Interviewing indie dev Tim Oxton on his title, Future Racer 2000
If you read my review of Future Racer 2000, you’ll know that I had a lot to say about the indie horror title. In the review, I praised the solo developer on the game’s feeling of tension and the strong atmosphere provided by the dank 80’s apartment building setting. Though I had a few criticisms of the game, I concluded that it was an overall unique and engaging horror experience that fans of cosmic terror would hate to miss.
During my research for the review, I was drawn to solo developer Tim Oxton‘s story. By following faint leads of Oxton’s footsteps online, I was able to discover a deeper rabbit hole of Tim’s development journey and traces of the creative story behind Future Racer 2000 as it was being written. The story of Oxton’s journey as a first-time developer was as intriguing as it was endearing, and I had to know more.
Shortly after the review was published, I got the chance to speak with Tim Oxton personally. After a brief discussion about my review and my criticisms of Future Racer 2000, Oxton agreed to an interview. I knew this was my chance to get future insight on this intriguing developmental journey.
What challenges did you face as a first-time developer?
Oxton: Oh my god, so many challenges. It started in 2020 – I had just been temporarily laid off from my job, and I was stuck in this tiny apartment with my then-girlfriend, who I had literally just moved in with a month before COVID. Things were tense! So, me trying to keep busy and not go crazy, started looking up spooky games. I found a bootleg copy of PT online somewhere and was immediately enamored with it because of how effective it was with so little. For most of the game, it’s just you and an empty hallway.
With literally zero knowledge or experience in game development, I naively thought I could bang out a spooky lil game in a couple of weeks. Well, you don’t know what you don’t know, and as it turns out, there was a lot I didn’t know. You vastly underestimate the time everything is going to take.
Oxton goes on to explain in detail the process of trial and error as he builds assets for the game, emphasizing how he quickly realized he was in over his head.
Oxton: You make so. Many. Mistakes. Because again – you don’t know what you don’t know. You only know that in hindsight you did something wrong.
It’s incredibly overwhelming, at all times. For everything. You need to do the sound, the menus, the artwork, the AI, the testing, the lighting.
Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love it. As someone who grew up playing video games, making my own games and seeing it all come to life is one of the most profound experiences I’ve had.
What were your biggest inspirations when writing Future Racer 2000?
Oxton: Good question! The southern reach trilogy was definitely on my mind – that uncanny weirdness resonated with me. There are a lot of weird little short SCP or Creepypastas that I think are incredibly well-written and vastly underrated which definitely had an effect. Anansi’s Goatman, Psychosis, and honestly, just stories of mental illness.
I have family members with schizophrenia, so I grew up essentially waiting for it to finally happen to me. As a result of that, I read pretty much all I could on it and I think that’s definitely still tumbling around in there.
Has Future Racer 2000’s reception inspired you to work on any more titles? If so, do you think the development of another game would take as long the second time around?
Oxton: I think it’s too soon to tell, to be honest. I’d be lying if I said the reception didn’t matter. It absolutely does. Praise is obviously wonderful to hear – but I also think criticism is so essential to the creative process and often maligned because it can be difficult to hear.
I think there’s this perception that criticism is mean, but if I care about someone, I want them to do well. I want the product of all their labor and love to do well. So to me, appropriately timed constructive criticism is a demonstration of that.
And I think every time I make a game, I learn what works and what doesn’t, how to start a project that can scale as I build upon it, and all that jazz born from the mistakes of the past. Assuming the length stays relatively the same, I assume the next game would most likely be more efficient, if only because of less necessary learning and more execution.
If you did work on another game, would you take it on solo or work with a team?
Oxton: I’m not sure. I love the freedom of solo development but I hate the loneliness and lack of outside input. I’d be crazy to think my opinion is perfect, and some of my best ideas come from kicking around ideas with other people. I think as a solo dev, you miss out on a lot of those moments.
