V8 Supercars 3: Create and Race (otherwise known as Race Driver: Create and Race in the US) for the Nintendo DS aims to do exactly as its name says--let players create their own tracks and race them with friends. We jumped behind the wheel with Codemasters' Jamie Firth and practiced some burnouts while discussing the new handheld racer.
GameSpot AU: Were there any plans to incorporate DS touch-screen functionality into the driving portion of the game?
Jamie Firth: I'd be lying if I said we didn't prototype some method of using that. We tried various ways to use the touch screen, such as a steering wheel for turning, but that tended to only work in bonnet-cam. We also tried, similar to other titles...where you use a map screen...we tried a system where you could drag the stylus forward to accelerate, backward to break, and then on a kind of fishing-line mentality. So as you drag it around the outside of the touch screen, it accelerated toward your stylus. We tried lots of different methods, none of which felt as good as just using the D pad in a traditional method. We looked at all of these things, but one of the things we set out to do when we started off designing the title was to make sure we didn't deliberately get sucked into using the bonus things the DS offers you, the bonus control methods. We didn't want to use those just for the sake of using them. We wanted to make it the best game possible, and some DS control methods don't seem to work, but they're used just for the sake of using the touch screen to control.
GS AU: Are there any plans to give users the ability to upload their custom maps to a central server for others to download and time trial against?
JF: : I can tell you that certainly won't be available for this version of the game, but going forward, it's certainly a direction we see it going in--a very community-orientated direction.
GS AU: The track-creation system seems to be easy to use. How much of the game development cycle has been dedicated to nailing this portion of the game?
JF: The track designer is very much our key feature for this title. It's something we've been looking very carefully at from the beginning. We wanted to be able to generate these tracks as easily and simply as possible. To create a basic track, it's simply a case of drawing a track on the touch screen, and then it's ready, you can race. We developed it as we've gone. Certain things we didn't think would be possible, but as we've gone through and experimented, we've actually found we could do things like racing the artificial intelligence on a track you've just created. At the beginning of development, we didn't think that would be possible, but as we went through, we found that by encoding information inside track pieces and having the pieces look at what was coming next and interacting with the pieces it was adjacent to, we found we could actually train the AI to drive around the track against you. All racing games use a racing line to train the AI around the track, and they'll have multiple lines they can move between if they should come off that. With the limitations of the DS in terms of how much processing you can do, that was always going to be really difficult.
GS AU: Career mode also plays a role in customisation, specifically with unlockable items you can use to build your own tracks. Was it designed this way to give the title more legs?
JF: I think there needs to be adequate reward for good players. I think people like to achieve stuff. So we did decide there would be an in-game currency, and you can use that to unlock all sorts of things in the game, including some quite fun cheats. We have the main career game, which will be championships, time trials, and challenges as well. There's a training school [with] steering challenges where you go through cones. There are racing-line challenges where you have to collect dots around the track, so you actually learn how to become a race driver. As you go through those, there are bronze, silver, and gold awards for all of those challenges. If you complete it on the bronze level, you'll unlock a certain amount of in-game currency, but if you complete it on gold, you'll unlock a lot more, and that'll be reflected in the rewards shop where you can purchase new track pieces. You start off with a basic kit to be able to create a track, but then you'll unlock things, like adjacent car parks, trees, windmills, lakes, and more and more complex pieces of track that you can use so that you people will be able to see how good you are at the offline game by judging what sort of rare pieces you're using in your track designer.
GS AU: The DS has needed a killer driving sim for a while now. Why do you think no one has plugged the gap?
JF: I think in terms of driving games, Mario Kart is very much ahead of everyone else; it's a first-party title, very early in the cycle, and great fun. Our idea for V8 Supercars would be to create a kind of grown-up Mario Kart. Something that's fun to play, more arcadey than the traditional console versions of the franchise--more accessible to younger people because I think it is a younger market that's playing DS games...but just to create something with real cars, licensed properties, real cars with grunt, and make a circuit-based race game because there is arguably a gap in the market for that. We're really pleased with the results. We've got a game that looks great, plays great, and hopefully will be appreciated.
GS AU: Why do you think no one has done the hybrid arcade/sim that you're going for with Create and Race? Is it the limitations of the hardware or that the demographic doesn't want it?
JF: I suppose it could be a combination of both of those things. Obviously when you're using licensed properties, you need to be able to do justice to them. We've got over 20 licensed tracks in the game and 32 real world circuits in total. We've got licensed race cars as well. It's very difficult on the DS to get really high-quality detail that's required to satisfy sponsors. It could be that the DS is regarded as a children's console, maybe, and people have decided they don't think the platform suits the likely sort of person that wants to buy a racing game. But I think it's a much more diverse console than people give it credit for so far.
GS AU: You've created the game engine from the ground up for this title. Was this because your existing engines didn't meet the hardware spec, wasn't scalable enough, or did not meet your needs?
JF: I think it's difficult to scale to the DS, technology-wise. There are obviously limitations--you can't port a PS2 game (although a lot of people have tried) as it simply doesn't work. Now we're talking about porting PS3 games and the limitations become even more apparent. There have been a lot of port versions, but to actually get something looking really good...it's kind of a photocopy of a photocopy state of affairs, where you lose a little bit of quality as you port it down, as you try to resize assets, give assets different resolutions to make them scalable on the DS. I think the only way you can make great-looking games on the DS is by having an engine that is intended for use on the DS as opposed to intended for use on another platform and moved across. I think the results speak for themselves.
GS AU: Jamie Firth, thanks for you time.