Ubisoft are sticking their oar into the racing genre this November, as The Crew is set to hit the shelves in a truly jam packed few weeks of game releases. With a loose recreation of the entire USA, picking and choosing a handful of major cities but also packing the world with tons of things to do alongside your friends in an array of eminently customisable cars.
You can check out our preview, which went live last night, but following on from our session, we had the opportunity to sit down with Creative Director Julian Gerighty and put a few questions to him about the game.
TSA: The Crew’s very ambitious in terms of the overall scale, where you’ve got a stylised version of the USA, lots of cars and so on. How important is having that scale to the game as a whole?
Julian Gerighty: I think it’s not the size that really matters, it’s more the variety of what we’re putting there. It’s the different types of terrain and how they interact with the different car specs, to be able to create the variety we’re aiming for.
At the end of the day, a driving game or racing game gets kind of stale around the 8 or 9 hour mark, when you realise that you’ve pretty much seen it all and it’s now a case of shaving off a tenth of a second in a lap, or something like that. What we really wanted to do was create a game that was basically a platform for driving, that we could update for a year or two years after launch and still have people there.
Did you play Test Drive Unlimited?
TSA: I didn’t, it was a game that completely passed me by.
Julian: It was kind of generic looking, but it was fantastic, honestly. It was visionary in its approach to driving games, because it’s a massive open world, shared world game on the 360. People are still playing that today, and that’s amazing to see. So, it’s the variety that does it for me.
TSA: You’ve said that this game isn’t just an MMO, but also that you’ve got RPG elements in there with the cars. What do you mean when you say it’s an RPG?
Julian: RPG means something different for everybody, but at the end of the day, for me and for The Crew, it’s all about looting items that will improve your character, to help you customise it, not only in terms of the aesthetics but also in terms of performance. Which means, in our game, that this concept of the car being a 20 piece puzzle that you can manipulate as you want becomes your characters, your avatar and equivalent to a knight or a wizard in an RPG.
TSA: Although you can’t really cast spells in The Crew!
Julian: No, I wouldn’t push it that far!
It allows us to have something that has a lot of depth as well, because upgrading your car is the compulsive gameplay loop, at the end of the day. You see people who’ll start off playing with a very basic car, and they’ll start being grabbed by the upgrade loop and being given parts, let’s say a “motor core” which is gold level 12, and they’ll see that the level 13 which is silver is better. If they install that one instead, they’ll see their performance is getting better and better and they can compete better, either in PvP or even just the normal races.
You get caught by that and eventually, hopefully, people will want an all platinum part vehicle, that’ll push their performance to the maximum and help them stand out from everybody else on the road, too.
TSA: Have you got platinum skins in there, to show off even more?
Julian: I think the customisation options are fairly extensive and allow you to create some mind-blowingly ugly vehicles…
TSA: As I did? [laughs]
Julian: Yeah! I’m not pointing any fingers, but within the first fifteen seconds today, people had these atrocities running around the map.
TSA: It was just that you can mash the randomise button until you see the worst thing you can possibly come up with!
Julian: [laughs] I don’t think you need to be platinum everything to stand out visually, but there are some skins and stuff like that which we’ll only be unlocking for endgame content and are fairly impressive too.
TSA: Speaking of all the customisation, you have these very close ties with the car manufacturers to allow this. Have there been any cars you couldn’t get, or have they just gone, “Yes, that’s awesome. Let’s do this.”?
Julian: Um, there are some people who don’t understand what we want to do or don’t want to participate in that, or some people who said, “Yeah, we’d love for our cars to be in here, but you can’t bring them off road.” It doesn’t really fit into the concept of the game, which is a shame because we would have loved to have them, but most people have been super cool.
So you see the Ford Mustang, which you can transform in five very different ways; that’s fantastic. There are a bunch of car manufacturers that allow us to really creatively use our base vehicles. You do need to justify your authenticity too.
I don’t know if you’re a huge car fan…
TSA: I like them? I watch some motorsports, but not all that much.
Julian: I think you’re pretty much the same as me: I like cars, I know cars but I’m not following motorsports every weekend. The team, though, are fanatical about it. So I’ll look at a Raid customisation mod for one of the vehicles and I’ll go, “Come on guys, this is just bananas. It’s not possible,” and they’ll go, “Well how about this?” and show me a car that one of the manufacturers has already made for an official contest that actually exists, that they used as a reference.
