"If there was any justice in the world, this currently one-off, event-specific game would be in every bar."
— The Austin Chronicle       
An Original Arcade Game
Old Lefty's Rubbin' 'n' Racin' is an independently-developed arcade game making the rounds at live events in Austin.
Central to the design is a colorful, minimalist interface consisting of a single glowing button. The neon arcade cabinet draws players together to socialize in person.
My role
I designed and developed the game from start to finish, including the creation of all game assets and the physical arcade hardware. I conducted frequent on-site playtesting and iterated its design based on player feedback.
Tools used:
Unity — Prototyping and Development
Adobe Illustrator | Photoshop — 2D Assets
MagicaVoxel | Blender | ProBuilder — 3D Assets
Power Tools | Elbow Grease — Arcade Cabinet
Project Background
An Amalgam of Ideas
Inspiration #1: Game Worlds
First, in my work as an instructor at Game Worlds, we challenge teams to implement unusual features in an effort to 1) get teams to think outside the box, and 2) simulate what might happen if a manager insisted on adding a feature. One such challenge requires teams to make a one-button game. I adopted that constraint.
Inspiration #2: NASCAR
Second, I grew up in a family that loved NASCAR. I didn't share their passion, but I absorbed racing knowledge through osmosis (ask me about restrictor plates!). A common joke about the sport is that the only thing the drivers do is get in the car and turn left. This became the game's theme.
"No, he didn't slam into you. He didn't bump you. He didn't nudge you.
He rubbed you... and rubbin', son, is racin'."
(This quote led to the game's title.)
— Robert Duvall, Days of Thunder (1990)
The approach
Fail Fast
Is This Fun?
It's critical to find an answer to this question as early as possible. Since I was working with such an unusual idea, I had no way to know if it would translate into something fun to play. 
Step One — Proving the Concept
My experience with Unity's physics system and its ProBuilder modeling tools allowed me to develop a quick greyboxed sketch in about an hour. I found it surprisingly fun to play.


Greyboxed goodness.

Even in this primitive state, I felt drawn to trying to master the physics of drifting my vehicle around corners to beat my own fastest lap. I liked it — I have an affinity for mastering arcade-style games — but I wasn't sure that other players would find it as interesting.
I quickly modeled a vehicle to use while I explored the design further.


Speed modeling a boxy, low-res monster truck.

Step Two — Handcrafting the Feel
Old Lefty's is obviously, proudly, not a realistic driving simulator. This meant that Unity's built-in vehicle physics system would not work for this project — Unity's solution relies upon real-world vehicle forces like wheel torque, slip, spring dampening, etc.
I sought help from the Unity developer community to find a physics solution that matched my vision. To my surprise, none existed.
Given how important the feel of the vehicles was to the project, I spent extra time iterating on a solution from scratch. After much refining, I developed a bouncy arcade feel that relied on configurable physics joints.


Move over, Gran Turismo.

Step Three — Playtesting Early
With the core interactions in place, I sought out a playtester as early as possible. My wife, a casual gamer who leans toward narrative-based gameplay, was the nearest subject.
My expectation was that she would briefly try the game and express mild interest. I was surprised to see her engage for much longer than that, playing the game multiple times and pulling off mid-air tricks. Her enthusiasm for a game so far outside of her normal tastes suggested that the game might appeal to a wider audience.


Beating me at my own game.

Step Four — Pivoting by Necessity
The next logical step was to map input to a gamepad. I was surprised to discover how this changed the experience.

Too many buttons.

Having so many buttons at the player's disposal made the gameplay feel stripped-down. Instead of conveying how much fun can be had with one button, the unused inputs felt obvious and wasted.
I needed a bespoke input device. Enter the cardboard box:
I repurposed an Amazon shipping box and installed four LED arcade buttons (I deliberately matched the colors of the buttons to the on-screen vehicles). I wired the buttons to a USB encoder and wrote a script that allowed Unity to read the inputs.
This solution to the input problem was what first led me to consider making Old Lefty's a full-on arcade experience.
Next Steps 
Preparing for South by Southwest
Playtest, Playtest, Playtest
​​​​​​​With SXSW fast approaching, I moved quickly to put the game in front of more playtesters.
The Second Playtest revealed an Onboarding Problem
Old Lefty's might be the first arcade game to have a one-button (per player) interface. For this reason, a new player approaching a cabinet with four buttons could reasonably assume, based on their existing mental model, that they will use more than one button to control their vehicle.
During an early playtest, one new player approached the controller and attempted to use all of the buttons to play the game. He was confused when multiple vehicles spawned on-screen and began moving on their own.
Despite my attempt to convey the "one-button, one-vehicle" design by matching each button to the color of the corresponding vehicle, it wasn't enough. I needed something better, so I designed a unique solution.
The Solution: In-Car Cameras
Going back to the drawing board, I spent some design time sketching out a variety of solutions to the problem. While brainstorming, I remembered that I had developed a multi-camera setup in Unity for an earlier project, and I wondered if this could solve my problem.
It worked, and it became one of the defining features of the game: live in-car cameras that render four unique characters. Not only did it solve the onboarding problem, it increased the Quirkiness Quotient™ of the project by at least fivefold.
The Debut 
Old Lefty's Debut at South by Southwest
In March, an early build of Old Lefty's was shown to the public at South by Southwest. Feedback was overwhelmingly positive despite limited content and the makeshift cardboard controller.
An encouraging takeaway was the demographic of the players — young, old, gamers, and non-gamers from all backgrounds seemed to enjoy the game. Casual players had fun laughing and bumping into each other, while more experienced gamers were drawn to mastering the vehicle physics.
Also notable was the response from other game designers who tried the game. They praised its one-button design and advised me not to change it.
Next: North Austin Game Night
Shortly after SXSW, I brought the game to North Austin Game Night where it continued to receive positive feedback. "Brilliant," said one player. Another played so long his arm fell asleep.
At NAGN I also received some actionable suggestions. Players wanted items to collect while racing that could affect the other players. Another idea came from a player who wanted cupholders, making it ideal for a bar. I took their feedback and implemented both for the next showing at Juegos Rancheros:


An on-track power-up makes opponents turn right (Wow!)


Cupholders and a larger cabinet

Continued Development
IndieCade Annex
In 2020, the latest build of Old Lefty's debuted at IndieCade Annex. In addition to gameplay tweaks and additional content, I constructed a stand-up cabinet suited for arcades that prefer a smaller physical footprint.
The Result
High Praise
By the end of the year, Old Lefty's earned enough buzz that The Austin Chronicle named it the second-best Austin-made game of the year. Recognized for its clever design and addictive gameplay, this no-budget, single-developer game managed to shine alongside AAA studios with teams in the dozens and budgets in the millions.