The release of Destruction All-Stars this week doesn't just mark the next big PlayStation 5 exclusive - it's the biggest project yet from Liverpool's Lucid Games, and the continuation of a legacy that takes in the likes of WipEout, MotorStorm, Destruction Derby, Project Gotham Racing and so much more besides, with the studio being formed from veterans of theUK racing scene. On the eve of its release, we spoke to game director Colin Berry - who previously worked on WipEout, Sonic AllStars Racing Transformed and much more besides - and Sony xDev's John McLaughlin about their new venture.
A lot of people get excited by the DNA of - your CV is hugely impressive, as is the rest of the teams'. How does that British racing scene DNA manifest itself in there?
Colin Berry: I mean, it's obviously there. It's interesting, you know, this is not just myself - there's probably about a dozen people at Lucid who I've worked with it three or four different times before - there's a good half of the staff who were either at Bizarre or Sony Liverpool or Evolution, or a mix of all three. So like you say we've worked on F1, WipEout, MotorStorm, Project Gotham, and I think that that helps. It certainly helped when xDev were looking for a developer to go, hey, what we're thinking of doing something maybe with the Destruction Derby franchise in that area - which was kind of what the initial genesis of Destruction All-Stars was.
So those conversations are happening between xDev and Lucid: you know, what do you want to do with Destruction Derby? It's like, well, we don't want to just do another Destruction Derby game. Or, you know, we can do something now with the tech that we couldn't do 25 years ago, in terms of damage and in terms of deformation. It's no longer just texture swaps, we can now do some really cool stuff. xDev were keen to work with Lucid because we have a heritage. We know vehicles, we know how to do arcade racing, we know how to do racing. And even though we're disrupting our ideas of racing games, it's still vehicles moving around arenas. We don't want to make vehicles that are for racing and driving these vehicles, they have to be fun to drive, but they're in an arena, you've got 360 combat, that's different to F1, that's different to MotorStorm. But we know how to do the other stuff, so we kind of knew what wouldn't work straight away! Like we really need cars with hyper arcade-type turning circles.
There are games like Rocket League that do that, but we wanted them to still feel like cars, so we started to lean into the handbrake - and those kinds of things are really exaggerated. Having really good physics programmers and really good damage programmers helps - we're able now to do things that we haven't been able to do in the past. We wanted to put damage into Wipeout years ago. But we just couldn't do it with what we had. We couldn't do what we wanted to do. Now we kind of have more oomph behind us to realise some of the earlier visions for Destruction Derby in terms of damage. And we're in a modern game setting where it's like it's in arenas, it's multiplayer, it's online, and it's smashing into things. And then when you get wrecked, you're out of the car and you're on foot and that that area is kind of new to us, but we've got people who worked on Assassin's Creed and games like that. That enables us to then tap into those areas of gameplay and bring all that together.
It's quite bold - taking on the driving genre is one thing, and it's obviously your area of expertise, but then there's combat, there's third-person traversal. I'd like to rewind a bit first, though - I remember first hearing some rumours that a new Destruction Derby was in the works, and when Destruction All-Stars was unveiled I wasn't sure if this was it, as it's obviously ended up a fair bit away from what Destructon Derby was. That's not a bad thing, by the way! Did you just divorce yourself from that at some point and let it become its own thing?
John McLaughlin: Yeah, I mean really early on. xDev has a history of being around launch windows on people's PlayStations - we've done MotorStorm, Resogun and things like that. Early on - I think it was at the back-end of WipEout Omega - I was having a chat with my boss Pete Smith. We were like, we want to be there on PS5, so what could we do? And we looked at Destruction Derby and then we just started speaking about damage - where's all the damage gone in games?
I know we had Wreckfest since and things like that, e we had that and things like that. But there was a time on the PS3 when you had all these like arcade action games that are really intense, great looking with loads of damage, pick up and play. And then everything's moved more towards the GT and Forza thing. So we were like what damage could we do on PS5 - how awesome would that be?
So that was the initial conversation - would it be Destruction Derby? But we thought it's actually even better to come up with a new IP if we can. And then we chatted with Lucid - as we mentioned they've a great heritage as well. And one of the key reasons was they know vehicles. And then we started speaking about ideas together and we put a presentation together about what the game could be. And then - this was really early on - someone had the brainwave, what if you could get out of the cars?
We were going back to Destruction Derby, and remember, when you were on three wheels, your car was wrecked and you were crawling around? It was the worst part of the game, hoping you don't get hit and survive. What if you could wreck the vehicles, but then just get a new one? We wanted this fast arcade action loop where you can wreck people, eject and acquire a new vehicle. So once we started toying around, getting the characters out of vehicles and then into a new one, it just freshen things up. And it went from there, basically, and it evolved. We want people to feel really vulnerable on-foot but also have a range of abilities to get them out of that sticky situation.
Does vehicle deformation and destruction still play a major part in it all?
