Q&A: Wide Games

UK-based developer Wide Games speaks with us regarding its driving game Rush Club and next-generation console development.

Wide Games has officially announced Prisoner of War for the Sony PlayStation 2, which will be published by Codemasters. However, the company is also working on several other projects, one of which is named Rush Club. The game merges racing with gang conflicts and hip-hop culture. We recently learned more details about Rush Club during a Q&A session with Carl Jones, executive producer at Wide Games. Jones also spoke about development on the PlayStation 2 and the industry in general. Further information on Rush Club can be found in our previous news story.

GameSpot: Rush Club sounds similar to Rockstar's PlayStation 2 game Midnight Club: Street Racing. Is that a fair assessment?

Carl Jones: OK, four things: graphics, gameplay, style, and setting. Seriously though, Rush Club is all about racing for the best vehicles so that you can win races and get more than a new car each level. It is also about avoiding the attention of all the AI drivers in the game, who are trying to prevent you from winning those races.

The Atlas engine can create fully interactive environments and physics modeling--down to [elements demonstrating] buoyancy and thermodynamics. For example, if your car is on fire, it'll spread convincingly to anything flammable in game, while bits of burning debris break off from the car. Drive it into the river, and the fire will go out as the vehicle slowly sinks into the water.

Rush Club has a similar plot to Midnight Club, but the similarity ends there. Our players will be working their way up through the ranks of criminal organizations and building an army to assist the player in winning the races--an army that comprises fellow gang members, bribed police, city officials, lawyers, and prostitutes. The game is kind of like Scarface in vehicles.

The style of the music is also more hip-hop/rap-oriented, which is a greatly underused style in games at the moment. Oh yes, and we've got boats.

GS: The racing genre seems to be particularly crowded these days, with many companies trying to enter the market. Is it difficult to come up with something entirely new?

CJ: Well, we started with the idea that any game must have a compelling and addictive central game mechanic. We thought about this and realized that pretty much everyone on the planet has played, and been addicted to, versions of a kids game called musical chairs. So we took this simple idea. In the game, there are not enough vehicles to go around, so everyone will try and go for the best vehicle they can find as quickly as possible. Instant competition, frustration, and reward for the best players--that seemed to us to be a winner.

The second most critical aspect is longevity. What we felt made the most successful modern racing games work long-term was the ability to improving your chances in the next race. Normally this is by improving your car, but in Rush Club, you don't have a car, per se, as you can drive any vehicle you come across. So, we came up with the corruption idea, where the players use their money to buy non-player characters to assist them in their upcoming races. This adds a lot of depth to the game, as players can choose to build up a huge gang of their own to assist them, or in a sneaky way buy off their opponents, or even buy off the police.

GS: Do you think racing games should be approached in new ways, like you seem to be doing with Rush Club in certain aspects?

CJ: Well, I worry that the market just isn't big enough for more track-based racing games. GT3 will have the most cars, the most courses, and the most impressive graphics. It will also have the best car handling of any PS2 track-based racing game. So, I think there's little point in bringing out any other similar products. Rally titles are pretty much sewn up now, so the chances of a new track-based game being successful are remote. So long as people are still thinking up new and fun ways to play racing games--like Driver, Crazy Taxi, and Rush Club--the genre won't stagnate.

GS: What will you focus on regarding the development of Rush Club? What is the most important element?

CJ: The most important element is the handling of the cars, obviously. Get that right and you've got a million friends for life. Rush Club also depends on some fairly complex AI, but the Atlas engine solves a lot of those headaches for us.

GS: Considering that you have worked with the PS2 in developing Prisoner of War, what are your experiences with the console?

CJ: That a lot of people are whining about nothing--oops, that won't make me popular. Really though, if you've got good, experienced PlayStation tech programmers, then the PS2 is no problem. It's got limitations, but you work with them and around them, and you can achieve some awesome looking products. One nice problem is getting the message across to our artists that they can use as many polygons as they want--they are used to tight budgets on these.

GS: Where do you see the biggest hurdles for developers working with the PS2?

CJ: Dealing with limited texture budgets but massive geometry budgets. Also PS2 dev kits aren't cheap.

GS: Where are you in the development of Rush Club?

CJ: Well, we're looking for a publisher so that we can complete the development of the product and make it a real AAA game. There's still a long way to go to get it ready for release.

GS: Do you have plans to bring the game to other consoles as well?

CJ: Absolutely. Atlas is a platform independent engine--running at the moment on the PC and PS2--and our tech team is ready to get cracking on the Xbox and GameCube versions.

GS: What are your thoughts on consoles such as the Xbox and the GameCube?

CJ: The Xbox is going to be awesome technically. It looks to me like Microsoft is going to have a lot of good launch titles, so I think it will be a great console. If Mario, Zelda, Diddy Kong, and Perfect Dark make appearances on the GameCube, I'll buy one.

GS: The current market results show a lot of publishers and developers are in trouble financially. How does that affect the relatively small developers such as Wide Games?

CJ: Well, we're working on a great game for Codemasters, and publishers seem to be very keen to sign products with us. We've got a number of deals in the pipeline, which we expect to sort out by E3. So, we're not suffering in the same way many others in the industry seem to be. But, having said that, this is a lean time for the industry generally, and we're feeling that as much as anyone else. It's actually helped being a start-up at this time, as we don't have major overheads that aren't directly related to the work we're doing. Bigger developers with staffs of 50 or more are being badly hit. They still have the overheads, as a result of hangover from the boom period of the last few years. If you've got a big team working on an unsigned game, you're bleeding cash from every pore with little hope of a return in the short-term.

GS: What are the next steps you're planning for the company besides the development of Prisoner of War?

CJ: We want to sign up two more console games over the next year and gravitate to having around three titles in development, in parallel. We've also started a new studio, Wide Sounds, which produces truly dynamic audio for Xbox and PC games. That's a whole new subject and too much to go into now. Rush Club will be one of the first titles to benefit from the Wide Sounds treatment.

GS: How do you feel about Sega focusing on third-party development and leaving the hardware market behind?

CJ: Well, I was talking to some gamers last night who were appalled at having spent money on a console only to find out it has a two-year life span. They felt Sega should give them their money back. A bit extreme, if you ask me. My feeling is that the best console of the moment is the Dreamcast, if only due to the number of good games you can get for it. However, that will last all of about three months, until Sony revs up its release schedule, and then the Dreamcast will be forgotten. Seeing games like Sonic and Virtua Fighter on the other consoles can only be a good thing, though.

GS: Thanks a lot for the open discussion and all the best on your future plans.

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