GRID Autosport isn't coming to PlayStation 4 or Xbox One. Boo-urns. But why not? VideoGamer chats to chief game designer James Nicholls following the reaction to this morning's announcement about whether Codemasters still stands by its decision not to launch on PS4 and Xbox One, the improvements it's made to its last-gen engine, and when we're going to see GRID 3...
VideoGamer.com: Why did Codemasters decide to stick exclusively to Xbox 360, PS3 and PC for GRID Autosport, rather than target PS4 & Xbox One as well?
James Nicholls, Chief Game Designer, GRID Autosport: It's all a matter of timing, really. We exited GRID2 with this vast amount of fan feedback about what people wanted, and we also had the engine and the team around the game. We felt we could make a game for summer '14 that addressed that feedback if we used our existing technology, which is built for 360, PS3 and PC.
Our next-gen EGO engine is underway, and future titles will absolutely support PS4 and Xbox One. However, we don't have thousands of developers across multiple development houses around the world, so there was no way we could take our existing engine and port it, in a year. If we had taken this approach, all we'd be doing is taking technology designed for the previous generation and porting it to next-generation consoles - it wouldn't be optimal, and it wouldn't be a 'proper' next-gen game, taking advantage of the features and the technology that next-generation consoles offer. In addition, we'd be doing this at the expense of building our actual next-generation technology, whilst our talented programmers were tied down with a port.
When we do make a next-generation game, we want it to be exactly that, not a ported current-gen game.
Given some of this morning's feedback and the demand for a next-gen GRID, do you still think it was the correct decision? Would it have been infeasible to port the PC version to next-gen consoles?
JN: I completely understand that people have spent a lot of money on next-generation consoles and want games on those platforms, and it's great to see so many people wanting a next-gen Codemasters Racing title. Obviously we didn't make this decision recently - we decided to do one more GRID game with our existing technology last year, after we shipped GRID2, knowing full well that would mean we'd only have the time to support PC, PS3 and Xbox360. That said, we were also confident that millions of people would still own these platforms during this transition phase, and would still want to buy games for them. Also a lot (but sadly not all) of our community would also still have these platforms during our target of summer '14.
It all comes down to timing for us. I think the common misconception is that because there are a few similarities with regular PC hardware and architectures, that a port is "free", like you press a button and out pops a console version! In reality, you're rebuilding huge amounts of software, fundamental to your game engine, to work differently and think differently. Features like rapid loading, social features, cloud support and so on aren't something you can tack on - you have to build your game around them.
If you look at our back-catalogue, we've never rushed onto the new hardware, but when we have arrived we've made something genuinely not possible before. GRID's a great example, arriving a fair time after the launch of Xbox 360 and PS3, but when it arrived, we did it right and really moved the genre forwards. Conversely, we were still supporting the previous generation with TOCA Race Driver 3 late into the Xbox and PlayStation 2's lifespan.
What's been great from a game development perspective is that having the team and the engine in place meant that the game's development absolutely flew by. The team have loved making an authentic racing game again, and the game has been the product of hundreds of little improvements from the team, the community, professional drivers and AUTOSPORT magazine.
Have you been able to make any significant graphical improvements since GRID 2? How will the PC and console versions differ from the previous game?
JN: We've been able to push the PC further and harder, with support for new features like 4K Texture Support and a suite of new features built in conjunction with Intel. We've been able to add both new DX11 features at the top end, but also work with Intel to make sure that a wide range of PC hardware can play the game, benefitting from our highly-optimised and tuned engine.
For 360 and PS3, we've focussed on squeezing every last drop of performance out of them, re-introducing in-car views and pushing the grid sizes up to 16 cars on track, as well as reworking the lighting direction for the game. Obviously the PC benefits directly from all of these improvements as well.
Autosport's vehicle handling is said to be more simulation-based than previous GRIDs. Do you still consider the series an arcade racer, or do you have ambitions to see it competing with Forza and Gran Turismo?