Colin Berry: Yeah, I mean, we went to the kind of town on the deformation really early doors and with our tech - we can actually deform cars now. And you'll see when you get hit, cars will react in that particular place. We don't use smoke and mirrors like we used to do back in the day with texture swaps and stuff like that. And also you damage your car really quickly. I wouldn't expect to get in the car and try and stay in that car until the end. It's possible, but I don't think I've ever seen it. It's just part of the game's DNA is definitely to wreck as many people as you can, and you will get wrecked yourself. That's not the end of the game by any stretch of imagination - you're on foot, and there's loads of things you can do from there. One of those is to get into another car as soon as soon as you can. It is about destruction, but it's grown from that - that was the genesis of what we started with. How much can we destroy these cars, but the thing just evolved and grew.
One last quick question about Destruction Derby - sorry. I'm probably one of around two people in the world who care about Destruction Derby deep lore, so are there any links in there still? I'm just hoping Trash Man makes a cameo somewhere.
Colin Berry: There isn't - I'm afraid not. We did have a couple people on the team who worked on Destruction Derby Raw, but I think that's the only kind of link. But well, you know, it's a live service so never say never.
There's the car stuff on one side - what was your inspiration when it came to the on-foot stuff?
Colin Berry: One of our pillars in the game early was momentum. It's that idea of when you're in the car and you get hit and your car explodes and you're ejected from the car, you're not always KO'd. So you come out the car, you land, in the moment you land, you can hit a button and get a landing boost, and you can roll and then you're on foot, you're running, you're dodging, and you can vault over walls, you can vault boost. And for the character stuff, it was like, we just want it to be fluid. And like I say, our animation director used to work on Assassin's Creed so that really helped with this feeling of keeping fluidity and momentum.
We always wanted to treat the vehicles as disposable. Something we got our heads around is this idea that the vehicles are effectively the weapons - when it's wrecked, that's like picking up a gun, firing six shots, there's no ammo, I'll chuck it away and get another. So the vehicles are like guns - you get one that does damage, but you're not going to hold that rocket launcher forever, you're going to go and get another gun. And on-foot, you're vulnerable, but you're powerful as well. And that was key, making sure the characters weren't too powerful so everyone stays on foot all the time, because that's not what we want.
It all sounds novel and innovative and like nothing I've ever really played before, which is great - but on the flip side this isn't the first arcade racer with big ideas. Obviously in the past there was Blur, which designer Gareth Wilson said ended up like bacon and cornflakes, then more recently there was Onrush - which I loved! - but it didn't do so well because it was hard to communicate what it was about. How are you going about avoiding some of those problems and communicating what Destruction AllStars is all about?
Colin Berry: Well, I think that's why PlayStation Plus is a massive, massive win for us. We wanted to be on PlayStation Plus when we launched, that was something the team was really behind. It took a bit of time, and it was a bit of a late hour to get those decisions through, but it's brilliant for us, because it means we're now going out to the widest possible audience. There's just millions of people with PlayStation Plus - so hopefully, they're gonna try it. One of our aims with this has been to make it pick up and play.
One of the challenges we have in gameplay terms is we don't have a direct reference point. Making an arcade racing game, it's kind of easy - well, it's not easy, but it's easier because you can go point at Need for Speed, at WipEout, right? And for us, it was kind of like, what else does this? Well, there's a little bit of GTA in and our cars, but we're not GTA because we're a fast arena game and the characters have differences. There's a little bit of this game, a little bit of that. So plugging it in and making that work together, the characters and the vehicles, was difficult on those. And it was a challenge to get that and to sell that message. But it was something that Xdev were behind very early - they gave us time to find the fun.
John McLaughlin: It's quite easy for someone to say they don't like racing games, whether they're arcade or sim. Well, this isn't a racing game - it's got cars, but even if you don't like car games, you can pick this up and you will instantly feel in control. It was really important for us to have that pick up and play nature, even though each of the common vehicles and all the hero vehicles feel different, every one is pick up and play.
I think there's only time for one more question. It's a live service game obviously, so what do the first couple of months of support look like?
John McLaughlin: So we've got a plan. The first couple of months is basically letting people play the game, get into the game, of course we're gonna look at the analytics and look at what people are playing. While we've got a plan for the forthcoming year, we've got loads of cool stuff coming, we do want to engage with that community, we want to listen to what they're saying. It's important for life services to be able to pivot, you know, and listen to what people are saying.
We're hoping that people will enjoy all the modes. But I'm pretty sure that we still think that people really are drawn to it. And then it's a kind of, I mean, the game is quite modular. So when we've been playing it in development, it's kind of like we've had ideas within modes, that although we've settled on something, those ideas are still there. And we can quickly turn modes into something new. So there's always going to be something new to keep on coming back to so whether its modes, its cosmetics, it's actual new vehicles and characters and things like that, it's going to be a tonne of stuff for people to come back and play.