Eurogamer: Is that a real example?
Gareth Wilson: Oh absolutely. There's tons of things. Messaging to the player is probably the hardest part of design, and you wouldn't believe - you can get something so straightforward, and you think "how could anyone get that wrong?" Turn markers are a perfect example. You start off with turn markers of a reasonable size and think "that's fine" and you put it into usability labs and people are going into corners and going [makes a car shape with his hand and shows it bashing into a barrier]. You can see the turn marker, but they see it going the wrong way - there's a very iterative design there where you then revise the turn markers and put them in again and so on.
And that's what we do - we have the internal guys, which is mainly for balancing, and then the external MS team for usability.
Ben Ward: We got forum guys as well, didn't we?
Gareth Wilson: Yeah, we hired a few guys directly off the forum. Like, all the platinums in the game have been checked by Fuzzy, who's our super, uber platinum player. So he plays all the platinums, and his job for the entire game was to play it at platinum.
Eurogamer: I'm quite jealous of that chap!
Gareth Wilson: But it's a good thing to do actually, because once, he was playing it, and he told us the platinums had got easy. And it turned out that someone had made a minor change to make the steering, the hands work clearly, and they had altered the clutch, and the change to the clutch had made every single vehicle in the entire game faster, but no one knew! So having that sort of thing is absolutely essential. A really good safeguard.
Ben Ward: And how long did the balance take this time? It was a long time, wasn't it?
Gareth Wilson: A loooong time. It's such a big game. There are 128 medals in Arcade alone, which is more than PGR3, and then the Career mode is 200 races at least, so it's bigger than PGR2 - it's enormous. It's too big. It's a monster! What have we done!
Eurogamer: You talked a little bit about how the process of designing for 360 has been different this time. I think a lot of people find that interesting - that idea of developers getting better with hardware. Could you talk more about how that actually manifests itself?
Gareth Wilson: With PGR3, we did a lot of - I guess you could call it brute-force development, because we were like "this machine is ten times more powerful at this particular thing, so to get the fidelity we will just do 120,000 polygons". So you do it and it looks great, but when you've released it, you look back and you go "did we really need that many polygons? Actually, couldn't we just do a shader that would replicate that look and halve the polygon count?" That means that you can get the same look in a more efficient way, and if you apply that across the whole of the game, you're saving a fraction of a frame here, there and everywhere.
Reflections on the bonnet are a perfect example of that. In PGR3, we took the whole of the world, rendered it onto the car, and that took a huge amount of work - the cube-mapping. This time around - I don't know if you've seen the bonnet-cam, but the reflections are absolutely perfect. The cars are rendered in it, which they weren't in PGR3; the crowd are rendered into the reflection, which they weren't in PGR3, and it's just because the programmer was looking at it and he went "you know what? I could just do it this way and it would be fine." Because of a particular way the architecture works - I won't get technical - but it stores the last frame in a memory buffer - that's how the graphic engine works - and if we just take that frame and put it on the car, then we don't have to do the obscene amount of work we were doing before. That frees up more CPU to do the weather effects and stuff.
Eurogamer: It's all about being able to take stock.
Gareth Wilson: It is, and there's all sorts of things like that all over the game. And there'll be more to do. Although you can exploit the 360 power quicker than the PS3, without a doubt, there's still more to go on a 360. The next game we do no doubt will look better than PGR4 does.
Eurogamer: Going back to Xbox, how's Live evolved from a developer perspective since you last started working on it?
Gareth Wilson: Live's been such a huge success, hasn't it? The thing that blew me away was the whole Achievements thing. When we were doing Achievements on PGR3, we didn't really know what they were going to be like, so we made quite vanilla Achievement lists, which was okay. But now we've all played 360 and we've all got Achievements, we really enjoyed doing Achievements this time around, so the Achievement list's a bit mental.
Eurogamer: I was going to ask what the "Puzzle" ones were.
Gareth Wilson: Yeah, there's the funny Puzzle ones, there's one about beating someone at Bizarre Creations [or someone who has already beaten them]. We had loads of fun with that Achievement set. The Live stuff - the actual fundamentals of Live hasn't hugely changed, but what has changed a lot is the LSP [Live Server Platform] support stuff, which is the PGR On Demand stuff and that sort of thing. The actual tools you get to create your own custom online stuff have gotten much, much better. So a developer can use Live as a wrapper, but then just do whatever they want.