The phrase "downloadable content" can send shivers of fear and anger down the spines of many gamers, as visions of cash-gouging publishers dance before their eyes wearing horse armour. One game that seems to have found a pleasing balance between worthwhile additional content and wallet pangs is MotorStorm, still receiving new material and gameplay updates over a year after its release. This, then, is a critical recap of what's been added, what's been tweaked and what the MotorStorm fanbase has made of it all.
For us Eurofolk, MotorStorm started getting its innards twanged in June 2007, with the enticingly titled Update 1.2. As well as the expected bug fixes and exploit-smashing, this update also made it possible to add a free Time Trial mode to the game. Yes, that's the sort of feature that most people were expecting to find in the game already, but hush you. As an example of how Evolution Studios have been quick to patch and alter the game in fairly dramatic ways, it sets a good example.
The first major content addition came in September, with the release of the Coyote Revenge Weekend Pass. Centred around an all-new imaginary race event, containing three new race tickets, the centrepiece was the Coyote Revenge track, a reversed and reworked version of the Coyote Rage course. The download also added a new online game mode - Eliminator - and some new vehicles, including the secret Lunar Tec Rollcage which only unlocks when you win gold in every race.
Not everyone was happy though, particularly eagle-eyed UK gamers who noticed that Americans were getting more cars as part of their USD 5.99 Coyote Revenge download, which European punters had to purchase in separate vehicle packs for GBP 1.49 each. Along with the GBP 3.49 track download, the combined purchase cost considerably more than what those whooping yanks were paying. Oops.
On the plus side, to even up the numbers for the two-vehicle packs, we Euro slobs did get the Patriot '85, a car that left many US gamers green with envy. Why? It's a bit like a DeLorean, you see, just like in Back to the Future. Which was released in 1985. Hence the name. Jumping gigawatts! That wasn't the only '80s retro nod in this first batch of MotorStorm downloadables, as the Atlas Varjack mud-plugger bore a suspicious resemblance to the van used by a certain team of Vietnam veterans, sent to a military prison for a crime they didn't commit. The Wakazashi Razor motorbike, meanwhile, couldn't have been more blatantly Street Hawk if they'd had Rex Smith sitting on it.
October brought the next notable software updates. 2.0 was mostly concerned with lobby tweaks, but version 3.0 added DualShock 3 rumble fun, the Gloating Index for online willy-waving and also allowed players to carry across their finishing position to the starting grid of the next race in multiplayer. And just before Halloween, a spooky new livery was made available - free of charge - for the Castro Robusto.
Devil's Weekend was the ooh-scary title of November's cauldron of downloadables, and it revolved around Devil's Crossing, an extensively revised mirror version of Dust Devil. European customers got four vehicles for their GBP 3.49 this time, with another secret bonus vehicle for those who aced their way through the single-player events. It was Batman's turn to have his copyright almost infringed, as the Humbler Diablo buggy looked a bit like the "Tumbler" Batmobile from Batman Begins. But not too much like it, just in case any Batlawyers are reading.
The general consensus seems to be that Devil's Crossing was a marked improvement over Coyote Revenge, even without the sweetener of a new play mode. Certainly, while browsing through every internet thread looking for recommendations as to which track pack to choose, Devil's Weekend comes out on top most of the time. Its tough design didn't impress everyone though. "Yeah, it's a cool, twisted track", muttered DragonRacer13 on the official forums, "But I don't think I'm ever going to figure it out. It's frustrating and painful to race. I don't get one moment of enjoyment out of that track."
Sifting through the internet to gauge player responses to the world of MotorStorm DLC in general, it's clear there was increasing confusion about the different vehicle line-ups in US and UK downloadable content and, mingled with many gamers using imported games and cheeky fake overseas accounts, some got in a right old muddle as region compatibility flew to pieces all over their trousers. Many also seemed confused by the PS3's less than intuitive approach to downloaded content, as message boards lit up with bewildered children who had downloaded different packs, but had lost track of where the install button was, and which patches had to be installed first. Trying to run the new content without updating the game software resulted in black screens and the need to erase data and start over. Not the fault of Evolution Studios, who helpfully warned people of just this sort of problem before downloading but, as one of the pioneers of PS3 DLC, MotorStorm bore much of the brunt of these teething troubles.
Eleven months on from launch, and December brought us another update to make the bad voices go away. Version 3.1 finally did something about those awful loading times on the vehicle selection screen, and also gave online racers the option to race any of the existing tracks in reverse. But not offline players. Clearly, they smell.
