Simon Barlow On Driveclub’s Re-Announcement And Connected Gameplay

As part of a tour of Evolution Studios, we came away with a wealth of new information and impressions from the game, as we were afforded both time with the game and were also able to peek behind the curtains at how the game is being made.

You can read our impressions of both the racing side of the game and the more social side in our articles from the last few hours. However, we also sat down with Simon Barlow, Design Director on the game, to chat about the return to the spotlight and some of the decisions that have been made over the last nine months.


TSA: You’ve recently come back out from the shadows, the Iron Curtain has come down, the wall has been demolished… What’s it like to be able to talk about the game again in public?

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Simon Barlow: It’s brilliant really and a massive relief, I think. I mean, we had some press last year, when we originally announced we were going to be a launch title, but we realised towards the end of last year that this wasn’t the game that we wanted to release to the public. It wasn’t quite right.

And that was our decision. We made that decision ourselves because we wanted to improve the quality and to make sure that all the systems fully integrated and really sang and delivered on the kind of excitement that we’d been building. So to then shut all the doors and windows and close ourselves off to go back to the game again…

It’s been brilliant to develop it and to have that extra period of time to refine the game, but it does feel like a real relief to come out and say, “Hey, guess what? The game is coming out this year and it’s even better than we promised you last year.” It’s great to say that.

TSA: The big reason you’ve given for the delay was the dynamic menu system. Why is that so important and a big enough reason to delay the game for almost a year?

Simon: Driveclub is quite a complicated beast and it builds a lot on our heritage with the WRC series and with MotorStorm. It was particularly with MotorStorm RC that we started experimenting with challenge based gameplay.

TSA: Yes, and you’ve said that was a spawning point for a lot of the ideas in Driveclub.

Simon: Very much so, yeah. Driveclub is the natural evolution of those, I think.

When we looked at what we wanted to do with that challenge-based gameplay, it was going to be a lot wider and broader than what we did with MotorStorm RC. To really give everybody a complete socially connected, immediate and dynamic experience takes a lot of work.

The game has a full server infrastructure that we’ve built from the ground up and it effectively has a social network underpinning everything. You could probably stick a team on that for three years and just do a social network alone, but we did that on top of building a game!

The guys have really pulled out the stops to deliver on those systems, but when we were looking at originally releasing it, they weren’t quite meshing together properly, and where they all come together is in the user interface, the dynamic menu. It wasn’t quite right, it didn’t feel seamless or responsive enough, users weren’t getting the content that they wanted…

TSA: Was it maybe a lack of obviousness to some of the menu system?

Simon: Some of it, but a lot of it was down to the fact that we push a lot of content to the user. Traditional games have pulled content, where you have a linear menu, you select the items that you want and you tend to go through a linear tree down to the thing that you want to do, and when you don’t want to do it anymore, you kind of back up through the tree to get to something else.

That’s not really what we wanted to do with Driveclub. The content within the game is dynamic: you could be sent a challenge while you’re in the middle of a multiplayer race, finish that race, go do the challenge which might then make you want to create a challenge yourself, so you go and play a race in Driveclub tour… and you can hop around the game at will.

That gives a lot of headaches when you’re designing a user interface and when you’re trying to deliver a user experience that is seamless and integrated. So we’ve had the extra, practically a year of development as you say, to refine that and do – what’s really important to me as the Design Director – user testing. It’s enabled us to do a lot more user testing with real users, and to get their feedback and to refine those little gameplay loops of going into a race, creating a challenge, sending it, coming back to it, getting the rewards and off you go again.

That’s a little self-contained game in its own right, and each of those has to be seamless and feel rewarding. When you combine it with these other ones and all these wheels within wheels, you get this huge, mammoth game experience that can’t feel daunting or oppressive. There’s so much content in there, but if we were to take a traditional structure, you’d just get lost and wouldn’t be able to find what you want, which is why we push the content to you and try to give you more of what you enjoy and less of what you don’t.

TSA: Another talking point from your re-announcement was that clubs were being reduced to 6 players. It used to be 12, which felt like a fairly natural size, so why have you reduced it? Was it through the user testing and feedback?

Simon: Partly user testing and partly our own experience of playing the game.

In a synchronous multiplayer race, you can have 12 cars on track. That’s not a technical restriction, and we could have put more on track if we wanted to, but it’s a gameplay restriction that we feel gives the right number of vehicles on track, whether human controlled or AI controlled.

To have 12 players in a club means you can only have one whole club racing at the same time, but if you reduce it down to 6 then you can have it a club vs. club synchronous event, and that is much more exciting.

We also found that reducing the number of players in a club makes people more consciously devote themselves to that club and will consciously contribute to club challenges or multiplayer challenges, to try and increase their club’s Fame.

