With Sony giving the PSP a much needed release line-up boost earlier in the year, PSP gamers have a lot to look forward to over the coming months. One of those games is MotorStorm: Arctic Edge, due for release before the year's end on PSP and PS2. We caught up with Richard Ogden, Game Director at BigBig Studios to get his take on if the game will be a cut above the competition and why the team chose to do something new with the series' debut on PSP.
VideoGamer.com: Why choose the Arctic as the setting and not something gamers are familiar with from the PS3 games?
Richard Ogden: I think firstly we made a conscious decision not to just do a port. We felt the PSP deserved its own version of MotorStorm. Doing a port would have been, maybe not the easy option, but not the most appealing thing, both as a developer and perhaps the games buying public. Initially we definitely wanted to look at something different, not just picking tracks from the other two games and porting them over. Then it was just a case of looking at what other typical environments do you get in video games. The jungle level and the desert level, they're done, so a snow level seemed like one of the most obvious to pick.
VideoGamer.com: What can gamers expect from the setting?
RO: One of the reasons it was appealing is that it immediately threw up ideas for other vehicle types, so we've got the snow machine and the snow cat - that's two new vehicle types. Plus there were ideas for different environmental events or gags, so the things we're putting into the game are triggered avalanches. So you're driving along certain hazard marked areas, you can then beep your horn or explode your vehicle, create a loud noise and you can have an avalanche crashing down the mountainside which can wipe out other vehicles.
VideoGamer.com: In terms of game structure, will the game resemble what's gone before or are you trying something new?
RO: I'd say it's fairly similar, so you've got the Festival mode, with races within it that you progress through. That's the main single-player experience, yeah.
VideoGamer.com: A few people were disappointed that Arctic Edge isn't being developed by Evolution. What would you say to those people to reassure them that this is going to be a proper game in the MotorStorm series?
RO: Well, I'd say Evolution hasn't done any PSP games and we've previously done two. We've always had quite a strong link with Evolution - prior to being acquired by Sony they were our parent company. We have pretty close links with them, we share code and what not, and we've been well aware of the MotorStorm games before they were even in the public eye. That close link allows us to talk to the game directors there and we can get code, so it's a very easy kind of relationship to utilise.
VideoGamer.com: MotorStorm on PS3 wouldn't be what it is without the massive environments and jaw dropping scenery. How are you going to live up to this level of expectation gamers have considering the huge difference in horsepower between the PS3 and PSP?
RO: There's some of that. There are some areas where you've got the face the fact that it's on the PSP, so in terms of performance, graphical fidelity, it's not going to look like the PS3 version. One thing that comes in there is the long draw distances, the massive vistas, where you're at the top of a cliff jumping off and seeing really far into the distance. One of the reasons we chose the Arctic environment is that it seemed to fit our plans for track design, which would enable us to close things in a little more in places. That's not to say that we don't have some nice distant views, but they're done in a little more of a cheating way.
VideoGamer.com: Will courses still be split into different zones like in Pacific Rift?
RO: It's certainly not the case that all the tracks are white, so what we've done is divided it into zones, but we don't explicitly reference that within the game as Pacific Rift did. In Pacific you had the four zones. We don't sort of select the zone and then select the track. It's kind of corresponding broadly to altitudes of the mountain. There are twelve tracks, four in each zone. So the low zone has more of the kind of mud, gravel, kind of feel to it. The area's kind of more slushy than snowy. We sent guys out to Alaska to take loads of reference footage. They went to all these different areas, all the way from the foot of the mountain to the top. It sort of reflects the setting quite well. In a way it kind of harks back to the first MotorStorm. Going up the high zone, it's pretty much pure snow, ice, glaciers - we have different types of snow and different types of ice, but a lot of that is very much your whites and Rocky Mountains. The middle zone is kind of a mix of the two, so you've still got some of the gravel and rock, but there's a bit more of a covering of snow coming in.
VideoGamer.com: For me the series has always looked fairly arcadey, but in actual fact is really quite tough. Is Arctic Edge going to cater for the same audience or are you toning down the difficulty for handheld gamers?