Indeed, there's been a noticeable shift in favour of the online community with the most recent addition to the DLC menu. The dual track pack, released in January, featured two entirely new courses - Eagle's Nest and Diamondback Speedway - but, with no offline race tickets, those who like to play by themselves could only rattle around them in Time Trial mode. "are you guys serious?", cyber-screamed somebody called F4LLOU7 on the official forums. "i can't believe they wouldn't create a few new tickets in wreckreation for them like they did with devil's crossing and coyote's revenge. that's totally lame."
You tell 'em, F4LLOU7.
Instead, the two new courses were short and sweet, and designed to be used for online races, with a new endurance-testing ten-lap option made available. Diamond Back is a relentless looping track, created with flat-out velocity in mind and featuring a vicious crossover point where stragglers can be sideswiped by other racers crossing their path. Eagle's Nest, on the other hand, is a scrappy rush populated with long banked turns and fiendish jump points. As not all racers have all the downloadable tracks, though, these fine tracks are sadly underused - at least in casual online races outside of the many organised leagues. "Eagles Nest and Diamond Back are solid tracks," reckons Czar from the official forum, "But again, because they are DL content, the majority of hosts are shying away from them. I pick them, but sparingly, [as] it's tough to see a good room go from 12 to 4 when you pick one of those tracks."
And with yet another downloadable arriving this month, even if it is just a celebratory vehicle skin for Chinese New Year, it seems that MotorStorm is set to continue receiving little nips, tweaks and tucks all the way until the sequel roars into view.
Find out what Evolution has to say about that by clicking through to our brief Q&A with gameplay manager Jed Ashforth.
MotorStorm's gameplay producer Jed Ashforth answers a few of our questions about the game's DLC support.
Eurogamer: Since MotorStorm first came out in Japan, we've had the multiplayer mode, time trial, various patches, new tickets and new tracks. Why spend so much time and money on downloadable content?
Jed Ashforth: We feel that downloadable content has the potential to be much more than a new console feature, it deserves 'Triple A' values and attention by itself as opposed to seeing it as a follow-on. We felt that the best way for all of us to benefit was with a very clear and major investment. Having said that, the picture some people have of us all working on it is somewhat off the mark. We're a multiple-project developer now.
Eurogamer: Did you have to reconsider or revise your approach based on your experience with early additions like the friends list and time attack, or did you fall into a workable pattern pretty quickly?
Jed Ashforth: Before the launch of any of our downloadable content we'd already gone through numerous revisions and brainstorm sessions. We didn't have to reconsider, but it clearly made sense to gauge reaction and tailor future content accordingly. Even with plenty of success in the bag now it's still 'frontier' time with downloadable content; we're figuring out what will work and what won't.
Eurogamer: What inspires the content that you release as add-ons? Is it cutting room floor stuff from pre-release, new ideas from within, feedback, a mixture?
Jed Ashforth: A mixture. The majority of MotorStorm downloadable content has been new ideas. We do scour the web looking for feedback though, and use focus groups. Nothing was culled from the boxed game and deliberately saved for later. We put all we could onto the Blu-ray in the timeframe.
Eurogamer: Are there any plans to release an updated MotorStorm SKU with all the content included, or an online bundle that includes everything at once, or anything like that?
Jed Ashforth: We don't have any plans for this at the moment.
Eurogamer: Did you plan to support the game this much? Has the fact that you're doing so much DLC had an impact on your work with MotorStorm 2?
Jed Ashforth: The level of ambition was planned. When we were indies we promised SCE that we would spearhead the field of downloadable content, and that's what we're still trying to do. We set up a bespoke team and no other projects have been affected.
Eurogamer: Given that you've done so much DLC, including premium stuff, what tips would you give other developers about getting a good return and keeping fans happy with after-market content?
Jed Ashforth: We have done a lot and been successful with it, but again we'd be the first to say we're still learning. Now we're part of the Sony family, we're exposed to some great cross-studio collaboration and have been sharing ideas and recommendations about downloadable content, Home, and loads of other stuff. Perhaps unsurprisingly this is most often with Studio Liverpool and BigBig Studios, but the dialogue is a global one. Really exciting times for us.
Eurogamer: What's left to add to MotorStorm? What sorts of things do you have in store for the future?
Jed Ashforth: This question goes way beyond downloadable content. We have the aim of turning our launch-window title into a sustained, massive brand. We plan to dominate reaction racing for a long time. We'd never aim any lower.