Spintires is less about how thinks look, and more about how they respond to the player.
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Spintires: a deceptively simple game that turns mud, logs and trucks into an addictive narrative

In this game, driving between two points on the map in order to transport some logs becomes a gruelling, fascinating expedition.

Spintires is the sort of game that more games should strive to be. Hidden beneath a deceptively simple concept, driving big trucks through big mud, lurks a game that is at times challenging, dramatic, spectacular and even funny. It may also be, for nostalgia reasons, gripped and sorted. In an industry where developers will spend fortunes designing this year’s variation on the grizzled male protagonist  in order to achieve optimal penetration of the key demographic it is a pleasure to find a game that has been designed to be played rather than sold.

The premise of a game of Spintires is simple enough. On each level you have garages, lumber yards, refuelling stations and sawmills. The aim of the game is to start from your garage, collect logs from a lumber yard and take them to the sawmills. The trucks that you start with may not be fit for the task and so you might have to find and recover other trucks out in the world in order to do the job. Also much of the map is blacked out and must be revealed by locating things called cloaks that reveal areas of the map when removed. On paper this seems easy enough, and it would be if the game took place in a car park, however the maps of Spintires are absolutely brutal. This game is the Dark Souls of driving games.

Driving in Spintires is an inelegant process that takes a lot of getting used to, particularly as the camera controls can be frustrating. The trucks themselves are monstrous clanking, rattling beasts, belching out great gouts of exhaust fumes as they grumble through mud, foliage and water like dieselpunk dinosaurs. Their animations and textures are exquisitely detailed, capturing the instability of the vehicles with their high centres of gravity and huge squashy tyres as well as their propensity to get covered in muck. In spite of or even because of all this ungainliness the vehicles are huge fun to drive, skidding over what little tarmac can be found, accidentally squashing saplings and chewing up the ground like farm machines. Each of the vehicles handle quite differently from the others, the powerful eight wheelers can roll through almost any amount of mud for example, while the UAZ (think Russian jeep) has to take advantage of its ability to travel off the beaten path in order to avoid getting absorbed into the gloop.

The maps are the antagonists of Spintires. The serene Siberian forests with their babbling brooks and tranquil glades look almost idyllic at first, but the visuals of Spintires are less about what things look like and more about how they move and respond, as many of the terrain features will react badly to having a colossal Russian lorry rumble through them. A still image of the game cannot do justice to just how naturally things responds to contact, from the mesmeric way that water flows over tyres as you ford bodies of water to how the mud shifts and sticks under the weight of a loaded truck. The visuals are uniquely ambitious and that ambition pays off, particularly as it appears to all be so very well optimised.

The main weapon that the world of Spintires will hit your valiant trucks with is mud. Most of the pre-existing tracks through the maps in Spintires are muddy, and this isn’t ordinary mud. No, this is some deep, dark, rutted, slimy, suction mud from the devil’s own allotment. This stuff will try to eat your truck and so you have to avoid it as much as possible, which if you’re hauling cargo can be very difficult. If the mud gets you then you’ve got options, such as winching onto trees, or getting a friend to tow you along if you are playing multiplayer, or just abandoning the vehicle and pretending it was like that when you got there.

The mud does not work alone. Rocks can batter your truck. Water can flood your engine. Gravity can tip you over and spill your cargo, or just slam you down painfully if you go too fast over a rise. Fuel can run out. All these problems can strike alone or in combination, so that every journey out into the world is a battle of attrition. Whether you are scouting the world to remove the fogged out areas from the map screen or attempting to actually shift cargo damage mounts up, fuel is expended, and the risk of getting permanently stuck or flipped over is ever present. A simple drive between points on the map becomes an expedition.

This is an area where the game shines, creating a sense of adventure and the unknown. The game does not present you with a story, or sequential levels, or the usual trappings of a game structure – these elements form organically as you play. A session of Spintires is thus not without form or narrative. Dealing with an obstacle becomes a distinct block of play, where you assess the problem, tackle it and then feel ridiculously pleased with yourself until the next obstacle appears. As each obstacle is overcome these blocks of narrative thread together, so that what started as a plan to drive across the map to get logs becomes an epic saga of mud, sweat, toil and tears.

Success can be achieved by brute repetition in the lower difficulty setting where you can recover vehicles automatically. It is possible to fail completely in the hardcore difficulty, where immobilised vehicles have to be recovered using the rest of the fleet until you have nothing left.

As an indie title, and not a cheap one either, Spintires can look to be light on features, and though the original tech demo version of the game has hundreds of new vehicles modded into it, these have not yet made it across to the launch version. Elements like the dodgy camera and the lack of ability to save the progress of a multiplayer session, or join one in progress, undermine what is in most respects an extremely polished game. Fixes are promised and the way that the game is set up lends itself to easy expansion, so it looks likely that the developers will stick with it and flesh out these features over time, but there are no guarantees with future content. That said, it’s a great game even in spite of those limitations. The fact that it might actually get better is an added bonus.

Phil Hartup is a freelance journalist with an interest in video gaming and culture

Photo:Getty
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Britain's diversity crisis starts with its writers. Here's why

What happens on the casting couch draws the headline, but the problem starts on the page, says James Graham. 

I’m a playwright and screenwriter, which – pertinent to the issues we’ll be discussing in this enquiry – still feels weird to say. I get embarrassed, still, saying that, in a taxi or hairdressers. I don’t know why I still carry that insecurity about saying I’m a writer, but I do, because it sounds like I’m lying, even in my own head.

Obviously I’m completely biased, and probably overstating the influence and importance of my own profession, but I think so many of the problems surrounding lack of representation in the performing arts start with writers.

