Interviews// WipEout Pulse Interview with Tony Buckley, Game Director

WipEout Pulse Interview – Game Director, Tony Buckley

Posted 18 Jun 2007 18:00 by
Tony Buckley: I'm an Evertonian, I am!
Tony Buckley: I'm an Evertonian, I am!
SPOnG caught up with WipEout Pulse game director, Tony Buckley (pictured right) from Sony’s Liverpool studios recently to quiz him all about the latest handheld outing in the mighty WipEout series.

WipEout Pulse, for PSP, is shaping up to be sixth and (from what we can make out from the preview build we saw recently) the greatest version of Sony’s anti-gravity combat racing game to date when it releases this coming September.

The game boasts 24 new tracks, eight teams and seven game modes; wireless multi-player via Ad Hoc and Infrastructure modes; loads of downloadable packs including new tracks, ships and tunes and the – almost obligatory – specially created dance music soundtrack mixed by a range of artists including Mason, Loco Dice and Stanton Warriors

Two real features really stand out in WipEout Pulse: fully customisable ship-painting program (where you design your ideal WipEout ship on your PC and upload to the PSP); and the Mag-Strip feature which causes ships to become temporarily locked to the track’s surface, allowing some very cool new elements, such as such as loops, vertical drops and 90 degree angled sections, can be used in track design. Read on to find out more...

SPOnG: Hi, Tony, thanks for showing me WipEout Pulse today, it’s certainly already very well polished and looking superb. But before we say much more about the game, I wanted to talk a little about the history of WipEout. It’s a massive franchise for Sony.

Tony Buckley: It is. It’s more an ‘iconic’ franchise, really. We have a nice fan base that has stayed with WipEout over twelve years now - an over the years we have tried to retain a certain formula. On occasions we’ve moved away from that formula and it’s not worked, so we are very conscious that, as with a lot of franchises (for example, Gran Turismo) they have a formula that people want and expect. They’ll always add little bits to it here and there. WipEout is exactly the same.

Our heritage, if you like, is in anti-gravity ships and the graphical style of the game, which has always been well received and appreciated. The music side of the game has also continued to play a fundamental part; and learning tight, rewarding tracks has been another part of it. These are the four key things we really like to focus on, because this is what people want and expect.

SPOnG: For me, WipEout is also one of those games for a lot of gamers in their 30s, who maybe don’t play so many games anymore. Once they see that WipEout is coming up on PSP they instantly start to remember and get quite nostalgic for the original PlayStation One version of the game way back in 1995.

Tony Buckley: Oh yeah! As you know I’ve been all over Europe this past week promoting WipEout Pulse and its amazing the number of people who say “God, this was the first game I bought and really caned on PlayStation back in the day” – that sort of thing is just fantastic to us.

You’re correct too – people still do need a nudge and a reminder that it is still going. WipEout Pure really reinvigorated it – we sold over a million units on the PSP and it has been critically acclaimed. We’re still the second highest ranked PSP title on Metacritic, based on like 70 or 80 reviews. So we know that we have a winning formula, but there is that thing of how we go about getting this across and communicating it to those people who might not know that WipEout is still about.

SPOnG: Pretty much the standard, common criticism of WipEout games is the difficulty level.

Tony Buckley: Yeah! [laughs]

SPOnG: How have you dealt with that in this version?

Tony Buckley: In terms of difficulty we’re trying to address the difficulty curve. We’re trying to make it more accessible. So the ‘venom’ speed class, which is the lowest speed class, give a nice feel that you are going fast, but its manageable you know?

Then we just have to ensure that the increments that we put on each speed class are manageable, so players get a chance to appreciate the different speed classes. One thing that we are doing to try to help that is to have difficulty levels within each speed class. So, if you feel that you get to a speed class that is at around your limit, you still have the option of selecting a competitive or an ultra competitive race or an easy race. So, we are really conscious that it is all about speed and that the faster you go the harder the game gets to control, so we don’t want to alienate those people who are not speed freaks. We have to get a balance for it, which has been our focus.

SPOnG: But then at the other end of the spectrum, you have to continue to please the hardcore fans.

Tony Buckley: Oh yeah, and I’ll say now, that the Phantom class will always be for nutters! People whose talent with WipEout tracks and ships is almost frightening! You know, there was a WipEout conference a couple of months ago in Holland, and the speed these people go - and the control they have over their ship - is simply amazing. We will always have a speed class that is for those purists.

But also with WipEout Pulse we want to give the option to make all the speed classes a little more accessible, as mentioned earlier, so that people feel that they are getting at least a chance to race in Rapier class.

Also, one of the frustrating things for players was that even though they had progressed to Rapier – even though they were slowly coming to terms with the speed – the AI was just too good for you. So, the difficulty levels we’re putting in will tweak the AI, it will be maybe less aggressive or less quick, so the player is given a little more of a chance to stay in the race at that speed class. So, you’re appreciating just how fast these ships can go, but you can still get involved in the competitive side – you don’t hit a difficult barrier you can’t overcome any more.
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