Part one of our interview with Bizarre’s Peter McCabe and executive producer Ben Ward covered how Blur was going to distance itself from the competition. In part two, the duo explain the game’s design process, the competition, in-game social networking and DLC.
The UK has a host of developers renowned for their racing titles. What do you think about the competition?
Ben: I think it’s good, it makes sabotage easier. [Laughs] Seriously, I think it’s really good that the UK is known for having such a strong background in the racing genre… maybe it’s because developers move around between the studios.
It’s good. I’m especially interested in seeing what the [Split/Second developer] Black Rock Studio is doing. Interesting times ahead.
Activision acquired Bizarre in September 2007, and with Blur given a “Fall 09” release date, has this squeezed your development cycle?
Ben: Not really, development started before the acquisition.
Peter: Because we’ve got a core tech team who’d already done a lot of work making the engine, and were already making a multi-platform game, we already had a base to start work on.[Turns to Ben] Our core tech team is six years old?
Ben: Yeah, the core tech team has been going since way before The Club.
The Club was built on core tech, so all of the character stuff we did for the game, all of the multi-platform stuff, all of that experience has gone into Blur. That was our shared tech when PGR was being developed alongside The Club. But we’ve merged, with all the stuff that PGR was good at being moved across to shared tech.
We have a brand new graphics engine, so everything visually is new, we’ve got a whole new physics engine, the audio system is completely rewritten, so basically everything is bigger and better.
Peter: A massive damage system as well.
Tell us more about the tools you’re using to develop the game.
Ben: A big part of what we’re working with is the tool chain; not just the engine at the end but how you get that. So we’ve got a bunch of different tools that are really mature.
The build kit is put together by getting all the code checked and put in, and then we build it on a farm server, with all the light maps baked and things like that on a series of server files.
The build is distributed to QA kits through our internal tools, so it’s taken from the main server and loaded into each kit individually, then the QA team check that back in.
We’ve got live and safe builds of every title, so if you want to work with a safe build that doesn’t crash, QA have ensured you can get that, if you want a live build with the latest and greatest stuff you can get to that too.
We also have an internal tool which you can click on and it’ll download it from the cloud and put it on your personal kit…
It’s a hugely complicated system that’s evolved over many years. It reaches to people like artists, coders, QA; everybody uses these tools.
Peter: Some of the best bits about the new tools is that, if we want to move an object in a scene or add an extra start position, we only need to do a bit of work here, hit build and then start, retry; and it’s there, it’s in the race, it’s moved.
You don’t have to recompile, you don’t have to wait for the next day to see all your stuff, you don’t have to export the entire city. You could have a build that’s five weeks old and still be adding in new content to it.
Could you expand on how Blur will be using the in-game social networking?
Ben: The beauty of the social networking is that it doesn’t work in a set way. It’s not just ‘pick this menu and then this thing will happen’. You might get a message which has a challenge associated with it, or you might do things in different ways.
If you’re in a race and you’re really good at pure racing and setting hot laps, one of the AI characters will notice that and will send you a message saying ‘join my time trial group’. You then join and the storyline branches off and you do an extra little group that is just about Time Trial racing.
That’s the beauty of it; it’s not set in stone how it works. Traditionally you’ll get invites through messages to join a group, but, every so often you might get given a new car in a cut-scene, or something else.
This is not just your car being taken through a garage, this is adding more character to it and making things seem more interesting as you progress through.
Are you planning on adding this concept to multiplayer?
Essentially it will be the same interface for multiplayer. All of the groups and messaging systems will work in the same way. That’s the plan.
Originally both of these modes were combined, so there was no definition between single and multiplayer. As we focus tested the game, we decided to put a split in there, because people generally want to decide whether they’re racing against humans or AI.
But with more focus testing we might change that in the future. This is really about giving people what they want at the appropriate time; so the multiplayer social networking might be more group focus, less message focused, or it might have less of a profile screen or more of a profile screen; this is still a work in progress.
How are you aiming to integrate the in-game social network with the [real] internet?
Ben: This is not going to be the next Facebook! We don’t have a team of hundreds of people working on this sort of thing.
The key selling point for the web integration is that it’s very tight to the game. We’re building essentially a set of public APIs in the same way as Facebook or Twitter, and wherever you want to use this data you can.
If you want to build a Facebook app, if you want to build an iPhone app, we’re going to be publishing tutorials on how the community can build on top of that. I think it’s a more realistic approach than trying to force everybody into one area and do all their socialising in one place.
It’s something we can build on and open over time with an open-data policy, a new Web 2.0 way of looking at things.
The Burnout Paradise model is to – via DLC – to build and build and build again; essentially turn a game into a micro-platform. Is this something you’re interested in?
Ben: Yes, but we won’t be doing that. Simply because we’re not set up for DLC, we’re set up for game creation.
We will do DLC, we have a certain amount of capacity to do that.
I think it’s a very brave thing the Burnout team did, but I think it’s still unproven. I’m not their accountant so I don’t know how much money they’ve made.
We’re going to build our community features so that people who are interested in what the game has to offer, they can build their custom groups, they can insert new gameplay like that and it doesn’t take another six months of dev time to wait for that to come out.
It’s a really interesting approach what they’ve done, but I think we’ve got our own ideas and our own areas that we want to push.
Peter: What’s really cool is, a year after we launch, a group of players could make this amazing [for example] Cat & Mouse group, and it might be the best group ever.
It might come a year after we launch the game and suddenly becomes the most popular, so everybody would start playing the game again, all new people would buy the game just for that new game mode that’s in there, which we didn’t need to work on, we didn’t need to do anything for, the community made and voted for it.