Interviews// Motorstorm Developers Interviewed

A seriously rigorous physics engine

Posted 11 Dec 2006 13:00 by
Part of the fun of visiting developers lies in assessing their general mood – which can give a much more accurate indication of a game’s merits than a short period of hands-on action. Body language isn’t the average developer’s strong suit. But from the moment I arrived at Evolution Studios unprepossessing Runcorn HQ in the north west of England, the team putting the final touches to mud-plugging PS3 title MotorStorm emitted a constant buzz.

MotorStorm rocks, and Evolution knows it. Mind you, there was also an element of demob-fever. When you find yourself in a bar playing rock/scissors/paper against the leading lights of a dev team with trays of shots as forfeits, you know that they have finished their latest opus. And indeed, MotorStorm is in the can, and merely awaits certification.

The game’s importance to Sony cannot be overstated, particularly now that Gran Turismo HD has been canned as a launch title. It’s one of only two (European) launch PS3 titles (the other being Resistance: Fall of Man) that are good enough to make the thought of lashing out £425 on a PlayStation 3 remotely attractive. The fact that it was created on a grim industrial estate in Runcorn, by a developer that spent years making classy but unfancied rallying games makes that all the sweeter.

What’s it all about?
MotorStorm’s most obvious strengths are well documented: it looks incredible, taking place in a near-photo-realistic rendering of Monument Valley, with accurately modelled mud (which spatters your windscreen and sticks to your vehicle), and boasts a seriously rigorous physics engine, which turns crashes into welters of exploding suspension springs, cogs and so forth. It would be tempting, though, to dismiss it as eye-candy, but Evolution Studios, naturally, is keener on pointing out the depths of its gameplay.

Producer Simon Benson explains the basic structure of the game: “It takes place at a gathering of people – a festival – in the desert. Its menu is structured like a DVD: it’s very simple. The way you progress through the game is by using tickets, each of which gives you access to between one and four races. The challenge lies in figuring out how to come in the top three on each stage, given the vehicle that you’re in.”

The different vehicle classes, in tandem with the painstakingly designed courses, are crucial to MotorStorm’s gameplay. There are seven types of vehicles: motorbikes and ATVs – according to Benson, “fast, delicate and very exposed” – buggies and rally cars – “fast and pretty fragile” – racing trucks and mud-pluggers – “like monster trucks” – and big rigs – “huge monstrosities, which are not as fast as anything else but love smashing things”.

Sitting in front of a monitor, Creative director Paul Hollywood explains how the different tracks come into play, “Here, we’re on a track called The Grizzly, which is noted for its multiple routes. The idea is to pick the route which is suitable for your vehicle. Generally speaking, the higher you are above the ground, the more technical the route and the less muddy it is. If you hit mud, you’ll find there’s no traction, which is a disadvantage if you’re in a smaller vehicle.”

Benson points out that a good technique to use when you’re not yet familiar with the tracks is to follow other vehicles of the same sort that you are driving. You swiftly discover that if you’re on a bike, for example, getting down and dirty in the mud at the bottom of a stage is a recipe for disaster – big rigs will simply run you over. Conversely, even if you manage to nail a few jumps and get up high on a course when behind the wheel of a big rig, it won’t pay dividends, as you’ll have trouble keeping to the narrow, twisty trail, and you’ll have to travel further.
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