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E3: Bizarre – “If people want to play the next PGR, they can”

E3: Bizarre – “If people want to play the next PGR, they can”


Play spoke to Bizarre Creations’ Ben Ward and Peter McCabe about their first project under Activision ownership, Blur. It’s like Project Gotham meets Mario Kart. This isn’t the whole interview. If you want the best bits, you’ll have to get the next issue of Play, which is on sale on 9 July.

Play: Has the development of Blur been influenced by other racing games with power-ups in them?
Ben Ward: Not an influence so much, but we’ve played all of them. We’ve looked at every game quite recently. But I don’t think that Bizarre works in that way that there’s direct influences. We’d never take one big portion of a game and chuck it into our game. It’s more like we say, “Well, Mario Kart has power-ups. But why have they got that? And why does it work? And why is it interesting? And what are the bad bits about it? How can we take all those good and bad things and address them in a different way in our game? Do we need to address them?”

Play: This is the first time Bizarre Creations has done a racing game with a story. Can you tell us a bit about how that will work?
Peter McCabe: You start off in the LA river, the LA docks. It’s centralised around LA, so there’s three or four environments in LA with different sets of routes in different places with different themes. And then you move out to San Francisco and you’re introduced to new people and a new style of racing. You go to Russian Hill in San Francisco where you’ve got massive jumps and stunts and stuff like that. Then you move across to New York. You don’t go to the really clean Manhattan side, you’re going through docks, you’re going through lorry yards… and yeah, you just progress around the world following the story as the scene’s getting bigger.

Play: And will progressing through the story be about more than winning races and championships?
PM: You’ll start off and it’ll be easy. ‘Finish the race’ will be the first objective. You can get wrecked at this time, so it’s not impossible not to do that – you can lose. The storyline in the game is basically ‘you need to do this to progress’. There’s lots of different objectives and different things to do.

Play: Are the environments open, like in Midnight Club or Burnout Paradise?
PM: It’s a circuit, so we’ve still got a route going round. We do have the odd point-to-point race, like Mount Haruna, where you start at the top of the hill and have to get top the bottom of the hill. There’s a nice road going down with loads of drifty bits on that track. We do have alternative routes but they’re not necessarily short-cuts, it’s just a different experience to get ‘round the track. Every time you race the game, you might go a different way and get a different experience by going down different paths.

Play: Is there a scoring/currency system similar to Kudos in Project Gotham Racing?
BW: Our version of Kudos in this game is the Fan system and that’s how our entire economy is based. You do cool stuff on track – you do jumps and shoot people with power-ups and skid ‘round corners and you’ll get fans for that. We don’t really explain where fans have come from. You might think of them as watching online or attending the race or something like that. At the end of the race they’ll throw money – they’ll give you a pound or a fiver or something like that. If you’ve got enough fans you’ll get loads of money. You can buy new cars or you can unlock new power-up abilities through the race. It’s sort of a Kudos-y type thing, but more suited to Blur.

Play: And what can you spend that Fan money on?
PM: You meet the guy who runs the shop through the story. When you’ve earned all that money you can go to the shop and upgrade your power-up slots and get an extra slot you can use to pick up more power-ups during a race. You can buy toggles so you can switch them across. You can buy more customisable stuff like red nitro instead of green nitro.

Play: Have you needed to use different physics and handling to those in PGR in order to suit the more arcadey style of Blur?
BW: It’s actually easier for us to be more hardcore and simulation because that’s what we’re used to. All of the physics model from Gotham is still essentially kicking around in Blur – all of the depth from the actual driving model is still there. It’s about using the environment design and the car selection and the driving assists to make it more accessible. That’s where we’re coming from, so hopefully if we do our job right we’ve gone… if this is simulation [holds out the finger of one hand] and this is arcade [holds out the finger of the other hand about half a metre away], we were here before [points near the simulation finger] we’ve just pulled it this way a little bit [moves the simulation finger a little closer to the arcade finger].

Play: Many long-standing Bizarre Creations fans would like to see the return of the real-time day/night cycle from Metropolis Street Racer. How come you didn’t include this in Blur?
BW: We use light for everything, we use projection of light to mess with so many things in the game. Most of our tracks take place between late night, just as the sun is setting, all the way through night time until early morning, so you couldn’t really have that real-time compression because most of our tracks require that slightly darker, slightly more interesting twilight, so it’s more of an artistic decision. What we’re trying to do is we’re taking the Hollywood approach. When you watch The Matrix, whenever they go into the Matrix it’s all green and tinted weird colours, lots of movies use that approach in lighting environments all the way through, and we’re doing the same thing. So it starts off quite orangey and upbeat and happy then as you go to other places it becomes greener or bluer depending on the environment and the style will progress through the game. The lighting model has been finely focussed this time. It’s not just a case of ‘oh, it’s daytime’, it’s that we want the player to be feeling certain emotion at this time to tie through with the storyline.

Play: Bizarre also has a tradition of expansive online community support for its games, and this is continued in Blur with the Groups system, which allows users to customise their own sets of events and save these settings online. Can you tell us more about that?
BW: Basically there’s two levels to it. The first level is actually on the console. If you’ve got to a certain point in the game, you’ll be able to create your own custom group. But then the second layer to that is what happens when you move online via an internet browser. Every group has its own page on the Blur webpage where you can discuss things, you can post comments, you can tag the groups, you can vote for your favourite on there. It’s using each platform to its strengths. On the console you just play the damn thing, but on the PC it’s a much more community-focused-type area. More like a Facebook group.

Play: How can you make sure your servers aren’t full of crap user-generated groups?
BW: Making the group and rules is half the battle, the other half is the YouTube problem. Taking all the s**t and filtering all the good stuff to the top. We’ve taken a few leaves out of their book – voting and tagging and things like that – and hopefully, the idea is that when you finally get the content in Blur it doesn’t matter if it came from Bizarre or from users, it’s just content and you make use of it.

Play: It all sounds fairly complicated and in-depth. Are you sure you won’t be alienating casual players?
BW: If you don’t know anything about custom groups or user-generated content, the game is engineered in such a way that if you just go ‘multiplayer’ you’ll be given a list of groups and they’ll be similar to playlists in Halo. We’ll have our three or four Bizarre shipped groups there, then the next three or four in the list are going to be user generated groups – the best groups that have been voted to the top. So you can make use of user-generated content without necessarily knowing anything about it.

Play: So, will someone who was hoping for PGR5 be able to tailor Blur so that it is, effectively, PGR5?
BW: Yes. If you want to make PGR, you can. You could race in L.A. Downtown, you can race with just Class A, ridiculously fast cars, you can turn damage off (but that’d be no fun), you can turn the power-ups off. Again, would that be fun? But with the groups being rated, it might turn out that’s the best group, and if it is it’ll get voted to the top. It’s there and it’s an option, so if people want to play the next PGR, they can play it.

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