The idea behind Soapbox is as simple as it is brilliant: you start at the top of a ramp in a soapbox and roll automatically down. Because gravity does its job, no motor or other drive is involved. “I have therefore replaced the button to accelerate for a button with which you throw your arms up,” Geurts explains.
Gamer.nl: A soapbox race, that’s a unique idea for a game! How did you come up with that?
Yannic Geurts: I have had a fascination for racing games from an early age. Between 2016 and 2018 I worked on ‘Blacktop’, which was to become a kind of spiritual successor to the Driver franchise. I had a gigantic map in my mind, story missions, cool AI for the police … but it was way too ambitious to ever finish. Making games is a hobby for me, but of course every developer wants to release a game at some point. So I needed a new idea that was easier to implement. Preferably with car physics, because I already had that ready.
In 2018 I went to watch a soapbox race with an English friend. I had never seen that with my own eyes. The track went straight down, zigzagging around two green crush barriers. The soap boxes were really cute: kids were in soap boxes inspired by Formula 1, a police soap box, a tank soap box, even a click soap box! Two teenagers sat with their caps on their heads backwards in a soap box that was way too high on its wheels. Of course they fell over, but that resulted in wild cheers from the audience (and from myself). Then I knew: my small, fun, easy-to-play game was going to be a soapbox racer.
Do you happen to be a big fan of the old TROS show Te Land, Ter Zee and in de Lucht ?
Oh, absolutely! If that was on television, you could almost be sure we were watching! It’s a shame they stopped doing that. It really was a piece of culture: nice building and tinkering things and with that, drifting off a job.
What makes a soapbox racing game so different from a regular racing game?
The great thing about gravity racing is that it is a very pure form of racing. It’s not so much about who can accelerate the fastest, but more about who loses as little speed as possible along the way. Whoever knows how to race the best line and keep his momentum as good as possible wins.
It also puts much more emphasis on the physics aspect of to race. For example, Mario Kart barely uses physics: you steer and your car goes through a corner at an X angle per Y speed as standard. In Soapbox I leave that much more to the natural forces that act on the soapbox. In my opinion, that gives a much freer driving feeling.
The nice thing about gravity racing is that it is a very pure form of racing. It’s not so much about who can accelerate the fastest, but more about who loses as little speed as possible along the way.
In Soapbox you emphasize split-screen multiplayer. Why exactly?
I have always loved splitscreen gaming. I always find gaming together (or against each other) in the same room much more fun than online. But the choice not to go for online multiplayer has more to do with the fact that I only develop the game with a budget of practically 2 euros and a thumbs up. The development of online multiplayer is not only very challenging, but servers also cost a lot of money. Soapkist’s income will go first in the development of the game and second in keeping myself alive. Everything I have left after that is nice, but probably not enough to keep servers running for years.
Another important element of Soapbox is the track editor?
I personally always really like it when you can customize games to your own liking. If you can make or build things yourself and thus make the game a bit ‘your own’. Minecraft is a great example of this: you play in ‘your world’ with ‘your base’. The same goes for racing games. In Lego Stunt Rally, the story mode is not that much, and most of the gameplay is in building your own levels and racing your own levels with your friends. It also allows for a practically infinite amount of content. If you can create levels yourself, you never have to worry that you will find the levels boring.
In Soap Box the track editor is ‘grid-based’ . This means that all blocks are made to fit in a square grid, and thus always fit well together. You can also place blocks higher and lower and turn. To give you extra freedom I added the option to resize the grid or even turn it off completely. For example, players are completely free to place blocks how and where they want, even though that sometimes means that blocks no longer fit perfectly together. In addition, you can color almost any part of each block with the paintbrush tool. Finally, there is a tree gun, with which you can shoot seeds to place trees and tulips. I also want to eventually add rocks and other natural elements. I already have a lot of plans for more content during the Early Access period.
You can save and share your custom levels with friends. That’s still a bit cumbersome for now, so I want to look into Steam Workshop integration ASAP. That would suit Soapbox perfectly!
You develop Soapbox on your own and you indicated that you have been working on the development for some time. What does your career look like so far?
I describe myself often as a ‘jack-of-all-trades, master of none’. I like making things, artwork or DIY projects, and games like that. Over the years I have picked up skills here and there and you can see that in this solo adventure. I do both the art and the programming, because I can do both and find both extremely interesting. The downside is that I’m not really an expert in anything. There are always art developers or programmers who really specialize in their profession, and then also create things that go far beyond what I can shake up my sleeve.
