Architect of the Apocalypse

MotorStorm Apocalypse designer Simon Barlow on balancing gameplay with blockbuster bombast.

MotorStorm was never the sort of racer to play nicely or encourage gentlemanly conduct, but for its third PS3 incarnation the series looks set to crank its destructive tendencies up to 11. Set in and around a San Francisco-styled city during a major earthquake, populated by warring gangs of lunatics, it takes the rough and tumble racing that series fans know and love, and injects a retina-dazzling dose of disaster movie bombast into the mix.

Originally starting life as Urban Smash, a city racing game intended to be a sister franchise to MotorStorm, here, Evolution Studios game designer Simon Barlow explains how the two games merged to become the most explosive racer ever, and how the challenge of designing a racing game around tracks that are constantly deforming forced the team to approach gameplay balancing in a completely new way.

Eurogamer: Matt Southern (game director) has mentioned several times that the idea for Apocalypse grew out of an abandoned city racing prototype called Urban Smash. Can you tell us a little about how that merged with MotorStorm to become Apocalypse?

Simon Barlow: While the majority of the team were busy working on MotorStorm Pacific Rift, there were 20, possibly a few more, of us working on Urban Smash. It had potential, but that was all it was. Really the logical next step was to ask can we take the good bits of this and do something with MotorStorm? What we ended up with was this sort of mish mash of city-based racing and the MotorStorm aesthetic which didn't really work, it didn't fit. The key to it was this idea of an earthquake, a natural disaster. So what we've ended up with something that is still MotorStorm it still plays like MotorStorm and feels like MotorStorm, you know it's from the same people but the earthquake creates this slightly more organic environment out of the city.

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The ongoing collapse of the city means that you have to constantly adjust your tactics, even from lap to lap.

One thing we didn't want to be was a straight city racer, because that market's kind of crowded already. Those games are cool, but they're not really what we're all about. We honestly thought we could take it somewhere else, that's why we sit somewhere in between the two. You're taking the high speed action of Need for Speed or Burnout or whatever, with our traditional heritage of MotorStorm and even back to our rally games, those kind of hectic, point to point narrow races. When you start putting all these ingredients together, you think, this is going somewhere cool now, somewhere different and interesting. Forget about it being a game, this is an epic summer blockbuster movie.

Everything fell into place after that initial decision. The more you work into it, the more the ideas start flowing. This track in particular, Wave of Mutilation, which we just demoed, it's a six minute epic and it's f**king non-stop, balls to the wall action all the way through. It is one of the most intense gaming experiences we've ever put together and that I, as a player, have ever played. It still blows me away. I've played it 50 or 60 times and my jaw still drops when I see it. When you first see that twister, it's f**king terrifying. We're certainly not used to seeing this in racing games.

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