Three Fields Entertainment, the studio founded by the creators of Burnout, is making a Crash Mode spiritual successor called Danger Zone - and it's out in May priced £9.99.
Danger Zone, due out on PC and PlayStation 4, is from Criterion founders Fiona Sperry and Alex Ward, who left the EA-owned studio back in 2014 to go it alone.
Since then they've released Dangerous Golf and HTC Vive and PlayStation VR title Lethal VR. But throughout it all, Burnout fans have called on Three Fields to make a racing game. Danger Zone isn't a fully-fledged racing game, but it does rekindle memories of the much-loved Burnout and its fantastic 3D car crash puzzle mini-game.
Danger Zone works much like Crash Mode did. There are 20 junctions in Danger Zone, called "crash testing scenarios". You drive into a junction and try to create the biggest first impact that causes enough vehicles to crash to earn a "SmashBreaker". This turns your car into a bomb that explodes on command. You score points for how many cars you crash. If your car falls off the road, it's game over.
So far so very Crash Mode, but Danger Zone features real physics, so car crashing looks a lot more realistic than it did back on the PS2.
"If you're talking about the Burnout 3: Takedown incarnation, you would crash cars on a part of a racetrack that wasn't really built for it," Alex Ward told Eurogamer in a phone interview.
"If the frame-rate ever dropped, we'd have to stop it. So it had a timer on it. Sometimes the crash was just getting going and it had to cut. We were just out of budget.
"The PS2 was a wonder machine of its time to a lot of people, but it was incredibly limited for some of the stuff we were trying to do with it. We were pretty good at it I think back then. But this game is more about seeing what can be done with today's hardware."
Unlike Burnout's Crash mode, Danger Zone has bespoke junctions. Burnout's Crash Mode was set in junctions lifted from the main game's tracks. In each junction there are three bronze, two silver and a gold medal to pick up. You have to get all the bronze and silver medals for the gold to appear. If you grab all the pickups, you get a "smash and grab" bonus. If you grab the pickups in order, so bronze, bronze, bronze, silver, silver and gold, then you get a "grand slam" bonus, which is a significant points bonus.
"It's not the same game as it was," Ward insisted. "So if you think, oh we've just knocked out what we did a long time ago, we haven't."
Elsewhere, there are connected leaderboards, so you can see high scores per junction. But there's no multiplayer. "It's something we'd love to do," Ward said. "We reckon we can pull it off. There's never been a true online multiplayer simultaneous crash experience.
"We're going to put this game out and see if there's an audience for it. If there is, the proceeds of that will fund us to be able to do a sequel and do multiplayer in it. But we think it will take a good couple of months to do. Again, we're a really small studio. There's six of us. Two platforms is the most we can handle right now. We'd love to do multiplayer if there's an audience out there."
Speaking of platforms, Danger Zone is pegged for PC and PlayStation 4 - there is no Xbox One or Nintendo Switch version in the works.
Ward said the size of the team limits the number of platforms Three Fields is able to handle. For small developers, it can be difficult to launch on multiple platforms because companies such as Microsoft and Sony have different rules and processes for getting a game cleared for launch.
"There are six of us. We can only do so much," Ward said. "Getting through submission and stuff - there are other teams out there who have recently shipped games, and they only do the PC version and they outsource the console versions. That's not us. That's not the way we would do it. So, we can get it going on PS4 very quickly after we built a lot of it on PC, but we just don't have the resource to do simultaneous... to do three all at once, we did it last year and it's incredibly challenging. That's why."
Danger Zone is a critical title for Three Fields, which relies on game sales to keep the lights on. It's fair to say Dangerous Golf and Lethal VR failed to set tills on fire, so the studio's future is dependent on Danger Zone being a relative success.
"Everything" is riding on this, Ward said. "We got together and pooled our life savings. We've put everything we have into starting a business out of pure passion and determination to succeed. We have no backing. There's no publishers bankrolling us or anything like that. We'd love it if there were. They're free to come and do so! We're just a small group of people just making games and putting them out and trying to do the best we can. Hopefully the game can find an audience."
Three Fields began working on Danger Zone in December 2016, just after it finished Lethal VR, which means its development is a quick turnaround of just four months. This is how the studio must work - from game to game, money coming in based on sales of each to fund continued development of a new title. To this end, Ward said he expects the studio to release three of four games this year.
"Three-to-four month development period is tops for us, in terms of what we can afford to do," he said. "We're self-funded. We used our own money to start the company. We're totally dependent on sales from the games we put out.
"We started [Danger Zone] the week before Christmas - about the 13th or 14th December. We got some pretty good crashing happening very quickly. Since then we've been building levels, tweaking the gameplay and building what we can."
Three Fields is using Unreal Engine 4 to build Danger Zone, which means the developers can iterate much quicker than Criterion was able to on PS2 back in the 2000s.
"Unreal is incredibly powerful," Ward said. "Tuning the game right now, I can play a game and in the middle of the crash I can stop and move the pickups around, or change what traffic vehicle I want to appear in front of me, press play and do it again.
"Back in the day, that would have taken 18 minutes. To move something half an inch and then look at it again on-screen, at least between 18 and 26 minutes. And back then we were one of the fastest teams in the world. Our pipeline was incredibly fast! Other teams would be 24 hours before you could do that."
Of course, Burnout fans will wonder whether Three Fields plans on making a fully-fledged racing game. With EA seemingly uninterested in returning to the Burnout series, the hope for a spiritual successor remains.
Alas, Three Fields is not currently working on a racing game, Ward confirmed. It's not something Three Fields is currently in a position to make.
"No we're not," he said. "We started that a year ago. We did a couple of weeks. Obviously a fully-fledged racing game requires a lot more artwork, and that costs money. Making a big game, making an open-world game, it costs money and it's money we don't have. We'd need backing on that.
"Support for funded projects is incredibly tough and challenging right now. We can't rely on writing ideas for games and thinking somebody's going to come along and give us lots of money to make it. In that time, we could have just put the thing out.
"This could have been a way bigger game if we'd had funding, and we could have easily done another six months on it. But it's us doing it off our own back. We can afford to do about three or four months and a game of this scope."
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