ghosted in and out and there was a light chop every once in a while. However, it's most likely do to varying reception issues.

One of the best additions to the newer version is the larger and better selection vehicles and upgrades one can choose from, which is 18 to be exact. They all look very similar to some of the best American muscle and high-end import cars. The upgrades, which can be purchased in the garage, are the usual speed, handling and acceleration options. Some tournaments have specific upgrade requirements and will not let the player race otherwise.

Reckless Racing 2 improves on all of the original game's features and adds several more goodies such as career mode and car customization. This all combines to make it the best "rubbin's racin'" game on the App Store.

RPM: Gymkhana Racing Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
By Rob Rich on November 18th, 2011
Our rating: starstarstarhalfstarblankstar :: SLIPPERY
RPM: Gymkhana Racing does racing a little different: with a focus on timed runs, bonus track challenges and lots of drifting.
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Take to the Skies and Aim for First Place in Ikaro Racing HD

Posted by Rob Rich on October 19th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

NuOxygen has just released "The Racing 3D Flight Simulator," Ikaro Racing HD for iOS devices, and it's looking pretty neat. Players will race through a diverse set of environments (and 22 tracks), from sprawling cities to winding canyons, jockeying for first place. It won't be easy, but it makes winning that much more satisfying.

The game is designed to steadily increase in difficulty, so that players adjust naturally to the curve. It's meant to be more pleasant than panic-inducing, with cameras that highlight the beauty of the landscape or the details of the planes so that the visuals can truly be appreciated. Of course, spending too much time drinking in the details are a good way to end up face-planting into an obstacle. A danger that becomes even more real when the dynamic weather system opts to replace those clears skies with a thunderstorm.

Ikaro Racing HD was designed with the iPad 2 in mind, but it's also available for most other iOS devices. It just requires some tweaking in the options menu first. Aspiring air jockeys can grab it off of the App Store right now for free.

Ionocraft Racing Review

iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad
By Rob Rich on June 30th, 2011
Our rating: starstarstarstarhalfstar :: STEAMY
Ionocraft Racing is a genuinely thrilling and addictive racer, even if it can feel a little empty.
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Ducati Challenge Review

iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad
By Bobby Gooding on June 10th, 2011
Our rating: starstarstarstarblankstar :: BEST IN CLASS
Any bikers out there? Ducati Challenge offers up a top-class motorcycle racer that can be played by all.
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