Bigbig Studios' Game Designer Robert Shaer talks to PlayStation.com about bringing MotorStorm's kinetic racing to PSP.
MotorStorm is a racing brand synonymous with breakneck pace, big crashes and intense arcade action. How have you adapted it for PSP?
When the opportunity was presented to bring the MotorStorm franchise to PSP, it was greeted with open arms by us here at Bigbig. As one of the studios at the forefront of PSP development for a number of years now we felt we had all the right qualities to bring the MotorStorm world crashing onto the handheld stage.
We realised from the outset that we had to, and indeed it was important to, retain what makes a MotorStorm game fun and engaging. This is something that we set out to maintain and it is something that we have kept right at the front of our minds through the development process.
We truly believe that the MotorStorm experience you will see on PSP is as close to the PS3 version as humanly possible.
We have really pushed the envelope of the PSP system's qualities in terms of the insane amount of content we are able to show in Arctic Edge. We have kept the huge crashes, the battles between vehicles, and a sense of immense scale as you race around the mountain.
Coupled with this we have introduced features which are unique to this PSP version. There are environmental hazards such as avalanches, bobsleigh corners and breakable ice bridges for the player to deal with. And, there are also new vehicles inspired by the snow and ice environment.
Have you had to make any changes to the core MotorStorm model to optimise the game for portable gaming?
As mentioned, we made a conscious decision to maintain the core essence of what makes a MotorStorm game unique and entertaining. By doing this we knew we would not be able to leave anything out, and we haven't.
Aside from a few technical tweaks that have been undertaken to make the most of what PSP has to offer, everything is there, everything works, and it's one hell of a ride.
How did you finally decide on the setting for Arctic Edge? What sort or process is involved in that?
Part of the appeal of a MotorStorm game is racing in and around seemingly inhospitable, rugged and remote locations, and this was what we based our initial concepts on.
As we were brainstorming locales that fitted this profile we came to the conclusion that the next logical stop for the festival would be Alaska. It seemed to fit the bill perfectly and we haven't regretted the choice at all.
Alaska offered us the opportunity to bring the stark contrasts of environments that were utilised in Pacific Rift. We have the low zone tracks that are centred around a dirt, rock and mud appearance, High zone tracks that are predominately snow and ice themed, with the mid zone tracks sitting snugly on the fence, displaying both themes.
Was there any location scouting involved when designing the courses like the team did with Pacific Rift?
There was, and I was one of the people lucky enough to be asked to go out there.
One of the things that the MotorStorm games pride themselves on is an almost inhuman amount of detail. The only way you get that is by getting your feet on the ground in order to fully experience and appreciate how amazing (and huge) the landscape is, first hand.
From a design perspective I was there to look at the bigger picture, to imagine how routes would snake around hillsides, and to look at how I could imagine the environment being used by the organisers to make an overall MotorStorm experience.
I was accompanied by a couple of artists who were there to get a feel for the how things such as textures, terrain and lighting could be adapted to look more authentic to the real thing.
We spent a little over a week there and were grateful for the warm reception, help and advice that the people of Alaska gave us in our preparation for the game.
What sort of musical vibe and style are you going for with Arctic Edge?
The music is as important to the MotorStorm experience as any other facet of the game, and one which adds to greater immersion for the player. As such, we are keeping the styles of music that fans are used to within the MotorStorm franchise. For those new to the series, that means there will be a mix of Rock, Dance, and Indie and other great modern music.
How does creating a musical/aural landscape on PSP differ from crafting one for MotorStorm on PS3?
We didn't want to compromise on the audio, and it is a facet that we feel is intrinsic to the game experience. We've worked really hard to get the audio quality and the blend of music, engine sounds, crashes, explosions as close to MotorStorm on the PS3 system as possible. Obviously there's no surround sound, but when the player sits with their PSP and headphones on they should feel truly immersed.
How do you make sure the tracks offer up new challenges when players race through them in reverse?
When we sat down at the beginning of the project, one of the first things we decided on was that we wanted the player to race all our tracks in reverse as well as forwards. In doing this we made a conscious decision to slightly alter each track for the reverse direction so the player would have paths accessible in reverse that weren't there in the forwards direction and vice versa.
