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08/10/2012 - 15:30

Interview: Codemasters on GRID 2

Race Driver: GRID was an instant hit for many when it first released in 2008, and its community remains loyal to this day, but there comes a time when developers look at a title and decide that it’s time to take things to the next level. For developer Codemasters, that time is now – with GRID 2.

At this year’s Eurogamer Expo, Andreas Varotsis sat down with associate producer Iain Smith and senior game designer Gehan Pathiraja. Read all about it.

Other Codemasters racing series have seen regular releases yet GRID has been out a good five years now without a follow up, despite it being an unexpected success. Why has it taken so long for GRID to come back?

Iain Smith: It’s exactly for that reason – because it was such a success and it had such a following in terms of the community and the people who still play it. We wanted to make sure that, when we bring GRID 2 out, it does the first game absolute justice and that it does everything that everybody who wants GRID 2 expects.

We’ve been talking about what we’re going to do with GRID 2 for a long time now, and the features that go into it – things that we think are really important to it in terms of replicating how new and fresh it was to play GRID when it first came out and how that racing experience felt.

Being able to replicate that now with everything pushed so much further in terms of technical difficulties and what we can achieve with the consoles, but then also being able to innovate in the same ways as we did with GRID.

I think GRID was this really neat package with lots of little nice touches that people really responded to, and we just want to make sure that, as well as core gameplay innovations, the whole package is what it needs to be.

As you said, the original was a really good, concrete package with a well-functioning game. What have you added that makes the sequel so worthwhile? Is it a matter of same-yet-better, or have you added any particular standout features?

Iain Smith: There are features we can talk about a little further on down the line, in a couple of months time, and say ‘this feature is different’, but there are so many different aspects that you would have to speak anecdotally about to get anywhere close to finding out what we’re doing with it.

It’s all of the different elements that go together to solidify that racing experience, like the audio and the fact that we went with something called the audio of depth of the field. So when you have another driver approaching from behind, catch up with you and then overtake you, if you think visually as to what a driver would focus on, you’re not looking at the sky, you’re looking at the track, and we’ve tried to emulate that with the audio.
As for the visuals, in terms of our advanced playing system, it’s really obvious – as soon as you look at GRID 2 – the amount that’s gone in to make that better. It really is light and day when you put the two [GRID and GRID 2] together because we’ve got light sources that are bouncing off multiple locations, shadows are not solid colours but instead gradient, and it feels much more grounded in reality. It feels tangible and as if you’re actually there, so it’s like a melting pot of all these different aspects.

We think the racing experience is the most important thing. You look at the art, you look at the audio and you look at the physics engine that this game runs on and then the car handling – everything that goes together to make that racing experience where it needs to be.

You mention the audio, and that was actually something that really struck me when playing the game on the show floor. On the map it’s quite a short race, but when you hit a tunnel you can definitely hear the echo when you enter the tunnel, even on the busy show floor.

Iain Smith: The audio team have done a fantastic job, which is what we’ve got in GRID 2. That particular system is our reflection system, so when you enter a tunnel we don’t just put filter on to make it sound a certain way. What happens is – with the engine audio – it comes from the source of the car, and it’s actually bounced off walls of the tunnel, so that reflection sound is coming back to the driver as a deafening rebound because you’re getting the bounce back from the walls. Touches like that solidify the GRID 2 experience.

Gehan Pathiraja: I think the engine examples are far more improved than we’ve ever done before, and you just have to listen to the Mustang on the show floor – it sounds amazing. As you said, when going through the tunnel you can really hear it reverberate through there. Everybody in the car scene at Codemaster’s are massivecar nuts, including the audio guys, and I think driving through tunnels with big V8s and V12s, winding the window down and doing that, is something they love, and that’s something we were really keen on getting into the game.Am I right in saying that you’re using a completely new engine for this, EGO 3?

Iain Smith: You’re not completely wrong, but we’re not actually labelling it as EGO 3. There was a concept after the EGO Engine was first created that would see us release EGO 2, and that we would progress in that way, but actually the EGO Engine is just something that we’re continually adapting, and rather than say it’s EGO 3, the improvements we make with every release really just become a part of the engine for the future.

Whether that includes what the guys with F1 Race Stars [Codemasters Birmingham] have done to improve the engine with their needs, or what we’ve done in-house [Codemasters Southam] – it all goes together to make the EGO Engine more accessible and more capable for things that need doing.

How long do you see that engine being used? There are quite a lot of philosophies – with Unreal for example, [Epic Games] releases quite set iterations of the engine relatively, but the Source Engine [Valve] has been iterated very progressively over the last 10 or so years at this point.

