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Interview - Eutechnyx's Dave Thompson on bringing NASCAR to the masses

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Activision formally announced NASCAR The Game 2011 this morning, amid rumors swirling around the publisher securing the license to the franchise last week.

Today, VG247 was given the opportunity to speak with NASCAR The Game's UK-based developer Eutechnyx, a studio known for creating racing titles since 1996.

NASCAR will allow you to either play as yourself or any real-life driver through 22 tracks. Cars can be damaged in “meticulous detail” with multi-car wrecks, and online 16-player multiplayer.

It all sounds very racy, and executive producer Dave Thompson told Keza MacDonald all about the game and how excited the studio is for the opportunity to develop the title.

Get the full interview along with shots of a few cars below.

[Interview by Patrick Garratt]

VG247: How do you feel about being given the opportunity to work on the NASCAR property? How aware are you of the excitement the announcement is likely to have among NASCAR fans?

Dave Thomspon: Eutechnyx is fiercely independent as a company and we are constantly evaluating opportunities as a developer. With a strong background on immersive racing and driving titles, the NASCAR license has provided us with a great opportunity to use our passion and technology to bring something new to the franchise, and give the fans the game they’ve always wanted.

The NASCAR licence has allowed us to do a lot more in the game on the whole, and include the features we, and of course the fans, have always wanted – extreme wrecks, ferocious damage, 43 car high-speed close racing, pit stops and advanced tuning are all part of the NASCAR world. Everything that the fans expect from a NASCAR experience is captured in the game.

Through research, studying every event, talking closely to the drivers and teams, and with a strong support from NASCAR – we are highly confident that the game is going to thrill the NASCAR fans. It’s always been crucial for Eutechnyx to capture the passion and emotion of NASCAR throughout the game - of course in the races, but also in the build up to The Chase, in the spectacle before each event, and throughout the immersive 3D Front End. Players feel like a real driver progressing through the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series as themselves, or as any one of their favourite NASCAR legends.

Initially, when the potential to develop the next NASCAR games emerged, we pitched a high-level concept to NASCAR with the core aims to deliver an unprecedented sense of speed, dynamic damage, life-like cars with real handling and physics, and a true sense of immersion into the biggest motorsport in America.

NASCAR, the teams and the drivers all loved the concept, and Eutechnyx acquired the exclusive worldwide rights to the franchise. We feel that the fans, and racing gamers in general, will really appreciate the level of detail we’ve gone into to provide the complete NASCAR experience. Nothing will come closer to the real thing!

We are very excited and confident that the fans will love the game, and feel that the announcement is only the beginning, and will create a huge amount of buzz.

We’re confident because we’ve experienced and studied the sport first hand, listened to the fans, forums, teams and drivers, and gone all out to include the racing realism, online, community and tuning features that players want, as well as introducing a wide range of cool new features – such as replay and photo editing, and awesome 3D styling. We are looking forward to the fans reaction, as well as the simulation drivers and casual racers when unveiling the first images of the game on our website – NASCARTheGame.

VG247: What's unique about your game from a design perspective?

Dave Thompson: The design is unique amongst NASCAR games and also other current racing games on the market.Representing every aspect of a NASCAR race has allowed us to be innovative on so many levels and introduce features never before seen in any other racing game.

The damage and wreck system in the game is truly incredible. NASCAR The Game 2011 features the most extreme damage system ever seen in an officially licensed racing game. We are literally tearing and twisting the sheet metal from the cars’ sub frame as if it was cloth – giving stunningly realistic damage. Tears and gaping holes caused through damage reveal the vehicle’s suspension, and other components which can actually be seen in operation. Fragments and debris that scatter across the track are actual bits from the car!

43 drivers racing at 200mph+ blistering speeds provide the ingredients for some of the most breath-taking and spectacular smashes ever experienced in a game. As damage is calculated in real-time, each and every wreck is truly unique.

This is realized through cutting edge proprietary technology developed for exclusive use in the game. All NASCAR cars are vibrant works of art, with the paint schemes of each driver being synonymous with the fans.

We’ve created an intuitive and powerful styling area for the players. Many games feature the ability to create and edit paint schemes, but NASCAR The Game 2011 offers complete creative freedom.

No more ‘sides’, with proprietary 3D surface technology players can drag and drop decals anywhere on their car, and orbit around the car whilst applying and manipulating their own graphics. Players can therefore create and customize their own masterpieces with speed and ease.

One thing that came from fan feedback and focus testing was an almost 50 / 50 split of players who wanted to play through the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series as themselves, versus those who wanted to be their favourite real-world driver. The solution – allow them to do both - players can get behind the wheel as a rookie, playing through the Career Mode as themselves, or try to hold their own as any one of the real NASCAR legends in the series.

We’ve also developed a totally new NXP (NASCAR Experience Points) system that constantly rewards the player for cool moves, such as slipstreaming and bump drafting, allowing them to develop their skills throughout a race. NXP allows players to rank up through the game and in doing so unlock new rewards and content.

NXP is earned through co-operating with team mates and shunning rivals, but with AI representing the real driver’s personalities and tactics, players must learn who they can work with in the race. Discovering which drivers are likely to block, work together, and who doesn’t mind a bit of bump-drafting to push through the pack, is all part of the race.

Finally, many of the natural ‘must-have’ design elements that went into the game felt like second nature to us. However, after including the core features of a NASCAR race alone it’s hard to compare any title that offers fully motion-captured pit stops, optional fuel and tire wear, dynamic spotter voice overs and barrel rolls with deformable track assets. Lets also not forget ultra-realistic physics and handling, with 43 cars on the track – each modelled to an unprecedented level of realism and capable of extreme damage.

