After the Xbox 360 original took a bit of a kicking, KOEI could have been forgiven for slinking away and giving up on Fatal Inertia - its stab at a WipEout-style futuristic racer - altogether.
Instead, lead designer Mike Bond and his team got back to work on the PlayStation 3 version, and next month will release the result - Fatal Inertia EX - exclusively on PSN. Backed up by a downloadable demo, new tracks and a host of refinements, it aims to make up for mistakes made on Microsoft's platform.
We caught up with Bond to talk about the game's chequered past and what KOEI Canada has in store for PS3 owners.
Eurogamer: When Fatal Inertia was first unveiled at TGS in 2005, it was aiming to be a PS3 launch title - what happened?
Mike Bond: Well, a lot of stuff contributed to the delays. We got a pretty late start on the project, considering the launch of the PS3 was supposed to be in early 2006. The development on the TGS demo and video started literally a month and a half before the show. Added to that, we were a relatively young team, working with new technology, on a platform that was still under development. You might say we just bit off a little more than we could chew. Fortunately, our team is very talented and dedicated and we have taken the time to make Fatal Inertia EX live up to our original vision.
Eurogamer: It's been reported that the PS3 release was originally delayed due to problems with Unreal Engine 3. What kind of problems did you have?
Mike Bond: Unfortunately, due to the current legal climate, I think I'll have to decline to comment on that one. Sorry!
Eurogamer: What lessons did you take from the Xbox 360 version?
Mike Bond: I think the biggest lesson we took away from the Xbox 360 version was related to game balance. After developing and playing Fatal Inertia for so long, it became very easy to underestimate the difficulty for a beginning player. Our goal was to make FI challenging, but many players found the level of difficulty to be much higher than anticipated. With Fatal Inertia EX, we were given the opportunity to spend more time testing with inexperienced players. As a result, we've added a new venue, the Fatal Inertia Proving Grounds Facility. Not only does this include extensive new training elements, but the Proving Grounds are home to eight new racetracks as well.
Eurogamer: In terms of changes, what sort of things have you focused on? Track design? Physics? Gameplay style? Or a mixture?
Mike Bond: For FI EX, we've focused on making the game much faster, slicker, and more accessible for the player. We've made major changes to the flight model to allow for way more speed, a lot less crashes, and much more fun in general. When the player first loads the game, however, the most obvious improvement will be the new interface and menu environment. Added to this, we've designed a whole new natural world to race in (including eight new courses). FI EX's visuals have been given a substantial improvement as well, from general polish and better lighting to new water and weather effects. To make the game easier to get into, we've also overhauled the early part of Career Mode to give players a smoother introduction to the mechanics of FI.
We've also added a ton of other stuff including co-operative split-screen Career Mode, online leaderboards for best times, Sixaxis and DualShock3 support and even a new difficulty level to give elite players an added challenge!
Eurogamer: One of the original game's strong points was its physics-based weapons - will there be any additions or refinements there?
Mike Bond: Oh, we've definitely tweaked the behaviour of the weapons to make them easier to use, more effective, and to account for the game's much higher speeds. The Force Blasts and Rockets, two weapons that can be used for boosting, have been dramatically improved to give the player a lot more oomph when they use them. The Smoke Bomb is now much more effective (and much cheaper to render) and the Force Shield now causes damage when it touches an opponent. We've also made changes under the hood to the weapons to improve performance and generally smooth out behaviour.
Eurogamer: Apart, obviously, from distributing it via the PlayStation 3 Store, what kind of use will you make of PlayStation Network?
Mike Bond: We've implemented online play for up to eight players (even in the demo!) with voice chat and a skill ranking leaderboard. In FI EX, players can do single races or series races (like a mini tournament) where the original only had single races. In addition, if a player is connected to PSN while playing any mode in the game, their lap times will be uploaded to a global leaderboard. Of course, we've made sure to separate Time Trial records from other game modes to make sure that players can display their unassisted times as well.
Eurogamer: There were concerns with the 360 version about frame-rate, particularly in the demo version. How does the game perform on PS3?
Mike Bond: Yeah, the 360 demo didn't run well and we really regret releasing it when we did. The final game performed substantially better but still often dropped frames. In FI EX, we've dramatically improved the frame-rate again and I think players will be pleasantly surprised. This combined with a significantly higher game speed makes for a much, much nicer experience.
Eurogamer: Why bring Fatal Inertia to PlayStation Network rather than making it a boxed release as it was on Xbox 360?
Mike Bond: We feel that one of Fatal Inertia's greatest strengths is its online feature-set. Having watched the growth of the PlayStation Network's user base, we felt that it was an excellent fit for a game like Fatal Inertia EX. In fact, when we release the demo on PlayStation Network it will include a significant online multiplayer component.
PlayStation Network also allows us to make Fatal Inertia EX highly visible and easily accessible to a large audience for a fraction of the cost of what a retail version would be. Gamers will be able to try the demo for free and then instantly unlock the full game from the menu. The result, we hope, is that many more people will try the game and, once they play it, will be more than willing to click the purchase button.
Eurogamer: How much will it cost?
Mike Bond: This hasn't been set in stone yet but I can assure you that there certainly won't be another title that has a comparable amount of content for a similar price.
Eurogamer: Will you be supporting the game with downloadable content post-release?
Mike Bond: No plans have yet been made for providing downloadable content. FI EX already contains much more content than other games (59 tracks in seven huge environments!) at the same price point so we think players will be entertained for a very long time. However, if gamers really demand additional environments or tracks, I wouldn't entirely rule it out as a possibility.
Fatal Inertia EX is due out on PSN at the end of May.