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Race Pro - Interview mit dem Creative Director

04.02.2009 / 15:12 Uhr / Marc Friedrichs

Am Freitag, den 6. Februar 2009, erscheint die Demo zu "Race Pro", einer Rennsimulation von Atari, die derzeit bei Simbin entsteht. Simbin konnte sich auf dem PC bereits einen mehr als nur guten Namen machen, schließlich zeichnen sich die schwedischen Entwickler bereits mehrfach für ihre Realitätsnähe ausgezeichnete Spiele wie "GT Legends" und die "GTR"-Reihe verantwortlich.

Gegenüber dem Xbox Community Network, dessen Mitglied wir sind, hat sich nun Creative Director Diego Sartori über das Spiel und das Entwicklerstudio geäußert. Hier das original englischsprachige Interview:

First of all, could you give Xbox 360 owners a bit of an introduction to Simbin and tell us about your history in racing games?
SimBin was founded in 2003 by Henrik Roos and in late 2004 we released our first PC titled – GTR. At the time, Simbin was a young company with a relatively small distribution team.

Today, SimBin consists of two development studios, a headquarters and hand picked offsite consultants who have all been recruited through our communities.

My own history in racing games is that of a racing game fan that played all the racing games as soon as they got released – regardless of system/platform. Through the community, I got an early access to GTR and based on testing the one car and track featured in the build – A Lister Storm and Spa Francorchamps – I wrote a "Hands on report". My approach to writing the piece was to let my fellow racing game fans feel what I felt, but also try to be as constructive as possible when I wrote about some negative aspects of the "game build". This led me to receive an invitation to Spa Francorchamps to meet SimBin and see the company’s race car on the track during the 24 hour race.

From there, one thing led to another, and today I work as the Creative Director for SimBin Studios. Who would have thought that this could be possible standing at Eau Rouge on a warm summer’s day in 2004!

We hear that your CEO, Henrik Roos, has an interesting history in racing – what’s the story?
Yes, Henrik has owned his own GT Class race team and driven both in the Swedish GT championship and the FIA GT Championship with a Viper GTS-R. He won the Swedish GT Championship with the Viper GTS-R and managed to find funding to go for a full season in FIA GT the following season.

It is through Henrik’s racing career and knowledge of the racing scene that we managed to create GTR. All data recorded during two full seasons of FIA GT created the foundation of our data base used during physics creation.

Top level management in SimBin all have backgrounds in and around real racing. This means that we all know exactly what we want our games to communicate to the player both in terms of feel and immersion.

So how has this passion for racing transferred to RACE Pro?
First and foremost our passion for racing rubs off on the development team - our offices and studios all feature elements from racing.

We also make an effort in making sure the development team gets exposed to racing, both by going to races all over Europe and through our connections and relationships with the teams and manufacturers so that we can get the guys up close and personal with the cars and tracks.

It is impossible to describe in words what a drive a around the track in a race car feels like; we therefore try to get our guys into the cars with a race driver for a few laps. It has never failed to amaze me how much of an impact such a drive can have on people and how much it changes their perception of what goes on inside a race car during a race.

It is important to remember that apart from being passionate about real racing we are all also passionate about racing games and we act like little kids when we get to drive a car or a track for the first time as part of production.

When we drive a car or a track for the first time, we often end up in a trip down memory lane where the topic of conversation turns to when or where we saw the car or track in real life.

Why is the time right to get your first Xbox 360 game out of the garage?
We wanted to provide the console crowd with our type of racing game and we believe there is a market for us on console.

At the end of the day, it is all a matter of mindset: the appeal to us is pure racing - it is the emotional rollercoaster ride while sitting behind the wheel of a race car. We therefore believe that RACE Pro is able to move and excite fans of racing.

What type of gamer are you aiming RACE Pro at?
RACE Pro is aimed at anyone with a love for racing and racing cars.

RACE Pro targets both players new to racing and seasoned race game players, the game can be configured to be as much of a "sim" as the player wants it to be.

SimBin’s philosophy of "easy to learn – hard to master" has been a thread throughout the development process and focus has been on making sure the game would not "scare" away players new to racing. RACE Pro is meant to be a game they can grow with and a game that will challenge the players on their terms.

