Newcastle-based studio Ubisoft Reflections has worked on some of the publisher's most successful open-world games – Far Cry 3, Watch Dogs, upcoming blockbuster Tom Clancy's The Division and Reflections' own Driver series – but the team says The Crew is by far and away the biggest game world it has ever worked on.
Announced at E3 last year and shown off once more at last night's Ubisoft E3 2014 press conference, The Crew is set in the United States. As in all of them, all of the States. Players can drive from New York to Los Angeles and back without a single-loading screen and, while it's not exactly to scale, that particularly trip will take gamers long enough to really create a sense of travel.
Development on the game is being led by Ivory Tower, a studio set up by former developers of the similar Test Drive Unlimited series, but – as with so many Ubisoft projects – Reflections has been called in to assist with the game.
We caught up with producer Will Musson (pictured) to find out how the UK developer is helping Ivory Tower tackle the challenge of providing such a large world to players seamlessly.
What exactly is Ubisoft Reflections' contribution to The Crew?
Reflections has contributed to The Crew across all production disciplines. Our environment and character artists have built huge areas of the life-filled environment, our design teams have created a lot of PVP Missions, Skills and Awards. And as well as managing the game’s audio production, producing the narrative and developing the community tools, Reflections has also been responsible for the PS4 version of the game. Developing for new hardware is always a challenge but it’s something we are, historically, very good at.
How does your experience with driving games help you add to this project?
Although The Crew presents a number of unique challenges, Reflections might be the most experienced open-world driving game team in the world. We have some devs who worked on 1999’s Driver contributing to The Crew, for instance. This means we’re very familiar with the technical and design problems associated with the genre, which is essential when taking on such an ambitious project.
What challenges do the various car specs and terrains add? How do you ensure players can still enjoy themselves if they end up off road with a street car?
The scale and variety of The Crew’s environment is well matched by the depth of the handling model. Although different specs have different specialties, there’s enough overlap in performance to give the player options in the majority of environments. You would find it near impossible to drive a circuit-tuned car up the side of a mountain, but you’d probably have a lot of fun trying.
You would find it near impossible to drive a circuit-tuned car up the side of a mountain, but you’d probably have a lot of fun trying.
Will Musson, Ubisoft Reflections
What challenges does the scale of the world present compared to previous racing/driving games you have made?
The Crew has, by far, the biggest game world the studio has worked on – about 5000km squared. That's over 3100 square miles with over 10,000km of road (about 6200 miles). It’s a technical challenge as well as a design challenge to produce something on this scale, and both issues have to be solved in tandem. Although it’s easy to be wowed by the sheer size of the environment, it might take longer to appreciate how much content we’ve filled it with.
How difficult is it to create a world this big and still have it be seamlessly open to players? How is that handled?
It is difficult. You have to build the whole game around the intent to deliver a seamless, diverse, multiplayer environment at this scale. But the rewards for doing so are remarkable. Driving from one city to the next, Detroit to Chicago let’s say, really feels like a road-trip. But taking a more epic trip like Miami to Vegas or scrambling off-road in the Rocky Mountains, or the Louisiana Bayou, it’s something you’ve never really experienced in a game before.
What opportunities did the PS4 touchpad present, and how are you using this in the game?
The great thing about touchpad functionality is that because smartphones and tablets are so ubiquitous everyone knows how to use it. It provides us with extremely natural interface options for the game map, for instance.