GRID 2 Interview: Codemasters on innovation, competitors and free-to-play
It’s becoming increasingly rare in an industry fuelled by annual sequels instalments that a developer is afforded the luxury of time when approaching the follow-up to a successful franchise kick-starter. That’s certainly the case with Codemasters’ GRID 2, a sequel some four years in the making – and looking all the better for it. Talking with games™ executive producer Clive Moody discusses the racer’s long gestation, competitors and innovation.
games™: You’ve discussed previously that the long development time has enabled the studio to better realise its vision for the sequel. What advancements have you made that wouldn’t be possible a few years ago?
Clive Moody: There’s a maturity to our technology that you only get through working on the genre over a number of game iterations. The in-game lighting is a great example of this and utilises a completely new pipeline in GRID2. Environments feel more real than ever and the cars within it much more integrated into the overall scene. Add onto this the ability to control the lighting and grading like a movie director and you start to understand how we are able to evoke real drama and emotion, heightening the intense racing action on the track and immersing the player into the world of a racing superstar.
There is obviously a downside to releasing a sequel so many years after the original. Has rival franchises that have emerged in the interim changed your approach to GRID 2 at all?
If anything, seeing what other racing games have been doing has strengthened our belief that GRID 2 offers gamers something that they are unable to get from any other game. GRID 2 puts the race at the heart of the experience, capturing the all of the drama, rivalries and emotional highs and lows across a wide variety of motorsport, including Street, Road and Track based racing. Then mix in new levels of gamer immersion through cinematic presentation, TrueFeel handling which combines accessibility with genuine depth, bespoke careers for both online and offline, and real-world settings that evolve to reflect your racing successes. It all adds up to truly unique experience.
During level design, what is the key to successfully balancing accuracy and gameplay when representing real-world locations?
A huge amount of effort is invested into the design and playtesting our of locations, a process that takes many months, including both level designers and artists visiting locations for thorough research. We like to keep city layout and road networks as accurate as possible, but there are always occasions where elements may not work when set up for racing. Whilst we have tools that let us simulate cars driving around tracks, much of the balancing comes through the skills of our level design team and constant iterative review. Road width, corner shape through the use of intelligent barrier placement, street length, camber, building placement and track visibility are just some of the aspects which Level Design can adjust, always trying to ensure the original character of the location is not compromised.
The rewind mechanic was an innovative genre-changing mechanic in the last GRID. What would you say GRID 2 is bringing to both the franchise and genre that is equally unique?
The LiveRoutes system is a huge innovation for GRID2. We wanted to introduce elements to the gameplay that gave some of the unpredictability you get from open world racers without the downside that the pack of cars gets split up as they choose to take different routes. If the player chooses city based events that use LiveRoutes, alternate sections of track seamlessly stream in whilst you race. LiveRoutes take advantage of the multiple street junction points by randomly selecting the direction the track will take; be it left, right or straight on. Barriers, race-day items the and spectating crowd are all dynamically placed to reflect the corner direction. The challenge to the player now comes from being able to read the road and adapting to suit the ever changing challenge.
How will RaceNet evolve in the sequel?
Creating our online RaceNet service has always been seen as a long term strategy and right now is still considered to be in beta. RaceNet 1.0 launches with GRID2 and will add significantly more depth to the integration between web and game, and also continue to grow beyond its release. Deep career and stats integration will enable players to plan their online and offline careers whilst away from the game, maximising their time racing and competing when at their console.
With the F1 series adopting the free-to-play business model is there a possibility GRID could utilise the business model in the future?
Free-to-play is a big area of conversation at the moment throughout the industry and hence naturally something which has been discussed in the context of GRID. The investment needed to create AAA console titles like GRID2 is significant, so the challenge really is on how to create monetisation streams that ensure the level of quality and experience can be maintained. It’s certainly not a challenge, which Codemasters will ignore, with opportunities being explored for future titles.
For more information on GRID 2, upcoming games and an extensive hands-on look at Tomb Raider, pick-up games™ issue 131 digitally or in newsagents now.