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Steve Pritchard of Rage

Interview - producer Steve Pritchard talks about Rage's madcap driving game, Crash

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Image credit: Eurogamer

Our first glimpse of the elusive Xbox came at last year's ECTS, despite the total absence of Microsoft themselves from Europe's biggest computer games trade show. Instead it was at the stand of Liverpool-based publisher Rage Software where we got our grubby mits on the console's outsized controller for the very first time, as we took a look at mech actioneer Gunmetal and the appropriately named Crash. Five months later, with the Xbox finally on its way to Europe and Crash now due for a spring release, we caught up with producer Steve Pritchard to find out more...

Movie physics in action

Put The Freaks Up Front

Crash does exactly what it says on the box, putting you behind the wheels of a variety of big American-style muscle cars and hotrods and leaving you to indulge in some gloriously rendered automotive carnage. It's all very Destruction Derby, and Steve was quick to point out that this was one of the game's main inspirations. "At ECTS in September we showed the game to Martin Edmondson, the original designer behind Destruction Derby, and admitted that we had decided to produce an Xbox game that provided the same kind of fun and gameplay as the original title, but added additional elements to it. On top of that there was the opportunity to update the whole concept and make the most of the graphical power the Xbox allowed us to exploit. We wanted a game that was fast, fun and miles away from the number of serious driving 'simulations' that were certain to swamp any new platform within months of it showing up on the marketplace. We wanted a bright, colourful arcade game that would work really well in multiplayer. We think we've got that." From what we've seen of the game so far we're inclined to agree. Obviously this arcade-style gameplay has come at the expense of realism though, and Steve describes the result as 'movie physics'. "Collisions result in the kind of reactions you would expect to see, but then turned up a little. Explosions are larger than life fireballs that throw the cars into the air, huge impacts can send a car cartwheeling through 360 degrees only to have it land on its wheels again and drive off. No car in the real world has the acceleration we give these, nor could they take the hammering we dish out. But in our game world all of this makes for a much more fun and playable game. It is 'rigidly defined madness' at its best."

One giant leap - one of the challenge modes in full flight

Let's See Who Goes Down First

Crash also features a fairly straightforward damage model compared to the old Destruction Derby games. So although individual bits of your car can bend, break and fall off, the condition of your vehicle is essentially defined by a single overall damage rating. "No matter how well or how badly you are doing, it never stops being fun to play", Steve explained when we asked him about this. "Your car can have 50% of its bodywork torn away, have the engine on fire, but still be fun to drive. The only detriment to the handling of the vehicle comes if you lose a tyre, and then all you'll notice is the car pulling slightly to one side while throwing up a load of sparks and debris. No matter how battered you are at any given time, you're always in with a chance of nailing the opposition." It's not all about glorified dodgems though, as the game also features a dozen special challenges stages "which give you a different slant on the basic game" by setting you specific tasks to complete instead of simply letting you loose in a dust bowl to cause as much damage as possible to your fellow drivers. "Challenge modes include the Calcutta Car Park, where one of the tasks is to pit your light, fast car against one of the older Hot Rods in a one-on-one battle. You'll really need to work out how to get the best out of your car before you can complete this one, as the lighter cars can easily end up as nothing more than a hood ornament for the old American Iron if they aren't careful. Other challenges include Evil Kinevil-style Bus Jumping, straight up racing events on F1-like circuits, and ones that test your manoeuvrability as you push objects around. There's an awful lot to aim at in the challenge modes that you won't find elsewhere in the game." "At ECTS you saw probably four or so levels that were close to completion, and a fair selection of cars. What we have in the finished game are twelve levels, four of those being designed with the challenge games in mind, and an additional four levels built solely for multiplayer action. How close is it to completion? Well, we submitted it to Microsoft on 05/02/02, so you could say it's very close indeed."

0-60 in 12 months

Instant Street

And remarkably it's taken just a year for a team of eleven developers at Rage's Sheffield studio to put the whole thing together. "Not a large team really, but one that has a very varied collection of talents", according to Steve. It's also a tribute to the ease of developing games on the Xbox, and Rage seem happy with their experience so far. "We've found a few problems along the way, such as the quality of the RGB output on our development kits and the fact that the machine isn't as fast as Microsoft promised us it would be, but for the most part we're very happy with what we have to play with. The base development for PC and Xbox have some obvious parallels, not least the reliance on DirectX. What we have with the Xbox, however, is a fixed platform - we can develop code for the Xbox that exploits its unique architecture and makes the most of the features offered by its graphical and audio power." "The platform is as easy or hard to develop for as you want to make it. If you want to dig down deep into the architecture and access its hardware directly then you can - you choose how high or low a level you approach it from. With Crash we've learned a lot about how to get the best out of the box. One of the appeals of the Xbox is that we are here at the beginning; we have a lot of new ground to tread and a lot of exciting potential to exploit. Provided Microsoft do their part to make the Xbox a success, I feel sure that the development side of things will pretty much take care of the rest."

Eye candy - one of the Xbox's big strongpoints

The Ideal Crash?

Of course, that's the big question - can Microsoft make the Xbox a success? It's got off to a flying start in America, but with a higher price and more competition, Europe is going to be a tougher nut to crack. So how will the Xbox do over here? "The Xbox is already proving its worth to gamers", according to Steve. "The early titles look astounding and you just know that the second wave of games are going to be better than anything that has ever gone before. The console will sell on the strength of the games available for it and, provided these games are the ones that gamers want, Microsoft will do well. Of course the price may seem prohibitive, but the early adopters have already decided that they are buying it, and once people have seen the Xbox up close and played on it, the demand will grow. Microsoft made the bold move of letting people play the games in advance with their road shows. They knew that gamers would be hooked on their console once they saw what it could do. And they've made the right move." The impressive European launch line-up for the Xbox means tough competition for Crash regardless of whether the console takes off over here, but Steve is confident that Rage's Xbox debut will hit the mark. "Crash offers features that we know will appeal to the initial Xbox buyer - it's damned pretty to look at, it's fun and arcadey, and has a great deal of variety in its gameplay. However, the one thing that really stands out in the game is how easy it is to pick up and play. Within a few minutes of dropping the game into the disc tray you understand what it is you have to do to play the game and do well at it. This means the multiplayer games are instantly accessible to you, your mates and your family, without you all needing hours of practise to make the game competitive. The multiplayer side of Crash is where the game really excels; what could be more fun than nitro boosting a ton and a half of brightly painted metal into the side door of your mate's car and watching it bounce off the walls before exploding into a hundred pieces? Perfect."


With Crash already on its way to Microsoft for approval as we type, and the game expected to appear on shelves within a month of the console's arrival in Europe, we should know soon whether it's as fun as it looks. In the meantime Rage are already hard at work on a PS2 version of the game, due out in the autumn. "We are also evaluating other platforms, but nothing has yet been formally decided. If Crash is a success, then the demand for other versions will doubtless come." And what's next for Rage Sheffield? "The popularity of Crash will doubtless determine part of that decision, although the team are looking to broaden their experience. Whatever our next product is, it's likely to be something aimed at both PS2 and Xbox again. We have the experience, we have the knowledge and we want to make the most of it to bring the best games we can to the market."


Crash preview

Crash screenshots

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