March 12, 2007
King of the Off-Road: Evolution Studios' Simon
Benson tears in for a chat about MotorStorm
by: Steven Hopper
"MotorStorm is all about close competitive brutal off road racing, rammed with action and spectacular moments"
Without a doubt, one of the highest profile releases for the PS3 this March (and arguably since Christmas) is Sony’s highly-anticipated off-road racer, MotorStorm. MotorStorm combines a variety of vehicles, from dirt bikes and ATVs to big-rig trucks, as they race each other in a high-speed battle royale.
Originally set to be a PS3 launch title in North America, MotorStorm was pushed to a March release. Now, the game has made it onto store shelves, presenting excellent graphics and intense gameplay, as well as great online play.
GamingPolo were recently given a chance to ask some questions to Simon Benson, producer of the game at Evolution Studios, and he answered some questions on the title, including the reason behind the game’s delay, differences between versions, and what we might expect from the IP later on.
Question: MotorStorm was originally set to be released as a launch title for the PlayStation 3. What was the reason behind the delay?
Simon: As we are a European developer and work for Sony Europe, MotorStorm was always intended to be a European launch title but if other territories were aligned with European launch, then they too would also get MotorStorm at launch. There was an option for Japan and the US to take an early version without online (as online was still in test) which Japan decided was a good option for their territory, but in the US online was considered to be a core element to the title, so it was agreed that the US would align with Europe and receive a version with online around the European launch.
Q: Would you consider the physics engine and vehicle handling to be realistic or more “arcadey”?
Simon: Both – the handling is underpinned with real physics and an accurate handling model – we then spend vast quantities of time tuning the model to make it more accessible and ‘arcadey’ but without sacrificing the depth of an accurate handling model. It was intended that the handling should be realistic in terms of ‘pick up and play’, and at the same time, offer depth so that the more you play, the more you discover about the handling. This was obviously a big task, but we feel that we managed to deliver on this. If you play around with the bike, you will notice that it is possible to pull wheelies and endos, shift the rider’s weight, independently brake the front and rear wheel, and pull off a whole host of other tricks.
Q: What are some of the main differences between the North American, Japanese and European versions of the game? Did they have any bearing on the delay of the game’s release?
Simon: The Japanese version was released in December with no online content. The European and US versions are both out this March with an online experience that we are very proud of and has so far been very well received by everyone who has played it.
Q: What can you tell us about the game’s different tracks? Vehicles?
Simon: We included a wide range of vehicle types in MotorStorm including bikes, ATVs, buggies, cars, trucks, mud pluggers, and big rigs and then built tracks to allow them all to race together in brutal, chaotic races. Balancing these different vehicle classes on the tracks was by far the most difficult task as each vehicle has its own handling model and a clear set of strengths and weaknesses. We build custom races out of the tracks with different combinations of vehicles on the starting grid – we then put the player in a set vehicle class and see what happens. Each race is like a puzzle – you have to figure out what your vehicle is good at, what the other vehicles are good at and how you can best use your vehicle on the current track to maximize your chances of winning against your selected opponents. Believe me, being a lonely biker in a race full of big rigs will require totally different tactics from being in a massive big rig in a race filled with vulnerable bikers.
Q: What can you say about the game’s online features? How does it compare to other PS3 titles currently out?
Simon: We were very keen to deliver an online feature set that did justice to the MotorStorm experience. MotorStorm is all about close competitive brutal off road racing, rammed with action and spectacular moments. We didn’t want to create an online mode that felt like a different game. This is often the case with online play as AI opponents can offer a very different challenge to other people – this is typically the case in first person shooters where it is not unusual to mow down hundreds of AI bad guys in offline play before you loose a single life, but in online play, you are usually lucky if you bag two kills before getting gunned down.
To get around this, MotorStorm online play includes a feature that allows you to quickly catch up to the racing pack if you get behind for any reason (i.e. a crash) but then removes this advantage once you are near the tail enders. This then means that online play becomes more about battling your way through the field than just putting in good consistent laps. However, this feature is optional, so you can disable it if you want a level playing field.
Q: What can you tell us about the game’s AI? (Do your opponents really gun for you and flip you off when they pass you?)
Simon: The AI is incredibly advanced. Its primary goal is to entertain the player rather than just turn laps. In order to achieve this goal, we had to add a layer of intelligence never before seen in a racing game. These guys don’t just have an awareness of the best routes around the track, but they are also on a constant lookout for opportunities to create spectacular moments. We use this system to control the difficulty curve of the game too, in the early stages, you will see the vehicles attacking each other quite a bit and you will find yourself driving through wrecks and crashes and cutting through the pack often by AI attrition. But in later races, you will start to notice the AI turning on you more and more which makes the game much tougher. We also wanted to make the AI seem alive so we injected a lot of personality – expect to be taunted by other racers, and notice people turning really nasty when you taunt them. Also if you drive your big rig up behind a biker, you will notice nervous glances from the rider and they will attempt to avoid you or possibly make some mistakes. With all of this life in the game, often the offline game is mistaken for the online play – when that happens, you know you’ve got it right.
Q: The game features some pretty extravagant crashes. Is there a crash mode?
Simon: We kind of hid that in the game as an Easter egg. During any point in the game, even during a slow mo crash, you can pause the game and use the analog sticks to move the camera around and really get a feel for just how detailed the smashes are.
Q: Any hopes for turning MotorStorm into a franchise? (Is a PSP version in the works?)
Simon: The MotorStorm festival concept is an ideal spring board for future MotorStorm development – after-all, everyone loves a party.
Thanks, Simon, for a great interview.