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Some reflections on Hipster City Cycle

Our goal with HCC was to create a unique gaming experience layered with nostalgia, cultural satire, and beautiful artwork. The core gameplay was inspired by arcade and early console games that on first play seemed simple, repetitive, and hard. What was magical about these games was if you spent a little while playing the subtle nuances of the mechanics would begin to bloom. In developing, and play testing HCC, it's been the emergent patterns and experiences in the game that are the most interesting and rewarding to me.

Speaking of rewards, so many games today motivate the player by offering loot of one kind or another. This design paradigm feeds into our greed and desire in ways that I feel can become pathalogical (just look at Farmville). Just as the narrative of HCC is a satire of hipster culture, the game itself is a satire of the highly reward driven gaming that has become the status quo. Not so long ago, simple games were played not for a virtual reward, but because the experience in itself was engaging and worthwhile.

The ride-party-spend-repeat process of progressing through the game was intentionally simple. The "lameness" of the party seemed straight out of an arcade game, where for all your hard work you receive a single special moment, and move on. We also wanted to make sure that players, independent of their skill with the game, could unlock all the maps. Higher scores will unlock everything faster, but just finishing races helps you progress.

The gameplay itself is actually highly nuanced. The real challenge of the game is earning medals on each of the 16 races. You earn medals for your time, style (points from tricks), and skill (based on avoiding obstacles). Getting gold medals is quite challenging, especially on the longer maps where the chances of getting run over goes up. You really have to optimize a custom bike as well as your play style to a given goal in order to succeed. We considered adding a proper race mode, but found in testing it that it really changed how we played. The game shifted towards feeling more frenetic and stressful as opposed to nostalgic and playful.

There is a 'flashback' tutorial in which Binky's father teaches him how to ride a fixed gear bike. It explains the very basics of playing but not much more. So many modern games hold your hand through nearly every aspect of playing. With HCC we wanted players to discover for themselves how best to play through experiencing the mechanics directly rather than being told what to do.

I do wish we could have included an instruction manual to list all the different tricks you can do. We'll likely add that in an update to the game. What I love about the design is that while mastering the controls still seems almost impossible to me, the game starts out with short races and finishing them is pretty easy.

By far though, what I am proudest of, is how we translated Philadelphia into an old school gaming experience. So many games today are about recreating a perfect copy of the real world... I think Hipster City Cycle does something better, it captures the essence of a city and culture in a retro style that is nostalgic and emotionally moving (at least for me). I feel happy playing Hipster City Cycle, not because I'm getting constantly rewarded, but because it is a beautiful experience in itself.


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It's a love letter to Philadelphia written on the stationery of retro gaming.
—Nicole Klein. Gaming Target
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But what's it all mean?

Our goal with HCC was to create a unique gaming experience layered with nostalgia, cultural satire, and beautiful artwork. The core gameplay was inspired by arcade and early console games that often on first play seemed simple, repetitive, and hard. What was magical about these games was if you spent a little while playing the subtle nuances of the mechanics would begin to bloom...
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Questions? Comments? Talk to Binky: binky@hipstercitycycle.com