The original Grid came out way, way back in 2008, a halcyon age full of laughter and fun when we didn't even know what a Justin Bieber was. Grid 2 followed up a long while later in 2013 after a hefty development cycle, and now a new entry in the series, Grid Autosport , has popped up almost exactly a year on from that, fresh-faced and full of beans. I spoke to Producer Toby Evan-Jones about what players can expect from the game, and why the studio decided to release it so soon after the previous one.
Strategy Informer: First off, I wanted to get your thoughts on the short development time for Grid Autosport compared to Grid 2 , which took you around 5 years from development to release. What was the thinking behind the shorter development cycle?
Toby Evan-Jones: Yeah. That’s a good question. As a studio that focuses on racing games we've got two major franchises, Dirt and Grid , that are close to our heart. Historically we've kind of alternated between them, so we'll often release a Dirt game for example, while at the same time having a team work on the next Grid game, then we'll shift the development the other way when the next game's ready. I'd say the move to do Autosport straight after Grid 2 wasn't in the plan originally, it was something that came about at the tail end of that game, when we put it out we stood back and took stock and there was a lot of stuff the dev team wanted to have in there in terms of optimisation, new features and generally improving things.
At the same time there was a fair amount of feedback from the fans with regards to what they wanted, so additional touring care content, the return of cockpit cam and more of a nudge back to simulation rather than arcade. We though rather than the team close down the Grid code base and lose all these ideas, we'd keep it rolling and let them carry on with what they're doing. As everything was already up and running we've been able to make some big strides in certain areas. And the Dirt team are very happy, because it gives them more time to continue with what they're up to.
Strategy Informer: You focus on various motorsport disciplines in Grid , could you talk about the drift and endurance races we saw at the preview event today?
Toby Evan-Jones: Sure, so drift discipline is probably my personal favourite because it feels so different, and it requires you to learn these really difficult techniques before you can master it, but when you do it's really satisfying, so much fun. And as you've probably seen it's very different from the other race styles we have in the game. By taking the multi-discipline approach it's allowed us to really specialise the cars and give them real character and personality. In real life drift cars often run with fully-welded rear differentials, so there's no real difference in the rotation speed of the wheels, which makes them rubbish at grip driving but the back ends snap out really easily, so we've been able to implement that, and in the studio we've been working with drift racers, recently the team went down to Brand's Hatch for a today getting one to one tuition with their drivers to really get a grip on the discipline. Ultimately it feels a lot different to what we've done before and truly represents drift racing as a sport.
Strategy Informer: Endurance being sort of the opposite to that.
Toby Evan-Jones: Endurance, again has a really different approach to racing. Due to the length of the races you have to be much more strategic and tactical, you have to think about tyre wear and tactics feed into that. As I mentioned in the presentation you saw, you have to decide whether to push hard at the start and try to hold your place, or play a more conservative game, going for the win when the guys at the front are worn down to the threads with no traction. It adds a bit of strategy which carves out its own little niche in the five discipline line-up.
Strategy Informer: What time-scales can we set for those endurance races?
Toby Evan-Jones: You can alter it, if you want to step outside the singleplayer career you can set up custom events where you can set the time to whatever you want, choose the cars and venue and so on. Also what we've done is within the career, if you're racing on a contract that requires lots of endurance races you can go into the options and put a race duration multiplier on to increase the duration of the race massively. You get more experience and cash the longer you race.
Strategy Informer: Could you talk us through the main changes to career mode?
Toby Evan-Jones: Sure, so for one this time around we've separated off singleplayer and online. We know that people play very differently online, with the customisation options they want their personality to shine through in terms of livery and racing colours, things like that. For singleplayer we wanted to create something that's a bit more interesting in terms of the narrative and structure, so we had this idea of being a race driver and racing for different teams, which is much more true to life. Real drivers will have contracts for a season, you get a car and an objective, so the team will tell you “you need to achieve this target this season”. That's also allowed us to factor in the team-mate mechanic as well, we've added in team member biographies for you to look at, and we wanted to give that a bit more depth so we came up with the team-mate instructions and tactics. If you need to finish fifth or above, for example, you can ask your team-mate to slow down the pack and net you that spot.
Strategy Informer: Is vehicle customisation just in multiplayer, or cane we fine-tune our cars in career mode too?
Toby Evan-Jones: Yeah, you can actually tune your car in both. The real customisation is in multiplayer., that's where you're in full control, but we know people playing offline want to do some of that too, so what we've introduced is different levels of technical ability for the teams that offer you contracts. Smaller teams will only have a very grass-roots level of options, but when you start earning the bigger contracts those teams will be able to be able to tune the cars much more finely, put a lot more granularity into the settings. So that will be there in singleplayer.
Strategy Informer: Is the Flashback feature (which allows you to rewind time in the middle of a race to correct mistakes) returning, and if so have you made any changes to how it works?
