Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Racing Games Being Free of Restraints

As we look into the open future racing games are becoming more realistic by the day. Although what we are not seeing so far is the ability of freedom within this genre. Yes cars and environments are becoming more photorealistic thanks to the every growing technology but have we taken to old methods again?

Many racing games are just track locked games. The player can not exceed the track limits “Go Off Road” unless off roading is part of the track. There only a select few of racing titles which allow freedom to the player. Frankly it isn’t much freedom but its more then being locked to the track. Some titles do actually try to present the player with a “sense of freedom”. They don’t give us total freedom as there are still boundaries, but they do lure the player into thinking there are some sort of freedom elements to the game. I’m of course talking about “Motorstorm” by Evolution Studios and “Dirt” by Codemasters.

Motorstorm to be put blunt is a mad stunt style racing game which allows players to dare jumps while speeding radically fast across canyon terrain. Allowing some sort of freedom element in this title does do wonders. You can actually fall off the track edge, and Motorstorm does place you on the edge. Although there are some limits. Height limits are placed and also the courses are track directed, even if you think its off roading there is still a direct path the player must take to complete the course.

Dirt places the player in a truly remarkable rally “simulation”. Yes dirt maybe classed as a racing game but there are different types of racing game; Arcade, Traditional, Simulation. Dirt has a great element of freedom, it truly does add to the Rally experience. Players can drive their cars off the road, down cliffs and hill sides, and unless you’re a brilliant driver with the Colin McRae series you will find yourself steering off the track around bends and sometimes straights.

Hold Up. Back On Track!

So freedom is a good thing to aim for a racing game, so why hasn’t it been explored more? Simple because it has. If you allow 99.9% of freedom to the player in a racing game you wouldn’t have a racing title, you’d end up with a racing RPG. Racing games need that limit so the players can flow around the course completing laps. If the course is to “Freedom Flexible” players could cheat by taking shortcuts and just go completely off road and ruin the race. We can depend on the limits to sometimes help us get around the course easier, and sometimes having being locked to the track can be a fun experience as you can then turn the speed up on the cars. Giving you the arcade experience.

Arcade racing games always seem to be the joy of the racing genre, demeaning all laws of the real world and just keeping the fun factor real. When I worked on SEGA Rally (PC/XBOX360/PS3) I come to realize that pushing technology for freedom wasn’t really a factor it was more keeping on the arcade guidelines while boosting up the graphics.

You just contradicted your question?

Well yes and no. The whole part of writing this is to show there isn’t any real answer it’s really according to what racing game its set to. I’m sure we will see titles like Motorstorm in the future, and there will also be other games like SEGA Rally in the future, but what can we expect in new game play terms. Yes we do need to explore the future in freedom, but also we need to keep those racing limits. I’ve tried to work closely with the two. It’s a hard balance between freedom for the racing genre. So many questions;

How much freedom is in the game?
How much balance of freedom is their within the game?
Depicting freedom and Gameplay, where’s the fun element on the freedom aspect?

My formula for balance of freedom and locked track:

(1) Track X has X Mount Shortcuts Shortcuts=off-road off-road has limits

This is just a concept. It’s being put into testing.

(2) Track X(Level Size a ÷ Shortcuts b) ÷ 100 x Shortcuts b = Y Freedom

(1) Here’s how it’s set out. Track X has X amounts of shortcuts. Shortcuts are counted as off-road (freedom) but off-road needs some limit (locked track) otherwise the player could stray away from the track completely.
(2) Level size divided by the amount of shortcuts on the track equals the amount of freedom to allow within the track. Example:
Track Canyon(3400x3400 ÷ 6 Shortcuts) ÷ 100 x 6 = 34% Freedom

This is assuming your track environment is square it wont work otherwise.

In conclusion there are elements to look into the racing genre, but still need to keep to the old guidelines and keep the element of fun in the game. Arcade is still a key element to be had in any racing title, but as well as exploring the element of freedom and allowing new game play. With the test formula it’s easy to figure out how much freedom needs to be allowed in that level. There are sure to be many changes in the genre for the next generation, but what elements it will keep going is to be waited for.

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