The Juice on Juiced

We catch up with Juice Games' Don Whiteford.

Getting Juiced onto the shelves hasn't been the smoothest of rides. Poised for release in early September 2004, the game's publisher Acclaim dramatically went bust literally days before it was due to hit the stores and the future looked bleak for Juice Games.

But having safeguarded the company's future with a funding deal with Fund 4 Games, the developer was able to pitch the game to other publishers, and it was THQ that snapped the game up to begin its assault on the highly lucrative street racing scene.

In an unprecedented show of faith, THQ gave Juice Games a further five months to polish the game up and put in all the features that would allow the game to truly stand out from the crowd - a crowd that now boasts Need For Speed Underground, not to mention the game that kick started the whole genre, Midnight Club.

But jumping on the bandwagon isn't Juice Games' style. Far from producing another copycat release that merely gives players another excuse to Pimp My Ride, the UK-based team has gone for a far more realistic slant, with simulation elements to make it a far more authentic and challenging affair.

To celebrate the game's impending release, we spoke to one of the men instrumental in creating the game to find out there reasons for creating the game, its plans for the future and, well... to find out the juice on Juiced! Over to Don Whiteford...

Also, as you might have noticed, we've got a couple of exclusive movies embedded right there in the page for you to check out. Just roll over the nearest to see the game in action and, further down, get an idea of what Don's talking about with regard to the customisation options. Enjoy.

Eurogamer: First of all, tell our readers who you are and your role in the development of Juiced.

Don Whiteford: Studio Director for PC and Console Games (we have a Mobile and Handheld Group too).

Eurogamer: Explain for those who don't know what happened to Juiced when Acclaim went bust back in September last year.

Don Whiteford: Simple really: the publisher ran out of money just before Juiced was due to be published. However, Acclaim wasn't funding it... we got Fund 4 Games involved, so the publisher's demise did not affect us seriously. Of course, THQ picked it up, which was great!

Eurogamer: Why didn't you release the game back in its original form? What was wrong with it?

Don Whiteford: THQ see this as an important brand for it and its first driving title. It wanted to make its mark on the product and ensure that it could be re-reviewed. They wanted to raise the bar in all areas of the game, so we were given an extra five months time to polish the product.

Eurogamer: What have you done to the game to address some of those concerns that reviewers had?

Don Whiteford: We have touched every area of the game and improved it, including all the key areas of concern for reviewers.

Eurogamer: What have you subsequently added to the game in terms of content?

Don Whiteford: More cars, more tracks, new sound FX, new music, new interface, advice system and new online features.

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Eurogamer: Now, it's fair to say you've got plenty of competition in the street racing genre, with NFSU and Midnight Club around. How do you feel Juiced compares to those games, and what have you done to differentiate yourselves?

Don Whiteford: Juiced has its physics firmly in the simulation camp, and it's more of a pure racing game than either of the other two. It also features an innovative career mode that lets the player decide the tactics and strategy for playing the game, crew racing, full damage on licensed cars, pink slip racing on and offline, betting and more advanced driver AI. I could go on but at the end of the day the acid test is in the playing and the best word I have used to describe it is 'addictive'. Juiced is not a product you can get through on a weekend rental!

Eurogamer: Who do you think the game will appeal to?

Don Whiteford: People who played NFSU but find it wanting, folk who play Gran Turismo but want a bit more going on in the game; generally, people who want something a little different in the driving genre.

Eurogamer: Tell us why you went for the Respect rating system as opposed to the more traditional level-based approach.

Don Whiteford: Respect is one of two 'currencies' in the game, the other of course being 'cash'. The respect system is a perfect balance for the cash: if you have lots of money but no respect, you cannot progress; conversely if you have respect but no cash, you can't buy the cars, parts and race entries you need. Respect is also a scoring mechanism for the many facets of the game; e.g. car collection; degree of modification; skills at racing, sprinting and show-off events, betting and pink-slip racing. Each opposing crew leader has a preference on which you earn respect: TK, for example, will be impressed by skilful circuit racing. This enables us to control progress through the game in a much more natural and meaningful way... it encourages you to get immersed in the game's breadth and challenges. Of course, you can lose respect too, as well as cash, so it can be a bit like snakes and ladders... you might be doing well, take a huge bet, lose and wreck all your opponents' cars, so you'll find yourself temporarily excluded from some meetings and in need of cash.