Everything just seemed to fit around that number and it felt like a more natural number for the game. Again, it’s not technical reason, but purely a design driven decision.

TSA: I believe Rushy [Paul Rustchynsky, Game Director] did say during a presentation earlier, but if there’s a particular kind of feedback or you see certain kinds of play patterns, would you consider increasing the numbers again?

Simon: Sure, I mean all of that’s an option to us. As part of this being a social and community driven racing experience, that’s not just marketing talk, that’s a real ethos behind the game.

We’ve been doing this up front already, so if you follow us on Twitter or on the Driveclub Facebook page, we are always asking for feedback and responding to feedback. We have updated and improved the game directly from that feedback, in some cases, and we will continue to do that once the game is live.

We want to make this a game that a huge number of people can enjoy, because it’s going to live or die on its community. It’s that kind of game, and though you have got the single player content, the meat of it is in sharing and playing with your friends.

TSA: With that social focus, you obviously need the game to be accessible, so in terms of the car handling, where do you see Driveclub sitting on that Arcade-Simulation scale? It’s a very common question, I’m sure…

Simon: Yeah, but it’s a valid one, and we’ve developed games at both ends of that spectrum. We developed the very simulation heavy WRC series and then we delivered…

TSA: The slightly mental MotorStorm? [laughs]

Simon: [laughs] The completely opposite end of that scale!

Crucially, both series were developed on a very sound physical simulation. That authenticity was key to both experiences, and it’s that authenticity that I think we’ve brought through to Driveclub.

We’ve never developed anything that has been artificial, if you like, so even though Driveclub feels like a more accessible game, there is still so much detail in the handling and in the physical simulation, that you will find nuances in the vehicles, particularly when you move up to the supercars and the hypercars and find a much more challenging dynamic behind those vehicles.

So you can pick it up and play it, and you can grab a McLaren P1 and throw it round corner and have a great deal of fun with it, and crucially still contribute, take part in challenges and still feel rewarded. The more you play the game and as you get deeper into it, the more you realise that vehicle actually behaves pretty accurately; it’s pretty authentic and if you do decide to shave a few milliseconds of your lap time, you’ve got the opportunity to do that. You can point your car accurately, drive clean lines and avoid collisions, and it will reward you for doing that, but it doesn’t provide a barrier to new players.

TSA: What you just said ties into the Fame system, where you’re earning rewards for things like passing cars, but then taking some back off you for crashing or…

Simon: It’s all to do with encouragement. We’re not trying to lead you, really, we’re just trying to nudge you gently back onto that path.

If you’re a new player and you don’t know necessarily enjoy playing racing games, we’re hoping this is the one you pick up and play because it is a whole lot of fun, there’s multiple ways to win in it besides coming first, but also through the driving itself.

We’re showing you how this car should be driven and as you go through the tour we give you a car like a Golf or a Mini to begin with, which are really nice handling cars – the Golf GTI in particular is a pretty powerful little beast! Through that car and through cars like it, we can craft an experience around it and show you that on this particular race and this surface type, this is the line we want you to take. With the overdrive system, we’re encouraging a certain type of behaviour.

It’s subtle and while I wouldn’t say it’s subconscious – it’s right there on the screen and you can see it – you don’t necessarily have to follow it but we’re hoping that naturally, as you start playing through the game and you become more experienced, you start to feel these little nuances in the vehicle and start directing your driving in that way.


Unfortunately that was all we had time for. Thanks to Simon for taking the time to speak to us and, in fact, all of the members of the Evolution team that were happy to chat about the game and give us insights into its creation over the course of the day.

We saw Driveclub at Evolution Studios on a trip to Liverpool, with travel and accommodation provided by Sony.

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6 Comments

  1. Six people is not a club. They could have let, say 60 people in a club and let them race in groups of six. But just six is silly and put me right off.

    • 6 is a bit tight, I like your idea of bigger clubs with a limited number in a race.

      I hope all the “social network underpinning everything” doesn’t slow the game if your internet is slow.

  2. It’s one thing that is concerning a few friends, for example we have a clan of 100 on BF4 but only a fraction play all the time.
    I think TuffCub is right, bigger clubs but have the proviso that only 6 members can compete at a race in club vs club level, obvious with no restrictions on friendly races.

  3. Good interview. Game looks stunning and i can’t wait to play it but only a hands-on will inform me as to whether i’m going to be down with all that social jiggery-pokery.

  4. Six? Could be a dogging sesh!
    Great interview tef with some misguidances cleared up, although their main concern really should be release timing, that could be a disaster regardless of final output quality. I believe that all of the PS4’s potential top racers are congregating around that time!

  5. @ Freezebug. Oh dear that could send fans either way if released at same time as other contenders

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