For the seasoned racing game players, the leader boards, online and AI races will show that there are lots of tenths, or maybe even seconds, still to find and it is during the hunt for these elusive tenths that the physics of RACE Pro really begins to flex its muscles.

The game will remain intuitive but get increasingly harder as the player takes the cars further and closer to their actual limits.

What types of racing and which types of motors should gamers expect?
RACE Pro is all about circuit racing, therefore RACE Pro features officially licensed tracks from all over the world, including tracks such as the Macau circuit in its official layout, Laguna Seca, Valencia, Monza, Porto, Pau and Brands Hatch, to name just a few.

The cars are mostly race cars, but RACE Pro also offers a few of the race cars in their street legal form – Audi R8, Gumpert Apollo, Viper SRT10, Koenigsegg CCX and the 1018hp CCXR.

RACE Pro features race classes with Mini Cooper, Caterham CSR, Radical SR3 and SR4, WTCC, Formula BMW, Formula 3000, WTCC Extreme and then a host of GT cars split into three classes – GT Club, GT Sport and GT Pro.

In the GT classes, RACE Pro features cars such as the Aston Martin DBR9 and DBRS9, Corvette C6R and C5R, Saleen SR7, Viper Competition Coupe and GTS-R, BMW M3 GTR and Z4 GTR, Koenigsegg CCGT plus many more.

In addition to all the officially licensed cars and race cars, RACE Pro also offers a class of licensed prototype cars called WTCC Extreme. These cars are based on the WTCC cars but are taken to the "extreme" with rear wheel drive, light weight body kits, big wheels and big 600hp engines. With a chassis only weighing 1000Kg, these 600hp cars are extremely fast and alongside the formula 3000 cars are the fastest cars of the game in terms of lap times.

All tracks and cars have been created based on real data provided to us by the license in addition to data collection done on location by the SimBin Reference Team.

What features have you put in place to make RACE Pro more accessible for the casual gamer or a racing fan more used to arcade-style games?
The most noticeable "feature" if you will is the Simbin mindset of "easy to learn – hard to master".

With RACE 07 for PC, I believe that we managed to combine an accessible racing game with a racing game that also catered for the more seasoned (or more sim oriented) racing game fan. We did this by working really hard on the physics of the cars as well as the controls, especially controls other than wheel and pedal kits.

In order to make a game accessible, it has to be intuitive - even the most arcade oriented games can be hard to drive if the controls or feel of the car is not intuitive.

In terms of features designed to help the player, RACE Pro features a race line and driving aids. What is interesting about both the racing line and the driving aids is that these are both components from real life racing.

The race line (though not using the same color codes as that in RACE Pro) is right there for the driver to see on the track surface. What I refer to is the race groove: to the driver this is as informative as the colored race line accessible within the game. Worth noting is that RACE Pro of course features the race groove and once the players have learned how to use it, it can easily replace the colored race line.

As for driving aids, anti locking brakes and to some extend the stability system are not often used in real racing. But traction control is used in more or less all real life GT championships. Despite this undisputable fact, there are still purists who prefer their racing free of any aids. Luckily, RACE Pro allows the player to configure the game to suit their own perception of what is realistic.

There haven’t been many new Xbox 360 racing games recently - how do you see the racing landscape on Xbox 360 and where does RACE Pro fit?
True, 2008 with regards to racing games has been pretty quiet. I do however think there have been some pretty cool driving and car games during 2008.

How do I see the racing landscape on Xbox 360? To me, this is a multi facetted question.

On consoles and on PC, there are enthusiasts who take their racing very seriously and I am sure they would welcome some better peripheral support or a broader selection of choices.

All racing game developers are looking for that next feature, function or style that will make their game stand out and come across as special.

SimBin’s approach has always been immersion first, and I hope that this is what will make RACE Pro stand out from the crowd and thereby let us fit into the racing game genre alongside the very capable competition already present on the Xbox 360 platform.

Would you claim that RACE Pro is the most realistic racing game on Xbox 360?
No, I would not call RACE Pro the most realistic racing game for the Xbox 360 - what defines realism depends on personal preference and it would be wrong of me to dictate what people’s preferences should be.

