After a five year break the only street-racing game worth playing returns. Codemasters seem to have really outdone themselves this time with GRID 2, the long awaited sequel to Race Driver: GRID.
Back in 2008, almost lost amongst all the other racing games vying for first place, Race Driver: GRID had them all beat. Whilst other racers concentrated on simulating the driving experience, for GRID it was about the fun and the excitement of taking a car up to and beyond its limits. It was about hot rubber on sticky tarmac, not clutch plates and drive shafts. The result was a racing game for everyone, from Supercar V8 to Japanese drift racing. GRID had a heart and soul that provided a racing experience that took your breath away.
From the same stable as the DiRT and Formula One series, GRID 2 builds upon the experience that has made Codemasters now, arguably, the world’s leading racing game developer. In my mind it is only fellow Brits, Criterion, that have come anywhere close with their more arcade-friendly Burnout and Need for Speed games.
I recently had a go on a preview build of GRID 2, where I got to take a spin around the ever-changing layout of the Dubai LiveRoute track and a bit of drifting along the Japanese Okutama course. After the preview I put the game’s producer, Iain Smith on the spot and asked him a few questions about the upcoming game.
Vic B’Stard: Even after 5 years I think that the original GRID can still hold its own. Why have we had to wait so long for a sequel?
Iain Smith: For exactly that reason really; the original has stood the test of time due in part to the incredible efforts that went into making it and also that it was a sort of perfect storm of great fun and immersive aspects – so we had to ensure that whatever came along as its sequel was going to not only do that justice, but perform to that level again; in the sense that it’s going to have the longevity, quality and racing game acumen to do us proud. For that reason I think the game needed breathing time and a serious production cycle to achieve all those goals.
Vic B’Stard: Since the first GRID game Codemasters have become synonymous with the racing genre, how has your experience with the DiRT and the F1 games influenced GRID 2?
Iain Smith: We rebranded the publishing label as Codemasters Racing to really define what our goal was, and to make the label synonymous with top quality racing games. So to say we’ve learnt from focussing on racing and continuing to create DiRT and F1 titles would be an understatement. That knowledge has definitely come across into GRID 2. In fact, so often many members of the teams change places and will work on the aspects of lots of our titles to make sure the knowledge base and fresh perspective from each team spreads around. GRID 2 may not have been so focussed on the “multi-discipline racing” aspect if it weren’t for our knowledge of those other areas.
Vic B’Stard: What was the most important aspect of GRID 2’s design during development?
Iain Smith: I think the foremost aspect we knew we had to retain, improve and get right is the racing experience. We have a lot to live up to from the original game delivering an experience which was “all about the race” – the battles, the moments, the drama and the reactions required for everything unexpected. So that was something we really deconstructed. We worked on what was already good to heighten it and then focussed on the things that could be improved to really elevate that experience. Aside from that core experience, I think giving the racing experience a sense of purpose and reason for being was important to us – this time round there is a true foundation for why you are driving and a narrative grounding for it. You are racing at the very inception of an all-encompassing racing series called the WSR and you’re travelling the world to race in every different race style going.
Vic B’Stard: I’ve always found Codemasters’ games to have a nice balance between accessibility and authenticity. How do you see GRID 2 positioned amongst the likes of the Forza and the Gran Turismo games?
Iain Smith: I see us positioned in quite different places to those franchises. GRID 2 is a game with a very specific set of goals. We’re not in a race to get the most cars into our titles or to have players spending masses of time on customisation, which are things those games do really well. GRID 2 and indeed the original GRID game are both all about racing. And that’s a unique distinction already – its competitive racing as opposed to driving. We want players to find that aspect as compelling as possible. Ultimately then, all the other facets surrounding that core experience are there to heighten and emphasise it. Whether it’s our inclusion of narrative videos from ESPN this time around, which gives your racing a sense of purpose and journey, or if it’s what you do in your garage to personalise the car, upgrade it and make it yours, they’re there to make how you experience the racing itself more fun.
