INTERVIEW: On the Grid

Christopher Dring
INTERVIEW: On the Grid

It has been five years since Codemasters’ acclaimed racer hit the tracks. MCV speaks to the team to discuss the game's legacy, new tech and why Grid 2 has taken so long to arrive

What sort of research did you undertake with Grid 2?

Edd Newby-Robson, Senior Brand Manager: We’ve been taking our time talking to our consumers. We really think one of our strengths is understanding what our punters want and what our gamers want and melding that beautifully with the creativity, innovation and experience of our studio. We spoke to about 4,000 gamers. The first survey was done three years ago and then we did it again at the end of last year. We get so much integral information, both from this, but also from the games themselves. We use our telemetry from our games to understand how people play them. There was key bits of information that came out of those surveys and also telemetry and some of those would be how our gamers play our games. 85% of them use one of two camera options – bonnet cam and chasing cam, which is quite interesting because we spend a lot of time doing several different cameras in a lot of our games but it turns out that, I think 75% of people use chase, and ten per cent use bonnet, and the remainder do the others. So it’s a huge, huge amount of people that play it in that way.

We think that means Grid 2 at retail will appeal to a broader consumer than just the hard-core racing fan. That’s not to say that it won’t appeal to the hardcore and our trusted Grid followers that have been with us all these years.

Also, about 90 per cent of our players play using control pads rather than a steering wheel. Whilst it’s a huge amount of time making it absolutely amazing on the wheel, what we have to do and what we are doing is making it really fun to play on pads because most of our players are in the situation where they don’t have a huge room set aside with a racing seat and a racing wheel and all that kind of stuff let alone the finances to buy all that kit. We really want to make this truly, and I hate using this word, accessible, but I mean that in it’s broadest term not in a ‘dumbed down game’ sense. We’re looking to make it fun, allowing the audience to enjoy it.

So there are a couple of different bits. I’d like to think we know our gamers really well. We know what they like and what they don’t like. We know how they like to play online, how they like to connect with all their other devices. They told us they wanted the game to be more exciting, more exhilarating, much more an interactive entertainment experience than just driving a car around a track in a Ford Fiesta. One of the primary things I’m really keen to do as a racing game player myself is to provide the studio with this information and then anticipate what they do with it.

Clive Moody, Executive Producer: That stuff with the research is really important to us. It’s a fantastic insight and a great spectrum for our developers and as Ed has just alluded to as well, it really is only half of the story. If we just took that research as it stood and took everything on board, what you’d end up with is a game that is kind of homogenised, a lowest common denominator of racing games if you like, taking on those core things which people are feeding back on. So a lot of the skill in the studio itself is taking those ideas and building on them as well. It’s something that we’ve always tried to do, without exception, trying to bring something new to the mix and bring innovation to the game. If you think back to 2008 when the first game came out, the focus in that game was all about the race, it was all about the action that took place on the track and the technological innovation and ‘Flashback’ was a perfect example of that where you could rewind time. That’s been adopted by almost every racing game out there now; they’ve all got their own version or copy of that system. That was our starting point and everything we’ve looked at in terms of designing Grid 2, right the way through production, is maintaining that focus and keeping those core values that the game is all about the race.

It’s an area that we still think is lacking a lot of racing titles. A lot of racing games have come and gone in the four years that we’ve been away, and I still can’t see any game that has captured the exhilaration, excitement and aggression of the feeling of being in the middle of a really hard-fought race. That remains the focus, if you like, for Grid 2, to try and bring back that feeling.

“Grid 2 is our most expensive development to-date"

 

So what’s new in terms of content?

Moody: We’re sort of broadening in terms of the events and the styles of racing that the player can experience. We’ve split that down three ways. Street racing is pretty much driving around cities. They’re set-up as real events, its not illegal racing by any extent, but street racing around iconic locations. There’s a whole new set of locations that we’ve introduced to this game, all of which are going to bring something slightly different to the mix.

The second part is what we call Road Racing. Open roads, long sweeping, very, very fast, tight routes. This brings a danger element in. Because they’re open roads they don’t have all the safe features like barriers down the sides so it’s all about danger and California’s got cliff edges high up with nothing to stop you driving off the edge.

Another new element is the more traditional Track Racing. Classic legendary circuits from around the world. Again, we’ve a really nice mix. We’ve got some real old classics in there and we’ve got some new circuits as well, ones that you won’t have seen in a racing game before.

The game is broken into single and multiplayer experiences and they are independent. The solo experience is that blockbuster approach if you like. High production values, a real journey that we take the player on from the lower end of motor sport right the way through to being a champion supercar driver. That’s set against our multiplayer that we’re trying to make 100 per cent independent. It comes back to some of the research we’ve been doing to understand how people approach our games. What we know about racing games is that the experiences they want are very, very different. The multiplayer online gamer wants an experience, which is totally tailored towards them. It still has that progression system, it allows them to customised, it allows them to show off and to brag but it is all about that. There’s no link to what they want to do in the single player experience so that flexibility, that customisation, that level of connectivity in the online experience is going to be very, very important.

