We all know Slightly Mad Studios primarily of their Shift dilogy developed within the Need for Speed series published by Electronic Arts. But as for me, I hope that soon the studio will be associated not with an another’s, but with its own IP — the British developers seem to be seriously intend to shake the niche of online racing with their ambitious Project CARS. And Project CARS is just the first game based on the new crowd funding platform named World of Mass Development (WMD), created by Slightly Mad.
Yes, the studio didn’t go to Kickstarter or something — they just did their own crowd funding platform! Which is, by the way, definitely not a full Kickstarter clone but has a number of pretty unique features and is built on some different principles. We’ve interviewed Andy Tudor, the Creative Director of Slightly Mad, about Project CARS and WMD…
Hello! Please, introduce yourself to our audience. What's your position in Slightly Mad Studios? Could you tell our readers something about your career? How did you get into the industry?
Hey there, I’m Andy Tudor and I’m the Creative Director at Slightly Mad Studios, currently on our WMD-powered title, Project CARS. I’ve been playing games all my life so I knew from an early age I wanted to have a career involved with them somehow. I was good at art so everything I did at school/college/university was devoted to combining computers with art through graphic design, animation, whatever. My first job was at Sony working on PlayStation 2 games as an artist and then I moved over to design when I was fed up of making pretty games that didn’t play well and wanted to see if I could do better.
If we talk about Project CARS, «RS» means «Race Simulator», right? So, why did the studio decide to develop a game oriented on simulators fans, not on arcade racing adepts? Or maybe the studio (practically) continues to go the path of NFS: Shift 1–2 trying to deliver a proper racing experience to the both categories?
Simulation is in our blood at SMS with members of the team working actively on Project CARS that were there from the very beginning working on the original GTR and GT Legends. So there’s a sim culture deep-rooted in the company. With the SHIFT series we knew that full simulation would completely alienate the existing Need For Speed community that had never experienced such a thing after the more casual/arcadey titles like Undercover, Carbon, and Most Wanted so there was a conscious decision to keep things ‘lite’ and ensure the core audience felt at home. With that done, we could then move things further into sim territory for Shift 2 Unleashed, and now with Project CARS we’re right up there as a dedicated sim racing game once again (albeit one that can still be dialed back to a casual racer via a ton of options we’ve added). So it’s a deliberate and gradual journey we’ve been on and now we’ve come full circle.
The official World of Mass Development website says: «Experience the excitement of PIT STOPS like you've never seen before!» Could you please explain that phrase?
Every game we create whether that’s a AAA console title or a mobile game, we set out to do things that are both ‘Best In Class’ and ‘Innovations’. I.e. stuff that may have been seen before but never to this quality level, and stuff that no-one has ever seen before. With Pit Stops we saw an opportunity there to achieve both — visually and stylistically represent them like the exciting, tense, co-ordinated efforts they are whilst adding some new functionality and presentation around them to make them far superior to the traditional slow-paced affair they’ve been in games for years. They’re gonna kick ass.
What additional features/elements of true realism in Project CARS are designed to satisfy and pleasure hardcore simulators fans?
There are simply too many to mention to be honest since our attention to detail covers all aspects of the project. On the cars this addresses the insane level of detail we have on each beautiful machine — even down to individual nuts & bolts and suspension springs. On environments you could look at the localized weather and 24 day/night cycle we have that no other game is coming close to currently. From the player experience perspective we have a freeform career mode that throws away the usual grind-for-cash mentality entrenched in most racing games and puts the focus back on the driver and all the opportunities that a real driver has. Handling, physics, and AI we have the most dedicated community in the world giving us feedback on these systems and testing each iteration week in week out until we get them perfect. Specifically for hardcore players we want to ensure everyone’s race rigs work perfectly — that means wheels, pedals, multi-monitors, force feedback etc., and that’s something that we continue to address as new hardware comes onto the market and more testing is done with the latest builds of the game.
And what’s the interest in Project CARS for the casual audience? Or maybe there’s actually no place for casual gamers?
This time around we’ve exposed all the options you can think of to suit the game to your tastes and level of experience. We call this Player Tailoring and it lets you change all aspects of the game from the driving aids you use, to the personality & challenge of the AI, to the way the camera shakes at high speed, whether the camera leans/looks to each apex etc. We’ll be providing presets for this stuff ultimately and so being able to set the game to act like a game you might have played in the past will literally be a click away hopefully.
