Street Racing Syndicate Q&A

We hit up Namco with a few questions about its upcoming underground racing game.

Street Racing Syndicate has been a long time in coming, but the underground racing simulation is finally speeding down the home stretch. In anticipation of the game's release, we fired off a few questions to Namco Hometek producer Robert Zalot about the progress that's been made on the game in the last few months. Read on for all the dirt.

GameSpot: How has development been going?

The SRS team has made the golden number--60 frames per second--which is a priority during development.

Robert Zalot: Development is going very well. We're constantly amazed with the team's passion in making SRS the fastest, most expansive, and most authentic Street Racing game to ever hit consoles.

GS: Has the change of publishers affected development at all?

RZ: Absolutely. We have taken SRS to another level. With this last year, we have built it into a game that is vastly superior to the older version in every way. Namco has a reputation for quality, and we haven't settled for anything less than the best street racing game on the market. Period.

GS: What's changed about the game since we saw it last?

RZ: Just about everything. We've gone all out and have totally revamped the technology to ensure top-notch visuals that just spank anything you'll see in the street racing genre. First off, SRS runs at a solid 60 frames per second. If you're a fan of racing games, you know how important a fast, solid frame rate is. Running at less than 60 just wasn't acceptable for us. And having stellar graphics was also a mandate. In many racing games, the developers have had to choose one or the other (graphics or frame rate). SRS doesn't choose one or the other. It is the whole package.

Our lighting really feels like night, with dynamic shadows that react to street lamps as you fly by. We've got brake glow, wheel blur, bump mapping on the roads, depth-of-field blur, reflection mapping, specular effects, reflective road surfaces, speed effects, dynamic cameras, particle systems, a high-res rearview mirror, and car models so accurate that they'll make your eyes bleed. In fact, you can actually read "Brembo" off the Skyline's brake calipers, and the V-Spec II has the Naca Duct cut into the hood!

The game will have around 50 licensed, fully upgradable cars that will take damage, and that damage will affect performance. There are also rare JDM versions included as well. Street racing fans will have more choices than ever before to create cars they can be proud of. For those doing the math, other games are claiming something to the tune of 80 billion possible combinations of cars and upgrades. SRS has more than 790 billion combinations!

To keep pace with the graphics, our physics model had to be the best too. And it is. Our cars drive incredibly realistically, while still being accessible to the guy who wants to just stab the pedal and go. It's been a tough balancing act, but we've managed to bring out the personalities of each of the individual cars in the game. The cars drive like the real cars and feel different from one model to the next. If you're sick of games where the cars all feel the same, suffer no more. The differences are inherent to our physics model. You won't see a stock Celica pull a Skyline GT-R off the line in SRS...ever. Our physics system is modeled so realistically that it can even tell you what the friction on the clutch plate is at any given moment--and it's something that we actually let you control! SRS is the first console racing game to give those who wish to use it an analog clutch! We even model traction on a wheel-by-wheel basis, based on each tire's contact patch, and take into account weight transfer, drive train, and real vehicle-specific driver-assist systems. For example (this is just for the gearheads out there), the Skyline GT-R V-Spec II (R34) in SRS actually features Nissan's Super HICAS four-wheel steering system and the ATTESA PRO Electronic Torque Split with Active Limited Slip Differential. You can feel it keeping you out of trouble by sending power to the front wheels when you start to oversteer. Sick stuff.

Because of this realism, we're allowed to give gamers something tuners in the import scene know and love--a Dyno! So instead of just telling the player "that exhaust is worth 15 horsepower," we let them find the best way to set up their cars by installing parts and performing Dyno Pulls. This is how tuners do it, and it's how it's done in SRS. How it works is, the player puts his or her ride on the Dyno, and the Dyno revs up to peak power. We draw torque and horsepower curves in real time and display peak horsepower and peak torque in rpm. You can even do comparison runs to see "before and after" graphs and to see power gains. And it's all for real, based on our physics system. No phony precalculated tables. It's all real run-time data in SRS.

The game's included Dyno will let hardcore tuners test out new configurations.

Our robust car model has also allowed us to include real driving techniques and tactics, too. You'll encounter high-speed drafting, grip-turn tactics, and drifting techniques that would make Tsuchiya proud! If you understand racing theory and technique and have the skills, they will work in the game.

As for locations, we feature three cities, with both open and closed race types, for an incredible variety. Race, drive, or just cruise and check out your ride in Los Angeles, Miami, and Philadelphia. These cities are filled with dynamic traffic, smashable objects, places to catch air, shortcuts, cops, and places to duck cops. There are hideouts all over the city that you'll have to find. And you have a warehouse to hold all the cars you've bought, built, or taken from rivals. You're never locked down to just one car. You can set up different cars for different types of racing, or you can just horde your hard-won trophies. The open-city architecture allows you the freedom to go wherever you want, but be careful not to do anything too crazy in front of the police, or they will give chase and try to hand you a ticket! If you're rolling and spot racers from rival crews, just flash your brights, and it's on.

The sensation of speed has been boosted incredibly and continues to be improved even further with each new build, via new camera techniques, sound, and other methods. We also added online play, including pink-slip races. So not only can you battle online but also you can take people's cars and taunt them over your headset! And after the race, you can sit back and enjoy dynamic replays of the moment your best friend lost his car to you. So, as you can probably guess by now, we've really been busting our asses to make SRS the best street racing game ever. And we can't wait to unleash it on gamers everywhere.

