The next couple of months will see three major racing games release and the first one to hit the accelerator in just a couple of weeks is Slightly Mad Studios' Project CARS 2. Sequel to the partially crowdfunded racing sim released in May 2015, Project CARS 2 looks to build upon that foundation, while adding more variation, depth, and polish across the board.
At Gamescom we had a lengthy chat with Slightly Mad Studios chief commercial officer (CCO) Rod Chong, a month out from the release of the game.
"Finishing games can be a stressful experience," said Chong on the subject of reaching the finish line. "But now it's August and we've gone through the most difficult stage. We know that the game is looking really good. We've attacked all the bugs and we're feeling quietly confident now. I think the studio is feeling quite proud of what we've achieved with Project CARS 2."
"We've done quite a lot of work on the driving experience for Project CARS 2," said Chong. "One of the areas that we've done a fair amount of work on is the drive-train. So we have for instance a new differential and we've had to do a lot of new simulation and code work around the rallycross cars, because they go over jumps, they have long suspension, they have unique drive-trains. So we've had to do a fair amount of work there. But the biggest area for Project CARS 2 is the tyres."
"Project CARS 1 innovated a brand new carcass model mode, what I mean with carcass is that it works with the tyre as a three-dimensional piece of rubber that's filled with air. So we simulated that, but there were certain areas of this new technology, this new simulation technology that we needed to work on some more and a lot of that is the feeling of the car up to and over the limit. We added new code there so you can really feel the car on the limit and if you overcook a corner you can get the car back."
In terms of how the game is shaping up, we've certainly been enjoying our time with the several recent builds we've gotten access to (the final preview build, Gamescom, and even earlier versions), be it on PS4, a mid-range PC, or an insanely expensive mega rig. It sure appears as if this game is flexible enough to shine across the board. Therefore, prior to launch, we can foresee a much better experience with both controller and racing wheel, as well as a potentially better package for console players. These aspects, plus content and presentation, were definitely the most requested upgrades this time; in other words, it looks like Slightly Mad is hitting the right notes.
Although behind the wheel it didn't feel perfectly natural yet (at least at first glance, with less than five hours of driving time and, again, not final code), the improvements on driving, tyres, and physics models can be clearly felt on a proper force feedback setup, especially in terms of road nuances and the specific differences between well-known cars. Add to that its highly realistic, game-changing dynamic weather, and the overhaul feels like a leap more than a couple of steps. Thus, not only are we potentially looking at a much more realistic simulation, but also a more lively, fun and extreme racing game, whereas PC1 felt a bit too rigid, soulless or hostile with some cars/tracks.
Looking back at the original Project CARS, which sold two million copies, Slightly Mad Studios were faced with pleasing many players on varying levels and with varying needs.
"We've designed Project CARS 2 with two areas in mind", said Chong. "One of them is the PC sim racing world, for the people that are more hobbyists, who get all the expensive steering wheels and they have a racing seat, they may have upgraded to VR now, there's new triple monitor support, these type of areas. So that's one segment, it's a very particular community in what they're looking for, but we are very committed to ensure that we're the most technically advanced simulation title out there with all the new features and triple-A production values with the incredible graphics and this next-generation physics experience."
"That's all very important, but we've also spent a lot of time making sure that the console players can have a fantastic time as well and a lot of them are not using steering wheels, for example, they are using game pads. Very early on in the Project CARS 2 development cycle, we spent a lot of time with the game pad handling and this is a thing that's a very big difference from Project CARS 1 is the game pad experience and how you can control a car how you can feel a car and how the algorithms work for taking steering input and what that means for what the car does."
Gamepad controls and menus are improved. Taking care of both is essential if you're to cater to the console community, and the first game was lacking in this regard (not to mention performance issues). Controller input has been revamped and it now feels very natural and responsive, even though its foundation in simulation is just screaming for any petrolhead to buy a proper FFB rig. Now you can dare taking more aggressive turns, and navigating menus and settings is no longer a nightmare on console. Performance-wise, though, we still want to test it on both the standard and upgraded Xbox and PlayStation models to check how both versions have been optimised.
Content-wise it's not yet a matter of what we've played (other than enjoying the expanded car/track collection), but more a matter of the official numbers and promises made by the studio. The new career concept/layout seems like it offers a better hook though, and we're really looking forward to getting stuck in over the next few weeks, while readying our review in time for the game's launch on September 22. With its strong commitment to simulation and by listening to feedback from the first entry, this might as well overtake the console manufacturer's exclusives as the best pure racing experience this year, as well as at the same time pleasing and expanding its already significant community on PC.
