I’m digging the new look The Crew, going for bright and breezy visuals and an emphasis on fun and freedom over the original’s grittier, more dour tone. Having played the game for a couple of hours, sampling the start of the game and delving into some of the later races, vehicles and multiplayer, we then sat down to chat with Julien Hummer, Player Experience Director at Ivory Tower about this change of gears.
TSA: Where did the ambition come to go so far beyond just driving and to have boats, planes, bikes and more?
Julien: The first answer would be why not? We built a massive online open world and we wanted to look at what was happening within motorsports in real life. So we went to the US, we met with a lot of pilots and drivers and we looked at the evolution of motorsports, with the street racers wanting to become legit racers, and so we decided let’s do this massive open world without limits. There’s total freedom to explore, to compete, to do crazy things with all kinds of vehicles: boats, planes, cars, bikes, etc.
As you play the game, we have four families of racing for the structure. So the street racing family is all about going from illegal races to legit races, and it’s based around the people we met who said, “Hey, we’re also pilots and we want to become legit. It’s not only racing at night, we want to become professional.”
So this is the way we structure the game. We have off roader, freestyler, pro racer and street racer, and for the player, it’s like you can do whatever you want. If you’re a street racer, do the street races, if you want to explore the world, then you can freeride and switch back and forth with the plane.
TSA: I really love the switching, because you can literally switch (almost) wherever. Sometimes you don’t have quite enough space, if you got yourself stuck in a corner..
Julien: [laughs] So, that’s the game trying to put the player in the best condition, so sometimes you can’t switch. But you can go from the top of a building and then just jump with your car, switch to the plane, and then again switch to a boat into a river or the sea….
TSA: The thing is you can switch to a car when you’re a mile up in the sky and just let it drop! There’s a common DNA of switching and playfulness that there was in Steep as well, with its own switching and the style of map. It’s something that Ubisoft does very well, to share these ideas between studios.
Julien: So, my job title is Player Experience, and I’m a player. I’m looking both as a player and in my job to ensure that as soon as you pick up the pad it’s accessible, you understand what you have to do, but it’s also got to be fun.
For the fast switch, initially we had designers saying that in real life, when you’re switching this distance from the ground, the car needs to crash, but I was just like, “Yeah, but it’s not fun!” Our players are going to like doing crazy stuff and we need to let them do that. […] We are trying to make the game as fun as possible, and for sure, we are sharing that with other studios at Ubisoft – we meet on a regular basis, we have people coming to the studio and seeing what we are building – and we’re always looking for the most fun things we can do in our game.
TSA: Looking at the handling, when you do so many things it’s easy to become a jack of all trades and a master of none. You do need to have a fairly low bar of entry for people, but you’ve got to have the hook to keep people coming back to try and master the game, and that’s a big undertaking.
Julien: Diversity is clearly part of the DNA of The Crew 2, and so we wanted to make sure that within this it’s not like it’s the same car, the same handling all of the time, but that it’s very different in terms of feeling.
You played Powerboat and you played Jetsprint, and they’re two very different approaches, two different ways of piloting boats. That’s the first aspect of what we’re trying to do in terms of variety and accessibility. There’s a different feeling from a drift car to a street car to a powerboat to a Jet Sprint.
Then within the same discipline, we worked a lot to ensure there are differences from one car to another, so again, you tried the drift and I suggested you try a different car. The expert one was fast and hard to master, and then you tried the Mazda RX-7 and it is the easiest car to pick up. We wanted to make sure that for all players it’s accessible, but as you said the challenge was to make sure it’s fun, it’s arcade, that you take the pad and you have pleasure with it.
The third layer is depth. For that we have two systems: you are able to progress – again with the Drift, your first try you were scoring low, but the more you play the better you are – and there’s also the handling parameters. You have a button in the performance settings, you click it and you can change all the parameters, you can remove all the assists, to make sure that all people can have fun with it. For some players, the first thing they’re looking for in a game is where they can remove all the assists, and you can have that!
If you want to have fun, you will have fun; if you want depth, you can have depth.
TSA: With the progression, people hear loot these days and they go, “Oh, it’s loot boxes, random generation and microtransactions.” How does the loot tie into progression in The Crew 2?
Julien: We had a progression system within the previous game, but here it’s clearer I think and more accessible. You’re driving, you’re doing things and you earn loot, then when you equip the parts you’re increasing the development of the car. Then you have the player, the pilot, you are becoming the champ of Motor Nation, which means it’s not based on the loot, it’s based on the number of followers you are earning through the game.
You were talking about loot boxes; we don’t have loot boxes. Everything you saw in the game is what we’re going to have in the final game. We want to make sure that the progression is based on what you are doing within the game, we want to make sure that we are fair. I’m not saying we don’t have any microtransactions – you saw the currency that we have – but it’s exactly what we had in The Crew.
We are also doing it the other way around and saying to you we are locking content behind progression. It means that the best cars, the best vehicles, you need to beat the champ of a family to earn this vehicle.
I understand as a player this direction, and what we want to put in the game is fairness, clarity, accessibility. It’s what we did in The Crew and it’s what we’re delivering here.
TSA: Looking at the story, you’ve stepped away from the melodramatic, gritty stuff from the first game, but the way that you frame stuff here is like a TV show, there’s stories within the racing families, and you can easily end up getting all these stories going at once. How are you trying to make all of this manageable?
Julien: So yes, it’s a different way of approaching storytelling in this game compared to the previous one. That was like one event after, there was a story and a very dark tone. This one is very different. You can look at the game, you can look at the art direction and it’s very colourful, positive and fun.
It’s very complex to tell a story in an open world. The motto in The Crew 2 is freedom, so you can do whatever you want – only street racing events or only off road events – and it means as soon as you’re progressing in the game, you’ll have a different experience from one player to another. You can do the last event of off road before doing the first event of Street.
You can do all the missions how you want, but in terms of story telling that’s hard. So we decided to create the four different families and behind the families have a mood and not to have a story from the player perspective but the story behind the family. What does it mean to be a street racer? What does it mean to be an off roader?
Off roading is exploring the world, discovering playgrounds, places where you can have amazing races. A pro racer is between modernity and tradition. […] You look at single seater races and it’s not as popular as it used to be, and you have Red Bull doing crazy stuff with air race and in cities, so this is the way motorsport is evolving and we are doing both. We’re saying to players this is the story of pro racing.