Toby Evan-Jones: Actually we've adjusted the Flashback feature to be a bit less forgiving to the player, keeing them in the race a bit more. In previous games, it's worth mentioning actually that we invented Flashback in the orginal Grid , but in previous games you could enter Flashback and then kind of scroll back and forth through the replay to the point you want to re-enter, kind of take a breather and get yourself back together. This time we're not letting the players do that, we're not giving them time to relax, so when you hit the Flashback button during a race it enters an automatic rewind and they have to hit the button again at the point they want to enter. If they don't it chucks them back in anyway, so it really keeps the pressure on the player, keeps things a lot more immersive and challenging.
Strategy Informer: How about the AI, have you made major improvements in that area?
Toby Evan-Jones: Our AI is one of the areas we put a lot of effort into, we think it's incredibly important for a racing game and something that a lot of games don't put enough work into. Quite often racing games feel like you're competing against a bunch of zombies that are sticking quite strictly to the racing line. From the ground up we try to take quite a human approach, so we don't even tell our AI which line to race on a tack, and we've developed software in the studio where we take a track, drop the AI on there, and say go for it. It runs very high-speed simulations which let the AI run that race thousands and thousands of times, and like a human driver each time they race they adjust entry points into corners, the line that they take, the point at which they put the throttle down, what works best for that track to achieve the optimal racing line as a human driver would. On top of that we layer up to around 60 characteristics per AI driver which affect how good they are at judging the braking times, ho likely they are to make mistakes, how aggressive they are and so on. So they learn from the ground up as a human would, then we layer on these characteristics across a spectrum of different areas that make them incredibly human-like.
Toby Evan-Jones: Beyond that we even tailor it per discipline, so AI in open wheel events will generally drive safe, slipstream a lot, pick their moments carefully, while in touring car events they'll be aggressive, nudging past you, trying to push past, a different set of skills entirely. Immense work has gone into the AI so that it constantly feels like you're up against humans, that's what we're aiming for.
Strategy Informer: Can you choose your AI team-mates when you're sifting through contract offers? Like, if you don't want one that will get annoyed and shunt you off the track?
Toby Evan-Jones: Absolutely, so when you're looking at a contract on the table for you you'll be able to see the events in it, sponsors and objectives needed, but also you can see the team-mate assigned to you. You review it all as a package, then you can decide which contract to sign depending on whatever you feels suits you best.
Strategy Informer: Okay, so how about new additions to multiplayer?
Toby Evan-Jones: So I'd say that multiplayer is about personalisation for people, they want their personality to shine through and everything that goes along with that, so we've focused a lot on customisation and vehicle ownership. We think actually having a car persist, accrue damage and mileage and behave in the way that a real car would is very important for people. So in our game if you damage your car you'll have to repair it, choose what you repair, possibly choose to be a bit stingy and take chances racing with a slightly damaged car, sell it to buy a new one, or put all your money into repairing it and form a real bond with that car even as it becomes more expensive over time. Then we've layered on the concept of a limited garage. You can only own a certain amount of cars, so do you sell everything on or do you build a garage of cars that really feel like yours through customisation and liver editing and so on? With the livery editor, sponsors that you have on your car will each have their own individual objectives for you to complete, so it's much more about personalisation this time.
Strategy Informer: And you've added new Race Clubs for players to group up, correct?
Toby Evan-Jones: Yeah sure, we wouldn't have been able to add Race Clubs without Racenet, has powered stuff in our games since Showdown, it's been increasing in power and features so now it's able to do things that we couldn't normally do on PSN and Xbox live, it allows data-tracking and so on, and we've carried over a lot of the weekly challenges and so on from Grid 2 , as well as adding Racenet Clubs which is the big new one for us. When you're on Racenet on the phone, web browser or whatever, you can seek out an existing club to join or create your own. What that means for club creators is that in-game, you can use the livery editor to create your clubs livery, then upload that to Racenet and that becomes your club's identity and is displayed on the Racenet website. Anyone who joins that club on Racenet, when they boot their system to play Grid Autosport the game check their club and automatically makes that livery available to download and use in multiplayer races. If they want to compete anonymously they can choose their own custom livery, but if they want to compete for their club they can choose to race in the club colours, which means their performance will contribute to the club's standings on Racenet. Then we have leaderboards online, club forums online to get the banter going on, it should be a really great feature.
Strategy Informer: Are these Racenet Clubs going to be cross-platform?
Toby Evan-Jones: That's a good question, I believe it's going to be per platform. We're not certain on that yet because there are certain restrictions on multi-platform content regarding how we use gamer tags, we can't share them across platforms so it has to be sectioned off.
Strategy Informer: Will we be able to save, edit and upload replays?
Toby Evan-Jones: You won't be able to save them locally, but we've got the Youtube video sharing in there, so if you have a replay you particularly love, we've been doing this a lot with drifting in the studio, you can set the in and out markers, adjust speed and slow-motion, create a little video and upload that to your Youtube account. Many thanks to Toby for speaking to me, and apologies for asking him with a straight face if we could take part in 24-hour endurance races in real time. Grid Autosport is out June 27 in Europe and June 24 in America for PC and last-gen consoles.
Many thanks to Toby for taking the time to speak to us. GRID Autosport is due out on June 27th in Europe and June 24th in America for PC and previous-generation consoles. For some early impressions, check out our preview.