Horse Shoe

A story of how we made the most famous horse race betting game in Croatia

Starting an unforgettable adventure with SuperSport: The making of Croatia's most renowned Horse Racing Betting Application and the story behind its success

It started with a call

At the beginning of 2006, I received a call from my old friend Damjan Mravunac, whom I had worked with at Croteam on the cult classic Serious Sam video games. At the time, Damjan was an executive producer for gaming at SuperSport, Croatia's largest sports betting and gaming company. He had an exciting new opportunity for me: to develop a 3D horse racing game for them.

We worked together previously on Casino projects for SuperSport (Black Jack, Roulette, etc.), so for me, this was a no-brainer; I was captivated by the challenge of doing a complex project like this one and eagerly agreed to join in.

Seventeen Years!

"At that moment, I had no idea that this project would be a pivotal moment in my professional journey, leading me to transition from game development to the exciting world of sports betting and gaming.

The game we were creating would prove to be so successful and enduring, captivating players for nearly 17 years and counting, a testament to its lasting appeal and quality.

The Recon

I have always emphasized the importance of laying a strong foundation for every project I undertake, particularly those of great magnitude and complexity like this one. This bird's-eye view allows for gaining a thorough understanding of the project's scope, ensuring that every aspect is carefully considered and accounted for.

In the initial stages of any project, I gather all known requirements and strive to predict and extrapolate future needs. This forward-thinking approach enables me to create outlets for expansion across all areas – art, design, and engineering – building upon the principles I've developed over years of diverse experiences I threw myself into.

Time and time again, this method has proven to be an invaluable strategy for establishing a solid foundation that stands the test of time.

Once I have meticulously laid out all known factors in the form of an interconnected mind map, I delve into the exciting world of research and exploration. This phase is particularly invigorating, as it allows you to strategically connect the dots and weave together the project's various components from a higher level.

It is during this process that I carefully select the methodologies, tools, programming languages, frameworks, engines, etc., that will best serve the project's objectives.

While doing so, I firmly believe that one of the most vital aspects of any project you are working on is maintaining an open mind when selecting methodologies, technologies, tools, and similar. Invest your time into research and find one which best suits the needs of the endeavor.

People who are deeply entrenched in a specific approach may find themselves inadvertently constrained by its limitations. This mindset not only stifles the growth and development of individuals but can also negatively impact the outcomes of a thing you are working on, as it becomes contorted to fit a pre-existing mold.

In essence, it is not the project that should be molded to fit our preconceived notions, but rather ourselves, who must be willing to transform and adapt to each endeavor's unique demands and challenges.

The thing which has to be reshaped into something new is you.

I find immense satisfaction in this research-driven approach, as it not only sharpens my understanding of the thing I'm working on but also broadens the perspective on the potential avenues of innovation and growth.

By examining every aspect of the project through a multifaceted lens, you are able to uncover hidden opportunities, anticipate challenges, and ultimately bring the vision to life in the most efficient and effective manner possible.

In conclusion, the key to crafting truly inspiring and professional work is the careful planning and foresight that goes into its development. By adopting a comprehensive and strategic approach, we can create projects that not only meet the needs of the present but also seamlessly adapt to the evolving demands of the future.

The Art process

Jockeys & Horses

Embracing a traditional approach for the main actors, I meticulously crafted the high-polygon base models and in-game low-polygon models using Foundry Modo (then Luxology). These high-poly models served me as the foundation for sculpting in ZBrush, allowing for the seamless export of normal maps by baking high to low poly.

In an era before Substance Painter and similar tools, all color textures were made by hand using Photoshop. A lot of commitment, time, and energy were needed to craft good-looking, detailed textures then. I must say that people like me, who have origins in the old-school approach like this one, really appreciate and respect the tooling technology available today.

For the horse animations, I employed a strategic blend of motion capture and manual techniques. Harnessing motion capture technology and a fresh new feature of retargeting (at that time, it was fresh and brand new), I established a solid foundation for the horse gallops, further refining the animations with manual overlays to capture specific details.

