WipEout Pure was among the first games released for PSP, and remains one of the best, so naturally we were very keen to talk to the people working on the follow-up. Which is what we're doing here, obviously. In this case it's Clark Davies, introduced to us as "WipEout designer". Which probably looks nice on a business card. In light of the game's announcement just over a month ago and the first screenshots, we flung queries his way about how the game will improve on Pure, and how the new features - like the "Mag-Strip" sections - have been put to use by the development team.
Eurogamer: How does the gameplay in WipEout Pulse compare to previous titles? Obviously you've got the Mag-Strip element in there - what else has changed, and how?
Clark Davies: As far as core gameplay is concerned, we've taken everything from Pure and polished and refined it as much as possible. The handling is smoother, the ships are more evenly balanced. We're confident that the control is the best and most accessible the series has seen to date. Pure was a big leap forward in terms of handling compared to the previous games, so we have been careful to evolve it in the proper way. Apart from the mag strips, each of our tracks has what we are calling a Black Run and a White Run. These are alternative routes offering different challenges depending on the speed class and game mode you're playing with.
Outside of that, the biggest difference to the structure of the game is our single player Race Campaign. We've finally given WipEout the progression and reward system it deserves. The Race Campaign takes places over a series of grids, each filled with predefined events - combinations of race type, speed class and circuit. We're still finalising these grids, but we really wanted to give players a proper single-player game to work their way through, and Race Campaign should provide that.
To top if off, we're planning to ship a grid editor with the game, so players can create their own grids, with any combination of races they like, and save them to Memory Stick. They can go beyond the scope of our single-player game and create evil combinations of races that even we wouldn't dare to! A 16-event grid full of 16-track tournaments anyone? And we haven't forgotten about the little stuff either, so we've totally reworked areas like our statistics screens as well - we've got pages and pages of stats now for players to pour through, with graphical presentation and so on.
What else is new? There's MP3 support for your own songs, a new HUD that reacts dynamically when you get hit, the ability to take your own photos in-race, and loads more. Basically there's no area of the game that hasn't been looked at and improved upon.
Eurogamer: Mag-Strip sounds like quite a neat trick - do you have control on a Mag-Strip section of the track, or is it just for show?
Clark Davies: You've got full control of your ship on the mag strip sections. The track surface changes visually so you'll know when you're on one, and there's a neat little visual effect to sell the experience as well. Your ship is locked to the track, so if say you stop moving when you're upside down, you won't fall off, but apart from that you have free movement. The biggest benefit from using mag strips is that of greater freedom for the designers when creating the track layouts, and greater freedom for the artists to come up with the kind of architecture that would realistically house these sections. There's a level of grounded realism in how we've approached this feature. They're certainly not gimmicks - they're an integral part of gameplay - and we've gone beyond the obvious corkscrew or roller-coaster ideas in implementing them without going overboard or detracting from what WipEout is at its core.
Eurogamer: Apparently you've got seven game modes. What are all of them then?
Clark Davies: Okay, the straight list is: Single Race, Tournament, Time Trial, Zone, Head To Head, Speed Lap, and Eliminator. The first four are carried over from previous games, so looking at the others, Head To Head is a two-player single race, where we've focused on the rivalry and battling you'd get between two racers. We're trying to differentiate this from a regular race and really push the intensity and personal nature of the race here. Speed Lap is an offshoot of Time Trial, where you're trying to achieve the best lap time possible. And Eliminator makes a welcome return from the pre-Pure games, and that's where weapons will play their biggest part. We have added three new weapons and we should be upping the damage rate in Eliminator so you can expect plenty of action. We also recommend specific ships for the player to use in different events, which ties in to another new feature where you gain loyalty points for the ship you race with. So we're rewarding players for simply racing, which also ties in to our unlock system. And by increasing the loyalty for recommended ships we give players a good excuse to see the full range we have on offer.
Eurogamer: What sort of role will power-ups play in Pulse? Will you be retaining the system of absorbing power-ups to restore health that you had in Pure?
Clark Davies: Power-ups are still an important and defining feature of WipEout. We're still using the pad system that's been with the series since the first game. There's no floating pick-ups in WipEout - everything is grounded in the reality and logic of the game world. We've been careful when deciding which items and weapons to add or remove. Gone is the Disruptor weapon from Pure - it was unfortunately just too random and unpredictable in practice - but we have three new weapons and one returning weapon that hopefully bring a few dimensions to the combat side of gameplay.
