Project Cars 2 Interview
Developer Slightly Mad Studios released a sequel last week to their hit car simulation title, Project Cars.
With a plethora of track combinations to choose from, countless customisation options and tunings for the cars and a wealth of content, it seems like the developer has kept what made the game great and expanding on that and taking note from the rough edges of the game and changing it up to develop an almost-perfect simulation title and definitely a competitor to the Forza series.
Luckily, we had the opportunity to ask some burning questions about Project Cars 2, which you can check out below.
XBOUK: How long has Project Cars 2 been in development for?
SMS: With the release of the original Project CARS, Slightly Mad Studios devoted a small unit within the company to prototype the sequel while the bulk of the team continued supporting the first game. So the start of development was with this small unit of “creatives” working on the concept and the prototype around mid-2015. It would be about a year later when the bulk of the team made the transition from supporting the original game to working on the sequel.
XBOUK: What have you learnt from the first game that was valuable in developing the sequel?
SMS: Good things, mostly, but also some spot-on criticism which helped us focus and build a far better sequel. The good was that Project CARS demonstrated that there will always be a place for an authentic racing game. In 2015, the racing genre horizon was bleak, and Project CARS broke a lot of new ground, and breathed life into a genre that had become a little stale; fans responded, and that was valuable for us as a studio in many ways.
The criticism also helped us enormously. Two criticisms, in particular, became a focus for development of Project CARS 2. The first was the out-of-the-box experience on all peripherals. Our thought—which proved wrong-headed—was to offer loads of options for the players to tinker with, in order for players to find their own, individual settings for the first game. What we learnt was, the vast majority of players want an out-of-the-box experience that is ready to go, and don’t want to be bothered with loads of settings and options to individualise their game.
So for Project CARS 2, we devoted a significant chunk of the development time to honing how the cars feel out-of-the-box, while also streamlining the options so that players retain the ability to deep-dive and customize, if that’s what they want, in a way that is intuitive—or just plug the game in and get stuck in.
We’ve been thrilled to read we hit this out of the park for Project CARS 2 based on both the press previews and the feedback of players who have turned up at the various shows like E3 and gamescom, where we won the Best Simulator Game award. That’s a big reward for all the work that went into Project CARS 2 because ultimately you can create a great simulator but if the player is left cold by the immersive experience, you’ve created a great science experiment, but not a great game.
The second criticism was our over-the-limit feel in the original game. This is a tough thing to get right; a lot of racing games fudge this, but for us, authenticity is a key part of the franchise, and understanding what happens when tyres go over the limit, that’s going into the unknown in a lot of ways.
Instrumental in improving this—and again, the press and players who have tested the new game have attested to the vast improvement in this area—was our new partnership with Pirelli tyres, and us hiring guys like Ben (the ex-Stig) Collins, and drifting star Vaughn Gittin Jr. Vaughn has spent his professional life taking cars over the limit, and he has been a very useful tester for us in this department. Getting a car over the limit is not for everyone; in the real-world, getting there usually means the next thing that happens is an off or worse, so drivers—and tyre companies—don’t have huge reams of data to aid in understanding what happens out there in those moments, so having guys on the development team who do this crazy stuff day-in-day-out is enormously helpful.
Boiling your question down, it’s all about listening to fans. We went into Project CARS with a singular vision that was expanded by our own WMD community. That community got a lot larger with the success of Project CARS, so development of Project CARS 2 was both about bringing our own vision for what we wanted with a sequel, and listening to what fans felt needed improving. This latter point helped enormously with the “tightening” of the overall game.
XBOUK: Are there any features you really wanted to include in Project cars 2 but didn’t implement for any reason?
SMS: Yes of course. If, as a developer, you get to the end of the development of a game and you’ve got everything that you planned into a game on-time and on-budget, then your initial plans were probably not ambitious enough. So either something is in the game because it’s been thoroughly tested, or is stays out of the first-day release.
