Riders Republic – „a place“ where everyone wants to compete and hang out
I was born in 1987 in Kikinda, where I graduated from high school, and then in Novi Sad, I studied computer science at the Faculty of Sciences, University of Novi Sad. I’ve been doing game development on the side for a long time, but I’ve never “upgraded” it into something I actually do as a day job. Around 2013, after a couple of years working on various non-game dev jobs, I came to Belgrade and started getting involved in the indie scene – helping with the organization of Global Game Jams, workshops and meeting many wonderful people who shared their ideas and wanted to hang out and talk about game dev topics. As soon as 2015, I had the opportunity to go to California for PhD studies, where I worked on automated compiler testing, so I abandoned game dev entirely for a couple of years. After I came back, I found a place for myself in the Ubisoft Belgrade studio, on the Riders Republic project, where I still work to this day.
I was initially given the position of Engine developer, where I worked for a year before it became clear to me that I could contribute more in a lead position, which coincided with the needs of the project and I moved to lead a part of the Belgrade Gameplay team of Riders Republic. Riders Republic is actually a game we released last year, a sports game where up to 64 players can compete in races with each other, enjoy different extreme sports and play in several different arenas, mods with smaller teams of people. The focus of the game is on camaraderie and adrenaline, and the game world is made up of a bunch of national parks (including Bryce, Yosemite, Sequoia and Teton among others) merged into one huge map. The lead studio for the game is Ubisoft Annecy, with whom we also worked on Steep, which is the predecessor of the Riders Republic game, which was actually where the idea was born from.
SGA: After Steep reached a cult status within a certain number of players and enough feedback was collected (all of which was in the direction of: “We want a real online experience”), the idea for Riders Republic was born. What have you added to make the gaming experience bigger?
Starting with the name, the focus in Riders Republic is on playing with others, on the fun that comes from having a large number of players on the same mountain. To bring this to life, we needed to come up with solutions that would enable a bunch of people to compete and socialize, which meant we had to design challenges, but also leave room for players to add their own details to it. Of course, this whole socialization thing includes the need to find interesting content on the map, grouping players, emotes, etc. In Steep, all those things were secondary or non-existent because it was conceived as an experience between the person playing and the mountain they are on, and it does that beautifully. In Riders Republic, people can find that experience, but also some completely different, unexpected experiences, friendships and other opportunities.
SGA: In such a big world there are no limits, no loading – how did you achieve this from a technical side?
The disciplines we have, such as cycling, skiing, flying, etc. are mostly linear in themselves: someone moving forward will continue forward by their own inertia or acceleration, and we can prioritize things to render and load accordingly. I think it also helps that the environment came from GPS data, so the nature around is vast and chaotic. However, our engine and rendering teams have certainly put in a lot of work to ensure that players, once they climb the top of Canyonlands, can enjoy the view in all directions. The technologies in these areas are changing quite quickly, and every day there is some new optimization that enables some more wonderful views.
SGA: The environment itself is composed of real locations. Which ones, and how were they chosen? Was there any negotiation procedure, like when athletes or songs are incorporated into a game?
These are mostly the largest American national parks. They were chosen because of the amount of variation in biomes, terrains, climates, altitude and size. They are also perfect as playgrounds for the sports we have in the game, including skiing, snowboarding, biking etc. Additionally, America’s national parks are a dream vacation spot for people around the world, and we wanted to give players the opportunity to visit and discover these locations, and have all the time in the world to explore them. Some of these places are part of the fantasy and culture of our sports, with real events like the Red Bull Rampage in Southern Utah (Zion) for cycling, and Mammoth for skiing.
All that combined with the fact that the past few years have been very limiting for many in terms of tourism makes these places even more magical than they already are, so the choice was easy.
SGA: What does “mass race” look like?
If I wanted to show someone the true charm of Riders Republic in five minutes, I would have them try a mass race – a literal race of about 64 players where everyone is literally pushing for first place in several disciplines. Discipline changes happen in flight, so the game will go from skiing to cycling without a break, and then throw you into flying or gliding. Of course, each of these disciplines improves over time, as does the equipment players have for all of them, all in a world that flies beneath you at breakneck speeds.
SGA: What exactly was the Belgrade part of the Ubisoft team in charge of?
Ubisoft Belgrade had some big mandates for Riders Republic: we were responsible for a very large part of the UI, the entire development of the game for PC and Stadia platforms, as well as the new game mode: Showdown! Among other things, this means that we had the opportunity to work on all parts of the game and from various positions – including, in addition to programmers, level design, level art, game design, UI art and integration and devtest. As a co-dev studio, we tried to take everything that sounded interesting to us and raise the expertise to the highest possible level.
For example, with Showdown, we got the chance to bring an entire game mode into existence, to see it grow from a small demo to a full fledged fun experience. From the side of Ubisoft Annecy, as the lead studio, the collaboration was incredibly well supported – as the more experienced side, they assessed the scope we would choose to work on well, and advised us on many things that we have never had on our plate before.
SGA: When we showed the potential of local expertise, did the type, quantity and size of the requests coming to the studio change?
The potential of our expertise was recognized even before this – we worked with Annecy studio on Steep, and from the beginning of Riders Republic! The type, quantity and size of work was mostly up to us, to choose what we felt we could do within a given time frame. The requirements, of course, come from project management, but everything else is a matter of agreement and how the teams feel about their work. Of course, with trust and building expertise, we will certainly reach larger mandates and, in general, more options, not only on the project but also in the entire studio.
SGA: Are you actively involved in maintaining the game further? What does it consist of?
Yes, we are actively working on new seasons and content, in short – on the further life of the game, refinements and additions that will make the life of the republic more interesting and better for all players. In this sense, maintenance is not very different from starting from scratch, there is a lot of ideation, a lot of still undefined things that are slowly polished and beginning to look like a prototype. This change is extremely welcome because no one likes to work on bugs indefinitely…