Employing animation layers (also a new tool at the time), I additionally enhanced elements such as the tail and other nuances to try to create a truly immersive experience.

The jockey rigging and animations were entirely executed by hand.

To meet all animation requirements, I utilized Softimage XSI, a leading animation tool of its time, ensuring that the process and artistic experience were nothing short of exceptional.

This fusion of traditional techniques and cutting-edge technology (at the time) illustrates the importance of striking a balance between honoring time-tested methods and embracing innovation, ultimately resulting in a work of art that stands the test of time.

By today's standards, all of this is something normal, but back then, when baking normal maps from hi to lo polygon models was something quite new, animation retargeting and animation layers were just released; all of this was quite on edge.


During our conversations, Damjan and I deliberated on the ideal art direction for the tracks, ultimately deciding that a more stylized, game-oriented approach would allow for greater artistic freedom compared to striving for realism. As it turned out, this decision proved highly beneficial, enabling Horse Shoe to distinguish itself from other products within its genre.

Upon completion, players were captivated by the vibrant and immersive race tracks, set against the backdrop of iconic locales such as ancient Greece, Egypt, and modernistic Japan. This unique blend of artistry and innovation provided a visually stunning gaming experience for our players and demonstrated the power of creative thinking in the realm of technical design.

Developing RaceTracks in Foundry Modo

The engineering

When I started on the engineering part of the project, I began by investing significant time in research regarding the rendering technology to be used for the 3D client application (race player) in this project, ultimately deciding to use the open-source Ogre Engine and C#. I wanted to avoid the overhead of C or C++ in terms of development speed and chose a proven game engine as a solid foundation for this project.

Ogre wasn't a full-blown game engine at the time but more of a simplistic renderer and scene graph without any standardized scene, particle, etc. formats, scene or particle editors; in a few words, it was Spartan. A bare-bone metal, but it was doing its thing pretty well.

This was quite ok for our needs, but for some things, I was challenged to develop our custom formats and tools. For this, I separated client runtime (the player application) and editor app but defined custom scene and animation formats to be shared between those two.

We needed an editor of some kind to be able to set up scene environments quickly instead of manually tweaking the parameters in code and rebuilding each time.

Therefore I created Horse Shoe Editor, an application where we could set up the scenes, tweak light settings and backdrops, do camera animations and sequencing, edit rain particles and attach them on cameras and lots of other cool stuff; all to be saved in a custom scene format and loaded by the game player.

After a while, I joined the minus5, and then we pushed development into second gear. We assembled a small team and polished the game player, but there was also the backend (server) part responsible for race schedules, creating the race data, and synchronizing all that between the clients, which was developed all within the minus5.

Get, Set... Go!

By 2007, Horse Shoe was ready for deployment in SuperSport's betting shops across Croatia (web and betting terminals later on). We were all excited, wondering if our users would love and play our game. Lucky for us, the game has been a great success and our players embraced it in no-time.

With time and as popularity was surging, we were prompted to create a web version for the SuperSport website which was also a big win for us.

The creative autonomy I was granted in this project allowed me to fully immerse myself in both the engineering and artistic aspects of game development. The result was a game that I could call my own – a labor of love that brought together my passion for art and technology.

Today, Horse Shoe remains a beloved fixture in sports betting shops and self-serving terminals, continuing to captivate SuperSport's players across Croatia, but one of the most rewarding aspects of working on Horse Shoe was the collaboration with the team at minus5, which I am part of still today.

Together, we brought to life a game that, to my delight and pride, has been running without interruption for the last 16 years, loved, and played by SuperSport users since its inception.

In-Game Video

Once again

The whims of fate combined with curiosity and taking up challenges drew its path for me again. Who could have predicted back then that this game would become a pivotal moment in my career.

A pivotal moment paving the way for an incredible 17-year journey in the realm of sports betting and gaming, filled with passion, innovation, and a multitude of remarkable products launched.

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.. and now that you've scrolled down here, maybe I can invite you to explore other sections of this site