With the excellent Burnout Paradise and Project Gotham Racing 4 currently satisfying virtual speed junkies, racing fans are covered. Not so, says Codemasters. And to prove it, they're readying Racedriver: GRID for the track this summer on Xbox 360, PS3, PC and Nintendo DS. We caught up with chief games designer Ralph Fulton to ask him what the team has done to make Racedriver the best ever in the series.
VideoGamer.com: From what we've seen, it seems like you guys are going for more of an arcade racer feel compared with previous Race Driver games. Why this change in direction?
Ralph Fulton: Yes we've definitely changed direction, although I'd definitely stop short of calling GRID an arcade racer. The change is really manifested in the game's content - we've looked beyond Europe to the US and Japan to find new styles of racing, and new environments to race in. We're also really keen to make the game as accessible as possible so that newcomers to the series aren't put off by the difficulty curve, but I don't think that comes at the expense of depth - there are still a lot of options for the serious racing fan.
VideoGamer.com: It's fair to say sales of PGR4 were disappointing. Does that worry you guys? Is the racing genre becoming niche?
RF: I don't think so. I think last year was just an epic year for top quality racing games so there was a lot of competition for the racing fan's attention.
VideoGamer.com: We've heard about the game's Flashback feature - how will it work? Will there be a cap on how many times you can use it in a race? Will it
implemented into multiplayer games?
RF: Flashback is one of the features we've added to improve the game's accessibility - having an amazing damage system means you get to see lots of cool crashes but it also means races can end in the time it takes to misjudge a corner, which for the new player can be off-putting. With Flashback you can watch a replay of your crash and then choose a point in it to "flash back" to, allowing you to get back in the race and remedy your mistake immediately. It's much less punishing than having to restart your race. The number of Flashbacks you are allowed in each race is determined by the difficulty level you're playing on - higher difficulty equals fewer Flashbacks - and in the career game there's a cash bonus for unused Flashbacks at the end of a race. And no, it's not available in multiplayer races.
VideoGamer.com: What can you tell us about the online functions of the game? Do you guys have any plans for DLC? If so what are they?
RF: You can race most of the events available in the single-player game online, in 12 player races. We've concentrated on online features which allow you to choose what you do and stay in a session for as long as possible, so we've got a host migration system which automatically switches hosting duties if the original host drops out (rather than booting everyone back to the lobby), and we've got a voting system which means everybody has a say in the event they race next. We also let you set the length of the event you want to enter, from single races to five race events.
We have plans to release several DLC packs in the months after release, and we're already working on them. We'll release details of them when we have everything confirmed.
VideoGamer.com: Do you have any plans to release a demo? If so when might that be?
RF: Definitely. It should be out at the start of May.
VideoGamer.com: How has the EGO engine improved? How does it translate to the PS3 compared with the Xbox 360? Is it better suited to either platform?
RF: The EGO engine has been improving in lots of ways over the last year. For GRID, the main changes have been to allow for features which DiRT didn't have - 20 car grids, night racing, a 24 hour day-to-night cycle for Le Mans - but there have been numerous changes to our lighting and shader systems which mean that GRID is visually stunning. We've also completely rewritten our car damage and deformation system, and implemented a crowd system which allows us to populate each track with up to 40,000 fully modelled, animated spectators. EGO has been designed to be truly multi-platform so there is no significant difference between the two consoles.
VideoGamer.com: What framerate are you guys going for? A locked 30FPS or 60FPS - is it better to have 60FPS or 30FPS with motion blur?
RF: We're going to be locked to 30fps. That was actually a really easy decision for us - the visual improvements I was talking about wouldn't have been possible if we'd been aiming for 60fps.
VideoGamer.com: How is the development team tackling multi-platform development? Will there be any differences at all between the console versions of the game in terms of gameplay and graphics? Is there a lead platform?
RF: As I mentioned, EGO is a multi-platform engine which has been designed to make developing on all three platforms as simple as possible. We don't have a lead platform, and the differences between the consoles will be pretty negligible.
VideoGamer.com: The DS version of the game has a track creator - any plans to implement this into the console versions? If not, why?
RF: Not for this game, although the we love the track creator in the DS version.
VideoGamer.com:The game won't be coming to the Wii. Why have you guys decided not to release a Wii version? Could GRID ever come to the Wii?
RF: We develop the "next gen" (is it still called that?) versions internally while the DS version is developed by a separate team, mainly because the demands of the DS are so different from a design point of view. The same is true of Wii; you can't just port a game to it - it has to be designed specifically for the console from the ground up. We're lucky that we have an external team developing GRID DS who understand what we want to achieve from the game and can translate that to the DS. If we find a team who can do the same with a Wii version then you can expect to see a version in the future.
Racedriver: GRID is set for Xbox 360, PS3, PC and the Nintendo DS this summer.