The average person wouldn’t think of rally as a “safe” sport. Souped-up street-legal cars hurtling down treacherous roads, often without knowing what exactly lies ahead — it’s a sport rife with crashes and rollovers. In the past 15 years, two co-drivers and one spectator have died during the World Rally Championship. But Art of Rally isn’t about the last 15 years. Those years were rally’s “safe” years… at least relatively speaking.
Rather, the game is a throwback to what’s considered the “golden era of rally” — specifically, a class of rally car known as “Group B.”
“Group B was a time period that was just wild. There were not many restrictions on the types of cars you could build,” said Art of Rally’s developer, Dune Casu. “So people just went crazy, making very dangerous cars to drive.”
Group B came to prominence in the ‘80s and grew extremely popular. But by the end of the decade, Group B was dissolved and disappeared. It turned out that limitations exist for a reason.
“Tons of drivers were dying and crashing,” Casu said. “The crowds were crazy too. They would just all crowd up to the roads and just jump out of the way when the cars came.”
Art of Rally doesn’t actually recreate any of the cars that stole the stage during Group B’s day in the limelight — Casu doesn’t have the license for any of those designs. He did note, however, that the cars’ “silhouettes are very recognizable.”
Besides the silhouettes, the game really gets across the feeling of sheer power these vehicles presented. When choosing one of the Group B cars, you get the strong feeling that you have no business careening down winding country roads with that much horsepower. If you’re not precise with the accelerator and steering, you’ll prove yourself right pretty quickly as you miss a hairpin turn and fly off the road into a forest, a ditch, or a nearby farm.
Success requires finding the fine line between recklessness and caution that keeps you in control as you weave your way through the hazardous tracks. It’s a feeling of barely holding on that’s pretty much defined Casu’s professional career — all the way back to when he entered the 2014 Global Game Jam while still in college.
During that jam, Casu spent 48 hours creating a prototype for the racing game Absolute Drift — a game entirely focused on maintaining control while losing traction and skidding around a racetrack.
It wasn’t the first game jam he’d ever done; just a few months earlier he had created the game The Black Lighthouse for Ludum Dare 28. But this time, he realized he was onto something.
“I was just having so much fun,” Casu said. “It was the funnest project that I’d ever worked on.”
Casu was set to graduate that year, so he had an idea: create a full version of Absolute Drift, release it independently, and see whether it’d be feasible to make a living off of the game.
“I had pretty low expectations,” Casu said. “I was just hoping to make more than I would as a game programmer.”
For most indie developers, even that modest goal is a bit of a long shot. But it turned out that the original premise and tongue-in-cheek sense of humor were just the sort of product to gain the attention of an important audience: YouTubers.
“I think YouTube completely saved the game,” said Casu. “It exposed it to a lot of people.”
Big names like JackSepticEye and Markiplier introduced his game to a wide audience, and racing-focused YouTubers such as AR12Gaming and SLAPTrain showed it off to a niche that was more than receptive to the original take on the genre.
The game sold in the hundreds of thousands on PC alone, on top of the ports made for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and mobile phones. Those aren’t necessarily chart-topping numbers, but when you’re a game’s sole creator, selling it for $12 a pop — it adds up.
“It was just surreal,” Casu said. “It was a pretty lucky time to launch.”
Before the game was even released, however, Casu knew he wanted to do a rally game next. Even while working on the game jam version, he had been watching clips of rallies and wanting to capture that kind of experience in a game. He started prototyping it while working on the Absolute Drift console ports, though it wasn’t until 2017 that he fully started developing it.
The goal was to take what worked in Absolute Drift, refine the controls, and make a bigger, better, and more powerful experience.
“The cars can probably go about three times as fast as the fastest cars in Absolute Drift,” Casu said “The game’s just way bigger. Way more cars. Way more levels. Way more game modes and challenges. I think it’s just Absolute Drift, but like 10 times as big.”
Art of Rally is big in a way that fits with how Group B used to be big: unrestrained, reckless, and, frankly, a bit of a risk. But risks are what make rally fun, after all.
“I just really enjoyed making the game,” said Casu. “I hope it hits a chord with some people.”
Stay tuned for Art of Rally when it releases later this year on PC.