When Anki first revealed its Anki Drive robot car racing game it was really cutting edge and new. Now there are competitors arriving on the scene that emulate the idea of having a track-based racing toy controlled by iPhone or Android apps.
Anki still has something else going for it in the shape of artificial intelligence, making its cars more responsive than typical remote control vehicles, but it is clear that the company would have to take things up a notch or two to stay ahead of the curve. Literally.
That's why it will launch a second generation game system, Anki Overdrive, which improves on the first in many ways. The concept is the same but the application of that idea has been implemented in all-new, exciting ways.
These are the major changes you can expect when Anki Overdrive launches on 20 September.
Perhaps the biggest difference between Anki Drive and Anki Overdrive comes in the form of the track. Anki Drive had a large, roll-out vinyl track that you could store in tube form and simply lay it out when you wanted to play. There were other versions of the track released in the US, but apart from that you were limited in the circuit design.
Anki Overdrive switches to a modular track system, one that is built through connecting different shaped pieces together. This means that different designs can be made from the same basic pieces, with the starter set able to create eight different designs alone - even before new add-on pieces are bought.
The pieces also lock together magnetically and are extremely simple to manipulate. And as they too are made of vinyl, albeit a more sturdy and thicker version than the original rolled track, they can be bent to form banked curves and bridges.
Thanks to the concept of a changing track layout, different game modes can be introduced that add to the videogaming element of Anki Overdrive. For example, add u-turn end pieces to open junctions and not only do you provide the AI cars a means to turn around and head back the other way, the fact that the track pieces can be different colours means that there can be a capture-the-flag style game where different players or teams must make their way to their opponent's base and back again.
That won't be available on launch but there will be four different game modes initially available: time trial, race, battle and king of the hill.
Like Anki Drive, cars can shoot and immobilise each other but the addition of specific track pieces adds other incentives to the action.
At the tail end of last year, Anki introduced Commanders to Anki Drive. These driver characters added personality to the racing, with slightly different abilities affecting each car's AI. Anki Overdrive steps that up with more than 25 new, advanced Commanders and the cars themselves have been characterised further.
There will be six new Overdrive cars in all, with Skull and GroundShock coming in the starter kit, and Thermo, Nuke, Big Bang and Guardian being available separately. They all have different designs and are more varied than the originals. Owners of Anki Drive will also be able to use their original cars on the new tracks after a firmware update too. And vice versa.
The Anki Drive application is available for iOS and Android, but you can only play using one platform at a time. For example, you can only play someone using an Android phone if you have an Android device yourself.
For Anki Overdrive, the system will be cross-platform, which means you will be able to play using an iPhone, say, while an opponent uses an Android phone. At launch, it will be available for Android and iOS only. Sorry Windows Phone or BlackBerry device owners.
Another bonus of having a modular system is that cars on an Anki Overdrive track will be able to perform stunts. Ramps and jumps will be available, while it is also possible for the cars to perform complete loop-the-loops. These are in development at present and may be added at a further date.
Anki Overdrive takes the original idea of Anki Drive and adds so many new features that it becomes a far more involving and immersive game. You can tell the Anki bunch are gamers and technology fans as both of those fields have driven the team to expand the core concept of robot racing to become more a videogame made flesh.
The introduction of modular tracks also opens the opportunity of expansion and that will increase its longevity dramatically.
Anki Overdrive will be available from 20 September with the starter set priced at £149.99. Extra track packs with range from £9.99 to £29.99, and additional cars will retail for £49.99 each.