Eurogamer: It's interesting that you appear to reward better driving rather than merely screeching around corners crashing into everything. Why was that?

Don Whiteford: Juiced is a racing game where driving skill needs to count in the right way... cause mayhem and you'll lose respect and end-up paying to repair your car every time. Drive skilfully and you'll gain respect and keep your hard-earned cash.

Eurogamer: What kind of feel were you going for with the handling?

Don Whiteford: In a word, 'believable'. Our heritage is simulation physics, but when we went driving in tuned Evo VIII's it was clear that the simulation on the market didn't model the sheer exhilaration of moving at high speed. We have layered in that sensation on top of simulation physics, to give an experience that is much more intense.

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Eurogamer: What factors did you have to consider with the choice of vehicles in the game?

Don Whiteford: We looked for popular modding cars, plus a mix of US, European and Japanese, so that people could include their favourites in the collection. We also needed a blend from compacts right up to the maniac vehicles like Vipers and Skyline GTRs.

Eurogamer: Do you think Juiced does anything special technically?

Don Whiteford: I don't just 'think' that! Firstly, it's a cross platform game, and it delivers an even experience wherever it goes. We have allowed each platform to play to its strengths, so the PC version makes use of DX9 shaders for example. Even online, Juiced offers a pretty even set of features, more so than any other game of its kind. Then when you get down to the physics and the tuning, the sheer level of interactivity we give the player is pretty unique. Add to this the crew racing, the DIStress AI system that manages the other drivers stress and skill levels, and the emergent gameplay mechanics...

Eurogamer: Tell us about the online modes. Have you pulled off anything new here?

Don Whiteford: We have made a couple of additions recently. The sprint mode is now available online, which we believe will be very popular if you want to find out which car is the fastest in a straight line.

We have also made additions to the already extensive match making criteria, allowing the player to create or find very specific races. For example if you want to find a game featuring only Toyota Supras, between 500 and 600 horsepower, racing only the Downtown circuit, you can in Juiced.

Last but by no means least we have added voice support for PC and PS2. Now you can spend hours in the lobby discussing the mods you have applied to your car, or better still you can mock your opponents as you pass them in a race.

Eurogamer: Customisation is a big part of the game - how much a part of the game's appeal comes down to what you can tweak and mod? What's special about the modding options here compared to similar games?

Don Whiteford: We have worked hard to ensure that the player gets a proper 'feel' for each car, so it's easier to anticipate when you are pushing the performance envelope. Our objective with the modding was not to make it too fiddly and to avoid the need to micromanage everything. As a result, it's easy to mod the car and it's clear what's going on. If you have increased power on an MX5, for example, it will start to get tail happy if you don't pay attention to the suspension, brakes and downforce... it's not just for show, all the tuning does have a real impact, yet it's fun to play around with.

Eurogamer: Are you considering handheld versions (PSP, DS) and a sequel?

Don Whiteford: You had best speak to THQ about that one!

Eurogamer: What are your thoughts on the next generation situation post E3? What has impressed you about them, and when do you think you'll get on board with next gen projects?

Don Whiteford: We are already busy with next-gen projects. The new technologies will allow us to improve on what we do now, but the really exciting stuff is going to be what we are able to do that we couldn't do before. In general, what impresses about the next-gen demos is the level of detail, both static and dynamic. What will really stand out is the way these games are going to play. In automotive terms, it will be like moving from a stock family compact to a four-wheel drive sports car.

Eurogamer: Do you think it's wise to release the game in the industry's traditionally lowest selling time of the year? Do you think the lack of releases in the market will benefit you?

Don Whiteford: That's a question for the publisher. I believe THQ knows what it is doing.

Eurogamer: What racing games have inspired you over the years?

Don Whiteford: I started off with Geoff Crammond's FI and didn't really get into the driving genre on console until PS2 came along with Gran Turismo. I also like the GT conversion that was done over the EA Formula 1 game. And of course TOCA!

Eurogamer: Don, thank you.

THQ is releasing Juiced on PC, PS2 and Xbox on June 17th. Check back for a full review in the run up to launch, or read our first impressions here.

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