Onrush is, as we wrote in our preview, not the arcade racer you will have expected after the game’s bombastic reveal at Paris Games Week. Instead of a race for the line, this is a team-based racer that’s all about racking up points and pushing for objectives while racing in close proximity to your allies, competitors and fodder in the Stampede. Those wanting pure arcade racing thrills might be a touch disappointed, but at the same time it’s fascinating and exciting.
We spoke to Game Director Paul “Rushy” Rustchynsky about how they’re trying to break new ground, and keep an eye out for when Assistant Game Director Jamie Brayshaw wandered into the interview later on as well.
TSA: It’s great to have the studio formerly known as Evolution back and bringing out a new game again and getting another opportunity.
Paul Rustchynsky: Yeah, it’s great to have another chance to go and do something that we love. We love the racing genre, we love everything from F1 to Dirt to sim racers, and we just had a real burning desire to go back to arcade classics. Obviously we worked on Motorstorm in the past and we loved working on that series, we did Driveclub, which was something very different, and we wanted to recapture some of our favourite games from the past.
We’re all big fans of Burnout in particular, Motorstorm, Outrun, SSX and all those sorts of games. We were trying to work out how we combine some of those ideas while also looking to wider genres. We don’t just play racing games, we’re big fans of other titles like, in the Southam office in particular, having Rocket League every lunch time, and so how do you take some of the coolest elements from those games and combine them into racing to offer something new.
We didn’t want to do arcade racing and retread old ground, we wanted to bring a fresh experience to it.
TSA: It felt like the last five years, and Driveclub was the leading edge of this as one of the first racers of this generation, it’s almost been all sims, all the time. Now we’ve got Gravel, Burnout Paradise Remastered and with Onrush as well, arcade racing is back… except you’re trying to push on to the next thing with this team-based racer.
Rushy: And that’s what we wanted to do, we wanted to innovate. We went and pitched the idea early on and I wouldn’t say we were worried at that point, but we were nervous. We want to do racing, but we want to do something very different, and it’s amazing the kind of support we have from the board who said, “We love the idea, we love the concept. Just go away and prove it to us.”
We came back like six months later with a demo build, sat them down in multiplayer and they laughed their heads off for half an hour or so!
TSA: All of the game modes and everything you’ve described, it’s very focussed around team modes, classes, scoring points and stuff. Is there even a shadow of a doubt that you’re missing that fundamental straightforward racing in there?
Rushy: I think there’s always been a small concern, especially for some of the diehard racers in the studio initially going “You’ve got to have racing!” The problem is that to deliver this type of experience, we’ve had to engineer everything around the Stampede, where it’s all about throwing you back into the action.
As much as racing could work on the tracks and with the vehicles that we’ve got, it doesn’t really play into everything we’re trying to build the game around. Everything from the solo play to the multiplayer and the seamless drop in, drop out co-op. I think we’ve got enough of the instinctive racing action that you would expect of a racing game, so knowing how to handle a vehicle, throwing it into a corner, knowing when to apply the handbrake, when to apply boost and use Rush; all of those play naturally into the natural racing desires.
Rushy: The one shift in mentality is just not to try and keep pushing ahead. That’s the hardest thing to break, but it’s one of those things where we’ve done lots of user testing and we’ve got players who are diehard racing fans, and after half an hour, that’s gone. They’re having fun playing a different experience. People will approach it and play it like a racing game initially, but it really doesn’t take long to get into the moment to moment of what Onrush offers.
Plus, it’s something great to play between all your other racing games. You can dip into Onrush for five minute blasts online.
TSA: Maybe if you’re struggling to win in GT Sport you can play something where that’s actually a good thing? [laughs]
Rushy: Yeah! [laughs] You can just be thrown into the pack and start smashing people around! We celebrate that kind of damage and destruction.
TSA: What can you tell us about the game modes and how you came up with them? There’s definite hints of Call of Duty and Overwatch in there – no escort mission though, which could have been quite an interesting one…
Rushy: That was an idea!
I remember we had a big whiteboard and there were 50 different game modes on there, just as objectives, essentially, about what you could be doing in the moment and what would be the key goal. We prototyped about a dozen and then it was just whittling them down and working out what felt good, what was fun in the moment to moment and then picking the ones that played to the strengths of Onrush and the Stampede system, and then just refining those.
We also chose four that offered something quite different to one another. We’ve got some other really cool mode ideas in the wings, but these are the four.
TSA: I guess the good thing is that you’ve prototyped all of these ideas, so when you say you want to add new maps and modes down the line, you’ve already got all of these ideas that you can return to.