Vic B’Stard: I remember in the first Grid how much fun multiplayer was to see all that carnage on the track. How big a part does multiplayer play in Grid 2?
Iain Smith: Multiplayer has been given its entire domain of its own this time, so the single player career option and the online aspect are two separate options. Your progression in each is kept unique and of itself, although obviously the racing skills you’re learning in either of them will take you on your way to doing well in the other. In online we’ve given you a unique progression, which includes currency to spend on vehicles – whether that’s buying them or modifying and upgrading them. In addition, we’ve really built the online aspect with our RaceNet system in mind. We now support a fantastic Global Challenge and Rivals systems, which go both from game to RaceNet and RaceNet to game. It’s really freshened up the online offering in that respect.
Vic B’Stard: I found the in-car view in GRID a bit of a short-lived novelty, but it did look good in the replays. How difficult a decision was it to drop the in-car view?
Iain Smith: It was a really difficult decision, and I’ll actually point you in the direction of a blog post that our Exec Producer wrote up to really go to the heart of that particular choice, because it really did get the GRID and racing game community talking. He’s posted it up on the Codemasters forum, and he goes into quite a bit of detail about that, the metrics that the choice was based on and really what we felt we gained from making the call. Obviously for a complete post to focus on explaining it shows that it was a pretty difficult choice for us.
Vic B’Stard: For you, as developers, what is the most interesting thing about GRID 2?
Iain Smith: For me personally, it’s seeing how a concept has come to life in the WSR. We had pre-production meetings for a long time trying to find a concept that would wrap up the various aspects of what GRID was about – the varied racing styles and multitude of eclectic vehicles which players can get their hands on in the GRID world. It was interesting that actually, the concept we went with was one that was very simply a concept which would be the way to see that happen in real life – a league or series where all the various racing styles came together to find the best of the best. World Series Racing just became such a real, tangible entity once we had the guys at ESPN talking about it on SportsCenter – really lending the game a sense of realism.
Vic B’Stard: What struck me during my hands-on was how nicely the cars handled on the track. How much time do you spend with real cars?
Iain Smith: The feel of the cars and how the player controls them plays a pivotal role. With the TrueFeel handling system in GRID 2 we intend to portray as much of a clear interpretation of each car’s character as possible – we really want each car’s personality to come through. To do that, we try to get the team out in the cars wherever we can – but where that isn’t always possible, we get the specs direct from the manufacturers and get those straight into our handling tools to set a blueprint for the car. Then, as we review, tweak and work on the cars, we pull in consultants from the world of motorsports who have driven the cars at the highest end of what we’re including. These guys give invaluable advice and direction and they range from manufacturer test drivers to the likes of Chris Harris from the DRIVE channel who has driven almost every car in our game.
Vic B’Stard: What do you hope that players are going to get from GRID 2?
For me working on GRID 2 has been about providing a compelling racing game – something that you can pick up and feel good driving, like you can really do what you want in the racing car very quickly and feel like a hero behind the wheel and then put it back down again thinking you’ve had a great time. What I really then hope is that when you’ve gotten your share of quick fix enjoyment from it, you’ll be compelled to give the longer-term goals a look – the narrative journey is great fun, and the online will be great for players to go on a journey with their friends playing. That’s all we can hope for making this game really.
Vic B’Stard: Can you tell me something about GRID 2 that you’ve never told anyone before?
Iain Smith: That’s the type of question that’s much easier to answer near the start of the project – there’s much more still to keep under wraps! Now a lot of the information about the game is actually out in the open. What’s maybe a bit more of interest is about the project before it got to where it is now – a long time ago we were potentially pitching a concept where the investor character would be underhanded and not really somebody you could fully trust – with more twists and turns in the narrative. That game was also going to be set in more of an underground, illegal racing scene. We quickly realised though that plot twists were really going to take away from the racing, and the underground, illicit joyride type approach didn’t feel right for GRID either.
Thanks go out to Codemasters, Iain Smith in particular, and the team at Namco Bandai Australia for arranging this exclusive GRID 2 Q&A.