It came as a bit of a shock recently to find Namco Bandai was to put its long-running Ridge Racer series into the destruction derby sub-genre of racers by way of FlatOut developer Bugbear. Finland Editor Kimmo caught up Joonas Laakso, who's taking on Producer duties for Ridge Racer Unbounded to find out what we should expect.
Bugbear and Ridge Racer - how did this collaboration start?
Namco Bandai was looking for a new developer for Ridge Racer and we were after a new project to develop. Our schedules just matched quite well. Namco Bandai liked our games, and for us Ridge Racer is an amazing opportunity to gain publicity and get to work with an established game series with a long history.
What does this mean for FlatOut?
We never owned FlatOut. When the publisher Empire Interactive went bankrupt the IP moved elsewhere. The recent FlatOut for Wii is not made by us. However, we think it would be interesting to continue developing the series sometime in the future. At the moment we are very happy to have an opportunity to create something new.
What can we expect from Ridge Racer Unbounded?
Ridge Racer Unbounded has Bugbear's touch on it. We are very good at destructive and dangerous driving, so it's quite safe to assume that the new Ridge Racer follows these tracks. The teaser trailer gives a taste of the game's mantra: "drive, destroy, dominate". The mantra summarises what we are doing. In addition to that, we have all sorts of cool stuff up our sleeves which we unfortunately cannot talk more just yet.
But what kind of audience are you looking for with the new, more violent style? Will this still appeal to Ridge Racer fans?
I'm a Ridge Racer fan myself and I wouldn't do this game unless I believed we can continue and honor the series. The Ridge Racer series is 18 years old, and some of its fans have been along from the very beginning. For them the new style can be a big change, but I think Ridge Racer can also offer other kinds of exciting experiences than what we have seen so far. I believe that we can win old fans to our side.
And we've worked on a sequel to a Japanese racing series once before, with Sega Rally on the PSP, and the FlatOut series has sold over 2.5 million copies, so we know how to please our racing fans.
But if the new direction of Unbounded doesn't excite after we've shown it in action, Namco Bandai is still publishing more traditional entries in the Ridge Racer series, first in March for Nintendo 3DS and soon after for iPad.
How much freedom Bugbear has to develop own ideas and how much comes from Namco?
We develop the game by ourselves at our office in Helsinki. Namco Bandai's team in Japan participates in discussion every week and visits us often. There's a great deal of cooperation in development and we have been able to discuss creative choices very freely. To work with Japan has been easier than I thought, and also fun! The final game will bare the mark of a Namco Bandai title, but the product is still unquestionably a Bugbear's game.
What kind of significance does this game mean for Bugbear?
We appreciate this as an opportunity to work with both a legendary game series and a great publisher. Many of the production team members at Namco Bandai have several decades of experience in the games industry and they really know what they are talking about.
Compared with our earlier games we are excited about the opportunity to get more coverage, and through that more fans. It was tough to get new projects going in the games industry during the past couple of years, and we are of course very delighted about the fact that we found a big, inspiring game to develop, which not only allows the studio to continue operating, but also to grow.
Do you still plan to develop new original games or are we going to see titles from existing IPs in the future?
We have always developed both original games (Rally Trophy, FlatOut) and existing IPs (Sega Rally). While we feel safe developing our own IP, the development is obviously time-consuming and there's a danger given today's tight market. Foreign IPs can be turned into something original as well, which I think we succeeded with in Sega Rally.
We are glad to continue working with existing, great game series and at the same work on our own projects. We won't just stand by and wait to see what could happen next, but instead create our own opportunities.
In what shape is Ridge Racer Unbounded currently and when will it be in stores?
Ridge Racer Unbounded will be released next year for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and, for the first time in the series' history, also for PC. We have a rather fancy system which keeps all three versions in the same state all the time. The production is in full swing and the game is looking really promising already. Just recently I stopped to admire the scenery and felt bad as we can't show anything yet!