Project Gotham's Bizarre Evolution

DEVELOP '09: Bizarre designer reveals Geometry Wars' inclusion "a joke," how Microsoft nixed betting feature from the series.


BRIGHTON, UK--Bizarre Creations is undoubtedly one of the most respected racing development studios around. After working with Microsoft for several years on the Project Gotham Racing series, Bizarre is currently developing Blur for Activision, which acquired the studio earlier this year. At the Develop conference, designer Chris Pickford discussed the development of the PGR series, revealed that Geometry Wars inclusion was a "joke," and confessed that Halo 3's launch was a burden for the studio.

Bikes made their first entry into the series in PGR4.
Bikes made their first entry into the series in PGR4.

The Project Gotham Racing franchise originally began as an Xbox port of Metropolis Street Racer, which Bizarre developed for the Sega Dreamcast. According to Pickford, Microsoft was impressed with MSR and asked Bizarre to rewrite it for the upcoming Xbox console within a 10-month period. The franchise got its name from the inclusion of a track based on New York City--commonly nicknamed Gotham. While other names were considered, including "Evo K," PGR inadvertently became the official title. Pickford said Microsoft asked Bizarre what the game's name was called at the time. The response from the studio was "Well, at the moment, Project Gotham Racing." This subsequently wound up being emblazoned across Microsoft's E3 2001 booth and became the official title.

When evaluating what went wrong in the first PGR's development, Pickford said there was no time to redefine the core design principles from MSR. "We were just doing a direct port," he said. It took a mere 11 months, thanks to plenty of "late nights and lots and lots of curry." Project Gotham Racing 2 (2003) added new features to the series; however, according to Pickford, one of the most popular inclusions was "Put it in there as a joke"--the Geometry Wars minigame.

Following PGR2's success, Microsoft asked Bizarre to develop another iteration in the series, 2005's Project Gotham 3, as a launch title for the Xbox 360. The console holder shipped to Bizarre a number of high-powered Macs for development, which he confessed "was a bit funny." Pickford also revealed that the team had originally planned to include a betting option in PGR3, which was appropriate given the inclusion of a Las Vegas circuit. However, apparently Microsoft deemed it "could not be involved in anything to do with betting because it would be like allowing minors to bet through an Xbox."

Project Gotham 4 included new features, such as Gotham TV on demand, Geometry Wars: Waves, and a daily worldwide tournament system. However, despite adding new features, Pickford believes that it became much harder to create subsequent iterations on existing hardware due to consumer demand for new features. "We had motorbikes [in PGR4], for example," he explained. "What are you going to do next, boats?"

While PGR4 got the nod of approval from critics , Pickford said it became lost in a sea of other games after its early October 2007 launch. He also felt it had fallen victim to what he dubbed "the Halo effect."

"If you're releasing [a title] anywhere around Halo--like literally three months either side--you're stumped. Halo 3 came out six weeks after we did," he elaborated. "We actually had to bring our project [forward] six weeks to try and get a little bit of time before Halo 3 launched. At the same time, Forza [MotorSport 2] shipped late, so we were sandwiched between two big hitters. It was a real burden at the time."

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