Metropolis Street Racer began in 1997, with a plop. Or maybe a ‘yoink’, or whatever’s the most suitable sound effect for a PlayStation power lead being pulled from the back of the console. “Kats [Sato, Sega’s producer on MSR] was given the task of finding out who was developing Formula 1 for Sony. So, at the ECTS, he pulled out the power cable so he could see the start-up credits,” explains Martyn Chudley, former managing director of the now defunct Bizarre Creations. And, from a plop or a yoink, it’s on to a martial arts luminary bringing his hand down onto a large plank of wood: “After finding out that Bizarre was responsible, a meeting was arranged with Kazutoshi Miyake, the then head of Sega Europe. His reputation preceded him – a keen karate star from Japan, and very scary. We walked into the meeting to face a large, stern man who put both hands on the table and bellowed: ‘With Formula 1, you have done great harm to Sega!’ Our initial reaction was to hide under the table but, after the shock, we realised he was joking, and they wanted us to work for them too.”
With two F1 titles for PS1 in the bag at that point in 1997, and more looming in the future, Formula 1 began feeling somewhat, well, formulaic. “When we found out that Psygnosis had us pencilled in for five years’ worth of F1 games, we decided that Sega could give us the opportunity to branch out. There was only so far we could take copying the kind of reality required for F1. Oh, and Dreamcast, or Katana/Ninja as it was at the time, looked great!” says Chudley. The initial schedule saw development kicking off in September 1997, with the target of producing the master disc at the end of August 1998, ready for Dreamcast launch in Japan. A gestation period of just one year, as anyone who’s played MSR knows, was wildly optimistic plan, but typical of the reach of its top- drawer ambitions. “It was always going to be a street racer, but nothing else was decided in the early stages. Initially, Sega had the idea to get the licence to make it a Ferrari-exclusive title, which spawned its first codename, Crimson. But that didn’t materialise, and so we headed down the route of producing a Mini game, kinda like The Italian Job but set in various cities. But that didn’t seem to have broad enough appeal for the global audience. So multiple, and affordable, sports cars it was.”
Starting out as Sega Street Racer, the name was changed to Metropolis, on account of its cities, with its full and final moniker resulting from Sega’s need for the title to be more explicit about the game’s nature. With its garage of real cars becoming a reality, how did the game’s three real-world cities come about? Why choose more reality, after moving away from F1’s bookish accuracy? “We started out trying to create fake cities, but they simply looked completely fake. And joining real landmarks with fake buildings looked just as crap – why should we think we could model stuff in days that architects took years to design? So our only course of action was to create real, accurate cities, especially as this played on our heritage of creating real F1 circuits. After trying a very early internal tech demo (with audio accompaniment of the The Worm That Turned music) of Trafalgar Square – and that made it into the final game – we decided to go for it. London and Tokyo were obvious, given the locations of Sega and Bizarre, while San Francisco was decided upon when a friend of ours was sent there with work, and his wife, who loves photography, was looking for something to do while they were out there.
“Our first real research trip was to Japan, plodding round the streets with Kats. We got to meet Sega’s president and see the impressive HQ, and AM groups.” And time for another sound effect, a distant but worrying splat: “On the way back to the hotel room one day, we dropped one of our precious rolls of research photo film between the doors of the lift and it fell 30 stories – we managed to get a janitor to find it for us, but it was bent beyond recognition.”
And then, with the game’s first showing at E3 in 1999, it was time for a big gulp, as far more than a reel of research snaps was put out of joint: “The game started out being coded by a huge Sega fan who definitely favoured the Sega Rally school of handling, and although that can be fun, when it was coupled with a fisheye viewpoint it made the game less realistic than we wanted. The design at this point was quite basic – it was a checkpoint street- racing game more along the lines of Crazy Taxi or Harley-Davidson. At one point we even had some crates to knock around the city, inspired by the traditional car- chase moments from American cop shows.
“Development moved slowly, and the initial schedule was out of the window. 1999 rolled around, and we needed to put together a demo for E3, our first real outing. Just before the event, with the demo finished, the lead coder decided to leave. The demo got slated, with the camera and handling coming in for harsh criticism all round. And the inclusion of fireworks, fighter jets flying low overhead and a whole squadron of balloons taking off didn’t exactly go down too well either – not exactly realistic.”
So, no lead coder, now financially in the red, a poor demo reception under its belt and scant time until intended completion, Bizarre had seemingly got a problem. “All that was coupled with one of our senior artists deciding to move back home, away from Liverpool. Thankfully, Sega had faith in us and decided that the quality of the game was more important than the US/UK Dreamcast launch date, especially as they had other impressive titles ready. And we had some money put by from Formula 1 to keep the company afloat whilst we tried to finish MSR…”