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The Old, The New & The Esports Of MotoGP 17

A transitional year.

If there’s one word to describe MotoGP 17, it’s ‘transition’. This is a game that will, in a lot of ways, live in a kind of no man’s land between the old and the new, as Milestone try to modernise their approach to racing games. On the one hand, some aspects of this game could be seen as a disappointment, but on the other there’s the prospect of seeing what’s around the corner and how this game can act as a bridge to that.

So no, despite Milestone’s freshly inked partnership with Epic and Unreal Engine 4, with both MXGP3 and Gravel set to use this new engine, MotoGP 17 is still trapped on Milestone’s long in the tooth in-house game engine. It’s been a source of criticism for the past few years across all of their games, but Milestone are getting the absolute best out of it this time around. Chief among these is a shift from 30fps to 60fps for the first time, doing so without the game’s visual fidelity dropping much, if at all.

“This is the transition year, basically,” Andrea Loiudice, Marketing Manager said, “and we’re between using the old engine and the new engine. The reason why we’re not using Unreal for this one is basically the bikes and waiting for the first official race, which in this year was a little later than usual in March. They don’t show the bikes earlier, so we need to get everything into the game, test everything, and that lasts us a few weeks, but we couldn’t really risk anything about that because the timetable is very short and we need to release in June. […]

“The other reason is this engine was created for MotoGP by Milestone, so we know it’s completely not up to date in terms of graphics, but this is still the best version of the game we could do this year. Achieving 60 frames per second is such a big difference for us, particularly with esports coming. Next year we will be all Unreal, but we have more time to know Unreal and to see that it works.”

Luca Cafasso, Game Designer added, “This allowed us to go deeper in the game that we wouldn’t have been able to do in Unreal. We’d have to rewrite from scratch stuff like the camera system and other things that we’ve mastered in our own engine. To make a change, we know how to make a change, but in Unreal we’d be wondering how to get back to where we were.”

Whatever the underlying game engine, MotoGP 17 still makes for a compelling racing experience, albeit one that’s very closely tied to those that have gone before. While the popular saying “it’s like learning to ride a bike” implies a simplicity to the act, that’s never been the case for me with MotoGP as I’ve always been much more accustomed to racing with four wheels. You have a very different philosophy to cornering that makes the game’s racing line deceptive in how hard it implies you need to be braking. As soon as you learn how much speed you can carry through a corner, the game becomes much easier.

Helping you get there, an even lower category of racing has been added below MotoGP, Moto2 and Moto3. Red Bull Rookies is a great starting point, putting you on a relatively fast but easy to handle bike that sounds like it has a lot in common with the mopeds that teenagers love to race around suburban streets on. The step up to the hugely powerful and difficult to control MotoGP bikes is vast.

However, you won’t necessarily be alone in your fight for the win. The new Management Mode is an additional career mode to try out that will let you run a team as well as race out on track. Just like a real team, you can spread across the categories, fielding two riders in each, yourself included – alas you can’t hire real world riders, so there’s no sticking Valentino Rossi on your bikes.

“Unfortunately you can’t,” Andrea said, “and it’s a problem with licenses, as they are dressed from head to toe in licenses. Valentino is a Monster driver, so if your team has Red Bull, someone comes and kills me! We had thought for many years to have a managerial game, […] and I think it’s something we could find a solution for if we were moving to a full managerial game, but it’s something complicated in terms of licenses for Dorna.”

Luca added that, “To comfort your desire to put Valentino behind, you have two drivers at the same time in MotoGP, so you can make him lose the championship!”

Andrea said, “We created this wide world of riders who you can actually follow year after year, race after race. The hope is to create this living environment with other riders you can bring into your team. Each of those has different characteristics, so one is aggressive, one is crazy, one is an average rider but he never falls. All this kind of information you can put together.”

It comes in close partnership with Dorna, who run MotoGP and have leant their own sponsors to the game to allow for authentic looking liveries. You’ll be racing to sign better deals, earn new bikes, build up your team’s staff, and shooting for the championships even if you’re not the one at the front of the pack.

However, what’s even more fascinating is a nascent push for esports. It actually comes at Dorna’s behest, receiving a significant backing from them and being tied into broadcasts of the real sport and promoted with their wide social media reach, and with all their partners – “It’s impossible for me to imagine bringing those partners in myself,” Andrea admitted. That alone gives them a fantastic opportunity to reach a wide audience, but this is just the first year with a long term plan to grow.

“Dorna came to us and said they wanted all of this,” Andrea revealed. “It was like December, so we said, ‘Guys, it’s a bit late!’ But we had a big meeting with them, we know the environment of esports – we know it’s PC gaming and there’s not much racing at this stage, so we’re not saying to you that this is going to be the biggest esports event. We want to achieve in a few years that we want to become the best racing esports championship.

“The idea is to grow year after year and go in that direction. So I mean a real online championship going through the classes like Moto3, Moto2, and this tournament will be online, probably following the real races. It’s all in discussions right now, but that’s the direction we want to achieve. We know that this year will just be a very small version of it, but Dorna wanted to start immediately because they had the sponsors ready, and wanted to stick a foot into the esports area and build a community.”

It’s an interesting set up which currently straddles the approaches espoused by Polyphony Digital in GT Sport, which will have the backing of the FIA, and that of Slightly Mad and Project Cars 2, which takes inspiration and form from other esports games and leagues.

This year at least, it’s more akin to Gran Turismo Academy, with a series of challenges in-game to decide who has the skill and speed to compete in the finals. That will then take place alongside the MotoGP finale at Valencia in November. The prize for the winner? Oddly enough, a BMW CAR. A car.

“I think BMW are the biggest sponsors they have,” Luca said when I jokingly pointed this out. “They are the safety car suppliers, so when the idea was to give the biggest and most valuable prize, it ended up a car and not a bike! I’d never thought about it!”

After too many years of stagnation, MotoGP 17 sees the game series back on the move. While it might be a transitional game, it brings a lot of new ideas and refinement to the table in its own right. Unreal Engine 4 is on the horizon, for which they’ll have to start from scratch in a lot of areas, and esports are just getting underway in an abbreviated fashion. MotoGP 18 might be the more exciting game to talk about, but there’s races to win in the here and now.

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