If you had told me a year ago that people would be excited about a game being published by Disney we would have called you crazy. Yet here we are anxiously awaiting the release of their off road racing game Pure. Chuck already posted some hands on impressions
on the game but here is more information straight from Black Rock Lead Environment Designer, Ian Hudson.
Can you introduce yourself and describe your role on the project? How long have you been in the gaming industry and what drew you to your current position?
My name is Ian Hudson and I was the Lead Environment Designer on PURE. I’ve been in the games industry for about 12 years now and have spent this time either designing or building game environments. I've been a huge off-road sports fan for years now, so having the chance to take a lead roll on a game like PURE was a great opportunity for me.
What was the pitch for Pure? There are plenty of off-road racing games in the market (MotorStorm, MX vs. ATV Unleashed), how is Pure different from the other games on the market?
The initial concept for PURE was to “Break out of the stadium and take on the wilderness.” We wanted to make a really accessible 16 player arcade racing game using ATV’s, but on a scale that no other off-road game had achieved before. We knew the game would be about getting massive air and pulling huge tricks which lead us to what we now call Trick Racing. To go along side this we wanted to take ATV customization to the next level. The pitch for PURE also included a feature called ‘Build Your Ride’. This was to be more than customization; it would be total vehicle creation.
One of the first things you notice about Pure is the stunning graphics, was that a focus going into the game? How has the genre evolved over the years?
Heightfield technology has been used for over 10 years now in various off-road games and was starting to look dated, especially now on the next-gen consoles. However, creating tracks with hightfield would give the designers incredible control over their track designs and allow them to constantly tweak the tracks until the team was completely happy. With this in mind, heightfield was something that we really wanted to stick with on PURE. Although the tech would give us far more flexibility than a typical polygon built track, this generally comes at the cost of the visuals as you may have seen in the past. The art and code team spent many months of R&D time looking at new ways to make heightfield worlds look as good as, or even better than polygon built tracks. Personally I think they surpassed anything we thought was possible at the time.
The game features a deep ATV customization engine, can you talk about all the different things you'll be able to play with in the game? Will players have to tweak their rides to finish the game or will the game handle some of that for them?
The Build Your Ride feature is as deep or as simplistic as you want it to be. This was one of the design briefs we had for it from the very start. It had to be deep enough to let the player build their ATV from the frame upwards, but at the same time it had to stay accessible to fit in with the arcade nature of the game. You can use the real world parts that get unlocked throughout the game to improve your ATV’s handling, speed, acceleration etc. Or you can hold down a single button and it will build an ATV for you using your parts. It just depends how dirty you want to get your hands really. Of course, the more time you spend tweaking your ride the better it will be.
Sixty thousand components and liveries goes a long way towards personalizing your quad bike. But what are some of the things you had to draw the line on?
There are a lot of parts you can change on your ATV but we drew the line when it came to fitting the smallest of engine parts really. You can swap out your engine for a higher engine class or change it from being a 2-stroke to a 4-stoke but we decided not to let you go in and start changing the value settings! We really wanted things that people would notice online. We didn’t see the point of claiming you could make over 60,000 combinations of ATV’s if people couldn’t see the different kinds of bikes people were making.
Will the game have a career mode in the game? Will this be similar to what we've seen from other games (working your way to the top through a string of races) or are you adding some new flavor to the mix?
PURE's main game mode is called The World Tour. This consists of 10 individual local tours that are set across the globe. Each tour is made up of a series of three kinds of events - Race, Sprint and Freestyle. The player can choose which events they enter as they try and gain enough points to move on to the next tour. This means they can play to their strengths. If they prefer trick racing they can enter all of the Races for example and skip out some of the Freestyle events. There is also a world rankings system with the overall goal to become ranked #1 in the world tour.
How did you come up with the trick system in the game? What's the percentage of tricks you could pull off in real life to tricks that only exist in the game?
