Motor City Online Q&A

The Need for Speed series is going online, and we've got all the details directly from producer Michael Waite.

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Electronic Arts' Need for Speed franchise has always let players get behind the wheel of the most exotic and desirable modern-day cars. With the upcoming release of Motor City Online, however, the franchise will veer sharply from its successful formula in two distinct ways. First, as the name suggests, the game will be played predominantly online. You'll be able to race against other human players, buy and trade parts and cars, and even scour the local newspaper for club events or hot deals. Adding a community aspect to the game is certainly a welcome addition to the series. The game's massive library of vehicles from the golden age of American car culture is the second major departure from the series. Motor City Online will feature more than 50 classics like the Mustang, Corvette, and Thunderbird, all of which can be upgraded into all-out muscle cars.

To prevent confusion with the company's strictly offline series of racing games, Electronic Arts has dropped the "Need for Speed" moniker from Motor City Online. Regardless, when the game releases later this year, fans of the franchise will easily recognize Motor City Online's look and feel as true to the Need for Speed series. We sat down with Motor City Online producer Michael Waite to talk about the game's features, like the new graphics technology, updated physics engine, and economy system, in more detail.

An out of control '63 Corvette Stingray slams into a Ford Mustang
An out of control '63 Corvette Stingray slams into a Ford Mustang

GameSpot: What's involved in creating a persona in Motor City Online? Will players be able to be instantly behind the wheel of a car after starting up the game for the first time?

Michael Waite: We tried to make Motor City Online very accessible to users. As players enter the world of Motor City, they begin by picking a shard and creating a unique persona. To help introduce the player, they are initially pointed toward the newbie tracks on EZ Street, which can only be accessed by level-one and level-two players. Similar to all of the tracks in the arcade action [mode], the newbie tracks will contain no economy or car ownership...just choose a track and a car and race! Hard-core gamers, of course, can bypass this easier area and go straight to the deeper sim world gameplay with full economy and car construction.

GS: How does Motor City Online's economy system work? How much money will players initially start with, and how will they be able to earn more money?

MW: The game's real-life economy is one of the coolest aspects of this game. Motor City Online's big economy innovation is the inclusion of system-supported auctions, where players can bid on and purchase cars and parts. This way, the value of goods and services is determined by supply and demand...just like in the real world. Players can also buy, sell, and swap with each other in order to improve their status and income. Initially, each racer will be given a certain amount of Motor City "cash." From there, it's up to each person to determine how they'll earn more winnings--racers can earn money through weekly salaries, pro racing purses, street racing wagers, and prize winnings and through items or services that are sold to other players.

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Click for full size image

GS: The idea of racing for pink slips is certainly daunting. Will players be able to renege if they lose a drag race?

MW: Nope. Racing for pink slips is definitely something to be seriously considered prior to accepting a challenge from or challenging another racer. When a pink slip wager is chosen, which is a user-selected option, a loss for any reason results in a loss of the vehicle's pink slip. However, we do warn players profusely before letting them finalize the bet. After that, it's completely up to the racers to determine whether or not they're willing to take such a risk for the reward.

GS: Half the fun of street racing is guessing what your opponent has under the hood. How will players be able to gauge the performance of each other's cars without actually seeing them in action?

MW: Racers can see the basic stats of their opponent's car--make and model, horsepower, torque weight, and so on. But watch out for other players' secret weapons like beefed engines, suspension, and racing tires and other little goodies like nitrous injection.

GS: It's been a while since any specifics about Motor City Online were released. Does the roster of vehicles still include 35 cars? Which is your favorite?

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Click for full size image

MW: At the moment, we've got more than 50 unique models--licensed from the Big Three manufacturers of Ford, Chevrolet, and Chrysler, spanning from the 1930s through the early 1970s. However, we're constantly building, and we're planning to add plenty more into the game as we charge ahead. My personal favorite is the '73 Firebird.

GS: Need for Speed: Porsche Unleashed let players upgrade their cars using a wide assortment of actual parts and accessories taken right from the Porsche catalog. Will Motor City Online feature anything similar?

MW: In addition to Ford, Chevy, and GM parts, we have licensed parts from Holley, Edelbrock, Hurst...in total, there's more than 1,000 parts and accessories. All of these parts and accessories will emulate true physics on a very detailed level. Players can customize their cars inside and out, including engine blocks, carbs, transmissions, wheels, springs, and paint job.

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Click for full size image

GS: How many tracks will players be able to race on? Will there be any road courses like in Porsche Unleashed and the original The Need for Speed?

MW: Currently, there are 18 selectable race locations, including street tracks, pro ovals, grand prix-style road courses, drag strips, and stunt tracks. Some of the street tracks can be selected in segments because they are rather lengthy. My favorites are the Tornado Flats street track, which features a special FX tornado, and the Bel Air Grand Prix, which really lets you feel some speed.

GS: Can you talk a little about the neighborhood feature of Motor City Online? How large is each area, and will players be able to travel from one neighborhood to another by driving there? What separates them?

MW: Every track in the game is a piece of turf that's ruled by one of the game's racing clubs. Weekly competitions determine who rules the turf, both for clubs and individuals. The ruling club's name is posted on the lobby screen, which serves as a badge of honor and a warning to all who enter. The most competitive clubs will try to rule multiple tracks. There's no way to drive from track to track, however--each track is a unique location with its own lobby where players meet up, chat, talk trash, and split up into race rooms.

GS: Is the game based on a new graphics engine, or does it run on an improved version of the Porsche Unleashed code?

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MW: Motor City Online features a completely original engine built from the ground up that boasts phenomenal graphics rendering, a customizable camera, 2,000-poly car models, and a deep audio library of authentic sounds and effects that stay true to the time period. I'd have to say that this is our deepest and best-looking and -sounding driving sim ever.

GS: How has the physics engine been improved or enhanced since the last Need for Speed game? Does Motor City Online stress realism or do the cars behave in a more forgiving manner?

MW: As I said in the earlier question, the game has a completely new engine, including the impressive physics engine. It's a dynamic four-point physics model that lets us accurately depict a wide range of cars, thus a wide range of driving experiences. We're trying not to be too religious about realism, but we are definitely determined to stay true to the cars during that era. What we're interested in is the feel and attitude of different cars. For example, we want a Buick Century to feel heavy and smooth and a Mustang Mach 1 to be light, fast, and challenging to handle.

GS: How often will the Motor City Gazette be updated?

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Click for full size image

MW: The Gazette, which will actually be an in-game Web site, is another one of Motor City Online's totally original features. We take real in-game events like race results, club competitions, car sales, pink slip losses, and so on and send that information to the appropriate Gazette pages. Community managers and users can then write stories to accompany headline events. We hope to update these frames pretty regularly, but the actual number of times won't be determined until we complete some testing on the bandwidth hit.

GS: When will we finally be able to play Motor City Online?

MW: Motor City Online is scheduled to ship this summer or fall. Leading up to the game's launch, we'll conduct our first public beta-testing cycle in April. We'll then add testers as stability allows, and as soon as the game is balanced (bug free and stable), we'll go on the market. I have a lot of faith in this dev team. But, before we go live, we want to make sure that we've nailed everything down and that we're giving our players the experiences they deserve.

GS: Thanks, Michael.

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