RO: In terms of difficulty, I think it kind of ramped up half way through Pacific Rift. I think we'll be looking to temper that a little more, especially as it's on the PSP and that there's a younger audience there. When it comes to replaying races in the free play mode you'll be able to set difficulty, so if you want to race harder races you can. I'm not saying it's going to be a breeze, but we were kind of bitten before by the Pursuit Force difficulty a few years ago.
VideoGamer.com: Can you tell us anything about the game's multiplayer functionality?
RO: We've got standard racing game modes as you'd expect. We've also got something new called Time Ticker mode. It's essentially a replacement to Eliminator. We felt that if you were the last guy and got destroyed, then you were out of the game. Then you've got to wait until everyone is finished. Our time ticker mode is kind of based on eliminator, but you accumulate points based on how long you're in a certain position, so if you're in first your points tick up at a higher rate - if you're in last place your points don't tick up at all. So in theory you could win without being in first at all.
VideoGamer.com: How many players are you going to support online?
RO: We're aiming to support eight players online, and we look good for that at the moment.
VideoGamer.com: Any Game sharing?
RO: No, there's no game share mode.
VideoGamer.com: One or two PSP games have received demos prior to launch. Are you planning to get something on the PlayStation Store ahead of the game's release?
RO: I'm not sure about the date, but I'd have thought there will be a demo. It may well just coincide with the launch.
VideoGamer.com: You guys have supported the PSP from the beginning, so presumably you're confident that Arctic Edge will be a cut above the competition on its release?
RO: I'm pretty confident (laughs). Obviously I've not seen a lot else that's coming out this year, but I do think from revamping and revising our engine we're definitely squeezing more out of it. It's the same engine we used on Pursuit Force One and Two, so we've taken our knowledge and moved forward from there. It's kind of honed in if you like. I'm hoping people will look at it as one of the best looking PSP games, if not the best looking PSP game, ever, maybe this year. Different people have different opinions on graphical looks and what not. A lot of people that have seen it are saying it looks really good, but others are saying it looks samey because it's all Arctic. You kind of would expect that, but different people are entitled to different opinions. When you sit down and play, and you play it on a PSP, as opposed to playing it on a big demo pod, then you will realise how good it looks.
VideoGamer.com: Are you guys handling the PS2 version as well?
RO: That's outsourced, but we have strict controls. It's the same game, the same code base. It's just plugged into a PS2 engine. It's got up-ressed graphics to go with the larger screen size.
VideoGamer.com: How far along are you now and when will gamers be able to play it?
RO: I can't give you a precise date, but I can say it'll be released in the autumn.
VideoGamer.com: It seems as though the PSP is on the verge of a second wind, with plenty of high profile games announced to be in development. Why do you think game releases dried up for a period over the last year?
RO: It's probably just down to timing. We were doing one game for two years and then another game for two years, and now we're doing another one. I don't know really.
VideoGamer.com: The new PSP then, that sounds good...
RO: Well, I can't say anything about that or the rumours that relate to a new PSP.
VideoGamer.com: The job listings on your website specify that PS3 programming experience for candidates would be beneficial. Does that mean what we think it means?
RO: They're probably out of date (laughs). I'd say there's not much to read into that. They're probably out of date.
VideoGamer.com: The Pursuit Force series seems like a fan favourite. Should we expect that series to come back at some point?
RO: Personally I'd like to not rule it out, I mean you never know, but at the moment we're focussing on Arctic Edge, then we'd look at what we're doing next. I get emails asking is there going to be another one, what's happening with Pursuit Force 3. There is no Pursuit Force 3 (laughs).
VideoGamer.com: Do you see it as a handheld game or would you like to see it moving across to the PS3 at some point?
RO: I think it's the kind of thing that we always saw as a bigger game, but like I say, I'm not sure if that will ever happen.
VideoGamer.com: Finally, have you got anything to say to MotorStorm fans on why they should excited about Arctic Edge?
RO: It is a MotorStorm game, but really it's a game not just for MotorStorm fans. Hopefully it will appeal to a wide audience and PSP gamers who are looking for something to reignite their interest in the console; there'll be other stuff coming this year as well. It's a game for racing game fans, who maybe haven't pickled up MotorStorm, maybe this version is going to be more accessible to them. It's a game for MotorStorm fans. It's another iteration in the franchise. The tracks are different and it will feel like a MotorStorm game.
VideoGamer.com: Thanks a lot for taking the time to talk to us.