Driver: Parallel Lines Designer Diary #1

Reflections Interactive's Gareth Edmondson reflects on previous Driver games and on some of the features that will be improved in Driver: Parallel Lines.

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Currently scheduled for release on the PlayStation 2 and the Xbox in March, Driver: Parallel Lines is the fourth installment of Reflections Interactive's Driver series of mission-based driving games. The game will be set in two very different versions of New York, circa 1978 and circa 2006, and it promises to improve upon its predecessors in a number of ways. In this, the first of our Driver: Parallel Lines designer diaries, Reflections Interactive studio manager Gareth Edmondson reflects on the previous three Driver games and touches on the team's goals for Driver: Parallel Lines.

Reflections

By Gareth Edmondson
Studio Manager

For the past eight years, the Driver series has very much been a labor of love for Reflections. Founder and former studio head Martin Edmondson originally conceived Driver based off a variety of '70s car chase movies such as Bullitt, French Connection, The Driver, etc., and as an extension of the Destruction Derby series--we wanted to get that type of mayhem and destruction out on the streets.

No car chase is complete without an alleyway full of boxes.
No car chase is complete without an alleyway full of boxes.

Driver took a long time to develop, and it was a tough project because we were reinventing gameplay technology in many ways. It was the first game to: tackle the free-roaming city environment; re-create an entirely new vehicle-destruction system, and develop an entirely new in-game AI system. There is something innately compelling about the gameplay of being chased, and Driver was the first game to deliver that adrenaline-rushing experience. For example, the way it allowed the player to collect missions using the answer phone was an original gameplay feature.

In Driver, we were ultimately disappointed in the storyline overall, and we believed the mission design to be weak because it didn't support the story very well.

Driver 2 was developed in a short amount of time (around 14 months), and while a lot of the same technology was used from the original Driver, we did upgrade quite a lot of it, allowing the addition of curved roads and flyovers to make the cities seem more realistic. The story was a lot stronger, and we opted for a linear structure to deliver a better story altogether. We did push the PlayStation 1 a bit too hard with this game, as there were a lot of features that we wanted to include in the game that were compromising other things, such as frame rate, etc., so the finished product was technically deficient in some areas. I really liked the choice of locations for Driver 2 as well, as it took place in interesting locations (Chicago, Las Vegas, Havana, and Rio). Driver 2 shipped just after the PlayStation 2 launch, but it turned out to be the right timing after all.

Driver 3 took a bit of a backseat during the development of Stuntman for a while, with Stuntman being our first PlayStation2 title. We didn't actually use very much code from Stuntman in Driver 3, as they were significantly different games. The physics engine was used, but pretty much everything else was entirely new for Driver 3. The high and low points of Driver 3 are well documented, but it's fair to say that the game did not live up to its expectations. This was for all sorts of reasons, but primarily it was because we bit off more than we could chew and we had to cut a lot back in the closing stages of the project. Implementing character systems was a big learning experience for the team. While we allowed the character to get out of the car a bit in Driver 2, this was only implemented as a way to allow the player to drive any car in the world. With Driver 3, we introduced guns and third-person-action games in a free-roaming world--which was a very large undertaking. While Driver 3 certainly had its shortcomings, the vehicle handling, car chase aspects, and some amazingly detailed environments to drive around were the product's key strengths.

Welcome to New York.
Welcome to New York.

At the end of production for Driver 3, we undertook a very detailed in-house postmortem on everything from production methods and design to technology and tools, and we read through reviews, forums, and incorporated internal feedback in order to get the franchise back on track. We first decided to "fix" all of the major things that were wrong with the game. We then decided to make an entirely new game--which is how we came up with the concept for Driver: Parallel Lines. It was important to re-create the product from the ground up and develop new characters, an entirely new story, new technology, and keep the focus on what the franchise has always done best: driving.

Much of the technology has been passed on to Driver 3, but we've also upgraded and improved the technology in some way. For example, AI, character systems, streaming technology, and other areas have been improved upon but have not been reworked, such as the vehicle handling and physics.

We ultimately decided to have Driver: Parallel Lines focus more on driving, implement an open mission structure, and invest heavily in core gameplay such as vehicle AI--these were all natural progressions for us.

During development, every technical and creative advancement we made was based around one philosophy: how to get players in cars, driving fast through traffic, and smashing things up!

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