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Velan Studios and Mattel unveiled Hot Wheels: Rift Rally, a new mixed-reality racing experience coming to your living room.
You play the game by using a game controller or iPhone screen to control the car, and then you see the game via the screens of your Apple’s iOS device or Sony’s PlayStation consoles.
The game debuts on March 14 and I got a hands-on demo of it from the team at Velan Studios. It reminds me of the old toys-to-life games like Skylanders, which Velan’s founders worked on in a prior company, as well as the more recent Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit game that Velan worked on with Nintendo. And it lets you drive around your living room in a mixed-reality experience.
“We really felt like there was more to do,” with digital-physical gaming, said Dave Pokress, chief marketing officer at Velan Studios, in an interview with GamesBeat. “There was some unfinished business that we wanted to explore with this technology. We want to explore new fantasies. That’s where Hot Wheels: Rift Rally comes in. It’s a new fantasy about getting behind the wheel of your favorite Hot Wheels car.”
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Hot Wheels: Rift Rally has the quality of a triple-A racing game which you can view on an iPhone or a big screen for a PS4 or PS5. And Velan combined that with its patented RC mixed reality tech that lets you drive around a toy car with a big camera on it. That camera transports the video back to your console and it gets blended into 3D gaming imagery that looks much better than the toy and its view itself.
While the toy car maneuvers around your living room or kitchen in a relatively mundane way, you see one of any number of Hot Wheels race cars in an over-the-top racing experience, burning up the track, doing jumps, spinning in circles, drifting or performing stunts as appears on the screen where you’re watching the game. It’s available for preorder now.
“Our mission at Velan has always been to create breakthrough games that feel magical to players,” said Karthik Bala, CEO at Velan Studios, in a statement. “Our background combining digital and physical play taught us a lot about the mixed reality racing genre we invented, which we used to bring a transformational new experience to Hot Wheels: Rift Rally.”
The base unit is a Chameleon RC car with a big 1080p camera sticking out of its roof. It provides a third-person view that makes the game immersive.
Hot Wheels: Rift Rally puts players behind the wheel of their favorite Hot Wheels vehicles using the Chameleon RC car, which can digitally transform into more than 140 vehicle variations, including seven different Bone Shakers. This includes iconic Hot Wheels such as Twin Mill, Bone Shaker, Mach Speeder, Gotta Go, and more fan-favorites; as well as several Rift Rally original vehicles. There are 22 cars at launch, and you can see what they look like as you scroll through cars on the screen.
Hot Wheels is a perfect brand for the game as it’s the center of car culture and stunt racing, Pokress said.
“We’ve all as kids really fantasized what it would be like to be able to shrink down and get inside my little Hot Wheels car and drive around in it,” said Dan Doptis, game director, in an interview. “The Chameleon really represents the RC car that has the ability to be all of the ones around it. So it’s a piece of technology, the car of the future. It has the ability to adapt itself and simulate other cars.”
In Hot Wheels: Rift Rally, players have two ways to play. In campaign mode, players set up Rift Gates to create the ultimate mixed reality track and explore different challenge maps where there are multiple challenges to complete and races to race. In Stunt mode, players drive and stunt the Chameleon without gates as they chain together drifts, wheelies, and burnouts to hit high scores and earn rewards.
“It turns your whole house into a playground and through this stunt mode, you can have a lot of fun just experiencing the joy of driving,” Doptis said. “We also have different radio stations or music playlists that you can choose to kind of fit the mood. My dog loves to chase the car around.”
“Hot Wheels: Rift Rally unlocks an exciting new kind of creative play for Hot Wheels fans by bridging physical and digital play in a way we’ve never seen before,” said Chris Down, chief design officer at Mattel, in a statement.
You can customize the look and performance of cars to bring your flair to the game. In-game performance customizations translate into real-world Chameleon behavior — for instance, increasing acceleration performance means the Chameleon accelerates faster across the living room.
“If you have a higher top speed, the car is going to move faster. If your brakes are better, the car is going to stop quicker,” Doptis said.
Players can play solo or by connecting multiple Chameleons on separate devices with cross-platform play. Players can also play co-op with friends on PlayStation using a single Chameleon, where action hands off to different controllers.
“A lot of the mechanics in our game run off of what we call Rift energy. Rift energy is what allows you to do things like boost,” Doptis said. “You gain it by doing drifting and burnouts or drafting off other cars, and then you use it to do stunts and boosts.”
In the demo, I quickly saw that the car driving around your floor doesn’t do exactly what the car on your screen does. The screen car’s movements are exaggerated, but the car’s location on the track is pretty accurately transferred over. The RC car doesn’t do things like burn rubber, as the car on the screen does, or jump as it goes under a gate as the screen car does.
“It’s a digital transformation,” said Pokress.
Doptis added, “You can always think of the Chameleon like it’s able to generate like The Matrix in your world. It is able to augment your world or become different cars digitally. When we do things like burnouts, we can get a full view of the car so we can do things like donuts now. The car is just sitting there in the real world. But through the lens of the game, you’re getting that fantasy of doing the burnout. We’ve added a layer of gameplay on the world.”
It wasn’t so hard to drive the car with a controller or iPhone while looking at the screen, rather than the car. You can perform 20 different stunts with eight different styles of driving. The car can connect to your home Wi-Fi to make video transfer easier.
“That thing is a console on wheels,” Doptis said. “There’s a lot going on inside it.”
Velan also made some of its own cars that it refers to as hobbyist cars in digital form.
One of the brilliant things about this whole idea, in my mind, is that it gets away from the problem of physical inventory inflation. That’s what killed Activision’s Skylanders, Disney Infinity and Warner Bros.’ Lego Dimensions. They made so many versions of the toys that retailers could sell. At first, that was great as the kids collected them all. But as the toys multiplied, the retailers didn’t know which ones to keep in stock and it was easy to get into an excess inventory situation that proved to be very costly.
With this design, Mattel only sells one or two cars at retail, and you customize everything through digital versions. That’s much easier to manage, Pokress said.
“Velan Studios’ innovative game design and technology introduces a breakthrough play experience for Hot Wheels fans by transforming their home into the ultimate Hot Wheels track for their digital car collection,” said Mike DeLaet, global head of digital gaming at Mattel, in a statement.
Hot Wheels: Rift Rally will launch on the App Store for iOS and PlayStation Store on March 14, 2023. Players can now pre-order the Standard Edition for $130 or the Collector’s Edition for $150 at www.riftrally.com and coming soon to GameStop.
Included with the purchase are the Chameleon RC car, four Rift Gates for track building and a charging cable. Game software will be free to download. The Collector’s Edition includes a special edition Chameleon with black deco and gold accents and a limited edition McLaren Senna Hot Wheels die-cast car in a display case. The batteries last about two hours, and it takes two or three hours to charge.
It’s another innovative title from Velan Studios, which was founded in Troy, New York, in 2016 by industry veterans Guha and Karthik Bala to focus on magical games. In the past two years, Velan’s team of veteran game makers released Knockout City and Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit. The Bala brothers started Vicarious Visions in a basement while they were in high school. They became part of Activision and for decades worked on titles like Guitar Hero and Skylanders.
“A lot of what makes us different as a studio has always been pushing the limits of digital and physical play,” said Pokress. “Innovation and coming up with new ways to play is always a challenge that we give ourselves. And we think there’s something really special about physical and digital.”
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