Originally slated for release in the latter half of 2007 Ferrari Challenge Trofeo Pirelli (not to be confused with the AM2 Dreamcast title) abruptly vanished off the radar and with System 3 giving little information there were obvious fears the game may never see the light of day, however those fears were dispelled as Mark Cale CEO of System 3 recently pulled the sheet off its new motor and very impressive it is too.
Due out on Nintendo Wii, DS, PS2 and PS3 with the latter being its flagship format, of course with the current storm of excitement surrounding Sony’s Gran Turismo 5, entering the serious racing arena on PS3 will be a stiff challenge, so does Ferrari Challenge have what its takes to make its mark and establish its own niche within the genre?
Developed by Eutechnyx and published by System 3, Ferrari Challenge has clearly been a labour a love by all of those within the development circles and with a high level of support from the Ferrari brand, everyone involved has made sure corners haven’t been cut in bringing the title to fruition.
This first official showing took place rather appropriately within the Ferrari Challenge race meeting at Silverstone racetrack, with unrestricted access granted to all areas of the paddock and the Ferrari motor homes, this was truly an exciting proposition for any racing fan. So Kikizo took the opportunity for a roam around and take some behind the scenes pictures before heading into the Ferrari motor home to give the game a quick spin and interview Mark about his passion for racing, Ferrari and bringing his vision of racing into the home.
VVV: Hi Mark and thanks for joining us, so to bring us to this point, Ferrari Challenge; where did it all start for you?
Cale: The beginning was probably about when I was about 7 – 8 years old, when I first started watching Formula 1; I just loved the passion of Ferrari and the glamour of Ferrari way, way back then. In fact, some years later I was probably the only English school boy in my school that was supporting Niki Lauda when James Hunt was in the hunt for the title and Niki Lauda unfortunately crashed at Nurburgring and that was the end of the Championship. That was back in ’76 when I was twelve and really all the way through right the way through when I grew up, all I wanted to do was have a Ferrari and be a race driver or you know it’s like a football team you support. You support 1 team, I support Arsenal, I support Ferrari that’s it! It doesn’t matter if they’re good, bad or whatever. It took 21 years for Ferrari to win a World Championship, and obviously I was obviously supporting Ferrari when I they were coming in 8th, 9th, 10th in a race which generally would happen, now they are on a big high and really well organised.
VVV: So you have always had personal ambitions to own a Ferrari?
Cale: I had a desire to really find a way to own my own Ferrari and I the only way I could do that was to get your own successful business and that is really the whole reason System 3 was born, through the desire to have enough disposable income potentially to own a Ferrari at the end of it. So years go about 25 years on since I started System 3, here I am publishing Ferrari on all the consoles except 360, you know its two ambitions collided for me into a wide ranging emotional gratification. I love video games; love Ferrari, two main interests in my life, apart from my family that is my greatest interest.
VVV: On embarking on this project, were you aware of the scale of the final product?
Cale: I was totally aware of the scale of it and of course what we wanted to do is not just to make a Ferrari product but try and create one of the best racing games ever created because of course once you are using a name like Ferrari you’re there to be knocked down. Some people want you to fail; they want to have a reason to write a negative thing about Ferrari game or whatever. Obviously that’s not happening, people are saying this is potentially the best racing game ever done, a lot of journalists have given a lot of positive remarks as to why it is better than Gran Turismo, we always knew we were better than Forza 2 by a mile but to show that we are better than Gran Turismo then a lot of things have come true. That responsibility about protecting a brand and not just selling a game because it’s got Ferrari logo on the box is the most important thing so it’s a huge responsibility that you have with promoting this brand.
VVV: Obviously there’s a lot of competition within the racing genre but what were the key aspects you focused on, something you wanted to really work on developing?
Cale: I think the AI is superb. The first thing to really sort of do, what I call bump-and-grind racing was probably TOCA from Codemasters years ago. Of course you mention Race Driver Grid and all of the stuff they’ve been doing recently but it feels very dead compared to the way Codies were before and I feel since the darlings have left something has gone from that passion of making a race game a race game.
The AI and our game is unique in that it is not splined first of all, let’s look at Gran Turismo – Prologue. I don’t call it a race I call it a time trial with obstacle courses because the same car does the same thing all of the time, is sprints it’s all about how quickly you can be and to be fastest, I’ve raced cars, that’s not a racing experience! What’s all this 50 credits? Maybe I can upgrade from 1 bad Japanese car to maybe not such a bad Japanese car a month down the line. It takes you towards the end of the game before you actually get to your performance cars. So really the challenge we have brought back, how do we bring the right experience right from the beginning? Let’s start with the AI; these prevent you from just using them just as an obstacle to go round. We have progressive AI, progressive intelligence and its all done by what we call a virtual button technology. Basically the car at the speed controlled by the AI works out who is behind, what is in front, does he brake late, does he brake conservatively and depending on the scenario he may out-brake himself. You will quite often see AI cars knocking each other off the track or if he has tried to out-brake you because you are trying to pass him, this is one of games where AI actually defend a corner. The AI cars defend a corner like a proper race and I think that was probably the most successfully realised challenge that we have overcome was to make it feel like a real race game.