Rushy: Yeah, and that’s the beauty of trying to innovate and do something new. There’s so many fresh ideas that we can pump into Onrush down the line, we’re not your standard time trial and race modes. How many modes are there in racing games, generally? There’s not that many, so we’ve got that kind of flexibility and freedom to do something entirely new, and it’s refreshing.
TSA: You also throw in the AI for the Stampede, and that’s really interesting and something that people have railed against in the past with Titanfall. They were like, “I don’t want to shoot AI, I want to shoot real players!”
Rushy: But it’s the opportunity! We know that takedowns are always satisfying, and it’s something that plays well to both sets of players, where there are those who are really skilled and those players who are new to it.
For the players who are new to it, it’s the opportunity to get easy takedowns, get familiarity with smashing into vehicles and taking them out, but for the skilled players it’s then more about chain the fodder, to keep their boost going and to maximise their score and points, based upon the mode. It really does keep the intensity of the action going all the time.
It’s quite different to something like Titanfall, because they’re fighting against you, whereas here you’ve got to think of them more as bitesized chunks of metal that supply you with boost! They’re not actively going out of their way to kill you, they’re slower, they have no boost tanks, and they’re fed into the action by the systems going underneath the modes to distribute them evenly across the pack.
TSA: One thing you mentioned, and this is one of those silly technical questions, was that you could have 4K or 60fps with PS4 Pro and Xbox One X?
Rushy: Yeah, so it’s basically prioritise frame rate or prioritise resolution. What we demoed on stage and what every kit it set up for is prioritise frame rate, so everyone’s running at 60. We think it feels the best and it still looks great.
TSA: Yeah, it feels like that should be the default. For an action adventure, maybe have the visuals first, but racing games need to try for 60 when they can.
Rushy: Yeah, but if you want to play at 4K, then it switches to 30 frames, and that’s the player’s choice.
TSA: From the on stage demo (I’ve not gone hands on just yet) you seemed to say that the game shifts from one mode to the next. How does that work in the middle of the action?
Jamie Brayshaw: So, you don’t shift between the game modes seamlessly, you shift between the rounds.
Rushy: Yeah, so like in Overdrive as we showed then, we typically set it to five rounds, so it’s basically first to three. Jamie won the first round, and then it just goes, “Right, Round One was won by Blue Team. 3, 2, 1, Go!” And bang, the scoring starts again. You haven’t stopped, you haven’t taken your hands off the pad, it’s just a four or five second break between the rounds and away you go.
TSA: So not even a respawn or reset in any way?
Rushy: Not even a resapawn, you just carry on!
But what I love about this is that you keep the same boost and Rush that you had stocked up from before, so what you tend to find is that strategy really comes into play. We were playing the other day and we were clearly going to lose the round, so we said to the guys to save their boost, save their Rush and wait for the next round, which we dominated.
What you’ve got to be careful of is when you think you’ve got a round won, and then the other team use their Rush available, rack up a crazy combo and shut you down. You just might not have seen it coming, but you can see when people have Rush, so you have to react on the fly to those situations.
TSA: I really can see things like Overwatch coming through there with saving Ultimates until a particular push, or even modern fighting games where you have special attacks building up across the rounds.
Rushy: Yeah, and that’s exactly why, when we were doing the presentation, we were talking about fighting games, first person shooters and Rocket League inspirations.
Jamie: We wanted to put a new spin on a racing game where it’s not this epic five minute long race where you make a mistake four and a half minutes in. You’re constantly going again, so if you lose the first round, you lose the first round, but you can go again.
Rushy: It stops that mentality of rage quitting because you always feel like you’ve got another chance to come back, you never feel like it’s game over. We’ve also set up the balance of the game so that, generally, rounds will swing back and forth, so it does often come down to the last round.
TSA: What’s it like having Jamie as Assistant Game Director? Last time we met he was a bit like Community Manager Plus!
Rushy: I could do with another one! It’s great and it’s been really, really helpful, especially with a game that’s been such a challenge, where we’re trying to break new ground. having someone like Jamie on board has really helped the development and looked after different sides of the game. There was a lot of user testing and all that stuff.
Jamie: Yeah, this is the first time we gone and got a lot of people involved for feedback and player testing. All of those prototypes we talked about before, we took those to user testing, got their input on what they were enjoying and what they weren’t, which parts were frustrating and which parts could be better.
When the game goes live we’re going to continue to do that and build the game around the community and what they want.
Thanks to Rushy and Jamie for chatting to us. Be sure to check out our preview of the surprisingly different Onrush. The game is out on 5th June for PS4 and Xbox One.