words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by TCHOW for PC, Mac, and Linux, originally released in 2013.
The name Rktcr is a disemvoweled conjoining of the words “rocket” and “car”. The game features a rocket powered vehicle traversing a number of complex subterranean environments, and gameplay is entirely physics-based. That’s not to say that the game offers a few physics-based puzzles here and there, or that the action is interspersed with isolated sequences where you might shove over a pile of blocks to watch them roll and tumble down a slope; rather, every bit of the gameplay centers on the player’s understanding of how the rktcr works and how it physically interacts with the environment.

At the start of the game, you create a team, customizing three characters and a rktcr. However, customization is done in a fairly strange way in that it is driven by the names you provide… By typing a name, your character begins to cycle through a number of visual styles, changing clothing, ethnicity, gender, etc. with each typed character. Even upper and lower case letters affect the look, cycling through dozens upon dozens of possibilities for the characters, and a number of visual themes for the rktcr as well.

Furthermore, naming your rktcr also affects your mission and your starting point in the game’s open world. As you type the name of your vehicle, a window in the upper right shows that the team is talking about a specific object, a number of gems, and a certain area. Your choices impact the opening cutscene and its dialogue, as well as the rktcr’s starting position in the game world and the number of gems required to complete the mission.

An introductory level explains the basic controls, all of which are vehicle-relative. Your rktcr has two wheels, one of which has thrusters that propel it forward and backward, and the other has thrusters that push it laterally. This allows you to build up speed and make jumps, climb walls, spin the vehicle, and perform midair acrobatics. While these few basic controls may seem simple, the game’s puzzle solutions are extraordinarily complex.

To assist you in the proper manipulation of your vehicle are two tools. One tool allows you to pause and reverse time, as well as speed it up and slow it down, and you are able to use this tool infinitely. The second tool shows you the projected path of your vehicle, allowing you to see the potential results of control adjustments and how thrust or rotation will affect your movement. Blending these tools together results in gameplay where you dash forward, pause, analyze your trajectory, and make subtle adjustments to realize your goals… and then reverse time to correct your mistakes.

The game is essentially one large tool-assisted speed run, in which you manipulate the controls precisely in order to progress, making corrections along the way as needed. In fact, there are few instances where you will be controlling the vehicle entirely in real time. As a result, the game is more about strategically planning out a path a little at a time rather than all-out high speed antics.

Once you leave the introductory area, you are presented with several challenge levels that illustrate the nuances of the mechanics, and these are broken into Basic, Tricky, and Impossible categories. You are free to enter the main game world immediately if you wish, but you won’t get far. In fact, even completing the basic challenges can be maddeningly difficult, as practically nothing is explained to the player outright, leaving him to a trial and error approach with no clear instruction as to how to correct failures.

Challenges outline the simplest of scenarios, but many of them require that the player make logical leaps in the finer points of physical navigation, many of which are not obvious even through experimentation. There is no effort made to educate the player on the execution of these mechanics, even though they are required to make any kind of headway in the proper game. So, the player is left with two options: futz around with the controls until a breakthrough (or breakdown) occurs, or go online and watch the developer’s videos that explain everything you need to know to complete the challenges and navigate the game’s world.

Core to the navigation of most areas is the need to build up speed and preserve momentum when interacting with objects. By twisting the rktcr precisely, you can ensure that both wheels land on the ground – even when that ground is a curved surface floating in the air – to keep your speed going.

It’s also important that you pay attention to which wheel is facing forward, as one wheel allows for forward and backward thrust, and the other has lateral thrusters. By spinning the vehicle around, you can run through environments in reverse, taking advantage of rear-firing lateral thrusters. This is required for climbing long sloped surfaces and transitioning properly from one object to another.

Another advanced function involves straddling thin objects with both wheels. Your connector is not rigid but rather a bit stretchy, and it can pass through solid objects, allowing you to run each wheel down either side of a thin object or hang your front wheel off a ledge to swing it under.

Some more advanced challenges come with exploding objects that impact your vehicle differently depending on how the blast hits it, allowing you to use the blowback to reach higher areas. There are also certain gems that can only be collected by touching them with a specific wheel (the other wheel pushes them), and platforms that are only passable by one wheel.

The game offers a large open world, interconnected by portals that allow you to pass from one region to the next. The primary goal is to collect the requisite number of gems (as indicated on the team creation screen) and return to your home base. Many rooms have multiple exits, some of which are harder to reach than others, particularly those that require you to move upward against the pull of gravity.

There are a limited number of room configurations, but they are connected algorithmically to create hundreds of possible worlds. Also, given the physics-based nature of the world, turning a room 90 degrees dramatically impacts the way it is played.

Much of the environmental navigation may appear impossible until the basic controls are mastered, and the difficulty from one room to the next is prone to spike unpredictably. While the player is free to move about the world as he likes – and quickly return by reversing through previously explored portals – the game isn’t divided into easy and difficult areas.

Rktcr was developed by TCHOW, a one-man studio headed by Jim McCann, based in Pittsburgh, PA. Jim has developed a number of experimental titles, many of which were created for Ludum Dare competitions. The company name is an acronym for “The Chicken's House of Wacky", a silly name invented by Jim in middle school for a fictional organization with a chicken as its mascot.

For those wondering, Rktcr is technically pronounced /ɹktkɹ/, although you can certainly pronounce it as "rocket car". Of course, you can also pronounce "ghoti" as "fish", but that's up to you.