We also have status effects, things like smoking engines, fire damage, HUD interference, etc, which can be inflicted sparingly and look great, but otherwise have no impact on the gameplay. And we're definitely keeping the absorb mechanic. The choice to absorb or fire your pick-ups added a nice touch of strategy to Pure, and we simply didn't want to drop it. From a design perspective, it allowed us to remove both the pit lanes and the old energy pick-up without sacrificing the ability to regain energy, and it had the added effect of improving the speed and flow of the gameplay.
Eurogamer: You're offering ad hoc and infrastructure multiplayer modes in WipEout Pulse - can you tell us which modes will be available for each, and what they entail? Are you supporting eight players again?
Clark Davies: The game modes which work best in multiplayer are unsurprisingly the non-solo events from the single-player game, so that's Single Race, Head To Head, Tournament and Eliminator. They'll play as they do for single-player, only with a few small tweaks such as name tags above the ships for easy identification. We're also offering LAN play, which is similar to ad hoc, except you first connect to a router. The techy people tell me this enables smoother and more lag-free ad-hoc-style play. Eight players in all multiplayer modes is pretty much our sweet spot.
Eurogamer: Will Pulse have more Zone tracks, ala WipEout Pure? We really liked the Zone levels. Please do more of them.
Clark Davies: We've expanded Zone mode to be playable on most of our regular tracks this time round, so there are no Zone-specific tracks as a result. We're giving the Zoneified regular tracks a visual makeover, so you'll really notice the difference when you play. And of course, there is a specific Zone ship again, this time with a cool team-based livery depending on who choose.
Eurogamer: There's talk of downloadable content for launch and beyond. Presumably you had a decent take-up on the Pure downloads, then?
Clark Davies: Definitely no complaints from us on that score. They did great. For Pulse we will to get them out in a smaller space of time from launch. We were also grateful to be given the chance to reward the European fans for the extra wait for PSP by giving them the exclusive Omega pack with the designer tracks. As for Pulse downloadable content, we certainly have plans, but nothing we can yet talk about.
Eurogamer: Can you explain the decision to offer content at launch? To the average punter that simply raises the question of why it's not on the disc...
Clark Davies: The issue here is that in most cases a game is finished about two months before it hits the shelf. So even when everything's done we effectively have our hands tied while the game goes through format QA, mastering, manufacturing, shipping, distribution, etc. The great thing about downloadable content is that we can work on it right up until the last minute, and only have it go through that QA phase. So it's the case that we've scheduled our time well enough so we can carry on working on extra content once the rest of the game is ready. There's really no underhand motives to doing this. The upside to downloadable content is that we can continue to provide content once the game is out. Giving people content at launch is also an incentive for them to do extra things with their PSPs, like going online.
Eurogamer: Among the personalisation options mentioned in the original announcement was a Photo Mode that would allow you to take photos and post them online. Will that be doable directly from the PSP, or will you need to involve a PC to get them there?
Clark Davies: We're hoping to output the photos into a sensible, PC-ready format, like jpegs, but we haven't quite finalised that yet. The current solution for getting the photos online is to manually copy them off the Memory Stick and onto a PC, but we're looking at alternatives for this.
Eurogamer: Every so often somebody mentions the mystical PS3 WipEout game. Will that and Pulse enjoy any kind of interoperability or compatibility?
Clark Davies: WipEout PS3... yeah, can't really talk about that one yet. Too soon. Sorry!
Eurogamer: Finally, WipEout was the original PlayStation poster-child partly because of its wicked soundtrack. What sort of direction have you chosen for this one, and why?
Clark Davies: The soundtrack is an evolution of what WipEout is best known for. Electronica is the starting point, and from there we go through break beat, house, techno and drum and bass. The line up isn't quite finalised, but one track I can talk about is the song Exceeder by Mason. A version of the song with vocals by Princess Superstar got a fair bit of radio play here in the UK, and we've got the original instrumental track as part of our soundtrack.
"Sounds" good to us. We look forward to "hearing" more in the coming weeks and months! For more on WipEout Pulse, keep an eye on its gamepage.