VG247: Are we going to see roster-based DLC, or are you looking at yearly retail releases?

Dave Thompson: DLC is certainly a key part of what we have planned for the NASCAR franchise, due to the fact that the series constantly evolves during each season and we want to keep the fans totally up to date with the real sport. Be prepared to see some pretty deep integration on this front over the coming years.

An annualised release is also a possibility, but only on the condition that each iteration brings something new and genuinely exciting to the franchise.

VG247: Can you explain why there's no PC version?

Dave Thompson: The lack of retail space for PC currently means it’s tough to justify the costs of development for traditional distribution. Nevertheless, we have something up our sleeves that should satisfy the legions of dedicated PC racers - watch this space.

VG247: NASCAR's been pretty much neglected in terms of games for the past few years, but now we have both your title and GT5 coming to market in the next six months. Why the sudden renewed interest?

Thompson: I think it’s because NASCAR is one of, if not the, biggest motorsport in the world and its legions of fans have had nothing to satisfy their appetite for well over 2 years. NASCAR has a totally unique style based on exhilaration & spectacle that you simply cannot experience in any other racing game.

VG247: Do you consider GT5's NASCAR component to be competitive to your game?

Believe it or not, I actually think that GT5’s offering will actually be complimentary to our own as it gives gamers an introductory taste to the world of NASCAR.

I am a fan of the GT franchise, but we have to make very clear what GT5 has and how it differs from NASCAR The Game 2011. We believe that Sony has licensed a small selection of cars & tracks from the world of NASCAR and these cars & tracks exist solely within Gran Turismo’s standard game world.

We also believe that there are no NASCAR rule sets, point systems, Sprint Cup Series, spotters, bump drafting, crew chiefs, driver personalities or extreme damage in GT5. Crucially though, there isn’t the 43 cars that create the unique bump and grind of pack racing that personifies NASCAR.

We are hopeful that the lite version of NASCAR in GT5 will allow a wider worldwide audience to experience NASCAR first hand and leave them wanting a taste of the real full blown sport.

VG247: Can you give us some stats on the game's damage modelling? Just how detailed is it?

Thompson: One of the most technical challenges involved in the damage and effects system was that it had to work in reverse.

NASCAR The Game 2011 features an instant rewind feature allowing players to watch a clip of a cool pass or to re-attempt avoiding a huge wreck that just occurred. In addition, the advanced replay editor allows players to look all around the car and rewind in slow-motion. Players will literally see damaged panels re-forming and effects working in reverse.

The replay editor also provides the tools for players to create highlight reels of their best action and wrecks – so the ability for the damage to work in reverse is a really cool feature.

The damage tech has also been applied to the walls and fencing that surrounds the track. We are able to deform the track’s ‘safer’ barriers and fencing dynamically. Areas of the track where a collision took place are maintained throughout the race, displaying scarred barriers and walls. It is amazing how much realism this adds to a race circuit world.

All NASCAR races in real-life and in the game feature extreme close racing, with cars battling 3 or 4 wide, only inches apart. In such a situation in game tyre rubs and scorch marks appear on the side of the cars.

Another element we captured was the windshield tear-offs. As NASCAR fans know, the ‘car of tomorrow’ features thin layers of plastic film that the pit crew rip off if the driver’s windshield becomes scuffed or chipped.

Just as in a real race, the player’s vision can become impaired with chips, dust and dirt that accumulate on the windshield. The pit crew know to tear off a layer on the next trip to the pits.

The damage and effects system as a whole is completely dynamic. When players collide, scrape, bump and barrel roll the results are never the same, with the effects depending on who, what and how the player got hit, as well as the car’s current state of damage and the speed of impact. Every wreck is a totally unique and overwhelming experience!

Of course we allow players to turn on ‘damage affecting handling’ for those who desire a true sense of realism.

VG247: Can you explain the balance between the game's online and offline modes? How popular do you expect online racing to be in your game?

Thompson: NASCAR The Game 2011 is focused on online racing, with up to 16 player in each race and online specific gameplay modes and skill ratings.

Players can join or create private multiplayer lobbies with ease, utilising a choice of pre-defined race styles and additional race settings, to create the race they want. Pit stops, tire wear, fuel consumption and caution flags can all feature in an online race if the player wishes.

Players have the freedom to race with any of their cars online, any custom paint schemes and any tuning setups. Online play and split-screen also allows players to race as any of their favourite NASCAR drivers.

In the single player career mode, players progress through the grandeur of the NASCAR racing championship – the adrenaline-pumping NASCAR Sprint Cup series. Career mode provides the opportunity to compete at all the real-world NASCAR tracks alongside 42 other NASCAR drivers - battling for points, victories, cups and other race rewards. Drivers perfect their pit-stops, and master their racing reflexes in order to make ‘The Chase’, the final 10 races towards stardom and the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship.

The season comprises of 36 races at all the real NASCAR Sprint Cup Series tracks. Throughout the series players unlock invitational events offering unique modes and challenges along with new rewards. Invitational events provide a break from the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and an opportunity to impress sponsors, unlock rewards and earn bonus experience points towards ranking up.

Throughout career mode players compete in qualification sessions, pit stops under caution and Victory Lane celebrations. In their garage players can review the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings at any time, track their points and progression towards the all important final 10 races – The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

NASCAR The Game 2011 will release in February for PS3, Wii, and Xbox 360. First in-game shots are through here.


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