Codemasters on PS4 development and the future of the racing genre

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PS4 is easier to work with compared to its predecessor and its extra power could mark a step change in racing game development, says Codemasters senior executive producer Clive Moody.

We caught up with the studio veteran – whose lengthy resume includes the Toca and Colin McRae franchises – to quiz him on what the next-gen means for his next project, Grid 2, and the racing genre as a whole.

How big a visual leap do you think PS4 will bring?

Well I think you need to look at some of the work going on in PC at the moment. PC is always an area we’ll continue to work in. When we’re looking at 1080, 60 frames per second – that, for me, when taking advantage of PS4 and whatever Microsoft hopefully announce shortly, should be part of the picture. But for us it’s the gameplay, that’s where we’re wanting to focus and push hard, see how we can harness that extra grunt of the new hardware to spruce up the genre. It’s not exclusive to racing games – very often it takes a shift in hardware to cause new innovation to take place. You’ll see it more and more as people get at home with the new hardware across every genre.

How does PS4 compare to PS3 as a development platform?

The general consensus amongst our guys is the architecture is a little easier to get our heads around. It’s no secret that PS3 was tough, very, very, bespoke architecture. It was something that took us and a lot of developers a lot of time really to just understand how to squeeze the best out of it. I think from the off with PS4 architecture it’s going to be easier to get results. The last thing we want as developers is stuff in the way of producing and creating experiences so that’s a massive plus.

How will advances in controller tech change the way you develop next-gen games?

I’m actually a really big fan of the pad, to be honest. The whole motion thing… It’s a really hard one for racing games to make work. If you think about driving a car, you always have something physical in your hand, direct feedback. You’ve got to have some feedback, vibration in your hand, something tangible to give you feedback. It’s difficult to do that with a camera-type accessory because you don’t necessarily have that direct feedback. You have to think of other ways to incorporate it, that’s something we’re looking very hard at, at the moment, certainly in terms of any next gen plans: how do we leverage that while developing the core experience?

Were you ever tempted to wait for the next-gen with Grid 2 as development stretched?

We were always going for this gen, working alongside and around the technology of this gen to deliver the best possible game. I always turn around at the end of a project and say you know what, we milked that hardware dry, there’s nothing else we could do with it. But then you bring in the tech guys, throwing ideas around for the next project, and you find there’s a whole host of things out there and coming out that we could have done or aim for. We found that in the early days of Grid – it’s a no brainer for me to conceive and design a game around the hardware of the day.

With PS4 (hopefully) here by the end of the year, is Racenet, your Autolog-style service, future-proof?

Absolutely. It’s something we’ll be talking about a lot further down the line. Racenet is platform-agnostic, it doesn’t care what hardware the game is running on – PC, console, mobile – it’s a service that’s future-proofed to provide that level of connectivity that means when you’re away from the console you’ll still be a part of the universe of the game. It’s still in Beta at the moment, the idea is we come out of Beta towards the launch of Grid 2.

It sounds like it ties very much into Sony’s PS4 message with a focus on connectivity…

I think connectivity is definitely part of the future of racing games. Social and connected is a very big push and something a lot of developers have realised over the past few years. People want to share the experiences of their games. We innovated in Dirt 3 in this area and while it’s going to continue, we still have to push to develop the core game for consumers. For a lot of people it’s still going to be about the solo experience, the singleplayer, and they’re not necessarily interested in sharing with their mates – it’s personal to them – and they want to keep it that way.

Seeing Sony close one of its own racing studios – Studio Liverpool – recently, does that worry you for the future of the genre?

No I don’t think so. There’s always going to be a place for racing titles. Maybe they’re not as big as first-person shooters are at the moment, but they’ve always got something to offer. There are a few around right now offering amazing experiences. I take the view that closures are a loss, obviously, but there is some benefit – there are now people out there with great experience of racing games. I’d be lying if I said we haven’t taken advantage of that and got some great people onboard here.

With the demise of Studio Liverpool and no new Wipeout confirmed to be on the way, have you ever been tempted to move into more futuristic or weapon-based racers?

It’s an idea which probably pops up about every six months. But usually it doesn’t go anywhere and the reason is a lot of what we do is based around reality. It’s something people understand and buy into. A game which introduces guns or crazy modified cars is a much, much harder message to get gamers to understand and buy into. I would never say never.