Gameplay-wise too a lot of the content is available out-of-the-box so casual gamers can jump straight in without having to grind for it first without a perceived ‘sim difficulty’ being a blocker to experience fantastic cars like the BAC Mono or Pagani Huayra.
Criterion, the developers of the Burnout series, did a cunning move in Paradise City (for example): they didn’t license vehicles to allow players destroy them but the cars still did reminded us of the real prototypes, they still were recognizable. And in Project CARS we’ll have a licensed car fleet, and that automatically means we won’t see stunning crashes, «catastrophic» «wow»-moments etc. And why didn’t Slightly Mad copy Criterion’s trick?
Simple… the game is a love letter to real-world motorsports and culture so having licensed vehicles is imperative. ‘Stunning crashes’ are still completely possible in this scenario however — just look at the great screenshots and videos the WMD community have been sharing over the last year.
What’s the most valuable conclusion the team made during the production of Shift 1–2? Maybe there’re some relevant mistakes the studio will never do again in the future?
Again, simple… «Never compromise. Listen to your gut and forge your own path.»
Could you please name the major reasons Slightly Mad «escaped» the publisher to develop games independently, with the help of the audience?
Even with the racing pedigree of the team and our titles, getting a new game greenlit by a publisher (any publisher, and any team) is still a lot of work. Even though your concept may be fantastic, there are any other number of factors that may stop it from getting off the blocks: the amount of money needed, the title not fitting into a particular publisher’s portfolio, inability to guarantee a window in the market for the intended time of release, marketing and distribution costs, etc.
When we came to thinking about our next project after Shift 2 Unleashed it just made the most sense to look to the actual gamers for support especially since we wanted to launch our own IP with Project CARS; it would get us greenlit and funded much quicker, and in return we would invite the actual gamers themselves to join in and make the project alongside us with a true collaborative spirit just like the mod community that the company was built around back in the day. So it was a natural evolution really and brought the team back to their roots in many ways.
Did the team consider Kickstarter as a way to fund Project CARS or did they push off the WMD concept from the beginning?
At the time, Kickstarter wasn’t available in the UK plus it wasn’t as prolific as it is nowadays with only a handful of tentative developers starting to use it, so no not really.
Can you say WMD is a Kickstarter rival? Why?
Well the WMD platform is better than Kickstarter in a number of ways… Kickstarter is a one-way donation service where generous people pledge money to projects and sit back and hope it gets completed. Project owners might do blog updates or video updates (although they’re not required) but the power is all with the people that received the money.
With WMD all our people that ‘pledge’ are treated as fellow ‘project members’ (to put it in the similar terms). So they can see the project being built from the inside rather than just relying on the info that is pumped out to them — you can get on our forums, talk with us, ask us questions, vote on decisions, and create content yourselves! So no need to wait until the end of the project or rely on blog/video updates as to how it’s going.
Right now you can watch cars being made, then download them, drive them, and give feedback on how they look/sound/feel. There are also a core group of exceptional screenshot and trailer creators that show our game off to its best off voluntarily since you can also play the game right now through regularly-released builds and get to know your fellow community members.
We also offer incentives just like Kickstarter (called ‘Perks’) but we go one step further with ‘Fees’ which are our way of thanking team members for their involvement in the project as a monetary return based on the success of the title. So those things combined make for a strong community, a healthy relationship with the kind of people that play our games, and ultimately lead to a strong game being created by the fans for the fans.
The WMD concept implies that gamers would have a way to promote and even sale their own ideas. If Project CARS in particular and WMD in whole turn a success, I’m sure that you’ll get plenty of fresh ideas and new content from the audience and a lot of enthusiasts will share their content with the others for free. And I think it could almost kill the motivation for the audience to buy user-generated content for real money! So, why are you that sure that WMD will help ordinary gamers to earn significant money on their ideas and content?
Getting games off the ground is incredibly difficult as we talked about. Obviously people are waiting to see whether AAA game development can be successful this way so there’s a great responsibility we have to both ourselves and our supporters to show that working alongside gamers rather than people in business suits is the way forward.
