Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Preview: Driver San Francisco

In this sequel, Detective John Tanner returns to the mean streets of San Francisco in his hot pursuit of the mob boss Charles Jericho. After a violent jailbreak, Jericho is on the loose and San Francisco is gripped by fear as the crime lord mounts a campaign of targeted kidnap and theft, but to what end? The police department has no leads and the only man to ever catch him, Detective John Tanner, fights for his life after a brutal car cash.

Unaware that he is in a coma, Tanner must undertake a relentless manhunt, going deep undercover to reveal Jericho’s real plan. It’s a chase that drives him towards the secret behind his own recovery – a chase between life and death.

Developed by Ubisoft Reflections, creators of the original title, Driver San Francisco is the return of the established action driving video game series that has sold 14 million copies worldwide. Gamers play John Tanner, a hardened detective involved in a relentless manhunt throughout the City by the Bay.

Players can now seamlessly shift between more than a hundred licensed vehicles, keeping them constantly in the heart of the action. With its timeless atmosphere, unique car handling and renewed playability, this title offers the free-roaming, classic, cinematic car chase experience.

With the true car chase experience you can rediscover the cinematic driving sensations: loose suspension, long drifts, sharp bends and high-speed pursuits in dense traffic. Drive over 120 licensed cars involved in some of the most intense chase sequences ever seen.

There are more than 200 miles of road network, over the Golden Gate Bridge, and along iconic locations throughout San Francisco.

Your world is enlarged further with the ability to SHIFT, giving the gamer unprecedented freedom, diversity and intensity like no other action driving game. You can deploy civilian vehicles to block your enemies’ getaways, defuse bombs under trucks around the city or take down a convoy of juggernauts ploughing through cars on the highway.

You can ram, tail and overtake in 19 different, frantic and addictive multiplayer modes including online competitive modes, split screen competitive modes and split screen cooperative modes, where SHIFT adds a completely new online gaming experience for players and their friends.

You can also record your best stunts and chases with the Film Director replay mode to edit and share your movies online, and test your driving skills with over 30 challenge races and 80 “dares” spread all across the city.

Charged was exclusively invited to Ubisoft Reflections studio in Newcastle, UK, for a chat with the development team, and we were greeted by Jean-Sebastien Decant and Marie-Jo Leroux.

Jean, the Lead Designer, joined Ubisoft in 2009, as Senior Designer on Driver, to supervise all single player aspects of the game. Whereas, Marie-Jo Leroux, the Senior Producer, has been enjoying the challenge of left-side driving and roundabouts in sunny Newcastle since joining the Driver team in 2009.

One of the first things that strikes you at the studio is the sheer size of the development team. Marie said that at its peak the team in Newcastle alone was over 140 people, with help from 5-6 global studios, throughout the five year development period.

That Newcastle team, we learn, has grown organically together for nearly two decades, ever since the development of Destruction Derby began in the early 90s. Since then several car games have emerged from that studio and today, Jean says it has some of the best car programmers in gaming. He adds: “All the physics and car handling expertise is done in-house. They are car nuts and they are totally obsessed – they eat and sleep cars.”

Marie went on to explain how that obsession was the ideal ingredient for the creation of the sequel. She said: “Driving is the key focus of the latest Driver game. We wanted to return to the routes of what made the original Driver great, and that was the car handling.

“Because we wanted to focus on driving that meant no getting out of car. Also, a key pillar of the brand is that it is story driven and now that is more elaborate than ever before because it happens in two levels. Tanner is in coma and fed information by news and his partner talking to him, and this affects what happens in his coma world, and on top of that you have the police investigation of where is Jericho and what is he up to.

“The two main pillars are there and the third is cinematic car chases. We are adding SHIFT as an ingredient for new ways to explore driver.”

When we met the team, the game already had a staggering 140 licensed cars and SHIFT allows you to drive each and every one of them.

But this required a huge amount of processing power as Jean explained.

He adds: “In terms of the code in terms of dealing with the fact you can be in one car then fly into the sky and see the entire world of Driver and then zoom back into the game in anothervehicle, it is extremely demanding on the CPU to load such vast content so quickly – especially when all of the rendering is at 60 fps.”

While rendering the SHIFT activity was one of the greatest challenges in developing this sequel, according to the team, it was not the only one as Marie explains. “The biggest challenge was not saying no to anything the designers asked for.

“Undoubtedly the biggest technological challenge was SHIFT, and the ability to go from any car to another anywhere in the world, but in addition, there was the story telling without getting out of the car and not just with cut scenes. That was very difficult because this game has a complex story. We also had to ensure the player understands all that develops around them – so there are a lot of narrative devices there to keep player understanding the action.”

Jean adds: “Gameplay wise the biggest challenge was to fix the driving, the SHIFT and the story and to make them work together – to create that balance.

“Ultimately, what we wanted to achieve was an open-wall game, which means you can do anything at any time, and that is precisely how SHIFT was devised.”

He adds: “Some of the original Driver fans have criticised SHIFT, but we just say put your assumptions aside and just try it and they will instantly see the principals are the same – only today there is far more realism and realistic cars.”

This game has been designed for the broader market, not just Driver enthusiasts, but this is not about dumbing down– instead the developers have given everyone an experience up to their level of skill. The game is quite extensive too, with single player play time lasting 10-12 hours, if you are rushing through, doing only the story missions.

Marie says: “But as we said this is an open world filled with stuff, like a further 50 activities, 30 challenges, and 80 dares, and all these mini-games add considerably to the play time.

“Furthermore, there are 19 multiplayer modes – 11 online competitive and the rest split screen.”

She adds: “Shift has allowed us to invent new ways of competing online – not just racing – things like capture the flag and defend the base – the kind of things you usually find in FPS.

“It’s a frantic and fluid way of driving. You can be stuck behind the pack or rammed into a wall and simply shift into a faster or leading car – but all players can do that so it becomes very tactical and the situation is changing all the time.

“Ultimately though, if you don’t drive well you won’t do well. It’s all about the driving.”

  • Michael Gordon is editor of Charged Middle East magazine, a leading Dubai-based gadgets and games title that provides news, reviews and features on the latest home and consumer electronics. For more about the magazine, check out its Facebook page after the jump.