As one of the first studios in the world to work with PlayStation 3 development tools, it's fair to say that Sony put a good deal of faith in British developer Evolution Studios. Previously responsible for the World Rally Championship games on PlayStation and PlayStation 2, Evolution had plenty of experience making racing games for Sony hardware. Nonetheless, it was still a massive gamble to move away from the rally genre and create a dirt racing title for a new piece of kit, but after much hype and anticipation, the fruits of its labour can now be sampled in the form of MotorStorm.
We sat down with Evolution founder and CEO Martin Kenwright on the day of MotorStorm's US release to find out more about this ambitious project, as well as their plans for downloadable content.
GameSpot UK: How have you found the move from the simulation genre with the WRC series to the arcade genre with MotorStorm?
Martin Kenwright: Well, we've been a simulation firm long before WRC, specifically with our flight sim games which go back 15 to 20 years now. [With WRC] we wanted to do the same for vehicles as we'd done for flight sims all those years ago and try and create some of the world's most talked-about and memorable products. It's been really fun, and what can I say, I think if you enjoy something then you'll succeed. It's been difficult at times because we always try and be first and best and I think World Rally was a great basis for us to go and create MotorStorm. It was like having the shackles taken off in a way.
GSUK: So would you say that it was more creatively liberating being able to work on an original license?
MK: Yeah, I think what we wanted to do with MotorStorm was throw the rulebooks away; everything you can never do on a road or a track you can do in this. It was more of a mechanical process, and instead of trying to reach the top of a genre or a market we tried to create a global brand that everyone could take things from it they liked. What it distills down to is really fantastic moment-to-moment action, proper spectacles, with beautiful graphics and it's just there, you live it and you love it.
GSUK: Do you think that the success of the WRC games was the reason that you were one of the first developers to get hold of the PlayStation 3 hardware?
MK: Yeah, I have to say that Sony were great to us over this. Think about it--we'd created a really great franchise, and we'd say to many people that we had this great idea, but they'd only want to talk to us about our next rally game, and you end up becoming pigeonholed. I think we managed to convince the publisher that more risk was actually less risk, and instead of doing more of the same we'd surprise them, show what this hardware can do and what we can do, and even if we fall dramatically short we'll still have something remarkable. And it was a case of, "OK, let's go for it." While people were obviously nervous along the way and there were some close calls with demos and no-shows, we did it. It was fraught at times, but when the publisher can look at it as a creative partnership and take a punt and pull it all together...well, our experience and energy and their trust and support equals MotorStorm.
GSUK: Was it important for Evolution Studios to hit the Japanese launch of the PS3, despite not having the multiplayer elements ready?
MK: From the very onset, we wanted to try and start an early momentum and set the world alight from day one. We felt we had a great technical tour de force, and [MotorStorm] was so well received at the Tokyo Game Show in terms of gameplay, physics, and rendering. Japan really wanted this product, and I don't actually think that this market is as sophisticated for online as it is in America and Europe. I think that we had the proper technology demonstrated for PS3 and hinted at what's to come. Without the multiplayer, MotorStorm is still a curtain-raiser, it's not the real deal yet, but with our whole downloadable content strategy and long-term roadmap, we really want to go out there and conquer the world with this game!
GSUK: We'll move onto downloadable content later, but there's been a lot of talk of the increased costs, team sizes, and general risk of next-generation game development. How has Evolution Studios found it all?
MK: I think you've got to think big now, or go home. We're in an industry full of hits, and an average product isn't good enough. You have to find an edge and I think when you look at the billions being invested in hardware, at the end of the day it's only as good as the games that being developed on that platform. We looked at it very pragmatically--it's not about trying to have 500 people in a studio, but it was all about looking out for people who could really make a difference. What could we bring in to ensure this early momentum? We searched high and low for people who could collaborate with us, and our production model now is much more akin to a Hollywood movie than a computer game. You do need this scale and scope to stay at the top tier of games development.
GSUK: The team behind the game has spoken about having to build a lot of the tools from scratch. How different is that from the rally games you've developed in the past?
MK: I think we've always been good at creating tools that didn't exist before. It gives us that technical edge, and we don't want to have 500 manual artists working on stuff that we could have done automatically in a fraction of the time. That was how we succeeded with such a tight team on the last WRC. It was important that we were ready for launch, and that we show off the benefits of the physics system, but MotorStorm wouldn't have been possible without investment in a specific tool. To put it into perspective, the physics engine is one of the most sophisticated in a computer game ever developed, and we're going to be at the Game Developers Conference this week explaining quite what an accomplishment this engine is.
GSUK: If you're spending this long to develop the tools for these games, is there a tendency to become a specialist and produce games in only one particular genre?
MK: With 20 years in the business, we've seen the cyclical nature of hardware transitions, with fads, trends, and styles. At the end of the day, we're really flexible and we'll go wherever the market takes us. We want to drive the marketplace forward and when we were creating flight simulations as Digital Image Design, we missed a little game that came along called Gran Turismo. We figured that if we could do for driving what we did for flight sims, then it would be quite an accomplishment. Many people were resistant for DiD to do a driving game because we were so good at what we did. And it was the same then--people only wanted to talk about our next flight sim. For a company to be successful over a long period of time it has to be able to reinvent itself, and I'm not saying that we have to be like Prince or Madonna or Kylie, but it really is important that we take what we've learnt and leverage it into a different genre. We ultimately don't want to be pigeonholed, because you end up doing a lot of the same and the moment it starts getting dry and tired is the time to stop.
GSUK: From talking to people who worked on MotorStorm, it seems that Evolution managed to include a lot of the features that it initially wanted. However, with it being a launch title, is there still plenty of room for development in future?
MK: We hope to show, not tell, and this is a curtain-raiser. I know that there's some amazing things we can do, and I don't want to go off and promise a load of stuff that we can't deliver, but what we can say in terms of graphics and processing power [is that] we are only hitting a fraction of what we could be doing. Our motto is, "If anyone can, Evo can," and we want to push the hardware. [The PS3] really is a remarkable piece of kit, and people have given it a hard time over how difficult it is to program for. However, I think we're going to see a new level of sophistication in games over the next few years which is going to take gaming to a new demographic. There's some amazing stuff coming out, and from our firsthand perspective we're very confident.
GSUK: What does Evolution have in store for MotorStorm in terms of downloadable content?
MK: Well, we looked at this and we said that we wanted to do something fresh and exciting, underpromise and overdeliver if you will. We want to set a precedent for DLC basically. We already have 12 cars running together without any latency or slowdown, and that's a remarkable achievement beyond anything else that exists on any format. I think the experience will be great and we hope to bring you as much new content and game modes as possible. Obviously, it's new and we're making it all up as we go along, but we appreciate the potential for DLC and it will be one of the key things for us going forward.