MotorStorm: Apocalypse is the latest in the PlayStation 3-exclusive series from Evolution Studios, a developer that's just finished showing off its sparkly racer at Eurogamer Expo 2010.
Because we know some of you missed out, we sat down with game director Matt Southern a day before his star turn at the Expo to get the skinny on all things MotorStorm.
Eurogamer: Why are you famous, Matt?
Matt Southern: Am I famous? It's largely because I'm a bit northern, isn't it?
I'm the game director on MotorStorm: Apocalypse at Evolution Studios. I've been here for six years, produced WRC Rally Evolved, and then worked in the background on MotorStorm 1 and Pacific Rift, working on concepts and prototypes.
Midway through developing Pacific Rift, a small team and I started to put together the pitches and the prototypes for MotorStorm: Apocalypse. So it's had a longer development phase than any other title we've worked on. Hopefully that will show.
Eurogamer: Will it make it the best game you've ever made?
Matt Southern: I hope so. We try to be very ambitious here and keep raising the bar. Especially since we became part of Sony we feel it's important as first party developers to show what's achievable with the PlayStation.
On PlayStation 2 we regularly surprised ourselves with the way we were able to continually squeeze more power out of the machine. It's pretty much panning out that way with PlayStation 3.
Eurogamer: What's your developer session about?
Matt Southern: I will have talked about the big changes that MotorStorm: Apocalypse offers, the move into an urban location, the thinking behind it, the couple of live demonstrations with myself and Rushy [Paul Rustchynsky], the lead designer.
Before I do the demonstrations I'll talk a little bit about the thought processes behind the game, the reason why we think it's going to be a winning title. I'll also show off some making of type material, some nice concept art and a little bit about why we came to these decisions and how we worked with the community and looked at the rest of the competitive marketplace and came up with this idea.
Eurogamer: How did you come up with the idea? Was it because a lot of racing game developers are moving away from traditional racing into action? Is that fair?
Matt Southern: Yeah. The reason they're doing it is because they are quite naturally and instinctively looking at other genres that are over delivering, that are doing something special with this generation of hardware.
That does tend to mean extremely epic, dynamic, high impact moments and lots of action. Scale tends to be one of the most noticeable features. A lot of us take inspiration from a wide range of other media and entertainment. In particular we might read certain comic books, Mark Millar's books, watch summer blockbusters. Even if we're not particularly enamoured by storytelling at times, we can't help but look at things on the big screen and immediately say to ourselves how cool it would be if that was interactive, if it wasn't a movie but a game, something inherently more satisfying and controllable.
That's exactly what's happening in the genre, particularly the action-racing genre, as opposed to the simulation field. We're always very keen to look at what Gran Turismo does and try and sit alongside it. They're best in class at offering a particular type of racing experience, so we are doing our very best to be best in class at offering the other archetypal racing experience, which is the one that's more inspired by car chases and action movies than by real motorsports.
Eurogamer: What action movies were you inspired by?
Matt Southern: The obvious one was 2012. We already had our concept in place and we all went along to the movies to see it. I don't think it's been particularly highly praised for character development and storytelling, but you could say that about every videogame compared to movies. We're still very much learning on that side of things.
We were able to take the spectacle and use it as a focal point for the kind of things we were aiming for. The previous disaster movies, going way back to movies like Earthquake, were always a big influence. Even documentaries on why buildings collapse and all that Discovery Channel type stuff.
We were also heavily influenced – not so much in terms of action but location – by the Bay Area. The game is set in a fictional city but it's not hiding the fact it's clearly inspired by San Francisco and the surrounding area.
A few of us were lucky enough to head over to GDC in San Francisco. Whenever we visit a city we tag on a reference trip just for the hell of it. We fell in love with its hills and its compact nature compared to a lot of US cities. The way it nicely touched on lots of different types of area in terms of variety – down on the waterfront, up in the residential areas, down in the business district, over the bridges. Although it's not the only location that's inspired us, it's probably the biggest one.
We're known for our reference trips. We did five rally games where we visited every country that held a rally and took extremely fine grain reference material to recreate those places. That's what we did on MotorStorm and on Pacific Rift, essentially used what we learned making a licensed game to make a balls-out unlicensed game.
But there aren't many places that are destroyed in the way we were aiming for, that we could grab reference from. If we were to find places that had been genuinely destroyed that wouldn't have been in the nicest possible taste.
This time around we've relied more heavily on concept art rather than reference material, and influences from movies and TV and comic books like DMZ. Anything that offers an interesting visual for an urban environment that isn't intact. Anything that shows skyscrapers at unusual angles or architecture ripped to pieces.
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Highway to hell.
Eurogamer: We're not used to seeing those kinds of environments in racing games.
Matt Southern: Absolutely. Even compared to recent releases in any genre, it's going to be a very unusual take on racing in a city. It's not really urban racing. We've been keen to say that all along. In a weird way it's still off-road racing for a big chunk of the experience because the roads are just one option.
It's that MotorStorm philosophy where there were always several route options. They're not quite as wide as they used to be in organic environments. They're more confined. But we've taken that multiple route philosophy and said, well, just one of those routes is going to be roads.
When you're racing, for example, through offices and across the tops of skyscrapers, in a weird way the only comparable experience was racing the Rockhopper in MotorStorm 1. So I'm hoping people will see these are experiences you've never had before in a racer.
Eurogamer: The game will be playable in 3D. Sony's said 3D gives gamers a competitive edge. Is that true? Will you be better at the game if you play in 3D than if you don't?
Matt Southern: Well I think it is, but I'd be very keen to stress that that doesn't mean it's unfair on people who don't have a 3D display, which, when we launch is still likely to be the considerable majority of users.
It does make the racing experience a little more instinctive. Judging racing lines, approaching bends, judging your position in space in relation to the AI or the online opponents, is all that little bit more intuitive and easy to understand.
The analogy would be, if you're playing a game on a fifty-inch high definition set and someone else is playing it on a CRT with a coat hanger hanging out the back...
Eurogamer: Do people still play games on CRTs?
Matt Southern: Well I think a significant number of users are still using standard def. It's funny, isn't it, when you're used to high def for quite a while. We have in our QA department standard def televisions permanently on to make sure the game still flatters users.
Eurogamer: To make sure you can read the text?
Matt Southern: Yeah, exactly. The analogy essentially works in the same way. The flashier your kit the more flattering it is and the more likely it is to make games that involve understanding and judging the environment a little more intuitive.
But we're never going to be in a situation where the only people setting the best scores online are the ones with stereoscopic 3D. They're just going to be the ones with their jaws closest to the floor.
MotorStorm: Apocalypse is due out on the PlayStation 3 in February 2011.