After working on the ATV Fury franchise we really wanted to add more depth to our trick system. We felt that the trick system that we had inherited with Fury didn't challenge the player enough or reward them for learning all the tricks on offer. We wanted a system that was very simple to use (as tricks are integral to the game) but would offer immediate reward to more skilled players. What we come up with was a multi-tiered system where all players can easily perform the basic tricks that the characters can do. As they build up their "thrill bar" they can start pulling bigger tricks until they can start pulling the top level tricks. When the player fills their thrill bar they get to see their characters special tricks. It’s these special tricks that are unique to PURE. The other 80% of the tricks in the game are all current tricks that are being done on ATV's and MX bikes.Why did you tie the boosting in the game to the level of tricks you can do? How does that change the gameplay?
This is how we reward the player for pulling tricks in PURE. As soon as you pull a single trick you'll earn some boost. If you link tricks together you get even more. Then, as you work up to the bigger tricks you keep earning more and more boost. Using your boost however will drain your thrill bar and your tricks will start to be limited to the lower tier tricks again. Adding this feature really changed the way people were playing the game. We added in new routes that can only be accessed by boosting and jumping together. This means you'll get some people tricking and boosting as they go, while others save their boost to use the new shortcuts. This all works really well in a 16 player online race!
Can you talk about the track design in the game? What factors go into how you design the tracks and what separates a good track a great track? How many of these tracks are based on real-life locations?
One of the design briefs was to keep the player in the air for as long as possible so we had to factor this in when designing the tracks. We knew each track would have to have massive jumps to achieve this, so we had to come up with new ways to present them to the player each time. Every jump had to offer something new in both terms of gameplay and in visuals.
Each track we built had to undergo rigorous focus test sessions so that we could gauge people’s excitement. If there were problems with a track, or even with a single jump, it was changed and if necessary sections were completely redesigned. Then it would be retested once again. It’s this level of iteration and attention to detail that leads to having great tracks in your game. Oh.. and having good track designers of course!
We have seven locations around the world and each one has multiple tracks set within it. We have everything from real riding locations such as the deserts of Southern California, through to the lush jungles of Thailand. All the tracks started from reference images we found or from trips to real locations. We then mapped our own PURE style race tracks through realistic looking environments.
What different environments will players be racing through? How do the different environments impact the race?
The track surfaces change in each track and this effects how the ATV’s handle. Each track will have various surface types to help balance the split routes we have through each tracks. Some routes might be shorter than others but they might be churned up with deep mud. Other routes will have ice on them that will make your ATV slide out.
What was the approach to achievements/trophies? Do you have a personal favorite?
We wanted to award the player early on with lots of easy ones and then reward them at regular intervals throughout the game. We also have plenty of achievements to award both online and offline for non-essential objectives.
My personal favorite is the Triple Flip. You need to set your ATV up just right, find the biggest jump you can and boost like mad at it to get enough air.
Multiplayer is always crucial for racing games, what kind of modes can we expect to see in the final game? How many players will be able to race at one time? Sixteen racers online certainly makes for some rush hour traffic. If there are less than 16 players available online, are the remaining slots filled by bots?
Everything you can do offline, you can do online. There is even an extra Freeride mode online where you can just practice your favorite track with other riders or explore all the routes.
You're right though, 16 players online is crazy! Having all the split routes in the tracks and all the different surface types really comes together online. You'll always see people take new routes and jumping over your head. Its nuts. If there are any remaining slots in a race you have the option to fill these with AI riders so you can always have a full pack.
Wes Miller is serving as a consultant on the game, what kind of influence has he had on the game? Can you cite any specific changes that he suggested?
Having his experience was critical with the Build Your Ride feature. We wanted to make sure that all the parts in the garage did the right things and that the manufactures we featured were the ones that people would know and be using themselves on their own ATV's. The different level of upgrades that the performance parts can have is one of Wes's ideas.
It's the age of upload. What tools do you have in place to immortalize players and their races online and off?
Every track has its own leaderboard which tracks the players on and offline best lap times and we also have ranked leaderboards that tracks the players online race achievements.
Did we miss anything critical to the game?
PURE is coming out on 3 formats – Xbox 360, PS3 and PC. It will be in stores by the end of September.
We'd like to thank Ian for taking the time to answer our questions as well as to Steve C for helping to coordinate the interview.