At E3 it’s the bigger games, the ones with the $500 million budgets and recognisable characters, that attract the longest lines and the most fanfare. But there’s a real thrill to digging through the floor and excavating the smaller gems, the weird little titles that aren’t being advertised outside the halls or shouted about from the convention centre’s rooftop. Roundabout is one such title: it didn’t immediately stand out, and, in all honesty, I only started playing it because it was the only free machine in that section of the Microsoft booth at the time. But once I had spent a few minutes with the game, enough for its mechanics and ambitions to click for me, excitement blossomed. It plays like the Game Boy Advance curio Kuru Kuru Kuririn meets Crazy Taxi – you’re guiding a constantly rotating limousine through an open world, collecting fares and watching a bunch of weird, intentionally exaggerated live action cutscenes. It’s tricky, weird and a bit wonderful.
Dan Teasdale, the eager developer standing next to the demo unit, makes up half the No Goblin team (the other member, interestingly enough, seems to prefer anonymous beyond her pseudonym, Panzer). Teasdale’s last gig was at Twisted Pixel, and the influence is clear – Roundabout’s overwrought 70s cinema aesthetic is heavily reminiscent of The Gunstringer’s first round of DLC, the brilliant Wavy Tube Man Chronicles FMV game. “We had a bunch of different ideas we wanted to try to get into a game”, he told me. “We had the spinning from Kuru Kuru Kuririn, we had stuff like Tony Hawk for scoring…then we had the things we had worked on previously. We pulled in the things we liked while working on those games. It’s a little bit of a reflection of where we came from, and all the things we like in games, in a crazy open world spinning simulator.”
For the first few minutes I repeatedly crashed my limo, watching it go up in a low-poly ball of flames, not quite picking up on the engineered quality of the levels. In time, I came to understand that the whole world was designed to be approached with caution and finesse, and that simply hammering the boost button and jumping a lot wasn’t going to be enough. In fact, the game is being tuned with an enthusiast crowd in mind – Teasdale told me that the game would contain a speed running mode, which “turns off FMV and automatically start missions with a dedicated timer that’ll give you an authorised time”. There are power-ups to collect, but the best players will be the ones who come to get a feel for the world and the physics at play.
So far so good, but perhaps the most intriguing thing about Roundabout was the plot being hinted at. By playing through the missions you encounter and watching the weird live-action cut-scenes you learn more about Georgio Manos, the world’s first rotating limousine driver. Set in 1977, the game will contain what Teasdale calls a ‘Behind the Music’ arc: “It has that crazy high, that fall at the end, and a bit of redemption”. All the information released about Georgio is noticeably coy on the character’s gender, but interestingly, Teasdale referred to the character – played by actress Kate Welch – as a ‘he’ as we spoke. Without delving too deeply into what this might or might not mean, it’s entirely possible that Roundabout’s plot will bend the concept of gender in interesting ways – it’s hard to speculate without seeing the final product but a game with a smaller team like this has a better chance of delivering an interesting, undiluted message or thought about this sort of thing.
Roundabout is due before the end of the year. Whether it ends up confounding or delighting, it’ll be worth keeping an eye out for.