XBOUK: Project Cars was developed with a steering wheel in mind, making it more of a steep learning curve for controller users. Have you made any changes to the way the handling and controls work on a controller for Project cars 2?
SMS: The development of Project CARS wasn’t really built around just one peripheral. The refinement and overhaul of the gamepad experience for Project CARS 2 was centred on a simple pretext: how to make someone use a gamepad as fast as someone using a wheel-and-pedal set. And the answer came from understanding the challenges in-built within the sensitivity of the gamepad itself.
In real terms, this meant we looked at how much steering input a car could theoretically use at a given speed using the gamepad, and we then mapped our gamepads to try follow that curve. You have such a small input range with a gamepad, and that makes it very difficult to make very small adjustments at high speed. Reducing the max’ steering range at higher speeds gives you more modulation control over the usable range of steering, and figuring out how to map the gamepad close to what the car could theoretically use helped with that.
Then we took a deep look at the sensitivity. When we reviewed how it was adjusting with respect to speed—the maximum steering input—we saw that it was okay at very low speeds, it was okay at very high speeds, but in the middle it was giving you way too much sensitivity in the steering on the gamepad. In the end, the solution was actually quite simple to implement—we just had to look at the problem a different way, and come up with a different theoretical curve to follow.
The final result is one that, as I mentioned earlier, has impressed both the press and the fans in our pre-release builds. Part of getting it not-up-to-par for the first game was that we devoted so much time and energy to getting it right for Project CARS 2, we ended up with something really fantastic.
XBOUK: How easy or difficult was it to acquire the licenses for the new cars, and what was the process that you had to go through to gain them?
SMS: One of the most asked-for improvements for Project CARS 2 from our fans was to increase the brands in-game. And when we looked at what they wanted, it was clear Ferrari, Porsche, and Lamborghini were top of their list. So early-on we made the decision that Project CARS 2 wouldn’t be released without these three key automotive brands in-game.
What made it “easy” for us was that we, as a studio, are a known-quantity in motorsport and the automotive sector. Our authenticity matters to these brands, because they want their cars in-game to represent their brands accurately. A brand like Ferrari, or Porsche, with their motorsport legacy and history and pedigree, understanding that, and being able to assure them that the cars we bring into the game will accurately and faithfully echo the real-world cars that have brought these automakers so much fame, that makes things a lot easier.
A studio like Slightly Mad Studios has been in the motorsport world for a long time; there are drivers in their motorhomes preparing for races using our games at any major motorsport event around the world every weekend, so when we initially approach these brands, they already have an awareness of our products, and how we do business.
In terms of difficulty, yes, the contact signing is always a long process—it can take anywhere up to a year from the initial contact to finally signing on the dotted line, and in-between there’s a lot of back-and-forth as we learn what these brands expect and require from us.
Every brand is unique, and the way an Italian brand will negotiate and how a German or Japanese brand will do so, differs; understanding that is a key part of the challenge. But it’s also fascinating when you realise that these brands have competition in their very DNA. That’s both the challenge but also what makes it so fulfilling, and as motorsport fans, one of the best things about this job is getting the license for an elite brand and sitting down and beginning the process of deciding which of their cars will come in-game. We’re like kids in a toy-store at that point!
XBOUK: Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions, but a final one before we go – Do you have any plans for additional content for Project Cars 2?
SMS: We’ve already announced two DLC packs that come with pre-orders—the Motorsport Pack and the Japanese featuring the Honda Euro Spec Civic Type-R, Honda Project 2&4, Nissan Skyline GT-R (R32) Group A, and the Nissan 280ZX IMSA GTX. The Motorsport Pack features the Jaguar E-Type V12, Group 44, Panoz Esperante GTR-1, Audi V8 DTM, and Opel Astra TCR.
We have more additional content coming, and you can expect some really fantastic cars and tracks and even a surprise or two as well.
Project Cars 2 is available now from all good retailers, and can be purchased and downloaded from the Xbox Store. Please check out our review to see what we thought of it!
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