It’s a not so sunny day in Warwickshire, however when VVV were invited along to see final code of Race Driver Grid, we simply couldn’t resist. There are some developers who have so much experience within a genre that when they bring out a new title, the industry takes note and when Codemasters move into racing it simply can’t be ignored.
Kept under wraps for an extended period, Codemasters have been keen to control any leakage of information regarding their latest franchise. Indeed the drip feeding has worked well and built excitement within the racing community. Initially looking very much like another PGR clone, later video teasers revealed track based and open wheel racing which gave far more credence that this for all intense purposes would be a spiritual successor to the famed TOCA series. However on first playing the game there’s an air of disappointment, it’s not realistic and it’s certainly not TOCA. It’s this link that has to a point misrepresented GRID and what the new franchise is attempting to convey. So in taking this tour of Codemasters we not only found its true identity but the goal the developers have striven to achieve. By now many of you have probably sampled the demo and the buzz of activity surrounding the online Time Trial challenges which are currently recording some incredible times. But it’s what’s beneath the surface that reveals the work in bringing this huge project to fruition.
Following a short test play we were given the opportunity to roam and find out a bit more beneath the bonnet. Kicking of with Senior Car Artist Group Lead: Nick Phillips who demonstrated the simply incredible detail within each car, indeed the DBR9 being shown was made up of more than 70 pieces, this enables the superb crash damage modeling and taking into account that at least 5 versions are made of every car (car with lower levels of detail are used depending on their distance from the player) and you get an idea on the vast amount of work involved. More than 40 days just designing and building the outside and at least 20 days on each interior. Add to this the handling refinement and agreeing licensing with manufacturers and its more than 2 months in realising one car. “We’ve been making cars for over two years” comments, Nick ”I couldn’t say the exact number of artists involved due to the way the work is outsourced but its considerable”.
Moving on we meet Lead Artist: Nathan Fisher who has been supervising the artistic styling behind GRID and the ideas behind giving each region its own visual flare and feel. Demonstrating a selection of highly impressive target renders before cycling through the front end menu system which is both visually stunning and part of the environment reflecting objects around it. Going through the range of modes available and the visual cues, it was impressive and again revealed the level of commitment Codemasters have demonstrated in getting every section right. He then went on to introduce several other artists who were worked on in-game lighting and he demonstrated the flexibility and power of their development tools and the EGO graphics engine. The real-time effects changing was again notable in its ease of use, “it’s called the Exposure Client” comments Nathan “and this enables all for the finishing touches getting the regional feel just right with some powerful post processing”. A striking rendition of Shibuya was later shown and underlined the power of Codemasters in-house development tools and their obvious results.
Now a closer look at the components of every track and we meet Technical Environment Group Lead: Peter Ridgeway “I’ll show you the Milan circuit and you can see here we’ve modeled more than 300 buildings, of course we’ve had to double a few up but with simple refinements they all now look unique”. He points out the range of photo’s requited to build a picture of the locations and the intensive developments on the slightest details. Ranging from the real time accurate reflections on the Shibuya circuit to the wind and crowd systems, both areas the developers were very proud of and judging by the results, rightly so.
The wind system was the first detail that really caught everyone’s attention “you can see the wind blowing the trees” Pete points out, “ but that same wind system is blowing the flag and balloons and just about everything else round the circuit”. All impressive “this is also interactive” Pete explains “if I drive past these balloons or under the lanterns at Shibuya the wake of the car actually blows everything around” and it’s that striking level of detail that continues to impress. Following a few fly-by's we move over to see one of the many designers focusing on the extensive crowd system, “we have 40,000 people in the crowd” he explains “ but they aren’t all the same, all crowds are unique to each region and each crowd has a range of different attributes” this was further supported in a demonstration fly by “some walk around while others lean over walls and cheer, some are sitting while others wave flags and they interact as the cars pass or depending on your race position”. Some more demonstrations were shown but the point was proven and this has been a mighty achievement.
