NetGuide NZ - Game Interview: Design Director for Driveclub Simon Barlow

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Game Interview: Design Director for Driveclub Simon Barlow

The Design Director for Driveclub Simon Barlow was in New Zealand last weekend to promote the game at Digital Nationz. Not only was he kind enough to show new footage from the game, he was also available to speak with Game Console too.

Barlow was scheduled to visit New Zealand a few years ago to promote MotorStorm Apocalypse. However, the Christchurch Earthquake prevented this from happening. Barlow is happy now that he got to finally visit New Zealand while promoting Driveclub instead.

What kind of racing physics does Driveclub have? Is it simulation-based or arcade-based?

We made our lives really difficult by doing that. If you aim for two targets, you normally miss both of them. I think that’s why most other games do only arcade or only simulation as it’s hard to find a balance between the two. We knew Driveclub was going to be a social experience, so we wanted the game to be accessible and rewarding. On top of that, we also wanted to add depth and longevity. It had to be both pick up and play which is fun, and accessible. It also needed to have the depth to it to make you keep playing. We feel we got a good balance between the two.

Can you explain in more detail the type of tracks that are on offer in the game? Like the look and feel of them?

There is a mixture of them. There are three different race types in each of them. We do point to point races on roads and we also do road circuits as well. The locations in particular were important as we wanted to pick locations that weren’t featured much in other video games. Locations such as Chile and India, you never experienced in a racing video game before. They also provide some interesting geography. With Chile there is a road by the coast with a blue ocean and sand. There is also another track in Chile that is set by an Observatory. Even in that one country, you get different race locations. In India, the colors are so vibrant and you never really see that in other games.

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How much freedom do players have with customization in terms of their driver and their cars?

You get a reasonable amount of customization. One thing we didn’t want to do is have performance customization and this was a deliberate decision. For a game that is to be a connected and social experience, everything has to be balanced. There are so many systems and different games modes and ways to play it. There are also so many reward streams in the game. If performance customization were to be added, it would break everything. What we did do is create an interesting visual customization. What we have got are numerous colour palettes based on real world car paints. The actual pigmentation is the actual pigmentation you will find in real cars paints. The obvious one is a particular type of red paint that only Ferrari uses. We wanted to recreate that colour and simulate the paint.

In terms of character customization, there’s multiple different choices. There’s not much option in terms of what they wear as you hardly even see the character. We have both male and female characters plus multiple ethnicities and some different clothing. You should be able to find at least one person that you can relate to and want to be in the game.

Did you manage to implement any type of damage system to the game?

Yes, there is a procedural damage system in the game. We built the paint layers the same as you would see in real life. Either you start with a metallic body or carbon fibre, and that gets built with a base layer of paint and then covered with the protective layer at the end. When you damage your car, you actually peel through all of those layers. Depending on the type of car and material its made out of, it will damage the way that material will damage in real life. It’s all procedural so it will behave just like you would see in the real world. It took a long time to get this right since each car took seven months to develop from start to finish. It's a long, long time to build a single car...

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There is a dynamic weather system in the game. Can you explain how this will affect people’s driving and the type of weather we’ll be seeing?

We have a full atmospheric simulation in the game. You will notice atmospheric conditions change with the altitude. Our atmospheric simulation is accurate in terms of longitude, latitude, altitude, time of day and even time of year. The stars will also be accurate depending where you are in that specific time of year. When we started to look at weather, we added precipitation to our existing simulation model. Most games that put weather is just for a visual effect. You can only get a proper weather system if you build it from the ground up like we have. When the weather update comes to the game later this year, it will truly impact on people's driving. Playing a track during the day compared to playing it night, is a pretty different experience. Imagine racing on a track at night during a blizzard, that will be hardcore.

Driveclub was delayed by one year. What have you been working on since then to improve on it?

The weather updates is a big one. The reason we delayed the game wasn't because of the entire team, it was sub-section of the team. We had another part of the team that had finished everything. It was mainly the art department that decided what more we can do to add to the game and its engine. We built this engine for the life-cycle of the PS4, it wasn't just for Driveclub. So we had a road-map of what we wanted to add to the game in the next 12 months. Weather was a huge part as the community asked for it as well as people from the development team. The weather system is not quite ready yet, we are just putting the finishing touches to it. If we are going to do weather, we are going to do it right. We hope to release the dynamic weather system to the game before the end of the year.

It will also be a free update for everyone. All of the big updates will be free. Photo mode is also being worked on at the moment. We are also looking at a replay system. We are also bringing in a new location next year, which hasn't been announced yet. The new location will also be free as we didn't see the point in charging people for tracks as you will just segregate the community. Some of the content will be charged since the developers still need to get paid, but the stuff we have charged are the optional stuff. Ultimately, the game is on an even playing field.

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What is the progression like in Driveclub? Is it easy for players to earn more cars for themselves?

We did a lot of user testing on the progression. There are multiple ways to earn "Fame" which is like our currency or experience points in the game. The simplest way to just earn more cars is simply playing through the single player Tour. You can play every track and location in the tour and when you end it, you should have been able to get three or four cars from each class. This gives you a nice cross-section of all the content in the game. We did a lot of user-testing on it and the last round of user-testing, the feedback we got was that we got it perfectly. They told us not to change it up at all.. We were like "done". We didn't want to give players too much, or too little so we felt we did it right.

What type of music can we hear in Driveclub?

The soundtrack is awesome. The soundtrack for the game is produced by "Hybrid" who are an English electronic band. They've won loads of awards in the UK. In the Motorstorm Apocalypse soundtrack, it was a unique experience since it was a collaboration between a composer and a dance artist. We wanted something unique for the soundtrack in Driveclub and Hybrid have produced something exciting. We are actually hosting a launch party on October 10th where Hybrid have agreed to play live at the party.

What are your favourite cars in Driveclub?

I like quite a few actually. There are so many cars that would want in real life if money wasn't an issue. The one I would really like in real life is the AMG Mercedes. I absolutely love the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG Black Edition. The mechanics, the engine and the sound it makes it such an incredible machine.

Lastly, why should racing fans get excited about Driveclub?

We're trying to capture the emotion of racing. Where you just take a car and race through breathtaking locations. I don't think other racing games aim to do that. The just aim to simulate how a car performs, but they don't connect with you on an emotional level. Driveclub is the first in a long time to have a connection between the player and the car. That's why we spent so much time on the graphics to make it so immersive, so you just put your headphones and get lost. If you've got passion for cars or racing, Driveclub has something to offer to everybody. We're car and racing fans and we put our hearts into this game. There's also nothing to lose as you can still try out the "free" PS Plus edition for the game. It'll be good for players to just join the community and take part.

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