"Why Am I Doing This?"
No-one at RPS is a great racing game aficionado. Is this because we're all impossibly geeky men obsessed with science fiction worlds and the devoted worship of Horace the Endless Bear? Or is it because racing, once one of gaming's main pillars, is growing ever more niche? Certainly, it has spent some years standing still, polarising into the opposing camps of simulation and mod-culture arcadey things, and in both cases avoiding the sense of whizzbang newness necessary to excite a mass audience. So will it go the way of the flight sim, making do with a small but impossibly devoted audience?
Clearly not. But it does have to change. And so Edge have rounded up some of the genre's most luminescent luminaries - men behind the likes of Project Gotham, Colin McRae, Motorstorm and Sega Racing - to discuss racing's future. It's an amazingly frank chat, shining a light on some deep-running problems with the form.
"I kind of fear for racing games in the future," says Bizarre Creation's Gareth Wilson. "Look at last year – there’s been so many quality games that aren’t racing games. Even me, as a racing game lover, there’s a lot of good games I’d buy ahead of pretty much any of them, even though there’s been quality there, too. I do worry that it might become an extremely niche area unless we work out a way of making it become more massmarket."
One way of doing so may be to give purpose outside of a high score or a digitised trophy, something for those who feel less of a competitive itch to attach to. The TOCA Race Driver series briefly attempted to add a narrative to its campaign, but all it amounted to was cheesy cutscenes.
"‘Why am I doing this?’ comes up in design meetings a lot, and it’s a real hard one", says another Bizarrian, Gerard Talbot. "Most people don’t like racing games", he adds, which must be an unhappy thing for a man that specialises in them to realise. Still, it rather explains Bizarre doing The Club - and much as it's not ultimately to our tastes here, we certainly respect its boldness in introducing the values of a racing game into a more populist genre.
Test Drive Unlimited is discussed at length, which excites me. I spent a lot of last year with this somewhat overlooked, but mostly glorious open-world demi-MMO, its emphasis on driving, the enjoyment of an expensive vehicle, rather than formulaic track racing, proving to be exactly what I wanted from a car game. Fantasy fulfilment, not mechanical competition. With Burnout Paradise currently toying with similar free-roaming ideas (albeit with a stronger emphasis on racing) on consoles, there would seem a clear signal as to where car games need to go. "It’s certainly something that I’d like to push with our future racing games", says Colin McRae DiRT's Gavin Raeburn.
Bizzare throw tantalising hints of what may be to come: "The focus for our new title for Activision is: how can we make a really, really big-selling racing game, something that people will buy over Call Of Duty 5?"
Anyway, enough annotated quotation from me. Go read the thing. There's a ton of ace talk about how to satisfy both the suspension fetishists and the GTA crowd, why the Need For Speed series is flagging and what innovations the genre is yet to see. Again, it's a surprisingly honest discussion, and it's genuinely gotten me very excited about the places driving games might be about to go to.
Oh, okay - one more quote. "We need to take more risks," says Evolution Studio's Mike Kershaw. Man!