Crazy Taxi – Nice Games Interview

Among games that feature automobiles, Crazy Taxi (Arcade, Dreamcast) offers a brand new take on the genre with its fresh game-play and radical design sense. Where exactly did the idea for Crazy Taxi come from?

Crazy Taxi (1)
©SEGA
Luc Besson and I had the same idea. (laughs)

– I feel like Crazy Taxi is completely unlike any game we’ve ever seen before. How did the project come about?

Kenji: Around when we started development the only games that were using cars in any meaningful way were all racing games, so we started to think of other fun ways they could be implemented. We thought about what we could be done if we made something in the vein of, for example, the kind of high-octane, action-packed car scenes where people tear through the streets in Hollywood action flicks? That was our starting point.

– Did you have a pretty good idea of how the game would play from the very beginning?

We took our time ironing out the rules and subject material. The idea to make the car a taxi came from when I was chatting with my team and one of the staff said “Wouldn’t it fun to hop in a taxi and just get flung around town?” The idea really stuck with me, and after we went through all of our ideas and separated the wheat from the chaff we decided to run with the taxi idea.

– A movie called TAXi came out at around the same time. Did it influence your work at all?

Not even a little bit. Development was already pretty far along by the time we had first heard about it and we were actually kind of worried that people might think we were ripping it off. I would appreciate it if people could think that Luc Besson and I just happened to have the same idea. (laughs)

– Were there any car action movies that you looked to for inspiration?

No, nothing in particular. I’ve been a movie buff my whole life, so if I were to mention a classic I would have to say that The French Connection had car chase scenes that hold up extremely well. I still remember all the car chases from old movies that I’ve seen, and I draw from that well of experiences for inspiration. I take things that left an impression and present them in my own way, so it’s not like I’m directly copying anything from anywhere.

“Stopping” is key to the formula.

– When you get right down to it, what’s the basic concept behind Crazy Taxi?

The basic concept we were trying to run with was to let the players cut loose as they blast through town, and making that experience exhilarating. Achieving that was our top priority. However, we also worked to create something that could stand on its own as a game. We wanted to make something that could be enjoyed by car lovers and casual players, as well as people who have been into games for a long time, and I feel like we put significant effort into emphasizing its depth as a video game.

– I thought it was unusual that there was no speedometer, and no gears except for drive and reverse. Was that all part of the plan?

Yeah. Even if you’re not switching gears all of the time – I mean, shifting between gears can be fun and all – but even if you’re not, there are other ways you can be having fun. We wanted to focus on how fun it is to weave in and out of heavy traffic, so we simplified other elements and focused more on the fun to be had transitioning between drive and reverse. The single biggest addition we made to the formula is probably that “stopping” is key.

– There certainly aren’t many games where stopping and backing up are crucial parts of doing well.

This is probably the first game where stopping is crucial as an iron-clad rule. As a creator, I feel like we were able to make something that feels pretty fresh.

– Techniques such as drifting and dashing are pretty difficult to make good use of. How did you balance elements like those?

We didn’t “balance” things per se, but it was more like… in addition to the “basic concept” of the game that I mentioned earlier, making a game that let you tear through the streets in awesome ways is something we were aiming for from the beginning. I had instructed the team to make something where anybody could recreate the kind of exhilarating driving that pros pull off in car action movies. So, in Crazy Taxi, anybody can pull off a drift, but knowing how and when to use it is something that hinges entirely on the player’s skill, which is how we wanted to bring out its depth as a video game. Drifting in certain situations comes with its own advantages and disadvantages, and Crazy Taxi turned out the way it did because I think that’s where a lot of the fun to be had in this game comes from.

Crazy Taxi (2)
©SEGA
A kind of “coolness” that is unique to Hitmaker

– Crazy Taxi has a very cheerful way about it. Where does that come from?

Our cheerful staff, I suppose. (laughs) I don’t know, honestly. It was probably only possible because it was made by Hitmaker. (laughs)

– I got the same kind of vibe from your previous title, Top Skater, as well.

It’s difficult to reach any kind of consensus about what a word as abstract as “cool” even means. It was the same with Top Skater, but the final product is the result of an incredible amount of trial and error.

