Wednesday, February 2, 2011

"Test Drive Unlimited 2" director chats with Ski11z

Recently, M4dski11z reached out and talked to Atari about their upcoming racing video game, Test Drive Unlimited 2. Ski11z is no stranger to the Test Drive Unlimited universe - he was a beta tester on the first game and even made it into the PS2/PSP version of game as the president of one of the racing clubs (Club D).

Here's his interview with Alain Jarniou, game director for Test Drive Unlimited 2.

Ski11z: The first game took the world by surprise. It offered gamers freedom as soon as they started the game. A gamer could buy any house, most cars and do anything they wanted (challenges, racing). This version, however, forces gamers to enter races, accept challenges in order to progress at all. Why did you change the concept from the first game?

Jarniou: You are correct, the freedom aspect was a very important and specific part of the TDU gameplay, and we really focused on keeping it in TDU2.

Like in TDU, we designed a tutorial story to introduce the player to the different types of gameplay they will use in TDU2: driving of course, but also FRIM (win money in free-ride), walk mode in the interiors and driving licenses. This is also the time for the player to get their first car and home.

What we enhanced in TDU2 is the fact that we always try to keep the player with an objective, that he is free to follow or not. This idea comes from what we’ve seen in the first TDU: at the end of the tutorial, the game let the player totally free to do what they wanted, in a huge open-world. What happened is that some players felt "lost" at this point.

This time we designed a global guideline (with car licenses and the Solar Crown Championship) to help the player. But, again, it is the player’s choice to follow it or not.

Ski11z: The first game offered motorcycles and several real-life clothing brands. This game, however, features far fewer brands and no motorcycles. Why did you decide to leave out motorcycles and the multiple clothing lines?

Jarniou: For TDU2, one of our challenges was to develop an off-road driving gameplay. We decided to rebuild the car dynamics’ engine from scratch, with a more solid physics basis.

That was a critical choice, but today, it can provide a wider range of handling, including classic cars, 4x4s, and low to very-high power cars. It is a very long process to set up all cars, to make them fun and realistic, but it was worth it. You can really feel the difference. Maybe next we will concentrate on creating new physic dynamics for bikes.

Ski11z: As a former beta tester on the original game (PS2, PSP version with Melbourne House), I offered several suggestions for the second game. Amazingly, quite a few ideas made it in. Can you share what suggestions/features nearly made it into the game but were left out?

Jarniou: When we started working on the game design of TDU2, one of our priorities was to gather reviews and players’ feedback on TDU to identify what was cool, and what was missing, to enhance or add it in TDU2. That’s how we identified key TDU2 features like Day & Night cycle, weather, off-road gameplay,etc. Even some details like the ability to activate indicator lights was implemented following fans’ discussions.

One of the features that was often asked about was damage impacting not just visuals but also car performance. We have thought about this and have come to the conclusion that we did not want to have car performance impacted, in order to avoid any grieves created between online players competing or being intentionally hit to impact their performance.

Please feel free to send us suggestions, we really want to make TDU2 a game that is alive, that will evolve with the fans’ wishes.

Ski11z: The avatar now can walk around the homes they buy. They can also frequent a casino and visit clubs. Are there plans to offer additional features, areas via DLC?

Jarniou: Yes, new areas and additional features are planned for DLC. An official announcement will be made soon on the future DLC releases.

Ski11z: The first game did little to stop people from roaming all over Hawaii. It was very hard to do because the cars weren’t designed to go off road. This game, however, players can go any place in Ibiza, Spain they can see. How important was that to give gamers the ability to drive wherever they see?

Jarniou: That was one of our key design elements. In the open world of TDU, players loved driving off of the roads, to discover the island. That off road gameplay was an important part of the rebuild of the car dynamics, and, in TDU2, going off-roads with 4x4 is a real specific and fun driving experience.

We also gave more rewards for the explorers in TDU2, such as a treasure hunt where you find car wrecks to earn exclusive cars. In TDU2, you can go everywhere you want on the island. You see that mountain in the background? This is not a photo! You can drive to that place and discover beautiful spots… That is TDU2.

Ski11z: This version has some very interesting features – the car wash, the surgeon, finding junk parts. What was the reasoning behind these additional features?

Jarniou: We wanted to be as immersive as possible, so all these new features came naturally during the design stage. In TDU, player was able to change their face in… the dressing room. In TDU2, you have a specific place for that, the cosmetic clinic. For the same reason, we added hairdressers, car wash, stickers shop ...

Ski11z: Will players be able to visit other gamer houses? And when I was bumped offline (during a recent session - my DSL modem reset), the game paused and restarted. Is there some way to keep playing if you are knocked offline?

Jarniou: The ability to invite your friends at home, to discuss and show-off your cars in the garage is one of the main interests of the walk mode we developed for TDU2.

TDU players used to post videos of their garage on YouTube, now they can invite their friends to their home to show off their collection of luxurious cars. In TDU2, you can play both offline or online. The only restriction, for security reasons and avoiding cheating, is on PC, where offline and online progressions are split. This is not the case on consoles.

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