Early this afternoon we were lucky enough to steal some time with Capcom's Yoshihiro Sudo, producer of Gio Gio's Bizarre Adventure and Auto Modellista, who spoke to us about the game's conception, misconceptions and the things that help it to stand out from the swathe of competing titles.
Without waiting for us to get our bearings, Sudo-san ripped into the game proper, delving into the Garage Mode - equivalent to, say, Gran Turismo mode - and started literally building a car, tightening suspension, adjusting balance and highlighting internals for us on the game's busy interface. He then decked it out in pink with a dark grey bonnet and a big Auto Modellista logo before proudly informing us that "this is my car". However, for a man who drives a pink speedster Sudo-san was surprisingly aggressive on the road, ploughing into barriers and hastening to add that "I drive the real car a lot better". Relief washed over us all like the air conditioning system we were all longing for in the stuffy cupboard bathed in shadow next to Ubi Soft's enormous presence.
We asked Sudo-san what compelled him to propose a racing game at this late stage in Capcom's development day, and particularly given the state of the market at the moment. "Other people in R&D have proposed racing games in the past," he informed us, "but they have never been approved before. With Auto Modellista, we used cel-shading techniques which won support and the online aspect was another factor." At this we quizzed him about the game's future. Is it likely to appear on Xbox and perhaps GameCube as their online services take shape? "Yes," he surprised us all by saying, "but it will be a difficult job."
One thing that had interested us was the game's approach. After all, it's a packed genre and certainly isn't easily broken. Asked if Namco's disappointing Ridge Racer outing on PS2 had contributed, Sudo-san nodded. "We are not trying to steal gamers from Ridge Racer and Gran Turismo, but we think people who play both games may want to try Auto Modellista. The game is half and half arcade and simulation, and offers a lot to car fans and those just interested in the graphical style."
Inevitably then, we come to the game's distinctive look. Auto Modellista is cel-shaded, but not in the traditional sense. "We were working on JoJo [Gio Gio's Bizarre Adventure in Europe -Ed] when we started Auto Modellista, and obviously the look of the two games is very similar. With Auto Modellista we let the artists craft a very distinctive style instead of limiting them." Asked if the cars were all accurately modelled, Sudo-san confirmed this, but apparently that wasn't all. "When you scale the cars down in cel-shading, they do not look good," he told us, obviously speaking from the experience of having done so. "The cars in Auto Modellista are the cars they are in real life, but we have stressed the bits that you see, so the cars look as they do when you remember them from real life."
Of course, Auto Modellista is more than just cars and tracks. Garage Life mode allows you to create your own car, choosing number plate design and designation and the various symbols and logos which adorn the metal, and then challenges you to complete a number of racing tasks, set on locations varying from downhill hairpin-packed courses and leafy autumn circuits to rainy cityscapes and the familiar sight of reversed tracks. The perception of depth is matched by the mechanics, which all but emulate the pit-of-your-stomach feeling as you dive down a sharp incline. Racing is almost like creating your own comic book art, and appropriately enough, Auto Modellista takes advantage of this.
"What we are looking at now is VJ Theater mode," Sudo-san tells us, "and from here you can take replays from the game and play with them." Cue a few seconds' cursing as he scrambles to produce a basic replay. We then dive back in. "You can apply all sorts of filters here, and blur the image, add text overlays and play with visual effects..." And as he says, you can. VJ Theater allows you to spice up your replays to no end. Naturally you can fiddle with the camera angles, but you can also make all sorts of changes to the visual make-up of the replay sequences. Blurring is one option, splitting the screen into four, eight, and so on another, and you can toy with wrapping the image around a cube and bouncing it around the screen, or you can just obscure it altogether. When your directorial triumphs are completed, you can save them for posterity onto the PS2 memory card.
Although we can't comment on the gameplay to any great extent, having spent only a few hours toying with the Japanese version so far, Auto Modellista appears to be as well-rounded as it is visually spectacular, and in case you were wondering, the name is Italian. "It means car factory - we want players to build their own fun."