Slightly Mad Studios’ MMO arcade racer World Of Speed is free, but don’t call it free-to-play

World Of Speed

Publisher: Developer: Slightly Mad Studios Format: PC Origin: UK Release: 2014

Most studios toiling away on an ambitious, high-profile racer might think twice about starting another. Not UK racing specialist Slightly Mad, which has spent the past year working on an MMO racer called World Of Speed alongside its partially crowdfunded Project Cars.

“Developmentally, they’re two completely separate games,” lead producer Pete Morrish tells us. “The things that are shared are mainly on the human level, things like the experience and know-how and just the way that we approach stuff. It’s two completely separate teams, although leads are shared across both projects, because we’ve been around long enough to be able to split our time equally effectively across two things.”

The two games share an engine, too. Slightly Mad’s scalable Madness tech powered Shift 2 Unleashed, and its modular nature has allowed the studio to bolt on MMOG aspects while discarding some of the more sim-oriented physics needed for Project Cars. It all makes sense from a development point of view, but investors waiting to see a return on Project Cars might be concerned about where their money is going.

“We’re ahead of where we expected to be on pCARS,” studio head Ian Bell assured backers on the forums at World Of Mass Development, its crowd-development platform. “Let me put it clearly: pCARS would not be where it is now without WOS.”

Grip isn’t hard to come by in World Of Speed, but cars have a satisfying weight to them. In motion, things are more hectic than the serenity of this screenshot suggests as cars clash and send trackside furniture flying about the place.

In other posts, Bell reveals that the additional funding World Of Speed has attracted has allowed the studio to grow its headcount to 110, and that Project Cars will benefit from “a lot of vehicles and licences it would otherwise not have gotten”. The studio is keen to stress, at least in the relative privacy of a closed forum, that Project Cars will not suffer from the simultaneous development of World Of Speed.

And it shouldn’t pose direct competition, either. “There’s a niche for a Burnout-style, arcadey, earning points, twatting-into-other-cars kind of experience [on PC],” creative director Andy Tudor says. “Console gamers have had that forever. They’ve had Split Second, they’ve had Blur, all that kind of stuff.” That’s not to say World Of Speed won’t find its way to consoles eventually, but for now it’s a PC game with the immediacy of console production values.

It’s certainly bold. World Of Speed’s focus is on team play, with Slightly Mad aiming to ditch the focus on podium places and ensure every player’s contribution is meaningful. Of course, you’ll earn XP for coming first, but you’ll grab some for a last-place finish. And there are other objectives: trading paint with every car in a race, or drifting around every corner.

World Of Speed’s garage of cars includes the usual suspects, but the range of roles available – blocking, drifting, even stunt work – should encourage drivers to construct a fleet of more than simply their favourites.

“Other games say they have team-based racing. They don’t. There may be objectives, but everyone’s out for themselves,” Tudor explains. “For our Need For Speed: Shift team racing DLC, we didn’t provide the right toolset or communicate to players that it’s not all about you. It’s about you working alongside everyone else.

“The online competitive arena is quite scary. If I go into a race and there’s a guy who shoots off into first place, I just think, ‘Why am bothering?’ You give up, and that happens in every genre. When you take away that pressure of vying for first place, and you say, ‘You’re part of a team now’, [then] one of your guys can be amazing and you provide support for them in a certain role – either by doing something completely different to him, like drifting around all the corners, or by blocking people from potentially trying to overtake him – [and] it feels awesome.”

Slightly Mad hopes to further foster this team spirit with clubhouses – 3D spaces in which to socialise with other drivers. Each track has one and ownership will go to the victors of regularly staged Territory Wars events. Once owned, your team’s logo will be plastered over the track and you’ll have access to club-exclusive events and benefit from, among other things, XP bonuses. Slightly Mad is still working out the details, but promises to reveal more specifics this year.

The team spent weeks living in the cities featured in the game, which so far include London and Moscow. Slightly Mad will continue adding cites to ensure the game has a truly international appeal.

Tracks include Project Gotham-style urban runs as well as real-world racing circuits. At this stage, the handling model is weighty, but forgiving, at least with a driving wheel; over-enthusiastic steering centring made it hard to judge how the game feels with a pad. Even so, the hectic, camaraderie-infused racing proves enjoyable, and with bragging rights at stake, events are likely to be fiercely contested.

They should be well subscribed, too, since World Of Speed will be free – just don’t call it free-to-play. “It’s not free-to-play, it’s free,” says an agitated Tudor. “It’s very obvious when you start putting walls into your game that require people to pay money to get over. I don’t know why games do it; we’re certainly not going to do that, ever. It’s also annoying when another player gets an advantage because they’ve put money into the game. We will never have a super-nitrous pack that will allow somebody to accelerate away from you. We expect you to get to the upper echelons of the game, with the best kit and best cars, and not have spent a single penny.”