Black Rock shows Split/Second Docks

Nick Baynes demos fancy racer at Expo.

Black Rock Studios' Nick Baynes has just finished showing off Split/Second in the first of the Developer Sessions at the Eurogamer Expo in London, and gave the crowd a sneaky live demo of the Docks level in the process.

Game director Baynes began by talking about the history of the studio, which used to be known as Climax Racing and pumped out games in the ATV Fury and MotoGP series. He even namechecked the developer's very first game, a Korean localisation of FA Premier League STARS by EA. "I'm going to get that off the screen really quickly, actually."

Then Disney bought the company out in 2007 and they got to work on the excellent Pure, recipient of 8/10 on Eurogamer, but the parallel team headed up by Baynes wanted to get into street racing, so went off in search of a USP. They settled on the idea of changing the environment while you race.

The basic idea of the resulting game, Split/Second, is that you earn power by drifting, drafting and driving like a loony, and that you can then deploy that power to set off explosions, collapses and other set-pieces to attack other racers. "The city is your weapon," Baynes noted, as we watched some cars being blown up.

Powerplays can also be used to open up shortcuts. "They often involve opening up doors which inevitably slam behind you," Baynes pointed out. Bad news for people in your rearview mirror. There are also route-changing powerplays, which are the really big ones - like knocking over a crane at the docks so that a nearby tanker starts to capsize, and you have to race across its sloping deck.

The game's vehicles, Baynes explained, were all homemade so they could "rip them apart and do whatever we want with them". The consistent factor, however, was that they all had to have a "muscular presence". "If you had a small compact car driving around while the world explodes, it could look a bit comical."

Black Rock was also keen to avoid looking too realistic, Baynes arguing that realism is actually rather boring, and exaggeration is the key to getting people excited. Hence Split/Second has tons of real-time light sources to make all the particle effects sing, multiple explosions on a timeline to make more of the powerplays, and really huge set-pieces.

How huge? Well, said Baynes, one of the animations has a footprint of two kilometres. We also got to see how some of them were made, beginning with concept paintings and storyboards for each route-changing powerplay.

Baynes then had one of his colleagues play through the Docks level, a bit of a Eurogamer Expo exclusive, which saw cars zipping in-between containers that were swinging on loose cables, and dodging through the fiery innards of a ship that had been exploded loose of its dry dock. Smoke absolutely poured off the tyres as the driver took turns at speed, and the quality of the effects was a step above even what we saw at gamescom.

Another detail we hadn't noticed before - the HUD, which lives on the rear bumper and shows how much power is in your meter, swings round to the front bumper when you hit the button to look behind your car. Neat.

After the demo, Baynes took some questions. Any DLC plans, asked one chap? "We are planning DLC. Right now, exactly what that is, is under discussion." And how many cars and tracks? "One thing I can reveal exclusively now: we're not going to have the same number of cars as Forza or GT! But we will have a decent number of cars."

Oh yes, and what about multiplayer? Eight players online, two players in split-screen, said Baynes. Asked by another Eurogamer whether the game was difficult to do online due to all the destruction, Baynes said it was "not as hard as we thought", thanks to some clever planning on the part of the designers, who used "a combination of pre-canned animations dressed with physics objects" to achieve the set-piece effects.

There's loads more going on at the Expo today and tomorrow, so be sure to check out the full game list and timetable of events if you're heading down. Split/Second, for its part, is due out for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 in early 2010 and playable on the show floor.

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