Iain Smith: The main thing for us is that our engine is completely in-house – we don’t let it out as middleware. That means we have complete control over it, and we don’t have to be too careful about the way we release variations of the engine.

Gehan Pathiraja: Since we work the physics with the car handling team, it’s all very modular-based and the physics itself has moved on massively over the years with DiRT, DiRT 2, GRID, and now finally getting to GRID 2 – it’s definitely not the same thing.

We have been changing our stuff all the way along, and it’s just such a great engine to work on each module and for it to not affect too much of the rest of the game – and I think that’s the same for the rest of the team. The graphics have improved massively as well, and that’s probably why we don’t give it a version number at the end; because it’s a continuously evolving thing.

Say if you were to take GRID, DiRT and then GRID 2 – what would be the big differences on the physics engine?

Gehan Pathiraja: Aside from the actual handling models themselves, we take various philosophies as to how we’re going to approach the car and the feel, and the actual underlying physics have changed quite significantly in terms of its tyre model as well. It’s far more advanced in terms of the tires – you have 4 contact points with the ground, so from that point that’s all you have in contact with the ground – so you’ve got to deal with all the mass and the weight transfer of the car as well.

I think one of the steps from DiRT 2 to DiRT 3 was the weight transfer system, and now [the engine has] got the tyre model itself which is looking at how things behave as you’re forcing the weight onto the tyre then moving the tyre beyond the flip angle.

If you were to go out onto the show floor now and have a go on the pad, you should be able to feel the exact point where you start to break out, and that’s actually fed back through the rumbling system of the pad itself, so it’s letting you know in the back of your mind that it’s going to break out soon, giving you enough time to come back – and that’s all from the tyre model.

On the whole arcade-to-simulation spectrum, where would you like to be aiming for?

Iain Smith: I guess, in terms of arcade-to-simulation, we sit just passed arcade towards simulation. Things is, [those who like] sims will find so much stuff in terms of content that’s going to appeal to them – grip power, circuit tracks – but there’s certainly going to be stuff in GRID 2 which is going to feel like GRID. We wouldn’t spend so long on development to give the first game justice if we weren’t going to try and think of those [who played GRID].

I think the key thing – and this goes back to handling again – is that we’re not trying to make a one-sided title. What we’re doing – in terms of balancing in career mode – is gradually pulling the player through in terms of difficulty, and that’s what we’re doing with cars earlier in the game.

We’re basically breaking the cars up in a tiering system from levels one to five. The first cars, by no means, are going to be generic family Sedan – we’re still talking about 350-brake horsepower cars. They’re still monsters, but they’ll be a little easier to handle and a little bit easier to get around the track.

Once you start to get to grips with that and move up to tier two, we very subtly increase the challenge for the player. Every car is unique and going to propose a unique challenge, and the significant thing for us is the handling model we create for our cars – what you see is what you get. We’re not going to have a system where you turn a bunch of things on to make things easier. The cars are going to be true to what we think their characteristics would be, but they’re going to be staggered in such a way that you’re going to learn to drive those that are more wild and untameable hypercars at the end.What about plans for the future, in terms of DLC or sequels?

Iain Smith: With DLC we certainly have plans, but obviously we can’t go into detail right now. In terms of GRID 3, or whatever happens next-gen, we can’t really talk about that yet either, but where there’s a will there’s a way.

The really excellent thing about working in the racing series is that we have distinct teams that are working on DiRT and GRID – some of them move back and forth whilst others are working on more projects – so it means that, once we’re finished with this, we can go into detail R&D process for whatever we might do for grid. In the meantime we can take whatever we learn from GRID 2, and maybe employ that in another title.

Final question – on a personal note, do you both have a favourite car within the game?

Gehan Pathiraja: The Mustang is an absolute corker of a car, I absolutely love it – front engine, rear-wheel drive, a lot of oversteer and easily driveable on the throttle. The range of the cars in GRID 2 is incredible and I would love to just reel off about 10 in front of you right now ..If I had to pick one that isn’t on the show floor, the BAC Mono. We’re really excited about that type of car, because these days people are buying – track day specific cars – just like the BAC’s, spending forty grand to just drive it on a track. You’re not going to go to work in that thing. So they’re really interested to feel what it’s like to feel on the edge of grip in what’s almost a race car.

Iain Smith: I really like the BAC as well, but actually, not the more modern Mustang but the old-school Mustang is probably my favourite. With the new Mustang, it is a little bit heavier and a bulkier car, but what I like is how the older Mustang sits and the fact you can see it lean.

GRID 2 launches on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC sometime during summer 2013. Thank you to both Iain Smith and Gehan Pathiraja of Codemasters, as well as the top-notch team at Lunch PR for helping with the set-up of this interview.

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