Despite the range of racing styles packed in, the most notable new racing type was the inclusion of Drift Racing, popular in Japan for many years the sport has been growing steadily in Europe. This inclusion into GRID gives it both world recognition and presents the sport to a whole new range of consumers. Besides the standard track racing you’ll also find point to point racing both up and down mountains during the day and night, add to this the additional danger of oncoming traffic and it’s a whole different experience to the vast range of Japanese hill racing experiences which often cut out standard traffic or omit damage.
Supporting its inclusion Codemasters sought help from a real drift racing expert in the form of Hiroki Furuse (known in racing circles as Sleepy), Drift Racer, European Drift Championship judge and Manager of Team Orange who compete within the Japanese D1 Championship. This all combining in supporting the package and its credentials within this building community, while giving great exposure to future European Drift Racing Events. This game also sees the inclusion of the Le Mans 24 hour, an epic race and recreated in fantastic detail which even includes the time of day changing as you play and for the real fans there is a full 24 hour option available but only offline.
Following our tour we put a few questions to Senior Producer Clive Moody about his passions for racing, the development of GRID and aspects we could see in the future.
VVV: “So Clive thanks for letting us tear you away from the perils of game development. Now onto GRID, obviously, big new name product, is this a development of TOCA? Is it a whole new thing? Is this a new long term franchise for Codemasters in the future?”
Clive: “For us it is a big new thing, a new franchise and we wanted to move a little bit away from our TOCA roots which have always been grounded very much in the touring car angle and we wanted to broaden it a little bit and obviously bring in some stuff we hadn’t done before. Notably as you’ll see in the game Drift plays quite an important part.”
VVV: “A bit about yourself we’ve made this big change onto a new driving game, have you been involved with driving games before are you a big racing fan yourself?”
Clive: “Both *chuckles Clive* I’ve been here just over 8 years so I actually came in right at the start of the first TOCA Race Driver, I was Producer on that and I’ve been a Producer on all of the Race Driver titles 1, 2 and 3 on Playstation 2 and X Box and now moving on to GRID 360 and PS3. So yes I’m a big racing fan, I love all elements of the sport and that’s why for me it’s great to get all styles of racing into one package.”
VVV: “And I’m sure it’s a passionate racing team as well within the development crew?”
Clive: “Very much so, there’s a huge amount of passion out there, we’ve got some real petrol heads out there, we’ve got a lot of huge F1 fans so the F1 announcement has been big news for them. Yeah there is a lot of passion and I think that shows in the game as well, you really can’t produce great racing games without having a team who are very much into the sport and understand the sport and really want to produce the absolute best. As I say to everybody it really shows there’s a lot of talent out there from a technical point of view but the passion is always going to shine through.”
VVV: “GRID, how would you describe it?”
Clive: “Our whole philosophy is it’s about the racing, that’s what’s we’re all about. When we first set out to make the game we took a long hard look at what was happening in the world of racing games at that time and what we saw was a lot of games doing modding, a lot of games were about creating your car, putting pretty patterns on the side of it and none of them appeared to be focusing on the core which was fast, exciting, aggressive racing so we pretty much decided that was what we wanted to do and wanted to try and distil that into your 5 to 6 minute experience, so take everything from where the lights go on the start grid right through to the chequered flag then make an exciting experience for the gamer and get back to what racing is all about.”
VVV: “So we’ve got this super competitive game but let’s talk about the handling, now this issue has been very contentious between the hardcore racing community and mass market requirements, you’ve definitely moved into a much more arcade style. Was there a big design decision to be made at the beginning of this project?”
Clive: “Definitely it’s always a hard decision knowing where exactly to pitch this title and we had to try and appeal to the widest possible audience and you know I think people will say we might be a little bit more arcade-like but I think we’ve tried to retain realistic handling, a sense of realism within the game but just try and make it a little bit more assessable to a wider audience and that is important to us, we want as many people as possible to enjoy our games, especially our racing titles. So yes conscious but not to the point where I feel we’ve left behind a lot of our core audience we’ve had from previous titles and I’m always keen to point out to people that the options are there to turn off the assists that perhaps make the game more assessable from a driving point of view and open it up to those that perhaps like a tougher driving challenge.”