Our goal is to prove that concept therefore and we have a fantastic game to showcase it with so if others out there have an idea and a team there’s no reason why they couldn’t use WMD themselves to get a project off the ground, keep the costs of development down and utilize the power of community-assistance to build a successful and lucrative title.
To your mind, how seriously (in the perspective) can WMD pump up the audience’s interest directly to the process of development?
I got into the games industry because I loved playing games and there are tons of people out there who are similar but already have a career in another sector and would love a chance to have some input (however big or small) into a game or genre they love.
Yeah, it’s hard to get people excited about, or understand, certain processes that there are in the games industry but that actually makes us reflect on those processes ourselves and question why they are like that in the first place. Other things however have a natural attraction like discussing the shape of a car or are easy concepts to get across like how menu navigation should work in the game. But generally, we originally put out the Project CARS concept doc when we started, people were interested in the idea and joined us and day-to-day the forum is extremely active with members talking about all aspects of the game without being forced or prompted to do so.
Externally, the ethos we would always say is: «Ever wanted to make a game? Well here’s a game idea we’ve had, if you think it’s good too then come along and help us make it.» and we’d hope there’d be a bunch of people that find that exciting and want to do so either in a casual way by just playing the game or in a more pro-active way by writing bug reports, giving continual feedback, voting on important decisions, and generally being an evangelist for the game.
Do you consider the possibility that some of the «Tool Pack» buyers will interfere in the process of Project CARS development in the negative way? If «no», then why? If «yes», then how do you plan to «fight» such «wreckers»?
Obviously there’s no screening process when you first join, but the forum is self-policing really. Every forum is going to have trolls and flame wars but it’s up to the community, the moderators, and ourselves to keep things in check. The forum is in essence our workplace so as long as you treat it as such everything is fine.
In terms of affecting the direction of the game though, we have polls and voting methods to determine important decisions so that’s handled democratically. Purchasing a higher Tool Pack means your voice will be heard more, but it doesn’t mean you’re right all the time;-)
Are there risks that some «backers» that get access to the game builds (weekly, bi-weekly etc.) will play enough of Project CARS till the day the full game’s released? If you consider such risks, then how will the team minimize them? What’s the cure in this case: new user-generated content, excitement of taking part in the development, something else?
New systems, features, and content are scheduled to be worked on continually throughout development so from week to week, month to month there are always new things to play in the game whether it’s a new car, or a new track, or a new feature. So if we look back over the last year we’ve added time of day, weather, a ton of new tracks and cars, licensing announcements, time trial mode, multiplayer, celebrity consultants, weekly events, competitions, quick season mode, a whole host of user options, telemetry etc. so a continual conveyor belt of new stuff and we still have career mode, qualifying sessions, pit stops, further cars & licenses, and more to come! So although people have been playing for over a year now, the community is just as active now as it ever was and there’s much more to go.
Why did Slightly Mad go online? Is it all about the money?
If you’re asking why the focus on online play this time around it’s one of reacting to gameplay trends. In a world when we can rent games, if there is no substantial multiplayer or further content strategy made apparent to the player then a singleplayer-only title is more likely to be just rented from Gamefly or Lovefilm because players don’t believe their $60 is a good long-term investment. That’s why nowadays there is a need to have multiplayer, co-op, DLC bundle passes, social/connected features etc. in order to not only provide a great experience for playing with friends and the world at large but also to extend the lifecycle of the game and therefore give value for money when considering a $60 price tag. So there’s obviously the business side of things to consider and making sure the player gets a sufficient amount of content for their hard-earned cash.
And then at the root of it too — playing against competitively and playing alongside co-operatively are much more fun when doing it with other humans. There’s the team bonding, the trash talking, the adding of people to their friends list, comparing stats with each other, climbing leaderboards, entering competitions, sharing experiences through photos/replays, becoming known online etc. and racing is a natural outlet for that when we look at competing titles, the real world, and the already-online sim racing scene which is comprised of really talented and dedicated players racing against each other in formal (sometimes broadcast) competition.
So that’s why we’ve focused so far on ‘connected play’ — not least of which because it has a fair number of technical hurdles we’d prefer to do sooner rather than later — but because we have a great community already and we wanted them to be able to play and communicate and compete with each other in-game as well as on our forum. You’ll see more solo features being worked on as the game progresses though.