VVV: So clearly proud the of the AI, what other unique challenges has producing this product brought about?
Cale: The next significant challenge was how you balance mass market with hard core gamers that want a sim and we’ve now created what we believe to be an arcade sim. It’s an arcade sim because you can adjust your assists in certain ways that it can make it feel like more like an arcade game if you turn the assists right up but if you switch them off it feels like a real race car. Too much power, side kicks out or you loose control, you don’t press the brakes properly, you roll on and roll off brakes and the track way to control your car, and you steer the car with the accelerator and the brake. Obviously with the assists on you don’t, it is a slightly different experience and that is why we call it an arcade race simulation because it is mixing the both. Now you are going to have hard core gamers that are going to want it as a sim. A lot of Ferrari people are mass market customers that are not really into hardcore simulations, so that is the next big challenge is and I feel that we have totally over come that with our sophisticated adjustable balancing that we have achieved with this current set of assists.
VVV: Great! So you’ve got the AI, balanced Assists but let’s look at the third major issue, crash damage and can we smash these beauties up? It’s always been an issue with car manufacturers feeling uncomfortable seeing their products smashed up in a game so how have you managed this with Ferrari?
Cale: Yes convincing Ferrari to put damage on the cars was our next big challenge, so suddenly as you said we’ve already overcome 3 major challenges, the crash damage is in there but we didn’t just stop there, look at the environmental effects with the rain and look at the dust when you go over the kitty litter, dust goes over the bumper, the more you go off the dirtier your car gets, it gets bits of tyre debris and everything else. Instead of wasting all the memory on the PS3 to do the most amazing paint effects like Gran Turismo and have a sterile clinical feel, we have got something that is full of my emotion, and I feel the game has got my enthusiasm encapsulated in it
VVV: How has Ferrari been to work with, have they been keen to assist with input on the game?
Cale: Ferrari has been fantastic to work with and with such a powerful brand, of course as I have been saying there is such a huge responsibility on our shoulders. Ferrari have to be protective of their brand, you can’t have a crap product. The way they worked with us, the way they have supported us, the way they introduce us to their partners for promotions, that way they have accessed clients with rare cars so that we could get Bruno Senna in one of the cars and replicate our 250GT on the track. You know it’s been phenomenal, access to all their blueprints and cab drawings and things like that, all making for cars that are actually modelled. It has just been a real pleasure to work with them; they have been fantastic partners on the project.
VVV: You mentioned Bruno Senna did he get involved in any testing of the final game?
Cale: Yes he did; Bruno Senna, worked on all of the car handling and all the set-ups featured in the game. We went on various tracks with him driving the cars and dialing that in to the game effectively, Eutechnyx had fantastic race engine we built with them and what we’ve done is introduce our very own real life test driver for the game; Bruno Senna! Without Bruno Senna it’s another important part of the jigsaw that would have been missing.
VVV: A little bird tells me you did a bit of racing yourself in years gone by?
Cale: Yeah I used to drive race cars, (Mark chuckles) yeah…
VVV: What cars did you race?
Cale: Ferrari Challenge cars, but I wasn’t good enough I’m afraid. A lot of the drivers here, a lot of the structure I know how it works, been, seen and done it myself. But my forte is making games not racing real cars.
VVV: How many models of Ferrari appear in the game, does it include any Formula 1 classics from the 1950’s – 60’s?
Cale: First of all there are no F1 cars in the game; the game is built around Gran Turismo and GT cars. The reason for that is I think is a world of pain when it come to as to approvals with Bernie, the FIA and everything else and for us at the moment we wanted to steer away from that side of things, and in any event how can I race a Ferrari against another Ferrari F1 car when they all look the same and you won’t be able to change the stickers or customize, it seems a pointless exercise to us at this stage in the evolution of this game. What we do in the future who knows but at the moment I can’t see the value of a F1 car in the game but the old cars we have got in there, let’s start with 250 Testarossa 1957. What a classic car, a fantastic car that is the oldest car in there and of great significance, we could have gone a little bit older than that but the 250 Testarossa is a beautiful car to look at in terms of shape. But again baring in mind the mass market users you can put an assist on that are not on a real car to balance out a mass market player.
VVV: Did they record they record sound direct from source?
Cale: Yeah they had them all on rolling roads.
VVV: That’s great and always adds to the experience. Now we don’t have a steering wheel here today available to test? Is it compatible with steering wheels?
Cale: Yes it works with all steering wheels and especially well with the Logitech steering wheel.
VVV: These cars that appear in the game, did you select them or did Ferrari select them?