Project CARS 2 will be the first of the "big three" racing titles due out over the next couple of months that also includes console-exclusives Forza Motorsport 7 and Gran Turismo Sport.
"Fundamentally, when it comes to looking at the landscape this year of all the different racing titles that come out, there's different ways you could do it," says Chong when asked about the competition. "You could get really competitive and start listing their features with our features and things like that. But we believe that what we've made is going to stand out and when you really just look at what we've put into the game it's going to stand on its own."
Check out the full interview with Slightly Mad Studios' CCO Rod Chong below:
The article continues on the next page as we sent game director Stephen Viljoen a bunch of questions.
Just prior to Gamescom we also shipped off a number of questions to Slightly Mad Studios, and these were answered by Stephen Viljoen, game director on Project CARS 2.
What feature are you personally most proud of or excited about in Project CARS 2?
This is like asking me to choose a favourite child. There are a lot of new features we're genuinely excited about: Our new Competitive Racing License component (for matchmaking, and to promote clean online racing), new elite brands such as Ferrari and Porsche, an even more robust Career Mode that echoes the career of real-world drivers, newly scanned tracks such as the Nordschleife, revamped gamepad handling, over-the-limit feel ... there's really a lot to choose from, but if I was forced ... it'd be a toss-up between LiveTrack 3.0., that brings all four seasons in-game, both graphically and grip-affecting, and the way the cars now handle out-of-the-box.
In terms of both realism and immersion, LiveTrack 3.0 really moves the franchise out into its own. Racing around the Nordschleife in the winter with the threat of snow and then coming through the Karussell into the flakes falling from the grey sky, the trees winter-bare, it's really special. Running a race in changing conditions at Spa with half the track slippery as hell from a passing rain shower and the other half bone-dry, and you're out there on slicks in an LMP1—it's just sublime. The way the trees change through the four seasons, and the way the weather affects the grip of the cars, it's really unique in both the way it replicates the natural atmosphere of a racing track, and the way it brings the true-to-life conditions of motorsport to the game.
The out-of-the-box handling experience across all peripherals is also a big deal for us. Getting this absolutely right for Project CARS 2 was crucial because, for Project CARS, there was too much tinkering left up to the players.
For Project CARS 2, we have revamped this entirely; when you get into the game for the first time, your peripheral is going to give you an optimised feel for the handling of the cars.
This was a really challenging concept for our development team, which is why I'm so proud of the way it's turned out. The Project CARS franchise is all about realism and accuracy, so while it would have been simple to "fudge" the experience on the gamepad, it was never an option for us. The challenge was to retain the handling, the feel and the accuracy, and find a way to deliver that across all peripherals in an intuitive way that didn't rely on players spending hours tuning.
We've been delighted to hear from our fans at pre-release events, as well as the media who have tested Project CARS 2, that we hit the sweet spot with this. It's testament to not only our dedication to getting things right, but also doing things the right way. Getting into a massive powerslide and controlling it with a gamepad is a truly rewarding experience, and made even more so by the fact that, when you're in a big powerslide, it's you the driver that's controlling it.
If you were to compare the journey with Project CARS 2 to the one you had with the original - what's been different and what remains the same?
What remains the same is the commitment and dedication we get from our community at WMD. That's been a constant from day one, and the resources, feedback, and criticism is absolutely key to the franchise.
Project CARS was a journey into the unknown in a lot of ways. We knew what we wanted to achieve—a realistic, accessible racing game across all platforms—and we knew we'd end up with a great racing game, because we've been delivering those for almost 20 years. But there are always unknowns when you begin a new project, like how it will be received, will it be successful, and so on.
We released Project CARS a time when the racing genre was a bit flat, so there was a certain amount of risk involved with coming in with a game that pretty-much upended what many assumed was what players wanted from a racing game.
For Project CARS 2, we came in with a lot less unknowns, and on the back of a best-selling opener to what is now a much-praised franchise. This has made things easier in some ways. We know what our fans liked from the original—the realism, the accuracy, the immersion—and we know what our fans didn't like. We also learnt what they wanted to be included in the second game, things like more elite brands, easier out-of-the-box controls, and more licensed series and motorsport types. And we learnt that what they didn't want—like being frustrated by peripherals and so on.
So the journey for Project CARS 2, if you wanted to break it down, was to add to what we got right with the first game, attend to things that our fans wanted done better, or differently, and finally, doing what we do best—make an absolutely world-class sequel that is better than the first in every way: more cars, more tracks, LiveTrack 3.0. which just adds layers of immersion to what was already the most immersive and beautiful racing game in the world, more brands like Ferrari and Porsche, more motorsport types such as IndyCar and rallycross and ice racing, better esports, and better peripheral support and feel.
