GDC '08: Pure First Look

ATV racing isn't dead, it's just moved to Brighton. We get a first glimpse of this gorgeous-looking off-road racing game.

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SAN FRANCISCO--Let's face it; a good chunk of the racing genre is just annual rehashes of things we've all played time and time again. These days, it seems that if you've played one ATV racing game, you've played them all. That trend looks to be broken in a big way with the upcoming Pure from Brighton, UK-based Black Rock Studio (formerly known as Climax Racing, the folks responsible for the MotoGP series) and Disney Interactive. We recently sat down with Black Rock's Jason Avent, game director on Pure, to get a feel for how his team is bringing a slightly skewed approach to the typical ATV game.

While the developers at Black Rock made their name with sim-style games like MotoGP, for their latest game, Pure, is an arcade game from stem to stern, full of huge jumps, over-the-top tricks, and extreme speed. That isn't to say, however, that the game is entirely removed from reality. The ATV bikes you control in Pure will certainly feel grounded and responsive in a way you'd expect from a simulation game, yet they're still capable of the kinds of outlandish air maneuvers that can only be found in video games. In fact, according to Avent, the decision to bring ATV bikes into the game was specifically because of their handling--with four wheels, they control similarly to a car yet, like a motorcycle, are still light enough to catch big air on a jump.

Ridiculous ATV tricks and gorgeous outdoor vistas combine in Black Rock Studio's Pure.
Ridiculous ATV tricks and gorgeous outdoor vistas combine in Black Rock Studio's Pure.

And when we talk about big air in Pure, we actually mean huge air. The other aspect of off-road racing that Avent wanted to capture was a sense of epic scale to the magnificent outdoor surroundings you're racing through. Forget turning laps in an MX stadium environment; in Pure, you'll be tackling the great outdoors in all its natural splendor. The graphical work that's gone into the environments places a huge emphasis on scale, with vast draw distances that will let you peer out across mountaintops as you hang out in midair. As Avent puts it, it's all part of the process of inducing a sense of vertigo, if not outright fear, in the player as you tackle the various jumps and bumps in the game.

Part and parcel with establishing that sense of respect for the course will be a constantly shifting camera as you're riding along the track, one that dramatically improves the racing experience depending on what you're doing in the moment. The default behind-the-back view demonstrates a nice sense of speed that's taken to the next step with blur lines and a slight shaking effect when you're using your boost. It's in midair, as you rider is pulling off the exotic tricks, that the camera comes to life, shifting in and out off the lip of the jump, or pulling to either side to give you both a great look at the trick you're currently executing as well as a wide-angle look at the environment surrounding you. If our initial reactions were any indication--holding our breath during more than one sky-high trick sequence--the camera work in Pure looks to add a lot of drama to the entire experience.

It's not just the visuals that are different in Pure. While the core of the game is a 16-vehicle racing experience (both offline and online), the trick system has taken a new approach. There are three levels of tricks you can pull off in Pure, each tied to a face button. A-button tricks are the basics; B-button tricks are the next step up; and Y-level tricks are the top-level tricks. Each of these trick button types is represented by three meters located in the lower right-hand corner of the screen. The twist here is that you can only perform B-button tricks by first filling up the A meter by doing tricks. Similarly, you can only perform Y-button tricks by first filling up both the A- and B-button meters. There are also signature tricks after all three meters are full; once you have a signature trick available, a rotating dial appears onscreen, scrolling through all of the signature tricks available to you. You can stop the dial and then "bank" that signature trick for use whenever you want.

Sixteen players will be able to battle it out online for the checkered flag.
Sixteen players will be able to battle it out online for the checkered flag.

Mitigating all of this meter-building trick busting is the boost meter. Using your ATV's boost will drain the trick meters, so the game quickly becomes a balance between using boost to gain air (or pass an opponent), and saving your trick meter so you can use your best tricks at the right time. Once you've banked a signature trick, however, you can use as much boost as you want without draining the meter, making signature tricks much more valuable than the normal trick. Up to five different paths throughout the same level--some of which are accessible only by using boost off of jumps--further complicate that balance, so that each lap of a race will likely have you facing difficult decisions.

There's still work yet to be done on Pure; the audio is still being cleaned up and there are a ton of particle effects to be added for things like dirt and mud being kicked up by the ATV's tires. And of course, we still have to learn about things like additional game modes, online options, and customization features. Nonetheless, the team at Black Rock still has roughly five months to go in the development of Pure--ample time to put in the finishing touches on a game that we're looking forward to seeing much more of down the road.

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