I played a lot of racing and building games as a child (e.g. Driver, Lego Racers, Need for Speed, Rollercoaster Tycoon and Sim City), and learned in 2008 Knowing Roblox. It’s a simplified game engine – everything consists of some kind of Lego-like blocks – and it gives you total freedom to build all kinds of crazy things. You can even program in it. Roblox is a perfect springboard to ‘real’ game development. My switch from Roblox to Unity went fairly smoothly.
I always intended to take a game education, but instead I immersed myself in Roblox in addition to my high school and MBO education , Unity, Blender, Programming and Making Games. When I finished my MBO education I could have followed a game education, but they often say that such a piece of paper in the form of a diploma is not worth much in the game industry. I therefore decided to go to a film school in Brussels.
And during that training you started the development of Soap Box?
Especially in the last year of film school I struggled a lot with the long hours and the lack of free time that is standard in filming. Overtime is encouraged at every level. By the beginning of 2020 I had worked myself into a half burnout, and exactly then the corona virus broke out. Soapbox was already a hobby project that ran for a year and a half. In 2018 I started getting the soapbox running myself, fixing the game logic and adding a level editor, and from there it started to look more and more like the game it is today. During the lockdown, I decided to give my game development career a chance and finish Soapbox.
What’s the benefit of developing games on your own?
You have tremendous control over your vision – you don’t need to consult with team members. The disadvantage is that it takes much longer. Many hands make light work, and I only have two hands that I use to develop the entire game. You also need to know where your skills lie. You should avoid things that you cannot do as much as possible and apply things that you are good at as much as possible. For example, I can’t create photo-realistic game art, so my games rely on a low-poly experience with simple textures. On the other hand, I have a lot of experience programming physics in Unity, so my games do a lot with physics.
In the press release of Soepkist, the ‘Dutch atmosphere ‘. How do you see them coming back in Soapbox – besides the soapbox races of course?
Culturally, much of the Western world is lagging behind the trends that are taking place in America. Many games take place in US or other English-speaking locations. That is logical, since that is where the largest sales market is located. Still, I think it’s a shame. Why is Cyberpunk 2077 set in an American city when the developer is Polish? Why isn’t a Watch Dogs set in Paris or Montreal? I always like it a lot more when games come out from developers who honor their own local culture. This also makes the range of culture and experiences more diverse.
Soapkist takes the Dutch culture as a benchmark. Soap boxes and hats are often inspired by typically Dutch things. The street furniture, lampposts, signs and architecture are Dutch. The paving stones are based on patterns and tiles that you simply see on the street in the Netherlands. Even the traffic light at the start of each level is Dutch, with a classic white and blue pole hanging it from! I just get my inspiration around the corner. Because we encounter so few Dutch elements in games, you immediately get an enormous Dutch feeling when you see Soapkist.
I always like it a lot more when games come out from developers who honor their own local culture. That also makes the range of culture and experiences more diverse.
How will you support Soapbox during and after the Early Access period?
I have in my head a list of things that I would really like to add to Soapbox, but that I really need a good budget for first. Think of an online multiplayer and aw ebsite where you can share tracks and view leaderboards. Those are things I would really like to do, but which I absolutely cannot promise yet. I would rather make something small but nice than try all kinds of things beyond my control.
There is also a list of things that I can implement just fine myself without too much effort, and which I want to add before the full release of the game. Think of a replay system and Steam Workshop integration. Bug fixes and additional content are also covered. There are now about one hundred and thirty unique track pieces in the game, but I want to expand that considerably. Extra track pieces, cool scenery, crazy supports, tubes, water slides, walls, fences: you name it!
And the future of Steelpan, or your career?
If I earn enough to provide myself with a salary while on Soapbox ( and possibly a next game) work, then my goal is reached and then I am very happy! Everything Soapkist earns above that is a bonus and offers opportunities for more and larger projects in the future. I definitely want to make more games after Soapbox, and I am not short of new ideas. For example, I would really like to give Blacktop another try, with a real team so that the game can be finished. I would also love to send the LEGO Group an email and ask them to make Lego Racers 3 with me. Or how about Big Auto Theft: Rotterdam? I’ll just name something!
Maybe Steelpan Interactive will be the Dutch game studio twenty years from now, or maybe twenty years from now it will still be just me playing a game now and then. releases. I would both be perfectly fine. As long as I can keep game development as a full-time job and live on it, I am completely happy!
Soap Box is now available through Steam Early Access.