So everything is there for a reason and nothing is completely outlandish. It’s outlandish for people who don’t follow motorsports, basically.
TSA: Having had a bit of time with the game during the PC beta, I noticed how the structure of the world and how you unlock areas and new missions is quite similar to a lot of other Ubisoft games…
Julian: Really? Hmmmm…
So, I’ll tell you what I wanted to do, and I suggested this far too late in development. We have this concept of data towers, which is a little orientiering challenge with your mini map and a beep that you follow to find a data tower which will clear the fog of war, let’s say, in the world.
I wanted to replace those with racers. So you have these AI racers around the world, you find them, you challenge them, you beat them and you have the same function.
Lack of time, but you know, I see the use behind these data towers and…
TSA: I guess it’s still a game concept that just works.
Julian: It’s a game concept that works, but I wish we could have made it more intrinsically logical with the game that we have.
I’m criticising myself! I love the game. Trust me, I love the game. I don’t want to say anything wrong about the game, because I really adore this game and I don’t think you’ll ever find a creative person who’s 100% satisfied with what he’s done… apart from the guys at Rockstar, who’ve got to be happy with themselves!
TSA: They’d have to be the only satisfied game developers in the industry, then!
Julian: Maybe. I think Naughty Dog can be pretty happy with themselves too.
So, there are a few things that I hope we’d approached differently, but we do so many things right that I hope you’ll forgive us for one or two things I think we could have pushed a little bit further.
TSA: Yeah, and speaking of those things, you’ve got a story in the game, which was quite surprising to see. Why did you chase after adding a story and what do you think that brings to the game?
Julian: This also loops into your question about structure. I think the story, the way I see it, is all about structure. It’s all about taking the player by the hand – if they wants to be taken by the hand – and showing them everything that’s in the game before they brave the PvP and the end game content.
For me, the story helps get you invested in the progression. It shows you all of these different gameplay experiences and shows you all of the different environments, too. The great thing about this game, and something that I’m in love with, is that you can get to level 50 without doing a single story mission.
So you finish the tutorial, and if you then do only skills, you can get to level 50. So we’re not forcing you to follow the story if you don’t want to. You’re going to miss out on a third of the content of the game, maybe, but nobody’s forcing you to do that.
You could say, “Forget this, I’m going to go coast to coast straight away.”
TSA: Like I did!
Julian: You know, 20% of people in the beta test did that.
TSA: I did do it for a video though, so there was an ulterior motive, but it’s one of those things where, because you’ve got…
Julian: Because it’s possible, yeah. And we keep it fun with the different skills, these little challenges that we have that reward you with parts, you’ve got lots of landmarks that you can unlock and get XP and cash from too.
So, basically, the whole world is full of challenges and you don’t have to do every single one to get to level 50, which is kind of cool.
TSA: Finally, co-op is obviously key to this game, but outside of the Takedowns, where you work together to bash into a target, how have you adapted things like races and point to point to the co-op setting?
Julian: I think that co-op is very useful in the way that, if you’re a very average player, you can join a crew and keep on progressing, because somebody’s going to finish that first and you’ll be able to progress.
Just before E3, we did a community contest called Route 909, and the team that won that, a Danish team, organised themselves in PvP so that there’s always one player who’s always going to win, while the other three defend him.
TSA: It’s the Cat & Mouse kind of idea.
Julian Gerighty: Exactly, and there are emergent challenges and emergent behaviours like that, that are super interesting to see. So I think there are a lot of possibilities there.
TSA: In terms of the gameplay, one things I noticed was that with checkpoints, only one person needed to go through the checkpoints to trigger them.
Julian: That’s only on point to point missions, but in races the checkpoints are persistent for everybody. But yeah, if you learn the layout of the point to point race, and we have this great race across Kansas’ sunflower fields that was in the beta, with checkpoints like that, only one person needs to undo those, so one other person can go straight to the final point and beat all of the records.
TSA: That’s how we had to do it, to beat the time on one level…
Julian: Oh, OK!
So, I hope you had fun, because the main focus that we had is making the most fun that you can possibly have with a racing game. We’re not taking ourselves too seriously but…
TSA: I could tell from the story… [Laughs]
Julian: [Laughs] Don’t insult the story! It’s the best story in a racing game, ever. I guarantee it!
Thanks to Julian for taking the time to talk to us, don’t forget to check out yesterday’s preview, and we’ll doubtless have more on the game around its launch on November 18th.