How Pacer is overhauling Formula Fusion’s anti-grav racing

Pace yourself.

A lot can rest on getting the right name for a video game. Call of Duty was so evocative of the WW2 era for the first few games, you could go for something as straight forward as Plants vs. Zombies to get across the basic gist of what the game is, while F-Zero perfectly captured that this was the future of racing beyond F1. It’s tricky to get right – just look at Anthem’s sudden shift and woes – and that’s part of why Formula Fusion has traded in its name badge for Pacer.

Speaking to Senior Producer Steve Bes as the announcement was being made at EGX Rezzed, he said, “When I [joined the company last September], I felt that Formula Fusion needs to be rebranded because it was no longer the game that was available on Steam. it was so different that we needed to give it a new name, and more of, I’d say, a commercial name to take the game away from that kind of indie space. It’s an indie team, but we want to put it into a more professional space, so you can look at a load of other racing games and they’re all one or two word names. We wanted to try and find a one word name and we started to work with our PR, and considering the pace of the game, Pacer was born!”

R8 Games will be hoping that this is a name that can help their take on the anti-grav racer stand out, but there’s another side to it as well. Formula Fusion is just getting a bit old. The Kickstarter ran all the way back in 2015, it went into Early Access in 2016 and then had a formal release in 2017 on PC. Two years on, it would be an uphill struggle to get PS4 and Xbox One players jazzed for a game that hadn’t really been rolling in awards and critical acclaim. It’s nice that, name change or not, R8 are sticking with their fans. Anyone that backed the game’s Kickstarter or bought the game on Steam will be getting a free upgrade to Pacer.

So Pacer is a fresh start, a blank slate for a lot of people and especially those on console, but it’s also still built around the foundations that Formula Fusion laid. Some of the fundamentals remain, such as having five main craft to choose from and the eight tracks from the original game still being here. Almost everything around that has been rebuilt, though.

At the core of the game is a new physics and handling model that’s been completely revamped. It feels pleasingly weighty when you throw on the airbrakes, with a real sensation of deceleration as you try to shift the ship’s momentum through corners. In general it maybe doesn’t feel quite as fast as Wipeout, but rest assured that stepping up to the Elite speed class will test your skill and mettle.

A big part of getting the most out of the game is being able to dig into the ship settings. This might be an arcade racer, but there was a realistic slant by being able to upgrade and tune ships in the Garage of Formula Fusion. That too has been overhauled.

“With how it was then, it was a little too Sim and inaccessible,” Lead Designer Cartlon Gaunt admitted. “With the new physics update, they’ve been completely changed from the ground up, and with that we’ve had to take another look at what players would really interact with in the Garage. We found that some of the values were too esoteric, they weren’t doing enough, weren’t impactful enough, so with the new Garage we have a new series of values to play with that are much more immediate. You can equip something and you can feel it straightaway, even if you’ve not played for that long.

“We have a very dedicated player base and we absolutely love them, they’ve been really encouraging through this whole thing, but we realised that it was very daunting to go in at first, there was confusion of going to the garage, equipping something and, if they hadn’t played as much, there would be some confusion over what it really did.

“We wanted to keep the garage mode in place because it allows people to express themselves and to customise how their craft flies, to have something that feels good but doesn’t require in-tune senses to feel that feedback.”

The eight original tracks are complimented by six new ones, but R8 are heading back through and completely overhauling the visuals of the originals. There’s new geometry and depth being thrown at the previously flat track surfaces, and more detail being put into the environments that flash past as you race.

As Steve explained, “All of the new tracks have 3D depth now to the track itself, whereas all the original eight were bump mapped. You had the bump mapping effect, but they were flat tracks, so we’ve gone back through all the original eight tracks and updated them so there’s full 3D depth to them as well. We’ve also looked at everything that we felt was subpar and basically gutted and rebuilt it so that it’s visually better in the effects and environments right the way through the game. The final pass is now going through and adding even further environmental animation, so there’s more going on within the world to make it feel more alive.”

But making things prettier won’t come at the cost of performance. They’re gunning for native 4K on Xbox One X in particular, but are promising 60fps on all consoles, which has been a major undertaking. It’s meant rewriting the physics engine to be more efficient, and digging even deeper, as Steve revealed: “We had to go into the Unreal Engine at the bare metal level, shall we say, and change the way that Unreal was handling certain aspects of its rendering pipeline, so that we could achieve that without visual quality decreases.”

It seems quite remarkable in some ways just how far R8 are pushing. There’s new music from Cold Storage, a new single player campaign based around ten in-game teams, new AI that has elements of machine learning built into it, hosted online servers with a tournament mode, ranked multiplayer and spectator cameras. It’s quite impressive and they sound serious in their ambitions.

“We’re an indie studio trying to punch above our weight to the AA or AAA space,” Steve said. “As anybody in this market will know, anti-gravity racing games are a niche, so we need to make sure we get everybody within that niche taking note and hopefully supporting us with a purchase. So we have to bring out the best game out that we possibly can.”

When it will be out, though? They’re not telling. “We have a date in mind,” Steve teased. “but it will be this year, without a shadow of a doubt.”

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I'm probably wearing toe shoes, and there's nothing you can do to stop me!

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