With Project CARS, we really did take a big leap into the dark. With Project CARS 2, the lights were on, and we knew right from the go what needed doing. That has resulted in a game that feels a lot more assured and "grown up".
What can you tell us of the new force feedback profiles? How will it work in practice?
By default there are 3 force feedback profiles, each with their own preset settings:
Raw: Primarily designed for direct drive wheels, with unfiltered FFB allowing the user to feel the full strength of various forces felt by drivers.
Immersive: Replicates the feel of road surfaces, curbs, tyre slip, and other forces felt through the steering wheel, as experienced in the real world.
Informative: A more detailed feel of road surfaces, curbs, tyre slip and other forces designed to give as much feedback to the player on their car's reactions and movements as possible.
Will more hardware be supported in this regard? What will the setup process be like compared to the last time around (specifically on console)?
We're taking a bit of a different approach with force feedback this time around. Rather like our new Race Engineer, we wanted to make a very complex and initially scary-looking thing much simpler and much friendlier. So rather than dozens of obscurely named settings that you'd need an engineering qualification to work out, we've boiled things back to a simpler but just-as-powerful system.
We start off with different "flavours" of force-feedback. For those with direct-drive or high-end belt wheels, there's a "Raw" setting that gets you all the feedback from the game, without monkeying around with it. The "Immersive" setting aims to replicate what you'd feel in real life, and the "Informative" setting prioritizes those signals from the game that are important to us sim-racers. Finally, on PC only, there's a "Custom" setting that lets you edit directly in the data files themselves.
Each "flavor" can be tweaked further on four different sliders: Gain, Volume, Tone and FX. Gain determines the overall strength of the FFB. Volume determines the "loudness" of the FFB within the confines of the Gain setting. Higher volume makes the FFB feel heavier, but at the cost of some of the finer details. Tone allows you to set a preference between surface detail and tyre slip. And finally FX allows you to dial up or down the effects of surface detail.
It's a different approach, but we think that the system allows as much personal-preference tuning as more traditional ones. Most devices will feel good-out-of-the-box, but there's plenty of room for tweaking and tuning if you'd like.
With regards to console hardware support—we're aiming to support any official or third-party wheel that's supported by the console manufacturers themselves.
Will rumble with Fanatec pedals be supported?
Yes. In and working.
In terms of how individual cars behave will degrees of rotation be based on real-world data or will players need to tweak this in menus or the wheel itself?
Degrees of steering wheel rotation per car is something that just happens naturally based on your tuning setup. Say a car has 30 degrees steering lock in either direction, and your setup uses a 15:1 steering ratio. That's 60 degrees total rotation at the tyres times 15:1 ratio for 900 degrees steering wheel rotation, or 2.5 turns lock to lock.
Lower the steering ratio in your setup to 10:1 for faster steering, and rotation drops to 600 degrees, or 1.67 turns lock-to-lock. As much as possible, we set default steering ratios and steering lock angle to match the real cars, so no fiddling is needed out-of-the-box to get accurate input response.
You've obviously supported VR for some time, but PSVR is a little different than offering Oculus and Vive support on PC. How have you handled this and have you been forced to compromise on anything?
We are not supporting PSVR at launch.
As for the competitive side of things and esports, where do you feel Project CARS 2 has the most offer?
Project CARS was a big hit with the ever-competitive sim-racing community. Our focus for Project CARS 2 then was to get the esports component into the game from the ground-up, and that has resulted in a few new additions to the game that will make Project CARS an even stronger player in the esports arena.
Top of that list of new additions is the new Competitive Racing License, and new Broadcast and Director Modes.
The Competitive Racing License comes to Project CARS 2 to enhance two main areas; online racing, and matchmaking.
To promote more orderly and clean racing, online players can choose to enable the Online Reputation License, which grades drivers based on their driving across online races. Poor driving and racing etiquette will give a player a lower safety ranking, or a deduction in their safety ranking, whereas professional, clean driving standards and race craft will give the driver a higher or improved safety ranking.
The other part of the Competitive Racing License will also serve to highlight drivers' skill levels, and that will give prospective esport team-owners a chance to recruit the best talent into their teams for their esport programs.
Live-stream functionality is now an essential part of esports. With this in mind, Project CARS 2 features both a Director and Broadcast Mode, built-in, that affords players powerful tools to live-stream their races along with advanced solutions for shoutcasting duties.
That's a lot of Project CARS 2 information, but that should tell you everything you need to know with the racer due out on PC, PS4, and Xbox One on September 22.
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