Sat in Ubisoft Reflections studio up in Newcastle, we put pedal to the metal in the new Driver game. As we cruised around the streets of San Francisco, Creative Producer Martin Edmondson talked us through the game, giving us a live developer's commentary as we played. We managed to steer this commentary to our own tastes by throwing a few questions his way. Read on for how the game's revolutionary Shift mechanic came about, how the narrative supports that mechanic, and what Edmondson's favourite cars in the game are.
Q: It's been some time since the last Driver game, and in that time there have been a fair few open world driving games. How does Driver: San Francisco build on what they've achieved and what does it do differently?
Martin Edmondson: It does quite a lot differently. Obviously the Shift mechanic that we have here is unlike anything in any other driving game. We've specifically avoided trying to duplicate anything that is being done in other open world action driving games. When we first produced the original Driver game, it was the first game to have an open city environment, and then the second Driver game, Driver 2, was the first game to have the getting out of cars, into cars, stealing cars. But then along came Grand Theft Auto and a bunch of others, and there are now a lot of games that have that mechanic.
Q: So this time around you weren't keen to have the character running around outside the car?
ME: No, absolutely. As a point of design, we deliberately stayed away from that, because as I said there are a lot of games doing that now, and doing it very well too, so it wasn't desirable for us to just copy that exact mechanic.
How exactly did Shift come about? What was the creative process behind that?
ME: The instigator for that was Google Earth Live, or the concept of Google Earth Live. Obviously we all know what Google Earth is – but it's a static image that was taken 6 months ago or whatever, and people who are not used to tech or don't know Google Earth – like if my Mum was to ask about it, and you show her the house, she'd say "so is that like what's happening now? If I go outside will you see me?" – it's kind of a cute question, but that's the instigator for it, to do that, so when you're in the Shift mode, and you're hovering above the city – that is Google Earth Live. Pick any car you want, grab the car.
Q: One of my favourite aspects of Driv3r was the movie maker mode, is that returning for San Francisco?
ME: It is, yes. There was no film director in Driver 4, but we've brought it back for Driver: San Francisco. The game is about Hollywood style car chases, and for me that is a core pillar of the experience, and you can't have a game that's about a Hollywood car chase without being able to see that car chase from the point of view of a film camera.
Will Shift come in to play with the Director mode? Will it affect how you're able to direct that action?
ME: Yes, because you can shift and change cars and drive them and so on – you do influence it in that way. For me, the addition of the film director is to create a cohesive car chase, rather than to be able to fracture the action, because for me it's just part of the core experience of the Hollywood car chase.
Q: Obviously this is the first 'next-gen' Driver title; are you going to use community features over Xbox LIVE or PSN to share these videos?
ME: We're not talking about how we do that, but obviously it's a feature that's ripe for uploading and sharing these things. In fact, people actually did it with Driv3r and Driver 1 – I think with Driver 1 there was no such thing as YouTube - but people found ways of sharing them online and producing videos and so on. So yes, absolutely, it's a feature that's ripe for that.
Q: Going back to the Shift mechanic; it seems to have a huge impact on the narrative. It's all taking place in Tanner's mind – is that correct?
ME: From the point that you're in Shift, yes it is. Tanner is in a coma, after the accident [at the end of Driv3r] and just thinks he's had a lucky escape, and the player knows that he's in a coma. So this is all playing out in his mind.
Q: So does that mean that nothing in the story that has happened has actually happened?
ME: It doesn't necessarily mean that at all, because the way that comas work in reality is that people that are in a coma take outside influences, things that are happening around them in reality, and those things infiltrate their state of mind in a coma. It's a bit like, for most of us, if we have a dream and something happens in the real world, like a dog barking for example, then some element of that often creeps into the dream. So for the player, the interest really is how does this play out and what happens in the real world that infiltrates this state of mind?