When it comes to kart racers, Mario Kart is the undisputed king. While plenty of challengers have tried to steal the crown from Nintendo, they rarely stand out in this saturated genre. Enter Stampede: Racing Royale, a free-to-play battle royale kart racer from a new team of racing game veterans.
We spoke with Senior Community Manager Chris Groves to find out how Stampede is shaking up the karting genre.
A super group of racing game veterans
Behind this bonkers battle royale racer is Sumo Leamington, part of Sumo Digital, a studio with a rich racing game heritage from OutRun 2006: Coast 2 Coast to Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing and Hotshot Racing. More recently, Sumo co-developed Forza Horizon 5 with Playground Games.
“From the very inception of the project, we’ve been fortunate to have leaders on the team who are trailblazers of the racing games genre,” Groves explains.
“That starts with Chris Southall and Paul Hollywood, our Studio Director and Development Director, respectively, who have decades of experience working on award-winning racing titles, and leading dev teams that specialise in that field.”
Southall served as a technical director for Sumo Digital’s Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, while Hollywood helped create the first two MotorStorm games at Evolution Studios.
Since forming in 2019, Sumo Leamington has expanded into a super group of racing game veterans, with a diverse pool of talent working on Stampede.
“From handling design, to track design, to overall game design, we’re blessed to have developers on board who’ve weaved their magic on different kinds of racing games – from more serious ‘sims’, to super accessible arcade racers, and plenty in between. That allows us to create a racing game that’s accessible to all, but familiar in feel to racing game lovers.”
Mario Kart meets Fall Guys
Concept work for Stampede started four years ago. “It went through plenty of discussions and presentations before development really began to kick off, and the last two years have been when the project has gathered momentum. As we tested out prototypes and received positive early feedback, ambitions expanded – and the team has expanded to match that,” said Groves.
Stampede Racing Royale is unlike any kart racer you’ve played before. Each match has three rounds starting with 60 players battling for supremacy. After each round, the bottom 20 players are eliminated until the last player snatches the podium spot.
A cross between Mario Kart and Fall Guys, this combination of chaotic racing and high-stakes battle royale brings a fresh new take on the kart racing genre.
Groves elaborates on Stampede’s two main inspirations: “Firstly, you have the kart racing genre – bright, fun, pick-up-and-play racers that are perfect party games, but also have depth and quality to make you sink hours into them.”
“Then, there’s the ‘royale’ genre – or at least the premise of gathering a large amount of players to compete together for one ultimate prize, with ever-escalating tension and stakes. Combine those, and you have Stampede: Racing Royale.”
With 60 players racing using power-ups simultaneously, keeping the game balanced, fun and competitive is a tricky challenge, but one that Sumo is constantly striving to achieve.
“It’s certainly a key factor whenever we add new elements to Stampede,” Groves explained. "The best games in the genres we’re inspired by find ways to make every player feel they have a chance of glory, while not overly hampering the most skilled players. That’s a tricky balance to find, but is considered whenever we add something like a new track, power-up, or kart.”
Last year’s Steam playtests allowed the team to monitor the game’s balancing. “We saw in our 2023 playtests that while impressive players could usually work their way to the front of the field, all racers had mechanisms, if used correctly, to remain competitive – like using power-ups in a clever way, or utilising different track routes. It'll be a constant process to keep this balance, but right now, we think it’s in a good spot.”
Skill-based matchmaking will also keep matches competitive by pitting inexperienced players together, with AI bots filling empty slots.
Also helping contain the chaos are the carefully designed tracks: “Some maps are certainly a little wider than your average kart racer, to ensure the chaos of 60-kart action isn’t overwhelming,” Groves explains. “Many of our first batch of maps also include route splits – useful not just to try out different paths to success, but also to break up the pack at certain times.”
Alongside the 60-player racing, an obligatory battle mode will see players navigate arenas while blasting opponents with bombs and machine guns, among other power-ups. Special Events will also “deliver new event formats and parameters, testing players in different ways to earn rewards,” with more modes to be revealed.
Another crucial balancing act is tweaking how the karts behave, according to Groves. “Our team are putting so much focus into how karts react to collisions and interact with each other to ensure smoothness and balance within the frantic but fun action of Stampede.”
From our hands-on at EGX last year, the karts felt responsive to control, with advanced techniques adding a layer of depth from drifting (executed by holding down a dedicated drift button) and earning boost to slipstreaming opponents in front.
“While just about anyone can quickly get to grips with our kart handling, there’s nuance in understanding how to get the best performance out of them,” Groves adds. “It’s certainly nowhere near a simulation feel, but there is an enjoyable depth there.”
The long road ahead
While Stampede is free-to-play, visual customisation will be monetised with “hundreds of different items to collect and equip for your kart and character.” Crucially, these items won’t affect performance. “Playtesters told us they liked the initial set of items, so we can’t wait to show more of what the team have been drawing up,” said Groves.
Being free-to-play also means free live service updates will expand the game "for years to come," according to Groves. “A big focus for our team is to not just sustain the game over time, but to expand it in ways that our community loves."
“From Early Access launch, we’ll have Seasons (and in-season updates) which deliver fresh content to discover – from new customisation gear, to fresh maps, karts, and more. Special Events will also drop in and out of the game, always giving players new challenges to take on.”
“There’s so much more we want to implement over time – from narrative elements to fun collaborations – so we can’t wait to sprinkle some surprises into those Seasons and updates for years to come.”
Stampede is set to arrive in Early Access in the first half of 2024 following a delay, with the Early Access game bringing a “host of new content and features compared to 2023’s playtests.” Launching in Early Access will allow the team to gather more feedback for improving the final game when it crosses the finish line.
Already, community feedback from Steam playtests has helped steer the team in the right direction. “The majority of suggestions and ideas we received were things we were already working on behind the scenes," Groves tells us. "Always good to know you have that synergy with your community!”
“Things like more variance in game modes and kart performance, adding more maps, including more things that allow players to express their individuality; all common feedback points which we’ve been doubling down on ever since.”
Console versions are also in the pipeline, with platforms and a release window still to be confirmed. Providing it can deliver stable 60-player racing with no server hiccups, Stampede is revving up to be the next big kart racer that everyone can enjoy.
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