Total Drivin: how a PSOne racer sowed the seeds for future success

By Brenna Hillier, Monday, 9 December 2013 08:09 GMT

With Forza 5, Need for Speed: Rivals and Gran Turismo 6 lined up on her shelf, Brenna’s been putting time into a 15 year old racer. Eutechnyx talks Total Drivin, the game that kicked off its love affair with racing.

Total Drivin – Eutechnyx

Total Drivin released for the original PlayStation in 1997.

Eutechnyx politely corrected my misspelling of the game’s title with an apostrophe denoting a missing G. The developer deliberately chose not to include an apostrophe, to show that there was “nothing missing from the game”.

North American publisher Activision suggested the North American release be partnered with magazine Car & Driver, resulting in the disparity between PAL and NTSC titles. Eutechnyx was “happy to take this direction” as the Grand Tour subtitle reflected its globe-trotting track choices.

Total Drivin was published in Europe by the now defunct British brand Ocean Software, once part of Infogrames but retired after acquisition by Atari. It was also released in Japan, thanks to Atlus.

Here at VG247 we endeavour to bring you coverage of the latest and greatest titles from the cutting edge of the art and craft of gaming – but then also sometimes we remember games we really loved when we were 14 and suddenly wonder who the heck made them and why.

1997 PSOne release Total Drivin – known in North America as Car & Driver Presents: Grand Tour Racing ’98 – was the first racing game I ever loved, and one of only a few racers that have ever captured my attention. It was my first experience of weather and damage effects, and afternoon and night driving. It had several different classes of vehicles from rally to buggy, and tracks sprinkled across the world. I’m pretty sure it taught me to drive.

Idly Googling it after a spate of nostalgia, I discovered to my surprise that it had quite an interesting history, having been developed by British studio Eutechnyx, now best known for the NASCAR series but with a varied release history stretching back to 1987.

Total Drivin was the first game released under the Eutechnyx brand after the studio, founded as Zeppelin Games, was purchased back from Infogrames by a few of its core members. That makes it significant for reasons beyond my fondly-remembered prowess on the Scottish tracks.

“Total Drivin is very special to Eutechnyx. It was not only the first true racing game we developed, but it was also the first game which saw us working with a full 3D renderer,” Eutchnyx’s Ashley Westgate told VG247.

“This was an amazing leap in terms of development for us and signified the start of the studios specialism in racing games. We’ve now been in business for 25 years but this was the beginning of us becoming renowned as world leaders in racing game development.”

The racer was, in fact, another first for the team – its first PSOne title, packed with features and effects it was implementing for the first time.

“Everything in Total Drivin was new to the team. The Playstation was much more powerful than earlier consoles which allowed us to follow a simulation path and to target advanced graphical effects,” Westgate said.

“It was extremely difficult to do all this and maintain a good frame rate. We found we had to use reverse engineered, undocumented features (these were later made accessible to all developers) to attain this performance.”

At the time, Total Drivin was one of the first a small pack of racers to utilise the PSOne’s then-advanced hardware to depict racing more realistically than ever before. It ought to be remembered more widely than it is, but its release was followed almost instantly by titles like the first Gran Turismo and the TOCA games, which benefited from robust marketing campaigns which focused on their realism and simulation aspects. Total Drivin, for all its efforts towards authenticity, couldn’t achieve the same hype – perhaps because of its arcade feel.

“We did not know about these titles when developing Total Drivin. It is a shame we could not have released a few months earlier,” Westgate said.

“We developed the game engine as a simulation but then added a layer on top to make the game more ‘arcadey’ and easier to master. Even back then we programmed the AI racers to drive the cars using the same control method as players rather than ‘cheating’. This has always been the philosophy we had and is one we will maintain across all of our games.”

The racing scene has changed significantly in the 15 years since Total Drivin launched, and having all the best bells and whistles isn’t enough to stand out. Eutechnyx now faces more high-quality competition in its chosen genre than ever before, and Westgate’s comments suggest that the company’s focus on NASCAR in particular is one strategy for success.

“One of the critical elements remains to try to capture the essential experience of what you are trying to represent. The quality of racing games is not only about the cosmetics, it is about the handling of licenses too,” Westgate said.

“License control has also changed over the years, with sporting bodies taking more interest in the video games industry and how they are represented. A recent example of this would be our handling of the NASCAR license. This needed incredible attention to the smallest detail to not only appease licensors, but to please the ardent fan base.

“Details such as accurate and authentic replication of tracks; paint schemes and sponsor representations; unique handling characteristics of the stock cars; a complex race rule book, these are all things that take a great deal of planning and consideration.”

Now that I look at it, the DNA of Total Drivin is obvious through Eutechnyx’s history. In the years since it has rarely wavered from its primary genre, earning the greatest praise and success when it remained true to its original philosophy of accessible simulation racing. Few independent studios have stood the test of time so staunchly; Eutechnyx owes much to its quiet little racing success story.

Eutechnyx’s latest release was NASCAR: The Game 2013. NASCAR 14 is expected next year. The team has also recently branched out with a Warhammer 40,000 lane strategy announcement.

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