Interviews// Ridge Racer: Unbounded

Posted 14 Dec 2011 15:11 by
When I first previewed Ridge Racer: Unbounded, the explosive splinter of the classic racing series developed by Finnish studio Bugbear Entertainment, I was largely apprehensive. I don?t like change, and neither does anybody else, right? Right!? Well, I had another go on it just last week, and I came away with a bit more of a positive impression of it.

For a start, the single-player mode has been revealed to encourage artful racing as well as excessive destruction - the campaign is split into three different types of race. Domination is the straightforward option, giving a number of cars the chance to plough into each other (and buildings) in order to reach the finish line first.

Drift Attack challenges you to keep the timer running by powersliding elegantly around corners, and Frag Attack asks you to simply make a mess of the place. The Frag Attack stage in question I played involved using a big rig called the Behemoth to take out numbers of police cars. Grin-inducing. Along with the all-rounder sports car, Wolfram GS, and the more advanced Hurricana CX, Bugbear is promising a large number of vehicles including some classic Ridge Racer ones too.

Perhaps the most promising aspect of Unbounded right now is the City Creator mode, which allows players to easily build their own courses using ?blocks? of track obtained from the districts found in the main game. I was allowed to mess around with 40 blocks from three of those districts - Downtown, Boroughs and Construction - but the final game will have over 150.

While the City Creator I toyed with was presented by a straightforward grid, Bugbear is including an Advanced mode in which you can dive right into a test version of the 3D level and fine-tune almost every element of the track or environment to your heart?s content. I?m told that there will be alternative routes that can be created only by using this Advanced mode, which the studio hopes will draw players in deeper.

But, I still feel conflicted about the presentation of the whole thing. Is it Ridge Racer? Is it Split/Second? There were still questions to be answered, and the only person who could satiate my thirst for knowledge was Bugbear?s producer, Joonas Laakso. Read on to find out more about the distinction between the mainline Ridge Racer games and Unbounded, the challenges in keeping with the series and whether or not Reiko?s in it!

SPOnG: Was it a challenge to consider the elements of a traditional Ridge Racer game into a new concept like this? What was it like from a design perspective?

Joonas Laakso: I think the most central challenge is that Ridge Racer has been a very simple series, historically. It?s not like this is the first time that Ridge Racer has changed. There are titles like Type 4 which I feel is more of a GT style game, and Ridge Racer 6 or 7 which are very streamlined... or even the PSP version which is super-streamlined, even though it?s my favourite Ridge Racer game.

So it?s not like there?s a specific ?Ridge Racer? way of doing things, but at the same time there?s a certain clarity and narrowness of focus that the series has always had, and I think that?s probably the biggest challenge we have. Because we want to make this game more... I don?t know, wider, in order to hopefully seem like a worthwhile investment for the customers of today, who are used to these more explosive ?mega-games?.

I think the challenge there is how to add to the formula and make it worthwhile without diluting that clarity of purpose. The way we?ve tried to do that is to be very clear on the game mechanics and ensuring that the modes are quite specific. Apart from Domination races, which have a bit of everything in them [laughs]. But yeah, I think that?s probably the biggest challenge.

SPOnG: Previous Ridge Racer games have always focused on the art of drifting and the race itself - paying attention to your lines and improve your skill against the timer. It?s very classy, whereas Unbounded is very chaotic in contrast. Did you refer to games like Split/Second or Burnout - or even your own previous work in FlatOut?

Joonas Laakso: Obviously there?s a strong FlatOut DNA there because we?re using the same technology, although almost everything has been rewritten for this game. But yeah, we did look at MotorStorm, Split/Second, the later Burnout games, Hot Pursuit and so forth. Mostly as a quality threshold - so our car crashing mechanic has to be better than this game, our environmental destruction has to beat that game, and so on. In terms of airborne craft, I think we are currently unbeatable, just because of the strong physics background we have.

There are other things that these games are doing so well though, that we didn?t want to touch it. Like Split/Second does the huge set-pieces and explosions brilliantly. We didn?t want to even go there.

SPOnG: You also have the City Creator, which is one of the biggest features you?re pushing for the game. How do you plan to cultivate a community of gamers using this feature?

Joonas Laakso: Well, the City Creator came to be because we just wanted to give the users something extra. To us, it was clear that the game has to be online anyway. That said, we have been thinking about how viable in the long term the online community is going to be. We are currently planning what sort of things we can do to nurture and cultivate that community and make sure people are playing several months after the launch.

So we?re going to be doing things like post-launch events - concentrate a player base on certain days throughout the week. We?re going to be doing competitions for city creators, which will encourage players to create and share stuff, as well as allow for ratings and of course playing other people?s tracks. We?re also doing things like selecting our top picks of the user created tracks and things like that.

SPOnG: It seems that from what I played, the tracks did seem quite narrow and directed. Are you looking to some of the user generated content to allow for expanded tracks, or will later tracks be more open?

Joonas Laakso: I think that comes back to the decision of clarity that we took. Initially the tracks were more open, but we felt that it was way too easy to stray from the racing line and accidentally turn into a blind corner and die. That?s just not fun. So we actually narrowed the track to make it a more streamlined experience.

But at the same time, we have been adding stuff that?s meant to be discovered with the Advanced City Creator mode - routes that you can?t access without placing a jump in a certain place, for example. But generally, it?s really hard to get the right balance between a cohesive experience and offering something extra like that.
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