GamerZines: Driver: San Francisco was originally meant to release last year. Why didn’t it?
Martin Edmondson, Creative Director, Ubisoft Reflections: To tell you the truth, it was always scheduled to be a long development; the schedule was always planned to be around 4 years. The reason for that was because we targeted 60fps for the game, and the only way you can achieve that in this type of game with an open environment and the volume of traffic and number of pedestrians is with proprietary tech. We don’t take any of the rendering engine off the shelf or use any off the shelf physics; it’s all Reflections’ proprietary tech for that stuff. That takes a huge amount of time. But the reason why we delayed for a further year was just a matter of adding extra content. We wanted some more stuff in the game and it wasn’t possible to deliver it on time. Things like more multiplayer options, a split-screen mode, more activities and challenges in the world, and things like that. And obviously another year buys you some more optimisation time for your 60 frames.
GZ: Why was reaching 60fps so important to you?
ME: Because for the first time it was conceivable to do Driver in 60 frames. If you play a 60fps game, it just has such a nicer feeling and fluidity to it. Because this game is based on Hollywood and TV-movie car chases we wanted to immerse you in the action as much as possible. We have a little switch actually, and we can switch the game into 30 frames just to keep reminding ourselves why it’s worth the effort. We wanted to go for perfection when it comes to this particular aspect and that’s why we invested the time.
GZ: To what extent do you think the Driver name has been impacted by the recent games, and do you hope San Francisco will rekindle trust in the series?
ME: Certainly that’s the hope. Remember that it was a long time ago and there are different situations now with Driver: San Francisco. There’s a very different publisher, a huge development time and a big development effort, and all that extra effort that’s gone into it creates a whole different environment. There’s no secret about Atari’s issues and problems back then when that game was released, and the difference here is the delivery. The planned delay is to deliver to a quality level, not to a deadline date. To be fair, I was always happy with the driving elements of Driv3r, but we simply didn’t finish the out-of-car elements. Driver 4 I didn’t have anything to do with. But if the game stands up and the game is loved and enjoyed, and people appreciate it and see the quality, they’re going to quickly forget about whether they did or didn’t like Driv3r.
GZ: Beyond the handling, which seems very indicative of a Driver game, the actual game seems very different to what I’d been expecting. It’s almost an arcade set-up, similar to something like Wheelman rather than previous Driver games. Why make that change?
ME: We’re trying to contemporise it. The worst thing we can do is get so stuck in the past that we don’t change anything and hope that everything that was cool then is cool now. What we’ve done is to make sure that we nail that feeling of a car chase and the handling of the cars. That’s what made the original game so unique and popular, and it’s actually incredibly difficult to get that right. So we focussed the team on that, but the shift option for getting around the missions is a very reactive way of doing things. It’s something that’s totally new and unique, but it’s a tool that you can use extensively or a limited amount. The core for me really is, when you play it, when you’re driving, does it feel like Driver or just some other game? To me I think we’ve nailed the feel of the car chase.
GZ: Driver’s sense of grit and attitude seems to have been lost, too, replaced with something more comical and light-hearted.
ME: We got a hell of a lot of criticism over the previous two Driver games being too dark and too humourless, and one of the best receptions we’ve got is having just lightened things up a bit. If you’re after really dark and gritty, like the original Driver games, you’re not going to find that here. We wanted to appeal to more people, a broader range of people and to younger people. The rating of the game is Teen, and the whole Tanner, man of few words and all that, with this particular story of the coma it would have been very, very risky. What we wanted to do is play up to the situation and have the two characters have a bit of banter, a bit of sarcasm and not take the situation too seriously to make it lighter. We desperately didn’t want to make the same mistake for a third time and make it really dry and gritty again when people had so vocally complained about that. That was one of the few things where we really reacted to feedback.
GZ: The cut scenes and the technology behind them seem incredibly interesting. Why did you decide to mix FMV with in-engine cut scenes, rather than opt for one or the other?
ME: That’s a good question actually because it was bloody hard to do. If you noticed the cut scenes themselves, the faces and that are very high quality renders. We used one of the best studios for the building for the models and it’s very time-consuming and very expensive. To do that with cars, and the lighting and rendering time when we have an engine that does all that for us anyway, we thought we’d focus all our energy on the rendering time on the characters and then the game engine can take care of itself. In the end it didn’t work out that way. It ended up being very difficult to combine the two. But I think the effect is different. When you’ve got a driving game, to do renders of what you can do in the engine just seems partly a cop-out, but also a clash in look. And also we wanted the cut scenes to be a bit more seamless. Did you see the split-screen parts?
GZ: Yeah, I thought the effect was very impressive. I’ve never seen anything like it before.
ME: Yeah, the 70s Dirty Harry-type poster look with the black lines and the renders there and the game engine there, all running together. With hindsight, I’m not sure I would have invested the amount of time it took to get it working but, you know, it worked.
GZ: When I spoke to Ubisoft Reflections last July, ‘game to web community features’ were mentioned briefly. Can you explain what’s meant by that and whether the features are still on track?
ME: We’re not going into details on those today but obviously it’s the usual Facebook stuff and links in to that.
GZ: Will it have any connection with the Film Director option in the game?
ME: Yes, you certainly can upload. The Film Director is back, and if anything screams out to be able to upload replays. That’s all part of the plan.
GZ: Is the Wii version still in development? We’ve not seen anything of that for a while.
ME: Yes, that’s a very different game though. It’s different characters from the same universe and it doesn’t have shift. One of the nice and exciting things is that the shift mechanic is only possible on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. It just would have been impossible on PlayStation 2 or the original Xbox. That’s been quite a nice thing to work on. Normally you’d expect nicer graphics or a better frame rate, but it’s really nice to work on something where the core function only works because of the hardware you’re working on.
GZ: It’s interesting you mention that given Nintendo’s announcement that they’ll be showing a Wii successor at E3. Given Ubisoft’s tendency to port recent titles for new hardware launches, can you see Driver: San Francisco ending up on the new Nintendo console?
ME: That is absolutely something I couldn’t comment on. I couldn’t even confirm either way. I’ve been around too long for that one!
Driver: San Francisco launches on September 2nd on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii and PC.
Tags: Driver San Francisco
Company of Heroes 2, Batman: Arkham Origins, Grand Theft Auto V, Watch_Dogs, Beyond: Two Souls and Night of the Rabbit previews.Download Now!