I recently took a trip out to the glorious Mugello race track in northern Italy to check out System 3’s hugely ambitious Ferrari Challenge: Trofeo Pirelli
, due for release on PlayStation 3, Wii and DS later this coming November - and billed as the 'spiritual successor' to SEGA's mighty three-screen arcade classic F355 Challenge
System 3’s ultimate aim is to have every single Ferrari ever made available in the game, so if you are tifoso (or Tifosa) or if you just love the cars, you will be able to get them all, from the very earliest 166 model though to the very latest 430 Scuderia model, recently unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show.
Eutechnyx’s Mark South is the producer on the game, which has been built around his company’s proprietary game engine, one that has been tweaked and perfected over many years of developing racing games.
South’s team has worked hand-in-hand with Ferrari in painstakingly modelling the cars and tracks of the Ferrari Championship, so I collared him for a quick chat about the background to what may well become one of the PlayStation 3’s surprise hits this coming Christmas. Mark was deep in conversation with Ferrari’s mechanics, discussing how he could get some data on the minutiae of some new steering technology… Clearly a man with a mission to make a great game.
Hi, Mark, so what is your actual job title and responsibility on the project?
Hi, I’m the producer from Eutechnyx responsible for Ferrari Challenge
What’s your own background and the background and history of Eutechnyx?
Well, in terms of my own background, I was an operations manager. I started off working at IBM for a while, then I came to the UK when the opportunity arose to work at Eutechnyx as a project manager. I’ve always had a love for race cars and driving – I mean, cars are like my life really, right? So it was a good fit for me, for what I wanted to do.
Eutechnyx has a good pedigree when it comes to working on racing games. We did Fast and the Furious
and a bunch of other racing games, both licensed and original stuff. Ferrari is the pinnacle of what we’ve been doing though. It’s the first opportunity to use our PS3 engine for something, which has been in development now for over four years.
So, Ferrari Challenge is based on your own engine?
Yes it is. It’s always been our core engine. We use Aegea for physics and simple rigid-body stuff like collisions, but aside from that the whole vehicle dynamics is ours. The engine – what we are using on Ferrari Challenge
on PS3 - hasn’t been used in any of our games so far.
But this is the first time we have really used the stuff in the engine that is particular to the vehicle dynamics.
What was the whole experience of developing for PlayStation 3 like?
Heh! It’s always a good question. It’s a learning curve, of course, because it’s a new platform. Online was a little bit tricky to get running because they were a little bit late in getting that to us. But now, PS3 is a great platform to develop on. There’s a lot of support for it. There’s good access to hardware. They’re very onside with helping you get your product done, you know, they will send technicians if you need help – we have a great account manager. I think PS3 has caught up a lot of ground in a very short space of time.
I’m not saying that there’s further to go, because I’m sure there is, but right now I’d say it was a nice platform to develop on.
What about working with Ferrari – who was that guy you were just deep in conversation with again?
Oh, that was Malcolm, from Ferrari, he helped us loads, showing us in the pit-lane at Silverstone what we could actually modify on the cars. So, we went in with him and a mechanic and he showed us exactly what happened to the car when different adjustments were made. It’s one thing to say that you can adjust roll-bar stiffness, but what does it actually mean? We’re looking at a quarter of a turn on a nut on the car to make an essential difference to the handling – and we’ve recreated that level of detail in the game. And Ferrari was more than willing to give this information to us.
We have the service manual for the F430 – one of the few Ferraris that has literature published about it – and we were able to get it for ourselves. So, it’s stuff like that which is a big help because you can’t get that in any other place.
If you think of the hand-built heritage of race cars, to get it in your game and to get it working right you need the opinions of experienced people who know what works and what doesn’t work. It’s the same with Bruno [Senna] (nephew of three-time Formula One world champion Ayrton Senna) as well. He races for System 3 and he has a really good relationship with the Ferrari guys as well.
So, has Bruno had quite a lot of active involvement in the development of Ferrari Challenge?
Oh God, a massive involvement! Every week he is down. He sits with the guys and he helps us develop the handling. He’ll test something and say, “Oh, your differential is no good” or whatever and he’ll work with us until its right.
He’ll pick up things that I would never, ever have thought of. In the end, we ended up with a driving model that is very good, very realistic but we also put stuff on top of it to make it a little bit more accessible. That was the biggest thing for us, because while the simulation is fun, to some, to really make it accessible you really need to be able to build up to it. Rather than just throwing someone in a sim so they hit the gas and their car spins off the track.
So, Bruno’s been very critical in getting this set up and, even more than that, he’s taken that car [indicates System 3’s race car, pictured here] over to Spa and run a couple of laps and we pull the telemetry from his laps and then match it to what we have in-game, to ensure that it’s consistent. That’s a good practical example of the kind of thing we’re doing to make sure that we’re doing the right thing.
One of the weird things today was that I found the game pretty challenging on the first few quick plays, but then after being out on the actual Mugello circuit driving real Ferraris the game seemed much easier to play. It clearly works!
[laughs] That’s good! You have a new found respect for braking points, which is key. You know when to lift off the brake, you know not to brake and turn. It gives you a much better race, when you play it online.
Personally, I’m usually more of a fan of non-realistic arcade drifting type racers – Ridge Racer
, SEGA Rally
and so on…
Oh yeah, I love Ridge Racer
and I played Outrun
to death in the arcades.
But Ferrari Challenge
is quite a different type of experience.
Yeah, it’s a different feel, although this game will never be ‘true’ arcade, because that’s just a different genre, we want to have the accessibility too. So, you can turn up your in-game assists and you can still go pretty hard into a corner but so long as you roughly hit your braking points then you won’t spin the car out of control. So, it offers a little bit more of a ‘mixed’ experience.
We didn’t want to make a game that was too much ‘simulation’ because there are already a number of good games out there that do that, we wanted to offer something a little bit different to gamers.