MX Unleashed Q&A
We talk to Rainbow Studios about the developer's upcoming motocross game.
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MX Unleashed is the latest motocross game to be published by THQ. The game marks a departure from THQ's previous motocross titles, thanks to developer Rainbow Studios' unique approach. While MX Unleashed will offer all the staples you'd expect to find in an MX game, like career and racing modes, the title will also present some unique gameplay modes that include some decidedly non-motocross vehicles. We talk to Robb Rinard, MX Unleashed's senior game designer at Rainbow Studios, to find out how the game is coming together.
GameSpot: MX Unleashed is a new direction for THQ's MX games. Why take it?
Robb Rinard: Given Rainbow Studios' mass-market hits, like ATV Offroad Fury and Motocross Madness, MX Unleashed has given us an opportunity to take the best of these games to the next level. We wanted to combine what's cool about motocross for motocross fans with what's cool among the broader audience of casual gamers who loved our past off-road action games.
GS: What do you think has been the biggest challenge in attempting to capture the sport in video games?
RR: The key to capturing any sport in a gaming sense is to make a good analysis of the essential elements of the sport that will make for a good game--and filter out the ones that won't. For example, MX fans have been asking for years that we make it possible for the tracks to get more rutted as the race progresses. Although this is a feature of real-life motocross, it doesn't carry over to a game that well at all. On the other hand, the way MX riders use the clutch to get more acceleration coming out of turns works great in the game.
GS: What do you feel are the key elements an MX game needs to be appealing?
RR: Every good racing games needs the following three things, and in this order:
1) Driving physics model. It has to be easy enough for a beginner to pick up and deep enough for an advanced player to explore the outer edge of the envelope. Without good physics, the rest of your game pretty much doesn't matter.
2) Course Design. A good physics model is useless without challenging, well-thought-out racecourses to ride. Motocross has a huge advantage in course design over other types of racing, such as NASCAR or Formula 1, in that MX racecourses have a vertical component to them. They also have a second feature, known as split-sections, where the track is divided down the middle. This opens up a world of choices--as the player progresses around the track--that other forms of racing simply can't offer. MX is truly a thinking man's racing game.
3) Competitive AI. The computer opponents in a racing game need to be fair and challenging. An example of the worst type of AI, found in many recent (sorry EA) racing games that I've been playing, is when I'm driving along at top speed, doing the best I can, and along comes some AI rider who slingshots past me with a level of performance I can't match. Good AI needs to be based on a level playing field. Also, no stupid shortcuts on the tracks that are brain-numbingly hard to navigate, yet are perfectly easy for the AI.
GS: How has Rainbow approached making a unique MX game?
RR: Rainbow's off-road games are unique on a number of levels, some of which I detailed above. Our physics models have been advancing since the days of Motocross Madness and ATV Offroad Fury. MX Unleashed has our best physics to date. We also included a "pro physics" model that players can unlock once they complete the career. Our worlds are unique in that they offer massive areas of free-riding exploration for players to enjoy. Most other MX games are what we refer to as "tunnel racers," which are games that include invisible walls that keep you locked on the track.
GS: What kind of technology are you using to help sell the whole experience?
RR: For MX Unleashed we put a lot of effort into developing a character physics system for the rider. In our past games, the rider was driven solely by animation and appeared quite rigid. For the past year, our lead physics programmer, Rick Baltman, has been working on developing a fantastic new character physics system by using constrained particle physics. The result is a beautiful melding of art and technology. It allowed our animator, Jim Panzer, to pose the rider in a number of default riding positions, and the physics engine does the rest in real time. Watching a group of riders blast through a whoop section is just amazing to watch because it looks so real!
GS: How do you go about balancing "fun" game-friendly physics with realism?
RR: Magic...and hands down one of the most challenging tasks in creating a simulation that's grounded in reality. First of all, when it comes to the simulation-versus-fun factor, we almost always side on the side of fun factor. The trick is to know just how much of each you need to make it look real, feel real, and still be highly playable. Fortunately, this is Rainbow's fifth off-road racing game, and we've had an enormous amount of feedback from our fans about what they like and what they don't like. But you can't always take what they say literally. As the designer, I have to run all their input through a number of mental filters to derive the key messages, in order to learn from them.
GS: What can you tell us about the game modes?
RR: The racing side of the game has all the classic race modes you've come to expect in an off-road racing title, so I'll just talk about the two new ones.
Fast-Lap Attack is a new mode that grew out of the work we did on our new freestyle events. The track has a collection of takeoff and landing targets projected onto the surface. The object is to turn a perfectly clean lap where you take off inside each of the takeoff zones and land in each of the landing zones. If you can do all of them successfully in a single lap, you score 100 percent. Fast Lap Attack is very challenging and is likely to appeal to the more experienced player, but it's still tons of fun for the beginner.
Machine Racing is another new mode we added. MX Unleashed includes a collection of non-motocross vehicles in the outdoor freestyle worlds, including a monster truck, a dune buggy, a trophy truck, a helicopter, and a biplane. Each level has one of these bonus vehicles included. If you can beat each machine in a two-lap waypoint race, the machine is yours to drive or fly. This opens up tons of new gaming opportunities, especially in two-player split-screen mode. Each player can select one of the machines, in addition to a dirt bike. We've gotten fantastic responses from the people who have tried the Machine Races.
GS: What kind of multiplayer are you going to offer?
RR: MXU allows up to two players to engage in all of the racing and freestyle modes the game has to offer. Split-screen freestyle is especially fun with the addition of the new Machine Races. We don't offer any Internet play in this year's game. Our schedule didn't allow us to give online the complete treatment it needed, so we pushed it out another year so we can create the high quality online experience we all want to see in the game. We felt that was a better choice to shipping a cheesy online mode.
GS: Are there going to be any features unique to the platforms? If so, what?
RR: Both the PS2 and Xbox will support HDTV modes. The PS2 will support 480p. If you are running a rear projection or DLP-based television, this really makes a nice improvement. The Xbox will support not only 480p but also 720p as well. The game really looks amazing in this mode and truly rivals the graphics quality of most PC games. I think a lot of people are going to want to pick up an Xbox and an HDTV to play this game.
GS: What do you think MX Unleashed is going to bring to the genre?
RR: Well, for starters it's going to deliver the quality MX experience that fans have been craving for many years. There have been a lot of not-so-good MX console games in the past, and they've really damaged the credibility of the genre to the point where most people consider motocross a niche genre. MX Unleashed is about to change this notion forever. As a game player, if you enjoyed the ATV Offroad Fury series of games, MX Unleashed is going to blow you away!