It also relies on someone else wanting to work many many long hours, with no immediate pay, on the assumption that someone will eventually care about the silly little game you’re making together. It’s a tough sell.
Did the inception of Future Racer 2000’s claustrophobic setting come from personal experience?
Oxton: Yes! I studied abroad when I was 21 in the Czech Republic. The program ended up being a total scam and I was left essentially on my own, in a strange, rundown, soviet bloc-era Czech motel with both pneumonia and bronchitis. The elderly owner would try to bring me breakfast (orange juice and a piece of untoasted white bread) every morning wearing only tighty-whities, despite my repeated requests that he stop.
There were no working lights in the hallways, and the toilet in my room stopped working a few days after I got there. So I’d have to feel my way around at night, down this long hallway, to find the “communal” toilet. Every sound would raise the hairs on my neck. It was terrifying, if I’m being honest.
And again, I was really sick. And every day, it seemed I’d get worse and worse. I think the weird humor in the game comes from the unexpected normalization of the situation. You just learn to deal with what’s in front of you, I think. I think today I’d be less accommodating, but at that age, I just didn’t want to make a scene. So I just dealt with it.
The game features some great artwork, both in dream sequences and the myriad of fake posters, and not to mention the soundtrack. Who did the art and music for the game? If yourself, what challenges did this present?
Oxton: I made all the music! And a lot of the art. I snagged some free models on Sketchfab for things I felt weren’t hugely essential to the story but needed to fill out the environment. Or just things I knew someone else could make better (the tv, for example.) The posters were a mix of Midjourney prompts and Photoshop/Illustrator.
Future Racer 2000 has a great feeling of suspense throughout. What were your inspirations behind the game’s tone? Did you make a conscious effort to avoid jump scares?
Oxton: I may have accidentally answered this in the previous answers – but a lot of real life, creepy experiences, and the appreciation of more “dread” based horror than in-your-face horror. Personally, I find the most terrifying gaming experiences are based on expectation and dread. Being forced to walk down a creepy alley or hallway is far more effective on me than being chased by some creepy dude.
I think once you have that jumpscare, the moment is over — there is a precipitous decline in dread because what you feared already happened. I think a well-placed jumpscare is important though, because you BUILD up the dread, the expectation, the suspense, and the player wants and expects the payoff.
Basically, I never got over my first game of peek-a-boo.
Has working on Future Racer 2000 made you consider a career as a full-time game developer?
Oxton: Maybe! It depends on how well FR2000 or my next game does.
My lack of professional experience concerns me in regard to applying to other game studios. My experience is so specific to my workflow, which is piecemeal and inefficient.
What role did community feedback play in the development of Future Racer 2000?
Oxton: A huge part! I’ve posted to Reddit a bunch for feedback. While not feedback, Youtube tutorials and forum posts have literally taught me everything that made Future Racer 2000 possible (Mathew Wadstein and Ryan Laley shout out! Their tutorials are amazing! And free!)
My first post on itch.io — I guess you could say the alpha version of FR2000 — and all the subsequent feedback hugely informed the direction of the final version. I either heard firsthand or saw people struggling in the original basement, on the initial race, etc, etc, and that was so useful to see and hear!
Alphabetagamer in particular requested a zoom function so they could read and examine all the details – so there’s a zoom function! And it’s so much better for it.
Finally, what’s your favorite horror movie/game/story?
Oxton: Good question! I love the insanity of Hereditary. I love the build-up of Session 9 (and the fact that my uncle at one point was a patient at the facility they shot it… adds to the freak factor). Stalker (the movie). It Comes At Night has SUCH a great oppressive feeling of doom. Take Shelter is another unsung hero of dread. I think r/nosleep, SCP, and creepypastas have some of the best examples of short-form horror out there.
Man, this list is going on too long. I could talk about this forever, but i’ll end with this: I think whatever we consume becomes a part of us. So Future Racer 2000 is the amalgamation of my appetites.