The real goal for us with that as well is longevity. We look at other games, not in a related genre, and we see enormous longevity in terms of how long people play them, 12, 18 months beyond the launch of the title and that’s absolutely our goal this time around with the multiplayer experience. We want to try and maintain that kind of longevity and that sense of progression and ownership.

 

What sort of investment are you making into Grid 2?

Moody: In terms of the cost, I believe it’s probably our most expensive development to date. There’s a future map being poured into it and obviously this is a game, which has been in pre-production for some considerable time as well because we know we absolutely have to get it right. It’s a sequel to one of our most successful games at Codemasters and it’s very, very important for the business. From my point of view, it’s really important that we raise the bar even further and set the new benchmark for racing games.

Is that why it has taken so long to come out? To get it right?

Moody: There are a couple of reasons behind that. When we came off the back of the first game, which was hugely successful, we had a massive amount of ambition for where we wanted to take Grid 2. You’ve got to bear in mind that at that time, going back four or five years, we were still relatively early in the current generation console lifecycle and our technology and our processes were absolutely not as they are now. It’s really taken two, three years to get that technology up to the point where we were going to deliver all the ambition that we’ve got for the game.

So we’ve taken our time rather than just rushing out a sequel, which I’m sure, would have been great but probably wouldn’t have hit the heights that we want this game to hit. I suppose the other element really is that obviously there’s been a real ebb and flow in the racing genre and we’ve seen a lot of games come and lot of games go in that time. It feels like the time is right to bring back an experience which puts that focus back onto the race itself.

It would have been five years between Grid games. Are you sure the fanbase is still there?

Adrian Lawton, Communications Manager: The reception has been phenomenal to be honest. The video has got 1,000 likes and like 10 dislikes on YouTube. Where most videos get about 80 per cent success with likes to dislikes ratio, we’re at 99 per cent.

Newby-Robson: That’s just a really short teaser video. We’ve had some great responses on our #TheRaceReturns Twitter stuff we’ve been doing and a few little teaser images we’ve been popping out.

Moody: Yeah, it’s probably a question I’ve been asked more times than any question over the last four years – when is the next game coming and why is it taking so long? It’s brilliant to break cover to be honest and start talking about it and showing people what we’re doing and where we’re taking on it.

 

“We’ve been pushing our technology, which puts us in a really great place when it comes to the next generation.”

 

How has the technology changed?

Moody: There’s a massive amount of new technology going in actually. We’ve got an entirely new lighting pipeline that we’re putting into the game. It grounds everything much more into reality in terms of the way that shadows are cast, the way that light bounces around the scenes and the way it hits walls and lights the dark points in the environment. It no-longer feels like you’ve got an environment that’s been built independently from the car, and they’ve then been plopped together so they don’t necessarily gel.

We’ve also taken a huge amount of inspiration from movies and from people like Michael Mann, some of his visual style that he brings to his movies, and we’ve tried to get some of that tone, that emotion and drama and try and bring that back into our game experience. It’s something else which our new lighting techniques that we’ve got are enabling us to do to try and get that visual step up in quality.

Visuals aside, pretty much every other aspect of the game has been going through an overhaul so car handling is running twice as fast as any other game out there at the moment. Other areas, like damage is taking another huge leap forward with much better modelling now so it’s less about metal bending now with things like carbon fibre, plastic, all painted correctly in terms of the way they shatter, break and splinter. AI, again, a huge, huge step forward because we now have something in the region of 60 different attributes that determine an AI driver’s characteristics. That can be from how quick they are, how aggressive they are, their speed into corners, how quickly they come out of corners, are they going to try to dodge into gaps if they can see one, will they drive defensively; the list goes on. It’s a system that we are confident that we could take any real world driver and the driver’s car and replicate that using the AI parameters that we’ve got.

Does the technology you’re using now on Grid 2 prepare you well for the next generation of Xbox and PlayStation?

Moody: Yeah, it absolutely does. Keeping that technology up to date has always been really important to us. The EGO technology platform continues to evolve and adapt and get new features introduced into it. I think that it’s pretty fair to say that we’ve continued to support PC all the way through this generation. We’ve been pushing our technology all the time and keeping on top of that so I think if you look at that, it puts us in a really great place where we know where we’re going with next generation technology as and when that comes into being. I think we should be in a very strong position to take advantage of it.

 

“We want Grid to be vying with F1 as our best-selling racing game”

 

How does Grid 2 fit into the wider Codemasters Racing portfolio?

Newby-Robson: The original Grid was our best selling title ever in the USA, one of our best selling titles ever and, bearing in mind F1 is a massive licence, it even compares with our best selling F1 titles. We want Grid to be vying with F1 to be the best selling racing game that Codemasters releases. I love F1 and I know the guys do brilliant things and F1 2012 will be even better this year but I want us to be having, shall we say, a friendly rivalry between our studios in order to sell more units than them.

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Tags: codemasters , grid , Xbox One , PS4 , formula one , f1 , dirt , codies , Grid 2

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