Newcastle studio Eutechnyx on how itâ??s breathing new life into an American institution, NASCAR

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With the amount of times NASCAR went around the track with Electronic Arts, with its semi-annualised releases and various spin-offs, it’s no surprise that the hazard lights began to flash.

Sales of the franchise were rumoured to have gone down a few gears, before EA announced last year that it had relinquished the NASCAR licence.

Now Activision is ready to prove that was a big mistake. Today it was announced that it will bring to market a freshly designed NASCAR game in February next year.

In what is no doubt a dig at EA, today Activision Publishing’s David Oxford said that NASCAR fan base “has been underserved for a long time and we’re bringing them something very special.”

And at the centre of this NASCAR revival is UK outfit Eutechnyx – the longstanding independent studio, famous for its long history in the racing genre.

Develop talks to the studio’s COO Darren Jobling about the opportunities, the pressures and the American dream.

The driving genre remains a competitive – does Eutechnyx think NASCAR can lead in the genre?
NASCAR is the largest spectator sport in the US and the following it enjoys is massive. The reasons for this were clearly evident when we began attending races and saw for ourselves the spectacle that encompasses a real world NASCAR event. We also engaged heavily with the fan community and they were very vocal about what they wanted to experience in their game.

So, we feel that NASCAR The Game 2011 will bring fun and excitement back into the racing genre, which is sadly lacking at the present time.

There is no question that in a number of areas NASCAR The Game 2011 will set new standards for others to follow in the racing genre. We’ll be detailing these areas in the press over the coming months…

NASCAR is a predominantly American sport – how are you aiming for the game to appeal in Europe?
Although the sport has its largest following in the US, the licensor was very progressive in allowing us to focus on fun game play elements, uniquely allowing us to include incredible levels of car wreck damage to official race team cars.

Having 43 cars in a pack race on one track, complete with multi-car “pool ball” crashes is intense fun and even those who have never seen NASCAR will be challenged by the game play.

Once you add into the mix pit stop strategies, AI player rivalries, night time racing and 16 player online, the appeal to racing gamers goes well beyond the USA.

Big brand, big publisher backing – where does this rank amongst Eutechnyx’s past projects? Is it your most important ever?
I’d have to agree that it is. We’ve been lucky enough to work with some major brands in the past and some great publishers, but the sheer scale of this property combined with the unrivalled access we have gained into the world of NASCAR certainly puts this project right up there.

How did you broker a publishing deal with Activision?
We’ve worked with Activision for over ten years but they were not the only show in town. It was critical to the project to find a partner that understood the brand and what we were trying to do with it and I’m pleased that Activision totally nailed it.

Of course, they have the advantage of being the largest publisher in the world, so their distribution power certainly helped seal the deal.

There’s a lot of talk about Activision and developer autonomy. As a partner, what’s your experience?

We’ve worked closely with Activision before and we’ve only had good experiences.

On NASCAR, they basically said “You’re the racing game experts. We are here to help in any way we can, but we want you to run with your vision for the franchise” Very refreshing actually…

NASCAR was built from the ground up – is this a new proprietary engine – will it be used for other projects? Licensed out? Owned by you?
It is our own engine and we built it for the NASCAR game, largely as we needed new levels of efficiency in order to deliver 43 destructible cars, to an extremely high standard, simultaneously in game.

We will continue to enhance and develop this engine for other projects but you’ll have to await those announcements.

Although I think that there could be a demand for some great racing game middleware, mainly due to the current shortage of independent driving game developers, this doesn’t form part of our short-term gameplan.

How much VC funding has Eutechnyx secured in the last five years, and how big does NASCAR have to be to satisfy returns?
We announced our latest £6M+ VC deal with Prime Technology Ventures in May of this year. This funding is being utilised to create a much larger platform ahead of the launch of our new free-to-play project, Auto Club Revolution.

Our acquisition of the NASCAR license dates all the way back to 2009, so the two projects aren’t directly related.

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