Black Block‘s Retroit street-driving game is like being behind the wheel in Grand Theft Auto from an overhead view, with one big twist: People watching this mobile game can drop obstacles or prizes in your path.
In the age of livestreaming, game developers are trying to figure out how to get people to interact with the game that they’re watching. Retroit does this using technology from interactive broadcasting firm Genvid Technologies.
Players drive all the cars on the map, and viewers can either help you or harm you. If they drop a giant piñata in your path and you hit it, it explodes. If they drop a giant soccer ball, you can bounce it around by hitting it with your car. Or if they drop an AI-controlled armored car, you can chase it down and steal the money.
“We’re looking at large-scale persistent open worlds from a mobile-first perspective,” Black Block CEO Robin Squire said in an interview with GamesBeat. “That mobile-first part is really what sets us apart from most of the studios that are looking at these next generation of MMOs. We’re really thinking about what does the mobile experience look at it as a priority. So we’re focusing on session lengths, events, social, and all of those things that mobile users expect.”
The game from Helsinki-based Black Block is an ambitious, persistent massively multiplayer online game that is in alpha testing in select European markets right now. It’s a mobile-first game, but it could eventually run cross-platform on almost any device.
Squire said that thousands of players will eventually be able to connect to the always-on sandbox city at any given time and drive around with GTA-style mayhem, crashing into each other or fleeing the police. The company has integrated Genvid’s technology for interactive livestreams into the open-source Godot game engine, enabling the developer to host Twitch and YouTube streams where viewers can interact with the city from a god-like view. It looks like a traffic map. The idea is that the game may be able to monetize not only the players but the spectators as well.
Retroit will also have a 24-hour interactive livestream, where viewers watching the action can impact the game in real time. Players can cycle through the CCTV cameras and helicopter cameras throughout the city. Then they can choose to drop objects into the game. The game is a connected title that runs in servers in the cloud. Spectators only see the action from a fixed camera view, but they can switch cameras.
“You can watch from your desktop, so the opportunity is allowing these different entry points for people to interact with the world to give to get that critical mass,” Squire said.
“What we have at the moment is a mobile experience where hundreds of users, concurrent users, can jump into the world at the same time,” Squire said. “Our district map is almost like a Google map of the city. You can see these little dots moving around the city in real-time.”
In a demo, Squire jumped into a gang vehicle, while chief product officer Paul Kurowski joined as a police officer. Kurowski was able to chase after Squire using radar. In a separate demo with Genvid, I was able to drop soccer balls and piñatas into the intersections.
You’ll be able to fix your vehicle, get speed boosts, and use the various buildings in some way. The environment will be destructible, and some players will be able to repair the environment.
Squire said the team consists of former console and mobile veterans with decades of experience on franchises such as GTA and Angry Birds.
Kurowski worked on GTA in its early days. And so this game won’t be just a driving-mayhem sim in the long run. It will be a persistent world, where players pick jobs such as racers or police officers. The police have to arrest the racers, while the racers have to reach various checkpoints.
“Our first, our first and primary goal is just to create an awesome experience and to have these different entry points and have them be fun,” Squire said. “And then when we take that to production, we’ll have this spectator part publicly available as well. The appeal is that all these entry points will be feeding into the exact same world, helping to enable that critical mass behind the game.”
At some point, the game will add new careers like tow trucks or garbage trucks. Players will eventually be able to vote for mayor of the city, and that mayor will be able to set taxes and develop parts of the burg. Right now, the game is pretty small, taking up half a square kilometer with hundreds of concurrent users. Eventually, Black Block hopes to make the city as much as 100 times bigger.
The team has been working on the game since the start of 2019. The team has five people, and the company is raising a round of funding.
“We’ll get to a stage in about between a year and a half or two years’ time, where this will be a sort of globally available experience,” Squire said. “Since we’re building out this ecosystem of jobs, really the game is about communities. So we want people to have all these different entry points for earning money and creating relationships with each environment.”