PS3 Episodic Comedy ‘Rat Race’ Comes Back From The Dead
It’s not often that a game comes back from being canceled, but it looks like that’s exactly what’s happened for the episodic comedy game “Rat Race.” The game, which was announced in late 2007, quietly faded into obscurity when the president of Sony’s Worldwide Studios, Shuhei Yoshida, was quoted as saying it was canceled at last year’s E3. However, “Rat Race,” which is being developed by Super-Ego Games, may be about to come back to life. Last week I spoke with Bo Lasater, one of Super-Ego’s co-founders, and asked him whether or not “Rat Race” was dead, and he responded with, “Is Rat Race dead? No, it is not dead. Is it 100% alive? Maybe the patient is coming out of a coma.”
So, if one of Sony’s studio presidents declares your game dead, and you say it’s just in a coma… where do things really stand? In terms of “Rat Race”’s future, things look pretty good, so much so that the first episode of the game could come out next week. But it won’t. Aside from being in the queue at Sony for certification, the game technically has no has yet to announce a new publisher to release it (”Rat Race” does in fact have a publisher), since it’s no longer a first party Sony title.
As you can see, a few things have changed since the game was originally announced back in November of 2007, but some things haven’t changed at all. “Rat Race” is still an office based, sitcom inspired, episodic game, where you need to survive the ins and outs of daily cubicle warfare. If you can climb the ranks at BigCo, you’ll live to get a paycheck another day. To really understand just how much of the game has changed since its inception you need to go back as far as 2006.
Lasater described “Rat Race”’s original prototype to me as “a PC demo that was playable with a Sony controller, and I viewed it as a social strategy game. Instead of going into combat with swords and armor you have to go in using your verbal wits.” It was this version of the game that initially made the rounds, and even had a temporary home at Atari, until Atari started to financially implode. However, it was at Atari where “Rat Race” grew into its’ current state as an interactive sitcom. Once Super-Ego left Atari, they turned to Sony, where, Lasater told me, “we were trying to make it a little more console oriented, with some adventure game elements.” Unfortunately, as Super-Ego worked on the game for Sony for a good chunk of 2006, and all of 2007, the unstable finances of their investor took their toll, and by 2008, they found themselves in a breach of contract with Sony. It was at this point that “Rat Race” was pronounced canceled by Shuhei Yoshida. However, Super-Ego still had a solidly developed product which they have since shopped around, and been in talks with a yet to be announced third party publisher, who should be helping them get the game onto the PSN within in the next few months.
When the game was initially announced the press releases, and ensuing news stories, touted sitcom quality humor, from a talented staff, but little about the actual gameplay was discussed. A lot of the gamer response on blogs and forums said the initial videos from “Rat Race” reminded them of “The Sims,” and quickly wrote the game off. However, Lasater clarified, “It’s ‘Sims’ like in that the theme is ‘Sims’ like; it’s everyday non-fantastic, but that’s about where it stops. It’s really almost like ‘Ratchet and Clank’ – it’s that style of camera. It’s not really a platformer, but you’re kinda running around like that. There’s no point and click.” He went on to say, “A lot of it’s about relationship building – the more people like you, the more likely they are to help you get ahead.” While it’s not exactly the same as the original prototype version, or even the same as the version Sony was behind, the final build of “Rat Race” that gamers should see in the next couple of months is both console friendly, and accessible, but most importantly, it’s still funny.
Super-Ego’s co-founder made it clear that the game was “easy to learn,” and “about character and story,” noting that it’s “mostly about talking to people, figuring out how to get ahead in an organization.” He also reassured me that there was definitely replay value, and suggested that “the average user will play it twice,” because “if you complete the game in a standard way, you’ll see 50 – 60 % of all the lines of the game.” As an added bonus, he said that “there are some mini games – 9 or 10 in the first episode.” He also gave me a quick preview of the first two episodes, saying that in episode one there’s a doll that tries to kill you and a crazy monkey, and episode two has an obnoxious movie star that hits on the boss’s daughter.
I wasn’t able to procure an exact launch date or pricing for “Rat Race,” as I was told that the game is currently at the will of Sony’s certification process, and they were still tossing around ideas for prices ranging from $5 to $9.95 per episode, with nothing finalized at this point. Lasater also pointed out that each episode should offer completionists three to three and a half hours to get through, and fans of the game should expect a new episode every month or two. The whole season of “Rat Race” is presently slotted to run six episodes, which was scaled back from originally eight, but, again, user response could warrant change.
In addition to all the other changes that the game has seen, I was also told that since “Rat Race” is no longer a Sony first party title, it could see release on other consoles (a PC release has always been planned) with the Xbox 360 being the easiest port, citing that it would only take one to two man-months to complete. Lasater told me that, “Some people inside Microsoft know about ‘Rat Race’ and like it.” However, there doesn’t appear to be any immediate plans for the game on the system. He also didn’t write off the idea of bringing the game to the Wii, but said that it would be much more difficult, given the restrictions of the console – particularly the size aspect, since “Rat Race” is a sizable download.
In the end, Lasater sounded hopeful, amid a common developer complaint about how developing for the PS3 in the early days was extremely difficult he said, “I just hope ‘Rat Race’ gets out there, and has its moment in the sun, where it can be at least picked apart and discussed. It’s worthy. It’s coherent. It’s a pretty good little game.”
With the first two episodes of “Rat Race” finished (pending revisions), and submitted to Sony, and solid progress made on episodes three and four Super-Ego has already started to look towards the future and have started developing their next game, what Lasater referred to as a flash-based “Ancient Future MMO.” More news on that to come. In the meantime, keep an eye out for “Rat Race” to hit Sony’s PSN sooner rather than never.