JN: Handling wise, we've returned to an authentic handling model with layers of assists you can turn on and off to your choosing. GRID games are always along the line between arcade and simulation, and we've no aspirations of making a simulator. This is a videogame, not a simulator, and we balance everything (handling, AI, difficulty curve and so on) to support that.
In terms of other racing titles, what sets us apart is that we're focussed on the racing experience - that feeling that you are a racing driver, actually on that starting grid, actually about to race a real event - as opposed to being a driving simulator, where the focus would be completely on the car and the track. For us, the car is a means to an end - it's your tool to compete with the other drivers on the track. That's the 'sport' of racing, as opposed to just driving.
Codemasters' community manager Ben Walke said earlier today that Codemasters felt like it had "something to prove" following GRID 2. Was Codemasters disappointed with the fan reaction to GRID 2?
JN: We're proud of what we achieved with GRID2, and we accomplished what we wanted to by bringing the series to a wider audience. However, I think some of our community felt we had abandoned them, which is definitely not what we planned or intended. But we do listen, and hearing how passionately people felt about a relative lack of motorsports content, the removal of in-car views and some feedback we had about our online game convinced us that we could use the technology and the team at our disposal to make the kind of game that this core fan base wanted. This coincided nicely with a broader decision at Codemasters to focus on more authentic racing games, which will carry forward to future titles as well.
GRID Autosport sounds a little closer to the original GRID than GRID 2. Should fans expect a career structure closer to that game than GRID 2?
JN: That's probably a fair comment, but there are still some differences. We have these five unique racing styles in Autosport, and the player is free to tackle any one of those in any order in the career, which is more open than GRID. The career is all about racing for teams, accepting contract offers, racing with a team-mate and completing team targets. However, a difference from GRID is that these contracts are for a season of multiple races, which feels really different. We now flow from race-to-race without loading to a front end, which is really nice, and we're finding that the hours slip by as you get engrossed in season-long battles with the AI.
Does Autosport set the foundations for the series going forward or should it be considered a spin-off? Will we see the return of the WSR?
JN: Codemasters Racing is definitely focussing on authentic racing games for the foreseeable future.
GRID Autosport will let players form clubs with other members of the community. Could you discuss how this works?
JN: Thanks to RaceNet, we've been able to build a new feature - RaceNet clubs - for GRID Autosport. This is something our fans have been asking for ever since we announced RaceNet, so it's great to finally deliver this. With RaceNet clubs, you can team up with up to one hundred other players on RaceNet and create your club, creating a name and a custom clan-tag. Then, from the game, you can upload a club livery to RaceNet. When members of the team race in their livery online, they score points for their club. Clubs can then compare performance with other clubs online, via RaceNet. As this is a RaceNet feature, it'll be something we can continue to develop and even incorporate into other Codemasters Racing games, potentially.
What's the reasoning behind the GRID Autosport name? Why not call it GRID 3?
JN: We knew that if we were going to release a game a year later than GRID2, but shift the focus of the game to authentic motorsports, we'd need to make sure everyone understood this straight away. The risk with calling the game 'GRID 3' was that people would be confused as to whether this was a direct continuation of the WSR-based story of GRID2 or something different. We felt that GRID Autosport was crystal clear in terms of what the game's focus was.
Ben also revealed today that "next-gen GRID will come in time". How long before GRID fans see the series jump to next-gen, and what will the power of the new consoles offer the series? Will EGO Engine 2 be radically different to its last-gen iteration?
JN: Obviously we're flat out closing GRID Autosport right now - it's out in June! However, the benefit of not being a "cross gen" game is that we'll be able to take into account the new platform features and build them into the game design from day one. As Ben says, there's no frantic rush, but when we do arrive it'll be something that justifies the "next-generation" tag, rather than something you feel was completely possible with existing hardware, but with shinier graphics.
GRID Autosport launches on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC on June 27. To find out more, head through to this morning's announcement.