VVV: “We’ve got a lot of cars in there, so does the handling really differ much in the many models available? Do they all feature completely different handling models?”
Clive: “It really does change between each different car we’ve got in the game and you know we don’t have hundreds of cars as you’d see in GT but that’s absolutely not what we are about. Every car we have hand picked because it’s race breed, we’re not about filler but what that does let us do is literally spend a lot of time on each of the different cars and make sure every one handles realistically but that are also unique. So you won’t be getting in one car and thinking “that feels just like last car I was driving” they’ve each got their own personality and traits.”
VVV: “Which car do you like best?”
Clive: “Wow what a question *chuckles Clive* there are so many cars to pick from but I have to say I am a sucker for the Audi R10, it’s an awesome car. I love the Lamborghini because of the way it handles, I hate to pick all of the Le Mans cars but to be honest I love some of the drift cars as well, the Silvia handling is just fantastic, it’s always pick up and play but there’s always depth to it when doing the drifting.”
VVV: “Let’s look a bit more at the package, what’s in the game? How many cars? How many tracks? How many modes, it’s a big game, what can players expect?”
Clive: “Let’s see, cars 45 which are all hand picked race spec, no filler in there. In terms of tracks we’ve got 15 locations in the game and they comprise of 90 different circuits. We’ve split the game into 3 regions so you’ve got the US region, the Japanese region and Europe. US is all about cities, its all about muscle cars, big old V8’s and stuff like that. Japan is much more urban slightly edging on the borders of legality, we’ve got the drifting in there, we’ve got some circuit racing in there but a very different feel to what you get in the US and then Europe is kind of our traditional territory if you like, that’s where we’re all about the touring cars, the open wheelers traditional circuits Spa, Donnington, the Nurburgring.”
VVV: “So you’ve got this big package and loads for racing fans to explore, but the graphics are clearly very special and have blown us away on some courses, now we always see them making steps forward, are we seeing any limits of the EGO graphics system here, or can we look for even better to come from it in the future?”
Clive: “It’s a good question and EGO is evolving all the time, what you’re seeing now is EGO as of today and it’s been in development for over two years. We first saw it in Colin McRae DiRT and I think we’ve taken a real step up from what you saw in that, even with just a year between the two titles. I think you can say, never say never in terms of things getting better, there’s always going to be new features and improvements in terms of things we can make. We’ve had 50 to 60 engineers working on EGO over its two years so if we can continue at the rate the sky is almost the limit. I’m of the opinion that it is absolutely the finest racing game engine in the world today and I think that if you look at the visuals in GRID it’ll be hard for anyone to argue.”
VVV: “Well they are stunning so I won’t argue with that, visually it’s very strong and the replays have been fantastic from what I seen so far, to say they are adrenalin fuelled would be an understatement.”
Clive: “We’re pretty proud with what we’ve done with the replays; we’ve obviously spent a lot of time on the cameras and some of the interior shots as well but also on the rewind, the pause functionality and all of the functions that go hand in hand with flashback as well.”
VVV: “Now you omitted the photo-mode in this game, what was the thinking behind that?”
Clive: “We did, it was a conscious decision, probably more down to time than us thinking it didn’t have a place within the game, as with any game development there’s always a huge wish list of items we want to get in and there’s a finite amount of time we have to do that. It would have been fantastic I think we’ve spent a lot of time getting our flashback and our replay system right and I think they’re exciting and they’re fun but obviously at the expense of a photo-mode.”
VVV: “Let’s talk about online functionality, what online functionality is there? Is it quite basic, how many players can you have in a race?”
Clive: “We’ve gone for 12 players, we think that’s a pretty good balance between it being exciting and fun and also overcoming the limitations you face with people’s bandwidth and connections. The big limiting factor is always upstream bandwidth, there’s not a lot we can do about that but we’ve got a really good solid lag free experience, we’ve been playing recently with guys around the US and Europe and it is genuinely solid and smooth, it’s been an absolute pleasure to play.”
