GRID: Autosport – why listening to fans resulted in the ultimate Codemasters racer

By Dave Cook, Wednesday, 7 May 2014 10:34 GMT

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GRID: Autosport is due to launch in June, and marks something of a quick turnaround for Codemasters. VG247’s Dave Cook speaks with the team about how it looks to address common complaints aimed at GRID 2, and gets new details on all the fresh content and mechanics coming at launch.

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”I think people forget that we’re not a company the size of the EAs and the Ubisofts of this world. We wanted to make a full game using our current tech, and so we set out to make a new type of GRID game – one more focussed on motorsports than previous editions.”

“It all really started as we were launching GRID2,” GRID: Autosport’s lead designer James Nicholls tells me over email.

By the time GRID 2 launched, UK-based studio Codemasters had already committed itself to listen and learn from the game’s critical feedback to an unprecedented degree. Listen it did, and then just under a year later it announced GRID: Autosport, a game that has taken all of those complaints, all of that praise and everything between to produce what it believes to be the best racing title it’s ever created.

“The wider studio was discussing a focus on authentic racing games across all of our games,” Nicholls recalls. “We looked at all that feedback coming in and we heard that members of the GRID community wanted a game with motorsports and authentic handling. We had the team assembled, we’d done loads of work on the engine to get GRID2 together and we figured that as long we stuck with that tech, we could actually do another GRID game that responded to what we were hearing.

“Being a GRID game, we knew whatever we made it had to be a game and not a simulator, and it had to focus on the racing experience. We quickly arrived at this vision of ‘Pure, unadulterated automotive racing in all its many forms’ – making sure we were razor focussed on the different types of contemporary motorsport and what makes each different from the next.”

That elevator pitch laid the frame for GRID: Autosport’s DNA, and the established GRID team used all of its existing expertise, tech and resources to produce prototypes that placed that raw, tense driving experience at the forefront. Anything that got in the way of that pure gameplay was consider expendable, such as superfluous menus. From there, Nicholls tells me that the rest of the game, “pretty much designed itself.”

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”GRID Autosport already had the team and the technology ready to go – we were prototyping the new game within weeks of officially starting the project, and the team were already well aware of improvements and changes they wanted to make.”

Jokingly, Nicholls recalled the classic episode of The Simpsons where Homer’s brother Herb invites him to craft a car for the average man. It was a complete disaster, a mutated ideal designed by committee that ended up ruining Herb’s company. Codemasters had to avoid ‘pulling a Homer’ by being selective with the feedback it listened to most, while still acknowledging less vocalised, yet relevant concerns.

“I think the most obvious example is the way Matt Pickering – our Multiplayer Designer – decided to react to fan feedback about the online game progression in GRID2,” Nicholls continues. “Matt was closely involved in the patching program, and helped make sure we introduced updates to gameplay, voting and more besides.

“Seeing, however, that players didn’t like the way cars were treated like unlocks, and how easy it was to “complete” the online game, Matt decided to turn GRID Autosport’s multiplayer on its head, and introduce the system we have today, based on owning cars with persistent stats and developing a bond with those cars.

“I think people forget that we’re not a company the size of the EAs and the Ubisofts of this world. We wanted to make a full game using our current tech, and so we set out to make a new type of GRID game – one more focussed on motorsports than previous editions, and one which allows its RaceDriver heritage to show a little bit more obviously.”

With literally hundreds of new ideas and improvements collated from forums, blogs, social channels and internal discussions, the GRID: Autosport team quickly weeded out anything that didn’t fit with its base pitch, and worked with motoring journalists and professional drivers to rest on something that placed authenticity at its fore.

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Efficient Development

When GRID: Autosport was announced, we saw many gamers out there expressing concern that Codemasters had rushed the project to make amends for GRID 2’s perceived shortcomings. After all, the new racer contains some 100 tracks set across 22 locations, several vehicle types – including Touring Cars, Muscle Cars, Drift, Supercars, Prototypes – and an unconfirmed car count. It’s not a small release or expansion by any measure, so with that in mind I ask Nicholls for an insight into how his team achieved the feat so quickly.

“I think it’s worth bearing in mind that we shipped many games between the original GRID and GRID2, and then also rebuilt large chunks of the EGO engine to finish GRID2 and make it look so spectacular,” he replied. “By comparison, GRID Autosport already had the team and the technology ready to go – we were prototyping the new game within weeks of officially starting the project, and the team were already well aware of improvements and changes they wanted to make.

”Whilst this is the biggest GRID game we’ve ever made, the focus remains on quality of experience, rather than quantity of content. We choose cars which best represent the racing styles and we select tracks which aren’t necessarily the headline, clichéd track selections.”

“Many developers will tell you that the toughest bit of making any game is that initial phase – getting the technology and the tools to the point where a whole team are really moving through the gears and producing at full speed. We took a brief break to recuperate, held a very successful Game Jam, and then got stuck into the game. The development has really flown by.”

Nicholls added that he believes Codemasters punches way above its weight in terms of optimisation once it has a game engine and mechanics in place, given the size of its team. As a racing studio primarily, the process of creating cars and tracks has become refined, while sharing workload with its Kuala Lumpur site allows it breathing space to tackle more-laborious aspects of development. It is a well-oiled machine.

“Going with that is a well-established process of licensing all of this content for the game, ranging from a sponsor decal in the livery editor, all the way up to the licensing approval of an entire racing circuit,” Nicholls expands. “I think the really tricky part is what to leave out and working to make a balanced game.

“We can’t just go after our favourite cars or the one we saw on Top Gear last night. We have to make sure that we’re creating a balanced videogame, which means carefully selecting cars and tracks which are going to give the best racing experience across the five styles of racing we want to feature in this game.

“Whilst this is the biggest GRID game we’ve ever made, the focus remains on quality of experience, rather than quantity of content. We choose cars which best represent the racing styles – both in terms of modern and classic racing – and we select tracks which aren’t necessarily the headline, clichéd track selections, but instead provide the best on track racing experience against other drivers.”

Up next: All the new features, handling mechanics, cars and more.

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