SBK-08 Superbike World Championship Q&A

The SBK series roars onto Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 this year, and we pulled up alongside Milestone's Fabio Paglianti to get all the details.

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Fans of two-wheeled racing will be pleased to hear that SBK-08 Superbike World Championship is nearing completion and set to hit the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 later in the year. Developed by Milestone, a veteran Italian developer with a slew of racing titles under its belt, SBK-08 will follow up the 2007 edition with an expanded features list and an updated engine. To find out more, we went to Milan to catch up with the game's producer, Fabio Paglianti.

GameSpot UK: Tell us a little about the history and racing experience of the team here at Milestone.

Fabio Paglianti: The Milestone team has been developing games for 10 years, from early PC games like the Screamer car series, and the Superbike games on PC for EA in the nineties. We came to consoles in about 2002 with Racing Evoluzione for the Xbox, and after that we moved to the PS2 with a couple of car games. We came back to bikes with the non-branded Superbike Riding Challenge in 2006, before developing SBK-07 on PS2 and PSP. We then decided 2008 would be the year for us to release our first next-gen title.

GSUK: How long has SBK-08 been in development?

FP: Since last year. We had great success with SBK-07 all around the world, so after releasing Moto GP '07 for Capcom on PS2, we started to develop SBK-08 for previous-generation and next-gen platforms.

GSUK: What have been some of the advantages of moving the series to the next-generation consoles?

FP: The power of these consoles has offered us better ways of improving the gameplay. When we decided last year to start developing the internal engine for the next-gen platforms, we improved things like AI and physics to improve the experience of riding the bikes. Our engine also covers the shaders, normal maps, and other graphical technologies for the game.

GSUK: You're working on multiple versions of SBK-08 including Xbox 360, PS3, and PC. What have been some of the challenges of creating a cross-platform title?

FP: Each platform is a different experience. You have to understand that what you do on one machine might need a difference approach on another and change accordingly. In the case of SBK-08, we'll also be releasing the game on PS2 and PSP, platforms which require their own approaches. The challenge is about having the same fun gameplay across all the platforms.

GSUK: Which of the platforms was the most technically challenging to work on?

FP: Considering that SBK-08 is the very first next-gen game Milestone is developing, I would say we've faced almost the same issues on Xbox 360 and PS3 even if Xbox 360 is more "developer friendly", thanks to the fact that it's been on the market for longer and programmers know how it works better.

GSUK: We know that with the SBK licence we can expect all the teams and bikes of the 2008 circuit, but how will SBK-08 differ from the last generation's offering?

FP: The core aim with SBK-08 is the same as the last generation, to give players that real Superbike World Championship experience. The challenge for the player in this game is to learning how to ride a superbike and set it up so it best suits your riding style--it's the same experience a rider has in real life. Our aim was to create that simulation experience and make it accessible to everyone. But we also wanted to give the player the ability to customise their own SBK experience, so you can change just about everything in the game through the Pit and the Engineer, which are unique new characteristics to the game.

GSUK: Tell us a bit about how the Pit and the Engineer work.

FP: We wanted to give players the ability to customise their bikes in "The Pit," creating their own SBK experience. The Engineer has the job of giving customisation advice to the player depending on his team, as different teams get different advice and help based on their strengths and weaknesses. The official teams, for example, have a large amount of money and more options than other teams. You can ask the Engineer how to set up your bike, going into the bike settings and choosing normal or advanced settings. For a more basic experience you can use a simple slider for things like suspension and breaks. But if you want to choose advanced settings that have a lot of sliders, then you can change things down to the stiffness in the springs in suspension, what load the bikes carries and all sorts of characteristics. This is very much in the spirit of our "basic-to-extreme simulation" approach.

GSUK: How will players be able assess the impact of changes they make to bikes, beyond just how they handle?

FP: After races, players can check out their telemetry and find out what was good and bad about their machine's performance. Telemetry covers things like engine characteristics, RPMs, and leaning curve on the tarmac. You can use also use telemetry to better understand your track performance, like where you braked and accelerated too much. You can even compare laps done under different settings. This way, the player learns to set up their bikes, and it really allows players to understand how superbikes work.

GSUK: Does the team and rider you choose to play with affect game play? And what improvements have you made to opponent riders' AI?

FP: Both team and riders affect gameplay, because each bike has different characteristics, and each rider has his own way of riding. Their distinct behaviours and skills differ. Each player needs to choose the team and rider that best suit their own play style. There's no "best team" as such, it's about the best team for you. We've improved riders' group behaviour and that of each rider in the group. You no longer see silly crashes if you don't ride too aggressively. If you choose your racing line carefully as you would in real life, the AI understands that and responds appropriately, based on the characteristics of each rider. The AI riders also fight against each other and if you fall behind won’t wait for you! We've studied the styles and characteristics of superbike riders and incorporated them. For example, Troy Bayliss, a former SBK Champion, is a challenge to ride against, while a newbie rider is much easier to overtake and be aggressive with. If you try to be aggressive with Bayliss, he'll try to take you out!

GSUK: How many players will feature in online matches and will there be AI riders in those matches?

FP: We're still working on that aspect. Our aim is have 16 players but we can't confirm the final details now. We’ll have local multiplayer on PSP for up to four players. We've had to put a lot of work into it and the idea is to give players the same game play both on and offline. At the moment we have a Quick Race mode where you determine the settings of your bike and ride against other players. You can choose between races with arcade or extreme settings, and the challenge online is learning the right way of setting up the bike against human opponents.

GSUK: What plans do you have for downloadable content over Xbox live and PSN? Will there be more tracks, bikes or riders to download?

FP: We'll reveal several plans in the future, but we can't talk about any of that right now!

GSUK: Thanks for talking to us.

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