Some of my favourite games from the Dreamcast’s heyday were the two Crazy Taxi games, which saw me rattling around faux-American cities to the sounds of The Offspring, trying to drop endlessly demanding passengers off at Pizza Hut.
While the console series has long faded into the background, series creator, Kenji Kanno has been working with Hardlight Studio to give Crazy Taxi a new lease of life on iOS and Android. Following a soft release in Canada, the game is set to arrive in the rest of the world soon, bringing with it a more mobile centric control style, a fresh graphical style and a free to play entry point.
We sat down with Kenji Kanno and translator Teppei Otsuka to put a few questions to him about this new game and where the series is heading.
TSA: There’s still a lot of love for the Crazy Taxi games, but City Rush seems to be quite different to the originals. From your point of view, what have been the biggest changes made to the series?
Kenji Kanno: I don’t think there were really changes, because when I decided to release Crazy Taxi on mobile platforms, it has to be applicable or suitable to the new platforms. So I was prepared to create something new from scratch and therefore don’t think there were really changes.
TSA: The way I understand it is that you’ve taken an element of control out of people’s hands, so you control the lane of travel rather than the car itself. How did you come to decide that this was the best way of controlling the taxi on a mobile device?
Kanno: The basic element of Crazy Taxi is to be able to play the game very casually and simply, so for City Rush we focussed on that element a lot. That resulted in the current control scheme.
Of course, there are people who expected Crazy Taxi to be skilful and to be able to brush up on your driving technique, however, for City Rush, I focussed on those playing casually and simply.
TSA: You already had the iOS release of the original Crazy Taxi, but what lessons did you learn from bringing that game to mobile devices?
Kanno: I can say that Crazy Taxi was loved by so many people, so by bringing the original Crazy Taxi to smartphones, I heard from many people saying, “Oh, I downloaded this game, and it’s fun!” So I realised how much love the game still received from people.
I also found that this was bringing new users to the Crazy Taxi series. For example, my new employees at Sega are in their early 20s, so when the original Crazy Taxi was released they couldn’t really have played it, but now it was possible to bring the new younger generation of players to the series.
TSA: Since City Rush had a soft launch in Canada, back in March, have you made any changes to it off the back of the early responses to the game?
Kanno: The good thing about mobile platforms is that you’re able to respond to the feedback from users, rather than sitting and waiting after you’ve finished developing. You can make changes constantly.
For example, in April, I spent time with the team at Hardlight, and there were many discussions about changes to make. Also in May, I spent time with an operational team in the United States, to discuss the direction as well.
TSA: Yes, and obviously you’ve been working with this new team at Hardlight to develop the game. What was it like trying to get across what you think Crazy Taxi is as a game?
Kanno: Basically, I visited the Hardlight studio a couple of times before the team started working on development, sitting down with the team face to face and talking all day for a whole week. I repeated that process a few times before development started.
I tried to share the kind of feeling I had when I created the original Crazy Taxi, but then exchanged thoughts and ideas with the Hardlight team members about what we can achieve on the smartphone platforms. This kind of collaboration was a good thing, to share our thoughts on Crazy Taxi.
TSA: City Rush is a free to play game, but this type of game is often quite controversial. How deeply does being free to play affect the gameplay, and does it ever stop you from playing the game?
Kanno: We’ll see what the outcome is, by bringing the game to free to play, but it is definitely true that the free to play model will enable more people to play the game and try it out. So from that point of view, it’s very exciting to make the audience bigger.
Some time after the global launch, the Hardlight team and the Sega Networks team will look and see what was good and what was bad and continually work on that feedback.
TSA: Going back to the original game, one of the things that people were disappointed to see disappear in the iOS port were the licensed music and the real world places like Tower Records. Have licensed locations and music made a return for City Rush?
Kanno: All I can say at the moment is that there are four tracks in City Rush that required licensing. Those four tracks were selected by younger team members at Hardlight as what they think will be hot new music from now on, and I think it’s quite exciting for those to appear in the game.
Other than that, stay tuned!
TSA: Finally, what do you think the future holds for Crazy Taxi games in general. Might we see something on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One at some point?
Kanno: I can’t promise anything, but as we speak, I receive more and more requests. So in my mind, the gauge to creating the game on those platforms is increased little by little, and when it’s maxed out it might be released!
TSA: Well you can add another request to the list!
Our thanks to Kenji Kanno for taking the time to speak with us and also to Teppei Otsuka for translating our conversation!