Grid Arcade is not just some arcade mode of a game called Race Driver: Grid. Not quite, anyway. The kind you get as an on-disc alternative to career mode is typically about simplification, but this, a dedicated Sega cabinet built to command raucous environments, is about amplification. Codemasters’ love of attention-grabbing, time-consuming frontends has been tamed, and it takes just a few twirls of the wheel (to browse) and taps on the pedal (to select) to get a multiplayer game under way.
In many ways, this feels like the game Grid secretly wanted to be: loud, violent and relentless. Flashbacks are out, obviously, replaced by a ‘Recovery’ button to reset instantly to track. Thanks to some aggressive AI and the suicidal antics of players in adjacent cabinets, you’ll be pressing it a lot. As one of few arcade machines to boast this level of physics simulation, based on hardware in line with a mid-range PC, its races are the kind you see in attract videos but seldom beyond, full of unexpected air time and tumbling bodywork.
It won’t appeal to everyone. For a Sega-manufactured unit it sticks doggedly to Grid’s more cinematic looks, from the heavy postprocessing to the inherent softness of its DX9 visuals; Daytona it is not. Splitting the tracks between territories might seem an odd limitation, too, though Codemasters insists it’s an attention issue, and that too much choice is unfavourable in a coin-op racer. Still, operators can switch between track sets if necessary, the options including Long Beach, Milan, Nurburgring and San Francisco. With a 32-inch HD display, the cabinet can join five others for local sixplayer races.
We talk to Peter Harrison (producer, Codemasters) and Patrick Michael (head of R&D, Sega Amusements Europe) about the game’s development, and the wider arcade scene as we move into 2011.
How important was it to mechanically differentiate Grid from the home versions? The AI feels more aggressive.
Peter Harrison: As far as the hardware goes, obviously there were challenges there, and in terms of the game dynamics, we’re looking at a much broader range of potential players than maybe our console game would touch. So you’re right in saying we had to make changes, some fundamental game design changes. Obviously we took out the Flashback system and put in the reset instead. Flashback acts as a counterpoint to the track and car balance in Grid – so if you play the console game, you’ll notice there are lots of hazards at the side of the track. Or, on some of the race tracks, you’ve got things such as gravel and grass that are quite low grip. So there’s a risk/reward thing going on there, but with the Flashback system you can just rewind and try again.
But it does interrupt the race flow a bit, and it certainly doesn’t work with multiplayer. So fairly early on, even before we started prototyping, we decided we weren’t going to go with that. So we had to make the cars a little less likely to spin when you do something wrong. And we had to take out some of the hazards that kind of protrude into the track. And we had to add a reset [to track] button. But what that gave us was a game where you don’t have this long learning curve where you’re learning to drive well and how to get round the track without incident. You can quickly get in and focus on beating your friends, setting lap records and beating the AI. That was probably the key process for us: getting from people who are putting down £30-40 on a product, to people putting a pound in a machine and expecting an experience that makes them feel good.
Sega Amusements Europe head of R&D, Patrick Michael (above, left) and Codemasters producer, Peter Harrison
Were things like stat-tracking and persistent saves ever considered?
Patrick Michael: It’s something that I’d love to do. I would certainly like to see Europe become more interested in networked games. Obviously, networked titles are more popular in Japan. It’s been very difficult to bring that to the European market, and there are lots of reasons for that. There are recurring costs for the operator, whether it’s for broadband or some subscription service. What usually happens is that any kind of save is IC Card-based, or PIN-based using a keypad. I’d really love to see online, I’d love to see leaderboards linked across platforms, and I’d love to see games played across platforms as well. It’s a difficult subject to bring up with operators.
And presumably DLC is completely off the table?
PM: Well, that’s the biggest problem: when we physically sell a machine we have no idea where it’s gone or where it’s going to go. In five years’ time it may be in Istanbul or an arcade in Delhi – we have no idea. If we were to offer a software upgrade, would the operator even realise it’s there? Would they have the ability to download it or burn it? So we don’t have the beauty of patching software after we ship; it really has to be right first time.
PH: Since we released Grid on the home platforms, we’ve obviously done Dirt 2 and we’re working on Dirt 3, and our designers are really piling in the online features. If we had the opportunity to even add in leaderboards to arcade titles, we’d have loads of ideas. It’s just a case of waiting for the infrastructure to catch up.