After a decade focussed almost purely on the WRC franchise and rally racing, KT Racing are stepping into the unfamiliar in 2023 and beyond. Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown is on the horizon as the one announced post-WRC project, and that game alone is a huge and significant shift in focus. So, how are KT handling the leap from WRC to TDU? And while still focussing on the studio’s legacy as we speak to them, what can we glean from speaking to some of the team about their future?
For one thing, the decision to make a new Test Drive Unlimited must have been a relatively easy one for KT Racing to make. The studio’s Creative Director, Alain Jarniou, is intimately familiar with the series, having worked on the first game and risen to direct the second. If you’re hoping that Solar Crown can retain the same tone and spirit, then his leadership will be a reassuring one.
“I love these games,” Alain said. “I worked on the first one, I worked on the second one, and I think people know that. Every time we give some information about Test Drive Unlimited, we see people on social media, they want more, they want to know, they want to see gameplay… They loved the previous games, and I don’t think any other game on the market comes with what Test Drive Unlimited did.”
Fundamentally, there’s a different tone and ethos to the Test Drive Unlimited series, which is less about pushing for race victories, and more about car culture and wish fulfilment in general. Alain continued, “This game is a game for me, someone that is not a competitive guy, but that loves cars. I don’t have a Ferrari, but I’d like to have a Ferrari and a Lamborghini. I love to go on the weekends with my car and just go around in the countryside. This is a game that is made for me, and I think many players are asking for this kind of experience that they can’t get in another game.
“My mission on Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown is to keep the focus and the right direction to keep all those good feelings that come with a Test Drive Unlimited and that you can’t see anywhere else.”
At the heart of this new game will be Hong Kong Island, which has been recreated at 1:1 scale, similar to how the previous games featured Oahu and Ibiza. It’s sure to provide a very different tone to those islands, with much more inner city driving, skyscrapers, neon lights and the like.
Alain reassured us that “Hong Kong island is also very interesting in terms of variety. You imagine that Hong Kong Island is just a big city with lots of skyscrapers, but that’s not the truth at all. On the north of the island, it’s like New York, a big city, but with rich and poor areas so it’s already very interesting in terms of diversity. Then, when you go East and West, you’ve got seaports, and then to the South, you’ve got small beaches and it almost looks the south of France! It’s a real pleasure to discover the island.”
Of course, actually recreating a foreign city in the last few years has been anything but a traditional task. With the pandemic, lockdowns and visitor quarantines preventing KT from sending their French team out to Hong Kong to capture their own reference material, they’ve had to turn to other modern sources of information. Thankfully, from official maps and city regulations about road signs, to Google Maps and being able to watch YouTube videos from people’s dash cams as they drive the city, they’ve been able to sample everything they could need – a local Nacon office has meant they can check with local employees about certain things for accuracy.
Anyone that’s actually tried driving in a city will tell you that it’s rarely fun, and so KT are modifying and adapting the environment from that baseline. Pedestrianised areas have been reopened to cars in TDU Solar Crown, and there’s other tweaks to the road layout.
“We are starting work from reality,” Alain told us. “You know, it’s a balance of highways – which are important for Supercars and Hypercars, but not for lower end cars – roads in the country, places where you have good views of the island. We are making adjustments of the roads to make them interesting in the game, and also making them a good balance. It would be ridiculous to have one small road of one kind in the middle of the city, so we’ve got different kinds of roads so you can have different competitions and races on them. It’s not just a full recreation of reality, it’s reality that’s been made to be fun.”
Supporting all of this is the KT Engine, which making several significant leaps forward. Benoit Jacquier, Technical Director / KT Engine told us, “TDU Solar Crown is pushing a lot of limits as Kylotonn, because it’s open world, MMO, a lot of players competing, AI, and you have the car physics. And you want to stream everything and to be as smooth as possible.”
Still, there has been steady growth and increasing capability within the engine. Benoit continued, “We are doing a lot of optimisation on TDU, and this will go on until we ship the game. In WRC we have multiple stages in the same country, TT Isle of Man we have 60km on the island, but in Test Drive Unlimited you can go almost everywhere. So that’s a lot more assets, the gamers will expect more quality than before, and it takes place on the isle of Hong Kong where it’s very urban and so it’s basically (and this is a bit caricatured) like going from a 2D game to 3D. WRC is all countryside, but for TDU, you have a lot of skyscrapers, a lot of objects in every direction.”
Further Reading: From WRC 5 to Generations – Looking back on KT Racing’s rallying legacy
And then there’s plenty of other ways that tech can carry over from WRC to TDU. Benoit said, “the core part with our physics algorithms is to not be too specific to a car. We share our technology between WRC Generations and Test Drive Unlimited, and so we started developing our hybrid system on TDU, but we said we needed it now that it’s official for WRC Generations, so we did a lot of things and optimisation. Basically, the tuning and gameplay is per-game specific, but the core features are shared between project.”
Needless to say, it’s still somewhat frustrating that we’ve not yet been able to set eyes upon Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown, despite the game having been announced back in 2020. Since then the release window has been pushed further and further back, the last generation PS4 and Xbox One have been dropped, and all that’s been shown have been some brief glimpses in cinematic trailers and some environmental screenshots. We look forward to hearing and (more importantly) seeing more about it soon.