Evolution addresses DriveClub micro-transactions concern

Plus, why 1080p30 was "the right decision".

Earlier this month it emerged that PlayStation 4-exclusive racing game DriveClub includes micro-transactions - and it caused quite a stir.

In the game you unlock a new car at each of the 50 levels of progression - or you can pay to unlock a car immediately.

It's a system some have said has no place in a full-price console game, but according to developer Evolution Studios, DriveClub's micro-transactions are misunderstood.

Game director Paul Rustchynsky addressed this concern in a recent interview with Eurogamer, calling DriveClub's micro-transactions a "non-issue".

In DriveClub you earn fame, which powers you through the progression system. You work your way from level one to 50, and each of those levels unlocks a new car. If you don't want to wait, you can pay for a car with real-world cash. So at level 25, for example, you might spot the Ferrari F12, which is unlocked at level 38. If you want immediate access to that you can pay for it.

But how much? Rustchynsky declined to confirm DriveClub's pricing model, but said each car will cost a "few pence".

It's a system identical to that used in Evolution's 2012 PlayStation Network game MotorStorm RC, "and there were no complaints," Rustchynsky said. "If anything people said, 'that's a great way to access this content immediately.'" Vehicles in MotorStorm RC can be bought for as little as 21p.

"The important thing about micro-transactions is, if they ever influence the game design or the progression then yes, there can be a negative influence," Rustchynsky added. "But that's absolutely not what we've done with DriveClub. Progression is quick. You unlock cars rapidly. If you're part of a club you get access to those things super quick."

DriveClub does not include 40 cars or the like, Rustchynsky insisted, as some driving games with micro-transactions do. "We don't want players to feel like we're nickle-and-diming them. That's not our intention. We want players to play the game as normal."

Indeed, it sounds as if Evolution would prefer players ignore DriveClub's micro-transactions and unlock cars through the natural course of progression.

"We don't want them to use them really," Rustchynsky said. "We want them to play the tour and naturally progress through the cars. We've got everything from hot hatches to hyper cars, and we don't really want people jumping into hyper cars immediately because they might not be tooled up. They might not have the skills they need. By all means, you can do that, but we'd prefer players to play with the cars we intended to be first.

"The proof will be when people play DriveClub. They'll see it's a non-issue when they get their hands-on and start to play the game. It's not intrusive. It's almost invisible. It's something we actually kind of hide a little bit."

Meanwhile, Rustchynsky also explained Evolution's decision to target DriveClub's native resolution at 1080p and frame-rate at 30 frames per second. The latter has disappointed some who were hoping for 60 frames, but Rustchynsky said 30fps was settled on because the game's visuals already push the PS4's processing power hard.

"The cars are the most detailed cars you'll ever see in a racing game, inside or out," he insisted.

"We make sure all the worlds are densely populated. The vistas, well, you can see them. There are no shortcuts taken. We don't have 2D crowds or baked shadows. Everything's dynamic. Everything from our dynamic lighting solution to screen space reflections, and our anti-aliasing techniques - we use similar techniques to temporal anti-aliasing and also FX anti-aliasing as well. We've got radiosity and dynamic volumetric clouds, which you'll see god rays being cast through. You've got headlights in cars at night time, which will cast shadows onto other cars on front.

"It's all these things which couldn't be done last generation. We're really pushing the visual boundaries."

Rustchynsky also pointed to DriveClub's audio, which is linked into the game's physics system, as hogging "quite a bit of our processing time". The physics, too, require the PS4's attention.

"It's not an arcade racer," he said. "It's this balance that sits between simulation and arcade racer.

"Underneath it's very deep. We're taking all the reference data from the manufacturers, plugging them into our handling dynamic engine and getting the real feel of the cars, but then we're layering on accessibility layers that make a difference for people who just want to casually pick up the game.

"So we're spending a lot of runtime processing the physics, and spending a lot of time pulling in dynamic challenges taken from the server as you race.

"It's all these things combined."

Given the game runs at 30 frames per second, Evolution worked to reduce the latency between controller input and on-screen action so that it is "as short as possible".

"The handling is, ultimately, the core of any racing game. We wanted to make sure 30 frames per second did not compromise that experience."

Rustchynsky continued: "It's always a balance at the end of the day for where you spend your processing time. What do you want to push forward? You'll see games at 900p and 60 frames per second or whatever. We think 1080p and 30 frames per second is the right choice for DriveClub. When players see it and play it, they'll be happy with that decision."

DriveClub was intended to launch alongside the PS4 in November 2013, but it was delayed to October 2014 because Evolution struggled to get its social features working as well as it had hoped.

Rustchynsky described the winter just gone as a "difficult period" for the studio, which saw a number of high-profile staff leave and an undisclosed number of redundancies as the developer worked to get DriveClub up to scratch.

"We were all disappointed we didn't manage to hit launch," Rustchynsky said, "but we pride ourselves on the quality of our games. We knew at that point that we had to make the decision to put the game back.

"Things weren't quite as we intended. We wanted to make sure the seamless social connectivity was absolutely perfect. We wanted to make sure the visuals, audio and handling came together to create the driving experience we wanted. It's an ambitious game and we wanted to make sure we delivered on all those promises."

Rustchynsky described the studio's reaction to the delay: "I wouldn't say it was demoralising, but it was one of those things where you go, oof, we've worked so hard and come so close but not quite got what we wanted."

Now though, morale is up and the developer is on the right track. "Everyone can look towards the future," Rustchynsky said. "They understand these were the goals we set out for DriveClub at the start, and we wanted to hit every single one."

As a result of the delay, DriveClub is one of Sony's key PlayStation 4-exclusive games for the console's second Christmas, and Sony will be hoping it stands out among a raft of racing games, Ubisoft's The Crew, Slightly MAd Studio's Project Cars and the expected Forza Horizon 2 for Xbox One included.

As for Evolution, it's looking towards the game's launch in October and is planning post-release support.

"The studio is in a very good place right now," Rustchynsky said. "Everyone's positive about the game. They're excited about people playing it here and at E3. I think it's going to get a good reaction."

This article was based on an event held in Santa Monica. Sony paid for travel and accommodation.

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