This posed several conundrums during the initial level design stage where we had to design tracks that didn't have sections that whilst being fun in one direction, such as huge downward jumps, weren't boring on the way back, such as a long meandering climb uphill.
With a few rule-sets in mind we have managed to construct 12 unique tracks that are as enjoyable and different in one direction compared to the other.
Are you planning on any integration features with PS3?
It was an idea that we initially kicked about, specifically for unlocking some secret content. However as development progressed, we made the decision to concentrate on getting the gameplay on PSP as tight as possible.
That said, it doesn't mean the secret content has been removed. It's in there to be discovered by the more dedicated, and observant, players.
Have you got a personal favourite when it comes to the courses in the game?
We have a track for every occasion in the game, there are tracks where cornering is vital in order to gain those extra few seconds, tracks where jumping correctly is the key to winning, tracks where the player will be racing flat out, nose to nose with the other contestants and so on. With the variation in track types, surfaces and environmental hazards every race and track experience could and will be different.
I'll have to be diplomatic and say they are all my favorite, for that very reason. You never know what sort of experience you will get from one race to the next, so the player will be constantly kept on their toes.
We are, as a team, very proud of each and every track and enjoy playing each one as much as the next. So to pick a favorite would be doing a disservice to the other tracks. I'll leave it up to the players to determine which ones they prefer - hopefully they will find it as difficult to pick a favorite from the 12 as we do.
Can you talk a little bit about how each environment will affect players as they race through each lap of the course?
As with other MotorStorm games a great deal of the excitement comes from racing in environments that the player usually wouldn't be able to experience, and in Arctic Edge this is no exception.
The tracks at the lower levels of the mountain will have the player contending with some tight, twisty courses where there will be some evidence of dilapidated human infrastructure that has now been taken over by the organisers. These will offer up some interesting choices in terms of route selection for the player with plenty of shortcuts and other little surprises.
The tracks at higher altitudes will have the player experiencing the dangers of avalanches, bobsleigh corners and ice that can break under the weight of heavier vehicles. These will all change the way that route will play and has the player having reacting to the changes taking place around them.
The tracks in between will have a mixture of both of these gameplay types, and will have the player contending with switching from snow and ice, to dirt and rock and back again so they have to be thinking one step ahead in order to remain in front.
There are two new vehicles in the game, the Snowcat and Snow Machine. Can you talk a little bit about how players can use each one to their advantage in races?
We were keen to get some snow themed vehicles into the game from an early stage and right from the start the inclusion of the Snow Machine seemed a natural choice.
The Snow Machine sits in between the ATV and Buggy in terms of weight, yet it is no push over. It is fast, agile and of course right at home in the cold stuff. It can turn on a dime, and power away from most situations. It has a weight advantage over the other ridden vehicles but can still be bullied by the bigger vehicles in the pack.
The Snow Cat is another inclusion into the field of competitors and one which the players will enjoy messing with and battling against.
The Snow Cat sits between the, newly named, Snow Plugger and Big Rig in terms of weight and so is right up there with the heaviest vehicles. What the Snow Cat lacks in speed it more than makes up for in terms of grip and cornering. It is able to muscle almost all other vehicles out of its way and stay on the racing line while others are getting out of its way.
Multiplayer has always played a huge part in MotorStorm culture on PS3, how have you adapted that for PSP?
It was important for us to get the multiplayer in Arctic Edge spot on, both in terms of the game technically running the same and the gameplay being as engaging as the single player experience. Both of these points we have achieved and we are confident, that as with the PS3 versions, the multiplayer in Arctic Edge will be as talked about as the single player experience.
We are able to bring eight player Ad Hoc Mode and eight player Infrastructure Mode to the table in terms of what we will offer in the way of multiplayer gaming. This allows the player to compete against other players anywhere in the world.
Complementing this is the ability to upload and download ghost times from players all over the world to use in Time Attack. And indeed the player has a lot of control over the information displayed to them when looking at and interacting with the leaderboards for all the online game modes. And, all this is linked into your Sony Entertainment Network account too. Plus, there's even more to come on this soon so stay tuned.