VVV: “Staying with online play, can you extend the number of laps races can last for, or is it just limited to something like 3 laps?”
Clive: “It’s not limited no; we give a choice of three race lengths, calling them short, medium and long. You’re not limited to 3 laps, you can go up to 5 laps or 7 laps, we contemplated at one point including a full Le Mans 24 hour but we quickly backtracked as that could have been a touch excessive though you can run the full 24 hour race in real time offline.”
VVV: “It’s a massive package but if there is a key feature you’re most proud of, what is it?”
Clive: “I would say it’s the flashback feature which had to be carefully thought out, it’s one of those features that could have gone either way, making the game appear too easy or a bit of a cheat but I think with a game like GRID it is tough, we have got terminal damage in there, it is aggressive there is a lot of car on car, you do get damage, you do wipe out on occasion. To have that opportunity just to replay a section, I think its great and not only that but I see it as a good learning tool for people as well, if people take a corner badly, they don’t hit the apex, they run into a wall, there’s that opportunity and they can try it again. They can go back and get the line better so I think not only does it let people progress through the game and help them, I think it’ll help people learn to be better drivers as well and I think that’s a great thing for any racing game.”
VVV: Where do you see you see racing games going from here? What new innovations can we expect to see from the genre?
Clive: “It’s a big question and there’s quite a lot of diversity creeping in, especially if you look at games like Burnout and Test Drive they’ve brought the whole open environment angle to it and they have their place and games like GRID also have their place in terms of traditional racing but its full on, its exciting. I think it’s all about exaggerating the experience to some extent and certainly something we’ve tried to do with GRID, its almost hyper real in its execution.”
VVV: “This brings me back to one point though, TV in game like in PGR3 we had Gotham TV it seems like a feature that’s really under used. It doesn’t appear much; I loved watching some of the tournament races online on PGR3 we’ve not seen that now, where’s it gone? Is it that a feature you might look at in future titles?”
Clive: “I think so, there’s a dozen things we can do online, we’ve got literally pages and pages of great ideas of how we can do that, certainly with a game like GRID you’ve got the team aspect in there, we haven’t got the team aspect online in this version but looking ahead that’s something which would be a really cool thing for the game. You know, to have race teams that literally are online racing against each other.”
VVV: “I know the community would like to see that, there are a lot of racing teams and VVV would love to get involved in stuff like that. I think also when you have this BMW competition and you’ve got these top five racers, how good are they? We’ve never seen them race? It would be really good if we could actually watch that race online and see those guys playing and how good they are.”
Clive: “My personal goal for that if we’ve got it would be to get their ghost laps and actually make them up-loadable so the world could upload that lap and it would be a challenge. They could see how they did it and have a go.”
VVV: “But it’s seeing them racing, seeing the five winners actually racing each other would be a great thing for the competitive community. I think that’s the thing with tournaments; even if you can’t get into the lobbies with the top players you can actually watch them play, watch your friends play. Because like you say, the replays are so entertaining I think I spent as much time watching the reply as I did playing the game.”
Clive: “We do have ghost lap upload and download in the game, so in the full game you’ll be able to download the world record laps off the leader-boards. So I think that’ll be cool, if only to see how much better they are than me.”
VVV: Thanks Clive, it’s a huge package and great achievement to finally get to the end of development on a title like this and I hope the playing community embrace it with the passion of your team.
Following the interview we took the time to really get stuck in and find out some early impressions, as the demo it revealed that the handling can vary quite considerably from one car to another. Indeed it appears that many players may find one class they prefer and nail it. But there’s no doubt the handling model is a curious one, brakes are super powerful, many corners can be taken with simply a slight lift and on occasion it is even possible to take hairpins at full speed. So the handling is sensitive but grows on you and this probably comes back to the whole philosophy of the game. Bringing more people into racing and making it more assessable while creating an intense experience.
It’s defiantly a no holds barred arcade game but does it have the longevity for the term? That’s something we’ll need to discover in our forthcoming review. Suffice to say VVV will be going through GRID in some considerable detail so watch this space for more information as we put together our definitive review.