Driver: San Francisco is shaping up to be every last bit the return to form Ubisoft and Reflections is hoping it will be. Which is good news, because the game?s been in development for five years already.
Marie-Jo Leroux (left) and Jean-Sebastien Decant (right)
With a bold new proprietary engine and a new ?shift? gameplay mechanic, there?s plenty of fresh experiences to be had in Tanner?s latest. But all the 1970s cop influences remain, making it one interesting entry in the Driver
After the last couple of games failed to set the world alight, perhaps these new quirks will help Reflections gain some ground over a hotly contested driving genre. After racing around dodging police cars and hopping into ambulances, I sat down with the game?s producer Marie-Jo Leroux and senior designer Jean-Sebastien Decant to learn more about the challenges in crafting a cop story five years in the making.
SPOnG: It?s been five years since the game started development. Where did all the time go?
Because it?s the first time we?ve made a Driver
game on current generation platforms we had to develop new technology. That?s where a lot of the time went. Secondly this is a very ambitious title. Shift is an huge innovation, and it?s an incredibly ambitious task being able to shift from one end of the city to another, having over 140 licensed cars, without loading, at 60fps, in a real city? So we had to try and nail all those ambitions at once.
Design wise, we had two big hurdles. The first is how to cope with shift and driving - where to go, where to create limits, where to organise gameplay. It took a long time and a lot of iteration to find the right balance. We didn?t want to bring shift as the main star of the game because driving is still the main focus of Driver, so we had to balance that. It?s the same with the story - it?s a cop story, based on the cop shows and big buddy movies, but still there is still some fantasy elements.
SPOnG: You guys have a proprietary engine, and I noticed how there doesn?t appear to be any loading times when hopping from one end of the city to another. That?s really impressive - how challenging was it to pull off?
Yes, it was absolutely challenging. There is a lot of code work, and we had an enormous and very talented programming team that put a lot of effort into doing that. In terms of design, the beauty of it is that we asked for the impossible and the programming team was able to give that to us.
SPOnG: You?re not showing off multiplayer today, but are there any details you can reveal about the modes we can expect to play?
Yeah - we can?t go into too much detail, but there will be 19 modes - eleven competitive online, three co-operative splitscreen and the rest competitive splitscreen.
There?s an extra ingredient that shift brings as well. If you think in terms of multiplayer modes in driving games, shift is a game-changer. You?ve never before experienced something where you?re the last person in the race, and have the ability to jump out and hop into the car way out in front. If you are chasing someone, you can free yourself up and go into another vehicle to better catch him. So you can stay close to the action all the time. It?s really fast-paced.
That?s not to say that it?s all random though and that you can just cheat your way to the top! There?s a real strategy and management to shift in multiplayer. It?s another layer of skill, in addition to driving well because that?s how you?re going to charge up your shift. It?s really fun and increases the pace.
SPOnG: I was just thinking about the balance between shifting and driving - do you get any rewards for driving well without using shift at all?
We spent a great deal to push the driving first, but still when you have shift in your hands it?s tied to the story. Yes, you go and create some missions that are shift related but most of the game I would say you could spend your entire time in one car if you really wanted to. If you?re in Free Drive though, you?re going to want to use shift and explore the world around you. I would say the more you get into the game, the more ?shifty? some missions will be.
We have a few exotic missions that we called the ?shiftiest? challenges, but for my experience, this feature is an opportunistic mechanic. I can see this car that my mum used to drive or something, and I can just hop right into it and do a crazy stunt with it. It?s just something to free you up a little bit and allow you to drive the car you want. It doesn?t take away from your driving at all.
SPOnG: Reflections is the lead developer for this game, but I?m also aware that this is a collaborative effort between many different Ubisoft studios around the world. How was that experience? Was there a danger of having too many chefs in the kitchen at any point?
Well, I think normally that would be a danger, but Driver
is a strong brand with a strong vision. Martin Edmondson (creative director) knows exactly where he?s going with it and as soon as you start working in Newcastle, you get it. Of course, we?re all fans of the series too so whenever people join in on the development they just all seem to get it really quickly.
It?s very strong, so that?s really not been an issue. And working with Ubisoft Paris is really very interesting, because Reflections has this legacy of creating hardcore action games and Ubisoft is more about accessible games. It?s been a really interesting collaboration, but I wouldn?t say it?s a case of too many cooks. I?d say it?s more bringing Driver
to a wider audience without diluting it.
Yes, I think we worked a lot with the editorial team in Paris, and they were all about quality and accessibility. That was really important, because if you take the previous games from Reflections they were really targeted to a hardcore audience, and when you?re doing an open world driving game with a heavy focus on cars with the new shift ability, you want to make sure that every element of the game is easy to understand. It took a lot of time, and a lot of cooks, to get that right.