GS: Could you fill us in on the game modes?

RZ: The real meat of the game is in what we call "street mode." The idea here is to build the sickest car on the street and bring it to crews across three cities for respect, cash, and the attention of 18 of the finest ladies on the import scene. To do this, you'll have to duck the cops and constantly upgrade your ride, while also mastering your technique. And your computer opposition is no joke either. Our artificial intelligence is so advanced that we had to make sure that it couldn't cheat!!! Seriously. How many times in a racing game have you been following an AI car through a corner only to see it somehow stick to a "rail" while you slid into a wall? Or how about when they "rubber band" up to you like magic because you are too far ahead or slow down because you are behind? How about the AI car that is suddenly twice as fast as it's supposed to be? Not in SRS... That's another thing we couldn't stand for.

Don't expect any rubber-band AI in Syndicate Street Racing.

In many racing games, they have to compensate for a lack of strong AI, so they have to pull tricks like the above-mentioned ones to beef up the gameplay. It's like a form of cheating, because the AI doesn't really know how to drive. SRS doesn't cheat. Our AI follows all of the same rules that the player does. Their cars have the same physics as your car. Their cars don't "rubber band" up to you because you're winning (though they will draft up on you if you let them). The AI in SRS is not psychic. It can't see around corners to dodge traffic. Instead, it sees what it sees exactly when it sees it--and not a moment before. Beyond that, the AI drives cars in the game the same way you do--by pressing buttons! Well, OK, it presses virtual buttons on a virtual controller, but it's the same system that you use. Just like you, it doesn't want to crash into other cars or buildings, so it will try to avoid them. However, it will crash if it happens to make a mistake (or if it gets forced into a crash), just like real people. And, yes, the AI will take shortcuts--but only if it sees them.

We think cheating is wrong, so we make sure our game can't cheat. SRS is 100 percent fair from the moment the girl's hands drop to when you cross the finish line. In addition to crew races in street mode, there are also "roll up" races, sanctioned races (that's "legal" to you), respect challenges, and street challenges. Respect challenges let you show off for the ladies, and street challenges allow you to run against local racers, one-on-one, for money. And when you're not racing, you can also play tag with the local cops for fun.

In addition, there's cruise mode. We can't say too much about it yet, but stay tuned. You'll get to experience it at E3.

So back to game modes... In addition to street mode, we feature an arcade mode where you can just jump in a pretuned street beast and go tear up the city--alone or with a friend via split-screen. And you can also take your tuned-up cars (from street mode) online and into battle.

GS: Could you fill us in on the game's racing model, (i.e. sim or arcade style) and tell us why you chose that direction?

RZ: SRS is balanced realism that's fast, realistic fun. It's deep enough to reward people who love sim games without evoking yawns. That sense of speed was something we thought was really lacking in the sim-style games, so we took the sim model, turned it on its ear, and made it feel fast--all while maintaining the fun for the more-arcade-oriented crowd. It's very realistic, but it is also very accessible and fun to just go flat-out and play. Anyone can have fun driving in SRS, but it's realistic enough to reward knowledge and real driving techniques. Apex a corner, and you'll take a guy who doesn't do so. For another example, drifting isn't always the fastest way around a corner, but it does require skill. As a result, we reward you for it and call out the names of the techniques as you pull them off, which is similar to what you may have seen in some extreme sports games.

We took the best from both models and chose a balance that we feel is the most fun. An absolute sim is too much for most people. It's no fun. It feels like such a job. Do this technique. Get this license. Drive this wimpy car. Someday you'll get to drive something fast. Meanwhile, we'll punish you with drills and slow races. We have a great respect for the amount of work that goes into these games, but they're just not fun. The other extreme is just as bad, though. Bumper car, toy-town, arcade driving is nothing like real street racing. With a great deal of thought and consideration, we've landed somewhere in the middle. The hardcore racers will play SRS and go "Whoa!!! I can Choku Dori in this Trueno!!! Sick!!!" The casual guy will pick it up and say, "Damn! This is fast!! I'm doing 160mph through traffic!!! Gotta shake these cops!!!" We've hit the perfect balance. Everyone who's played it--across the whole range from professional drivers to the most casual ones--loves the way it drives. It "feels" like a real tuned-up import without being too real to be fun.

GS: Will there be unique content for each of the platforms?

RZ: Our goal was to make SRS amazing on all platforms. So in a word, "No." To have unique content on one platform would mean that someone didn't get something on another platform. We're giving it all to everyone, no matter what box you rock.

A wealth of play modes and a ludicrous number of ways to customize your car should give SRS lots of replay value.

GS: How are you taking advantage of each of the platforms in terms of the game's graphics?

RZ: Each platform has distinct strengths, and we've played to those while keeping our goal of 60 frames per second on each. The game looks amazing on all platforms, and we haven't adopted a "least common denominator" or port approach either. We have a different renderer for each box who plays to its strengths. They all look comparable to one another and all run fast!

GS: What element of SRS do you think is the most unique? What do you feel it brings to the racing genre?

RZ: Authenticity and attention to detail. Never before has there been a game that has had this kind of high-speed excitement and depth and realism. You either got one or the other in racing games. In SRS you get both. No one has captured this before, and we're happy that we will be able to give it to you.

GS: When can we look for the game?

RZ: It will be a late summer release.

Thanks for all the interest, and we hope you all enjoy SRS.

GS: Thanks for your time.

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