Most sports game developers can safely assume that, aside from roster changes, the sports themselves change very little from year to year. But when NASCAR announced a revolutionary overhaul regarding the way it determines the winner of its most prestigious racing series, it caused the developers at EA Tiburon to take stock to figure out how to turn this into a whole new mode of gameplay. We'll let some of the developers from Tiburon explain what they had to do in the latest chapter of our designer diaries.
The Chase for the ChaseBy Mike DeVault, Matt Lewis, and Sean Wilson
Assistant producers, EA Tiburon
When NASCAR announced its new system for crowning series champions before the start of the 2004 season, it created a new buzz and excitement around the sport of stock car racing. NASCAR was looking for a way to add some pizzazz and drama to the end of the season in its Nextel Cup Series. To do this, NASCAR introduced a new wrinkle to its championship points system that would take the top 10 drivers in the NASCAR Nextel Cup points standings (and any other driver within 400 points of the leader) and reset their championship points totals. These 10 drivers would then qualify for the Chase for the NEXTEL Cup and would battle amongst one another in the final 10 races of the season in NASCAR's very own version of a postseason playoff. This new system radically changed teams' and drivers' strategies for the 2004 season. In year's past, drivers fought for the coveted top spot in the standings throughout the season. Now, the focus had shifted toward battling for one of the top 10 standings positions and a chance at racing for a championship in the final 10 races.
Here at EA Tiburon, when the new Chase for the Nextel Cup system was introduced, it spurred an idea for a great new stand-alone game mode for our upcoming NASCAR title. In this designer diary, we'll take you through the inspiration and creation of this game mode, and we'll explain how it came to be the fun and exciting feature you can find in EA's NASCAR 2005: Chase for the Cup.
When NASCAR announced this rule change at the beginning of the season, we, of course, knew that it would need to be implemented into the game's season and fight-to-the-top modes, since the old points system had been done away with and fans of the game would be expecting us to keep up with the new rules change. We also couldn't help think that this new season-ending points system was so dynamic and exciting that it would make a great stand-alone game mode. So we started to brainstorm a game feature based around the Chase for the Cup and its final 10-race battle. However, we knew right off the bat that we needed to make this mode customizable and engaging for the user to distinguish it from the Chase that they would experience in season and fight-to-the-top modes.
In the Chase for the Cup game mode, the user takes over as a NASCAR Nextel Cup driver who is about to take part in the 10-race Chase. Before the user begins, however, we wanted to allow the user to set up and customize various aspects of his or her Chase for the Cup. This would allow users to create a personalized Chase that caters to his or her individual skill set. So, to do this, we allow the user to set a variety of custom game options before entering the mode. Users can customize everything from setting his or her starting position in the Chase for the Cup standings to selecting which of the NASCAR Nextel Cup stars he or she would like to compete against in the Chase. We also wanted to add a reward system for those players who choose to set up their Chases to be a little more challenging. So during the design phase, we decided to incorporate our skill points feature into Chase for the Cup. The concept is simple: The more challenging you make the Chase, the more skill points you will receive.
Lastly, we wanted to address the flow and feel of the Chase for the Cup feature during gameplay. We wanted to make sure that once the user began playing, the game felt fresh and unique. Some of the ways we accomplished this was to make the flow from race to race a little more efficient by eliminating as many menu screens as possible. This would allow users to go from race to race much more quickly than in other game modes, and it would let them focus on the main aspect of the mode...racing for the championship. We also added dynamic postrace commentary from our in-game announcer, Bill Weber, and unique postrace standings screens at the end of each race to set the game mode apart that much more.
When it was all said and done, we were all very happy with the results we had achieved with the Chase for the Cup feature. With the help of strong development and art teams, we had accomplished our goal of taking a new NASCAR rule--which we were all very excited about--and then turning it into a game mode that we think the gaming public will be very excited to play in NASCAR 2005: Chase for the Cup.