If we aren’t encouraging and generating writers from certain communities, classes or backgrounds to tell their stories, to write those roles, then there’s not going to be a demand for actors from those communities to play them. For casting agents or drama schools to prioritise getting diverse actors on stage. We need to create those plays and TV dramas –like the ones that I grew up with. I didn’t have any access to much theatre until I was fifteen, but I did have Boys From the Black Stuff, and I did have Cracker, and I did have Band of Gold. I think the loss of those regional producing bodies – Central, Granada – now all completely centralised into London, means that we just tell less of those stories. I remember a TV show called Boon – anyone? – which was set in Nottingham, and I would see on the TV streets I’d walked down, and think, Oh my God, that actor is walking down a street I’ve walked down. That sounds like it’s insignificant. If you’re from a town that is deprived, that feels ignored, it isn’t.

I was very lucky that at my school (which was, at the time, the largest comprehensive school in the country), from the headmaster down to the drama teachers, everyone just believed that working class kids should do plays. Be in plays, read plays, perform plays to the community. Both inside the curriculum of the school day, and outside it – drama teachers dedicating their time to staying behind. Our head of drama identified a group of us who clearly had a passion for it. We weren’t likely thesps. One lad’s entire family were made unemployed when the pit closed. Many lived on the big council estate. My parents and step-parents worked respectively in warehouses, the local council, or as the local window cleaner (incidentally, my first real job. Which I was terrible at).

Our drama teacher was encouraged and determined enough to launch the first ever Drama A-Level in our school. Based on that, about 10 or 12 of us got the confidence – or arrogance – to take our own show to the Edinburgh Festival. We were 16 or 17, and the first people in our community to ever go to visit the festival. We did a play up there, and after that, a psychological unlocking happened, where I thought: maybe I could do a degree in drama (it was the first time I had ever thought to do so) at university (the first in my family to go. Well, joint-first. My twin sister went on the same day, but I walked into my digs first).

I enrolled in drama at Hull University. A high proportion of my peers were middle class. A higher proportion from London or the South East. They talked often about institutions I had never heard of. They were talking about the National Theatre: I didn’t know we had a national theatre that my parents had been paying tax for that I had never been to. Many had performed with the (again, apparently) ‘National’ Youth Theatre, also in London. Paul Roseby, also on this panel, has made such leaps forward in getting the NYT producing in regional venues, and making auditions possible for people across the UK, but unfortunately, at the time, that wasn’t the case for me – and I was the ideal candidate to be in the National Youth Theatre.

I started writing because I had the confidence after I read texts by people like Jim Cartwright, Alan Bennett, John Godber, Alan Ayckbourn: Northern writers, working class writers that made me think it wasn’t just something that other people do.

After returning home, and working at local theatres, I moved down to London. I had to. The major new writing producers are there. All the TV companies are there. The agents are there. I was lucky to find support in a pub fringe theatre – though the economics meant there was no money to commission, so I wrote plays for free for about four years, that would get produced, and reviewed in the national press, while I worked various jobs in the day and slept for a time on a mate's floor. The first person to ever pay to commission me to write a play was Paul Roseby of the National Youth Theatre. I’m now very lucky to be earning a living doing something I love. In a way, compared to actors, or directors, it’s easier for writers who don’t come from a background that can sustain them, financially, in those early years. Your hours can be more flexible. Yes, it was annoying to miss rehearsals because I had a shift in a call centre, but it was still possible to do it. If you’re an actor or director, you’re fully committed. And if you’re doing that for nothing, there starts to be cut-off point for those from backgrounds who can’t.

I’m sure that local and regional theatres are the key to drawing in talent from less privileged backgrounds. But the range of national arts journalism that cover work outside London has been so significantly reduced. In our little echo chamber a few weeks ago, we theatre types talked about Lyn Gardner at the Guardian. Her coverage has been cut, which is very directly going to affect her ability to cover theatre shows outside of London – and so the self-fulfilling cycle of artists leaving their communities to work exclusively in London takes another, inevitable, turn.

I am culpable in this cycle. I have never done a play at the Nottingham Playhouse, my local producing house growing up – why? Because I’ve never submitted one, because I know that it will get less national press attention. So I just open it in London instead. That’s terrible of me. And I should just bite the bullet and say it doesn’t matter about the attention it gets, I should just go and do a story for my community. And if I, and others, started doing that more, maybe they will come.

I also want to blame myself for not contributing back to the state schools that I come from. I really really enjoy going to do writing workshops with kids in schools, but I would say 90 per cent of those that I get invited to are private schools, or boarding schools, or in the South of England. Either because they’re the ones that ask me, because they’re the ones who come and see my shows in London and see me afterwards backstage, or because they have the confidence to email my agent, or they have the budget to pay for my train ticket. Either way, I should do more. It would have helped the younger me so much to meet a real person, from my background, doing what I wanted to do.

I don’t know how to facilitate that. I take inspiration from Act for Change, creating a grassroots organisation. I know that there is a wealth of industry professionals like me who would, if there was a joined-up structure in place that got us out there into less privileged communities, we would on a regular basis go to schools who don’t get to meet industry professionals and don’t unlock that cultural and psychological block that working class kids have that says, that is not for me, that is something that other people do, I would dedicate so much of my time to it. That’s just one idea of hopefully better ones from other people that might come out of this enquiry.

James Graham is a playwright and screenwriter. This piece is adapted from evidence given by James Graham at an inquiry, Acting Up – Breaking the Class Ceiling in the Performing Arts, looking into the problem of a lack of diversity and a class divide in acting in the UK, led by MPs Gloria De Piero and Tracy Brabin.