The recent ‘war’ rumblings between Forza 3 and Gran Turismo 5 exemplifies what’s happening to the race genre right now. It is awash with similarity and mimicry, with the few minor differences between each product being amplified through fan and PR rhetoric as the definitive reason why either is superior.
The solution to this blurred image is, for Liverpool-based Bizarre Creations, to start afresh.
But its upcoming title Blur is however no different when it comes to drawing together old ideas. The key distinction, however, is that Blur’s inspirations come together to create something different.
Bizarre intends to splice power-up mechanics into the straight-faced racing sim genre, a measure as part of its broader aim to eradicate what it calls ‘racer-frustration’; the trend of uninvitingly high demands on player skill to the point where the majority are too busy playing catch-up, and only the minority are enjoying the ride.
Develop sat down with Bizarre's Peter McCabe and Blur executive producer Ben Ward to elaborate further on how the new racer will set itself apart.
You mentioned before that you wanted races in Blur to be as tight and as close as possible, how conscious are you of using ‘rubber-banding’ and the bad press this often gets?
Peter: Our rubber-banding is such a small thing. We do have rubber-banding, but we don't use it to balance the races, we use everything else. We use the personality of the AI.
We're balancing it through perks, through AI personalities, through track design, alternative routes, not just rubber-banding.
The rubber-banding is subtle. With each difficulty selection – which we’ve currently set to easy, medium and hard – all these little values are slightly tweaked, but it's not like the AI is going to stop in front of you and wait for you to catch up.
As things stand right now in the project, if a player crashes their car will reset back to the track so players can keep up, but you've still got to do the work to catch them up, they’re not just going to stop for you.
So while there’s speed boosts we’re not going to see anything like the golden mushroom banding in Mario Kart 64?
Ben: That is something that Martyn [Chudley – Bizarre Creative Director] is very keen on; there's not like a big Blue Shell, or a Golden Mushroom or a Bullet Bill.
Peter: It's still a skill based game.
How much was Mario Kart studied when developing the game?
Ben: We looked at Mario Kart a lot and we looked at every other racing game as well. Mario Kart does certain things very well, but it's not as deep as it could be.
The handling is obviously quite arcadey, the power-ups are quite arcadey; a one-button press fires something which has the same effect every time.
We wanted to take things that are good about Mario Kart but mix that with what we’re good at: have more realistic handling, have power-ups based on skills that you use. There’s a lot of stuff that people growing up with Mario Kart wish those games had done.
The PR people don't really let me say this but Blur is like an adult Mario Kart, it's want you want from the next-generation of karting games.
By adding more elements like power-ups into the racing experience, how much of an obstacle has it been to maintain the game’s focus?
Ben: I know what you're saying because our previous titles, like Project Gotham Racing 4, were huge and wide as a game. There was two or three game modes in there, essentially.
We've learnt our lesson, we're going to stay focussed and that's why you're not seeing things like motorbikes and weather effects; we've deliberately kept these things back and focused on the core thing that it's really good at.
Telling a story; we haven't done it before, but we've spent a lot of time making up for that deficiency. We've hired really good scriptwriters, our cut-scenes are being done by the same people who did the Gears of War cut-scenes. I think it's a huge job, it wouldn't be Bizarre if it wasn't a huge undertaking, but we should have all bases covered.
The damage model appears to be a lot more advanced, and of course now you’re adding power-ups; has this caused any problems with any car manufacturers?
Ben: We've got lots of experience with licensing cars in our previous games, so we put together a list of all the things we wanted.
Cars are going to flip over, tyres are going to burst, there’s going to be damage all over the entire bodywork of the car, fire in the engine compartment.
We agreed that this is the minimum set of functionality we want and our legal team went out and made this clear. Some of them, if they didn't want to support that, we told to sod off.
The companies in the game – the Fords, the BMWs – all those types, they're the ones who really want to be there, they believe in the concept and they do support these sort of things. So all of our cars can catch on fire, which is incredible, never had that before.
There are problems. Do they want their brands to be exposed to all this damage? But the way we're dealing with it is the same way that Hollywood does; we're making their brands good, we're putting it in front of people, we're literally making their cars a popular, desirable thing. If it smashes to pieces in the process, that's even more exciting. Each car manufacturer in the game has agreed to that minimum functionality.
What proportion of Blur’s cars will be licensed?
Ben: They're all licensed, there's only one car that's made up and that's because we wanted to do something mental, so we've got one Bizarre official car.
It's sort of a bigger question, what we did is look at Midnight Club and Need for Speed and knew that they support the ‘tuner culture’ very well, but what about the other car cultures like drift, smooth culture and rat culture.
Rat culture guys; they don't care about how a car looks, it's really rusty and shitty and bits are falling off, but the engine and the shocks and the alloys are race spec. It doesn't look like much, but it's shit off a shovel basically.
So what about all these other car cultures that are totally ignored by other games? We've decided to support all of those, so you get Formula D styled cars, say for example the BMW 355 doesn't have an official drift version, so we've worked with BMW to create a concept car based on that culture in that style, and they've approved it and licensed it for us.
Nobody else has done that before in the world, everything is licensed, but everything is interesting and styled in a really interesting and cool way. I think that's going to make the car set more interesting as it makes the car set really unique for Blur.
Are you trying to replicate authentic race tracks in the game like you did with the PGR series?
Ben: We do have real race tracks, like Sitges in Barcelona, which is an old disused racetrack, but we’re not looking to do the same thing as the Nuremberg Ring in PGR. Sitges will be more about parts all over the place and alternate routes.
Is that because it just wouldn’t look right to have power-ups over Silverstone?
Ben: It’s really a universal decision we made when designing all of our tracks, we haven’t really gone for absolute realism this time, we’ve tried to make our tracks ‘Hollywood-real’.
We’ve taken the best bits of [London borough] Hackney…
The “best bits” of Hackney?
Ben: [Laughs] We’ve taken the more interesting bits of Hackney to race around and put them together. So if something isn’t particularly interesting before, we wouldn’t be able to do much about it because we had to replicate, but now we can piece things together.
Before, we were really stuck with our city selection because they had to be perfect in terms of racing; now we can be more creative and our teams really enjoy it as well.
The example I often use is in the Hackney stage. There’s one bit where the road goes along and dips under a railway bridge [Google Street view] and that’s really interesting for us.
Our guys took the concept of the overhead railway bridge and extended it around so it became an alternative route that players can race over. You’ll see all the cars crossing over at that point, whereas in real life that wouldn’t happen. This is about subtle tweaks; giving a game the same feel but making it more interesting.