Slightly Mad Studios: Project CARS 2 ‘wouldn’t ship without elite brands like Ferrari and Porsche’

Katharine Byrne
Slightly Mad Studios: Project CARS 2 ‘wouldn’t ship without elite brands like Ferrari and Porsche’

When Project CARS 2 launches tomorrow, it will be the culmination of several years’ hard work for developer Slightly Mad Studios, not just in terms of getting the game to market, but also in its quest to secure over 180 car licences from almost 40 different manufacturers, giving the series its biggest and best lineup of cars to date. 

“One of the more consistent messages we got from our fans after the release of Project CARS was for more elite brands in-game,” CCO Rod Chong tells MCV. “Given Project CARS sold way over two million copies, that message was very loud. Right from day one, the decision was taken that the game would not ship without the addition of elite brands such as Ferrari and Porsche.”

As you might expect, winning the support of these mega brands is no simple task, with Chong saying it could sometimes take a better part of a year to get a company on board. The success of the first Project CARS, however, certainly helped the studio when it came to lining up brands for the sequel.

“Generally, these conversations begin with us contacting the [manufacturers], though on occasion, some will contact us,” he says. “One of the biggest challenges is to remain patient through the contract process; sometimes a contract can take six or even ten months to work through to completion.

“The challenge of dealing with the various ways automakers do business is as fascinating as it is rewarding, though. Dealing with a German brand, or an Italian, French, American or Japanese brand, all of them come to the table with their unique styles, but they all share this absolute commitment to seeing their brands in the Project CARS franchise both accurately and faithfully. The fact that this lines up perfectly with Project CARS 2 makes the challenge of attracting and securing licences for the world’s most elite brands a lot easier, for sure.”

He continues: “Slightly Mad Studios is also a known quantity now, and because Project CARS was such a big success, not only in terms of sales and reception, but also in our dedication to getting the cars right – both in terms of graphical accuracy and handling accuracy – this kind of dedication to detail really matters to automotive brands.

"They’re obviously extremely aware of their brand identity, and there is a trust that has been built-up through the years with Slightly Mad Studios – trust that we take their brands seriously, but also faith that we take the representation of their brands in our games just as seriously.

“There is also an awareness that we appreciate their racing heritage. Our commitment to bringing them to life is not just what we do, it’s our passion, and this translates into all languages.

"For me, getting the Porsche 935 in-game and getting to race it, knowing I’m finally in the cockpit of an ultra-rare beast that I have adored since I was a kid, and pushing this iconic Porsche to its limit at Le Mans as they did back in the day... We live for this stuff, and that kind of passion and knowledge for the heritage of automakers’ racing history does matter to these brands – in our passion and devotion, I think they see an echo of their own commitment and passion.”

DRIVE THROUGH

In order to deliver the level of accuracy demanded by manufacturers, Slightly Mad Studios uses its in-house Madness engine. “This affords us the ability to directly input all the vehicles’ actual layout, from suspension to engine layout, weight, turbo-lag – you name it and it’s in there – in order to craft a true and authentic experience for every car in Project CARS 2,” says Chong (pictured above)

“For us, our 180-plus cars aren’t just ‘fluff’ to make it sound as if we have loads of cars in-game. Every single car is built to exacting standards, not only in their look, that 1:1 graphical representation, but also – and crucially – how they drive. If you’re in a 70s Porsche, or a late-60s Ferrari, you’re going to be facing the same challenges drivers in that era faced. The same goes with our over-a-dozen current GT3s, or current IndyCars. 

It’s not enough to make realistic-feeling cars; players want the experience of motorsport.

Rod Chong, Slightly Mad Studios

“In the run-up to release, we produced a series of films entitled ‘Built by Drivers’ that show the kind of development that goes into our cars and tracks, and the kind of feedback and close cooperation we enjoy from manufacturers like McLaren, as well as the seven professional drivers (including Ben Collins and Nicolas Hamilton) who we employ as handling consultants. Their experience is invaluable when it comes to assessing the authenticity of our cars and tracks. 

“For us, that’s what authenticity comes down to. It’s not enough in today’s market to make realistic-feeling cars; players demand more. They want the experience of motorsport.”

To this effect, Chong says the team has also paid particular attention to enhancing the entire consumer playing experience, whether it’s those using huge driving wheel setups or just a regular game pad.

“The number one feature for the development team was revamping the feel of the game on all peripherals straight out-of-the-box,” he explains. “Our focus has been especially on game pads. For Project CARS, we didn’t get that right, as the experience from the first game was dampened somewhat by the need for players to fiddle excessively to get the feel right. The revamp has been an arduous process, but we’ve obviously hit the sweet spot with this, as the pre-release previews have made clear. We’re excited to get this into the hands of our drivers, for sure.”

SPECTATOR SPORT

Needless to say, Chong is hoping these tweaks will prove fruitful with consumers come launch day. However, he’s also confident the game will be a hit with the competitive racing community, as it’s been built from the ground up with esports functionality in mind. 

“We designed the game for esports competitions from day one,” says Chong. “The new Competitive Racing Licence feature will greatly improve matchmaking, and also highlight each driver’s skill level and racing history to everyone in the community, thereby making it easy for teams to spot and recruit the best up-and-coming talent, and making it simple for casual racers to get the online experience they want.

“The Online Championships mode will also make life much easier for racing league organisers. The
days of Excel spreadsheets are long gone, as admins will be able to schedule competitions entirely in-game, including tracking points, inviting players, choosing cars and tracks, setting the rules, and deciding when each race takes place, and in what weather conditions.

“We’re also making big improvements to how livestreams can be presented, thanks to the new dedicated Director and Broadcaster tools which give players a powerful way to make their races look more like TV sports broadcasts, with in-depth control over cameras, overlay graphics and more.”

GREASING THE WHEELS

Add in compatibility for VR headsets, 5.1 positional audio and support for resolutions up to 12K, and Slightly Mad Studios seems to have every base well and truly covered when it comes to total immersion. For Chong and his team, however, it’s all part and parcel of delivering the most authentic racing experience possible, as it’s ultimately up to studios like his own to keep driving the genre forward.

We’ve made sure to bring a lot to the game because that’s where the genre has moved on to. It’s what players expect.

Lee Kirton, Bandai Namco UK

“Slightly Mad Studios has been making racing games for almost 20 years now, and with every new release, we get the same question – is the simulation genre in a period of stagnation? It has its ups and downs, for sure, like all genres, but the fan base is always there. It’s up to us as developers to constantly re-energise the genre.

“Experience is crucial here. Players demand a lot from their games today, and knowing what works and what doesn’t comes from that experience. We’re fortunate in a lot of ways, though. A lot of people don’t know this, but our studio began life as a modding outfit sometime last century; we got into this because we wanted to make cars and tracks for ourselves. That passion has always been in our games, and that’s something that always ‘steers’ us in the right direction.”

Publisher Bandai Namco agrees, with UK PR and marketing director Lee Kirton (pictured left) adding: “Project CARS hit the sweet spot because the studio has been doing this for so long. They understood what players wanted from a racing game because they’re also gamers and players. 

“Having the authentic feel of race cars combined with functionalities and specific features and tracks, all allowing the driver to choose their career paths. That was an important step forward in the genre.

There are, of course, always markets which are stronger depending on the territories, but with Project CARS 2, we’ve pretty much covered worldwide motorsports with IndyCars, Rallycross, Touring Cars, Formula, Classic, GT cars – we’ve made sure to bring a lot to the game because that’s where the genre has moved on to. It’s what players expect.”

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