You lot seem to like motorbikes for some reason. Climax probably isn't arguing - its MotoGP series, published by THQ, has won all sorts of plaudits for its realistic depiction of crotchrockets and antics related to them, particularly the series' Xbox Live aspects. MotoGP was one of the first games to make use of Microsoft's fledgling online service back when it was a fledgling in 2002. As Climax gears up for the 2006 version on Xbox 360, we sent a few questions off to Climax about the shift to Microsoft's new console, both in terms of the underlying technology and the new Live.
Eurogamer: Perhaps more than in any previous cycle, we're seeing tremendous overlap between console generations. With the PlayStation 3 and Revolution arguably still lacking definition and Xbox 360 (largely) now on the market, we're in a weird position where Microsoft actually has two available consoles that are more powerful than any of the others. In a sense, you were already on the optimal platform, so what are the benefits of taking the step up at this early stage?
Climax: Well for one thing it puts us in a great position for the future. We've been able to put a strong foundation in place on a next generation platform, earlier than many of our competitors. From a game point of view, it's allowed us to achieve even more realism in terms of audio and visuals.
Eurogamer: One of the things we're seeing quite a bit of with first-generation 360 software is developers making use of just one or two of the console's processors. To what degree have you been making use of the console's new technology?
Climax: We started off on one processor and then we've spread out as we've gone along. By the time our game comes out, we'll be using all of the processor threads at least some of the time. There will still be a lot more untapped power to be had though. We're gunning for 4x anti-aliasing with 20 bikes at 60 frames per second so we're having to push quite hard.
Eurogamer: Bearing in mind that MotoGP has often been praised for its realistic mechanics and handling, have you found that next-generation hardware allows you to make a real difference to the physics modelling in the game?
Climax: Physics has always been a major focus for the MotoGP series since its introduction on the original Xbox and as such remains central to our vision for the game. We've been extremely pleased with the critical response we've received from both the press and bike fans and for MotoGP URT 3 and we've been fortunate that we have not had to re-write the handling code form the ground up. The great upside of this is that it has freed up our coders' time to focus on other areas of the game to deliver what we feel is the 360's best racing game.
Eurogamer: One of the things Tony Beckwith said when you announced in October was that you've always striven to improve not only the visual side of the game but also the gameplay features that define each new version. What sort of areas have you looked to improve in MotoGP 2006, and what do you feel are its key innovations?
Climax: We have new challenge gameplay this time around which adds to the game structure but where we've really innovated this time is in the audio - especially for the engine sounds. We've devoted a lot of memory to sound samples and reinvented the way we represent engines. It makes a really surprising difference to the way the game plays. You get much more feedback and it feels a lot more exciting. Although in many ways GP 06 will seem familiar, it really is a huge leap forward in terms of the pure gameplay experience. It's not one of these games where you might as well have just bought the Xbox version because it feels exactly the same. Think of it like this: GP3 is to GP 06 as a Mercedes A-Class is to an AMG SL55 - both can take you from A to B in relative comfort but I'd prefer to rip around a track in the 'SL any day of the week! GP 06 is slick, fast and best played loud.
Eurogamer: MotoGP has always been synonymous with Xbox Live - you were one of the first series to take advantage of it last time, and you've responded as it's become more established. What kind of advantages are there to working with Live on Xbox 360, and what sort of features can we expect? Also on that note, what kind of Live Achievements can players expect to be gunning for?
Climax: Well in many ways, you have to start from the ground up again with the new Xbox Live. It's nice and easy to work with this time around but you have to do a lot of things differently. As you say, we've always done a lot with Live. I think we're still the only console driving game that supports 16 players online, aren't we? We've lived up to our own high standards again this time around. We currently have over 40 achievements in GP 06 so there are lots of targets to try and hit.
MotoGP 2006 is due out on Xbox 360 this year, and we'll be taking a closer look at it in person in the coming weeks.