RACE Pro is SimBin’s portrayal of real racing based on a selection of real life data. How we have chosen to treat the real life data is ultimately what defines the experience the player will have with the game and I certainly think RACE Pro features what matters the most and that is accuracy, attention to detail and immersion.

We believe that our approach creates a realistic portrayal of being behind the wheel of a race car, but as with beauty being in the eye of the beholder, I think the same can be said about realism. Therefore, I will let the players be the judge of the level of realism in RACE Pro.

Have you gone for 30fps or 60fps, and what influenced your decision?
RACE pro runs at 30fps. Ultimately, the Xbox 360 hardware dictated our decision as it also needed to run our level of simulation.

What kind of career modes have you implemented?
The game features a progressive career mode that has been created using influences from real life.

In order to go racing for a team, the player needs a contract. There are two ways of getting a "seat" with a team: one being to "force" your way by paying the big bucks; the other is to do a try out for the team. If the player’s performance matches the expectations of the team, the cost of a "seat" will be a lot less. We let the player choose which option they would to follow and according to what their financial balance dictates.

The career mode also features "Stand in" contracts. In real life, a stand in would be called in if a team’s normal driver is unable to race a given race or races. Stand in contracts let the player get their hands on cars not yet unlocked while at the same time earning a little extra cash.

What about Xbox LIVE? Was LIVE racing a big focus for you during development?
RACE Pro is about pure racing and the online experience should reflect this as much as possible.

We wanted 12 players during online races and we wanted to make sure that even 2 guys would be able to have a meaningful online session.

So with this as our main target, we began working on adding AI support into the multiplayer experience. The implementation ensures that if AI is added to the session, the AI will never block a human opponent from entering the session. The AI "only" acts as fill.

We wanted players to be able to practice online and early in the design phase it was considered to add a stand alone online practice mode. We ended up making the lobby support practicing online.

Once a session has been launched by the host it will be in "waiting for players" state and in this state all players are able to drive around the track.

During testing, we found that players often chose to stay in "waiting for players" state and simply practice, work on setups and do "cat and mouse" sessions and of course discuss these elements using the communicator.

The host dictates when to change to the race session, so these online practice sessions can last as long as wanted.

When setting up a session, the host can choose between a ranked or an unranked race, and configuration of the races offers the exact same options as when setting up an offline race against the AI.

RACE Pro offers online races of up to 75 laps and as little as 2 laps, so there should be something for both those in for a quick racing fix and those with a need for an endurance style racing experience.

Do you have any special plans to support the RACE Pro community? I’m thinking leaderboards, tournaments, websites, challenges, opportunities for RACE Pro racers to line up on the grid with the Simbin team...?
In addition to the games website, there are quite a few online communities based around our PC releases and many of these have geared up for the release of RACE Pro. They all look forward to welcoming their new racing fan colleagues and I am sure that RACE Pro players will be able to find a good community to be part of.

RACE Pro has leader board support.

As for SimBin staffers racing the public and media, this is something we have done before with our PC releases and this is something we will aim to repeat with RACE Pro.

What’s in the future for the RACE Pro series on Xbox 360?
The immediate future might see some really cool DLC content coming RACE Pro’s way!

The long term future very much depends on how well the game is received and how well it does in stores.

And finally, what do you see in the future for racing videogames? Can they keep getting more realistic or has a ceiling been reached? How can you keep gamers interested?
How do we measure realism?

For example, is our tyre model more realistic than our competitors? It could actually be that our tyre model uses less parameters and therefore seems less complex. A realistic tyre simulation is run on a massive computer and to think that a tyre model in a racing game is anything near a realistic tyre simulation is plain silly.

The ability to choose what parameters to simulate and how to simulate them defines how realistic a game will feel. The combinations of what to simulate and how to do so are endless, and I do not for a second think that anyone has found the magic combination. We are getting closer, but there is still lots to be learned and lots of new approaches to explore. I view this as a welcome challenge for all of us in the industry.

What type of racing games this gives us in the future is for the future to tell, I for one can not wait to see what the future has in store for all us racing game fans!

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28.02.2009 / Der Simulations-Racer im Test 04.02.2009 / Interview mit dem Creative Director

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