I think lots of people have different ideas about what “coolness” is, too. Some people think Brad Pitt is cool while others may prefer more of a Nicholas Cage, and I think that’s because there’s more than one way to be “cool.” I can’t put it into words, but it was basically a process that involved multiple discussions, lots of design work, and the endless repetition trial and error. The only way I can describe it is by saying it that it was only possible because of this particular team – a kind of “coolness” that is unique to Hitmaker.

– So the overall design was the culmination of group discussions, and not the vision of any particular designer or director?

Well, I mean, I do offer instruction as to the general direction I would like for things to progress in. In our case, the people who draw characters are totally different from those who draw backgrounds, so it’s up to people like the chief designer or myself to give it all a sense of cohesiveness. That’s when the conversation starts to turn towards those abstract words we mentioned earlier, though. Anyway, I think this is the kind of game that only could have been made by Hitmaker.

– The customers you pick up emote in ways that are pretty out there, huh? There are sometimes even pregnant woman that hop in, which I question the safety of.

It’d probably be pretty bad news if this were real life, wouldn’t it. (laughs) Among games that have cars as their primary motif, I feel like this may be the first one to have people feature so prominently. We tried to insert something players could identify with–a little bit of human warmth–into the formula. We did our best to improve those aspects as well, so that customers would run the gamut from normal to more peculiar.

– Which is why the driver’s personalities are placed front and center by making the cars convertibles, then?

That’s right. It may seem kind of haphazardly thrown together, but we actually put a lot of thought into it. (laughs)

Ingenuity through repeated trial and error.

– How did you go about designing the large map in the Dreamcast version?

Well, the design philosophy we placed foremost when we started working on the arcade version was to make a map that felt big and gave players a sense of freedom. We tried to prevent the player from ever feeling like they’ve lost their way by making the course opal-shaped with wide roads. But with the home console version, it’s now possible for people to enjoy the game over extended periods of time, right? With that in mind, we tried to introduce the “excitement of getting lost.” We had wanted to make a course that would keep players thinking about which route is fastest, or how there are different ways to reach destinations that they’ve always taken the same path to get to. We wanted players to get together with their friends to think about new approaches and compete to find better ones, and the map we made had that concept at its core.

– In the Dreamcast version, you can use the Crazy Dash technique to leap over certain buildings. Were the locations where that can be done meticulously planned out?

Absolutely–we gave it a lot of thought. Racing games are usually about the sensation of cruising through a fairly flat course, right? You usually just worry about moving left or right. If it’s an off-road racing game or something like that you’re obviously going to have a certain degree of verticality, but you’re basically just atop a flat, 2D plane most of the time. We thought about whether or not it was possible to mix it up, and decided to challenge ourselves by trying to make a more three-dimensional kind of course.

– Programming-wise, how exactly does a map that large even get processed?

I wonder if it’s all right to talk about that… It just sort of flows. (laughs) I can’t really say any more than that.

– Were there any challenges you faced while making the arcade version?

There were a couple dilemmas, I suppose. It was our first time using that particular arcade board so it took us a long time to establish a stable working environment, and we were unable to create content at the pace we would have wanted to. Just like we did with Top Skater–just like we do every time–we wanted to create something that is new, plays by its own rules, and is an entirely fresh experience, so we went through plenty of trial and error. Well, that itself is part of the fun of being on the development side, just as is seeing the reactions of customers after the game has been released, but the creative thinking part of the process can be quite trying sometimes.

– Is your next game going to be an arcade title?

Well, that has more to do with Hitmaker’s overall strategy as a company, so I can’t really go into any specific detail. However, what I can say is that our top priority is to create games that everyone can enjoy. Also, the Dreamcast version of Crazy Taxi was only possible because of all the reactions we received from fans who said they wanted to play the game at home as well, and whenever there’s a time where our fans say there’s something that they want, we do everything we possibly can to make that a reality. And when doing so, I always try to think about ways we can spice up the formula and bring new ideas into the mix.

– Do you have any parting words for our readers?

We plan to keep making games that we’re sure you’ll enjoy, so please keep your eyes on us!