"If there was any justice in the world, this currently one-off, event-specific game would be in every bar."
–​​​​​​​The Austin Chronicle​​​​​​​
Bringing People Together
Old Lefty's is an independently-developed arcade game making the rounds at live events in Austin, Texas.
Central to the game's design is a minimalist interface consisting of a single button for each player. The brightly-lit arcade cabinet draws players together to socialize in person.
My Role
I designed and developed the project from start to finish, including the creation of all game assets and the physical arcade hardware. I conducted frequent in-person playtesting and iterated its design based on real player feedback.
Tools used
Unity — Prototyping and Development
ProBuilder + MagicaVoxel + Blender  — 3D Assets
Adobe Illustrator + Photoshop — 2D Assets
Power Tools + Elbow Grease — Arcade Cabinet
The Idea
Project Background
Inspiration #1: Game Worlds
In my work as an instructor at Game Worlds, we challenged 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
I grew up around NASCAR, and although I never became a fan, I absorbed some racing knowledge through osmosis (ask me about restrictor plates!). A common joke about the sport is that the only thing NASCAR drivers do is turn left. This joke was central to the game's theme.
"He rubbed you... and rubbin', son, is racin'."
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 — Greybox to Prove 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.
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 — Craft the Feel
Old Lefty's is obviously 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.
In search of a customizable vehicle physics system that matched my vision, I sought help from the Unity developer community to find one. To my surprise, none existed.
Given how important the feel of the vehicles was to the project, I spent time iterating on a solution from scratch. After some refinement, I developed a bouncy arcade feel that relied on configurable physics joints.


Move over, Gran Turismo.

Step Three — Playtest Early and Often
With the core interactions in place, I sought out a playtester as early as possible. My wife, a casual gamer who usually prefers games with a strong narrative, was the nearest test subject.
My expectation was that she would briefly try the game and feign mild interest. Surprisingly, she was engaged 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 — Pivot When Additive
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 and less fun. Instead of conveying how much fun can be had with one button, the unused inputs on the gamepad felt obvious and wasted.
To solve for this, 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.
A Problem: Onboarding
Old Lefty's is the first arcade racing game to have a one-button control scheme. For this reason, a new player approaching a cabinet with four buttons could reasonably assume that they will use more than one button to drive their vehicle. In an early playtest, one new player approached the controller and attempted to use all of the buttons to play the game.
Despite my attempt to convey the "one-button : one-vehicle" design by matching the color of each button to the color of the corresponding vehicle, this wasn't good enough. I needed something better, and I came up with a unique solution.


In-car cameras! (And mouth sounds.)

The Solution: In-Car Cameras
Going back to the drawing board, I sketched out a variety of solutions to the onboarding problem. I recalled that I had developed a multi-camera setup using Unity's Cinemachine for a prior project, and I wondered if I could somehow leverage this to solve my problem.
This led to one of the defining features of the game: live in-car cameras that render four distinct characters. Not only did it solve the onboarding problem, it increased the Quirkiness Quotient™ of the project by at least fourfold.
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 it. Casual players had fun laughing and bumping into each other, while more experienced gamers were drawn to mastering the physics and getting faster lap times.
One person played so long his arm fell asleep — a good sign.
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:
Continued Development
IndieCade Annex
In early 2020, a new build of Old Lefty's debuted at IndieCade Annex. In addition to gameplay tweaks and additional content, I designed a stand-up cabinet for arcades that prefer a smaller physical footprint.
The Result
High Praise
By early 2020, 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 Austin's biggest AAA studios.