Cale: I selected them; in terms of what I felt would be an overall historical perspective from an FXX which is a track/race version of the Ferrari Enzo which everybody loves, all the way back to that Ferrari Testarossa from 1957. I mean there are a few older ones than the Testrossa, you can go back to 1947 to the very first Ferrari but I think we wanted to leave something in terms of not giving everything away.
VVV: The next thing we were impressed by has been the fantastic course selection; we were very pleased to see Spa make it into the game, undoubtedly one of the world’s finest courses. Did you select the circuits?
Cale: They’re all the circuits on the Ferrari challenge calendar, so there are some circuits we would have liked in there such as Nurburgring or Laguna Seca which weren’t on the race circuit last year, they are on this year and will be released as downloadable content.
VVV: Tuning cars, are there any options to tune cars in the game?
Cale: Absolutely, when you play the challenge series, you can change a wide range of aspects of the car such as dampers, ride height etc..
VVV: Great so can you use those set-ups online?
Cale: Yes and there’s 16 player support both online and on Lan.
VVV: XB360 version, is that on the cards at the moment, is it on the plans?
Cale: No it’s not in the plans at the moment, it is with regret were not doing a 360 version but hence of the politics of Microsoft.
VVV: Finally Mark that classic question, what aspect have you been most pleased about?
Cale: I think the thing that I’m most pleased about is when you’ve got real race drivers from the real challenge series that are pretty much in awe of the game, who feel I’ve captured the spirit of the Ferrari series and the emotion of the Ferrari brand.
VVV: Thanks for time Mark, now I’ll crack on with the game and put it through its paces.
Following the interview it was time for a first (all be it brief) hands-on, the front end displaying all of the passion you’d expect with a rousing classical chorus as the game demonstrates its variety of cars and in some style, this perfectly befitting the brand and that Ferrari mystique.
Options menus were sleek and polished while including a range of assists besides the all important racing line which is now the stable-mate of many racing sims with serious intentions, introducing more people to the genre and working well amongst the many new gamers within the Ferrari motor home. Track selection was a very pleasant surprise with 16 circuits ready from the off including favourites such as Spa (Belgium), Silverstone and Hockenheim as well as expected entries such as Monza and Mugello.
Upon hitting the tarmac first impressions appear somewhat underwhelming with the graphics lacking polish and slightly rough around the edges. This probably due to the 30fps and colourful (bordering on cartoon like) graphics, meanwhile a lack of in game motion blur effects leave its initial impact below expectations. Indeed on starting a race some of the courses appear slightly flat and lacking a field of view, Mugello in particular was a significant change from other interpretations but Ferrari were apparently very pleased with the final course render and driving experience. Other circuits were better realised, however some appearing a tad tighter than expected, turn one at Silverstone (Copse Corner) visually appeared a lot tighter and without the tarmac run off area, could this have been left out for game-play reasons?
As with all modern racers there are the standard selectable viewpoints and again we see the dashboard view make its appearance, with fully rendered interiors accurate to the actual car models. However execution appears slightly lacking, head movement is minimal leaving the view somewhat disconnected from the driving experience, it’s all a touch rigid nevertheless it is still a highly playable view even if the rear view mirror leaves a bit to be desired.
But looking beyond the graphical details, we spend a few corners discovering the limits of performance (while spinning off a few times) and suddenly the handling comes to life. Cars braking with good convincing weight into corners, making for a solid driving experience, first impressions of the game-play prove very enjoyable with a great feeling of satisfaction derived from hooking up some of the more challenging sections of the many courses. The more you play the more the handling feels right, the developers have clearly found a great balance with the assists really changing the face of the game and its at this point you begin to notice the little graphical details and some wonderful visual touches, heavily detailed tarmac giving a great feeling of speed and as the laps fly by you notice ever more detail especially within the beautifully realised vision of Monza. First impressions of handling are very positive; watch this space for a more details in the coming weeks as VVV Gamer push those limits in performance and attributes of the many vehicles besides while exploring the varied weather conditions.
More time spent playing reveals the extent of the AI and on first instance it appears to work well, visually the cars are big and bold with a nice weight conveyed as they power round the course, jostling for position and always prepared to go offline in defending a corner which should certainly prove entertaining for those not yet online or of medium ability. The more you play the more the game appears to grow and become ever more enjoyable, pushing away those first negative impressions and revealing an additive involving experience. Add to this the ability to play 16 multi-player online and the package becomes all the more alluring, online races could be a saviour if Eutechnyx can get it right.
There is no doubt Ferrari Challenge will see stiff competition from its rivals on release but it does appear to be putting together the components to succeed, it will appeal to racing fans and Ferrari fans alike although it’s appeal to the wider market is yet to be seen. With continued support planned from the developers and a wide range of downloadable content this title could see itself a few places further up the grid than first expected.