We chat to Gavin Cooper, Chief Game Designer on Micro Machines: World Series!
Many people have fond memories of the Micro Machines games. There’s nothing quite like some good old fashioned, top-down racing mayhem with a group of friends. Finally, Codemasters have heard our desperate calls for more and will soon be releasing Micro Machines: World Series.
We had the opportunity to interview Gavin Cooper, Chief Game Designer on Micro Machines: World Series to talk about what’s changed in the new game, what the Codemasters team learnt from Toybox Turbos and why the new game doesn’t support eight-player local multiplayer.
GameWatcher: A lot of your audience will be returning fans that grew up playing Micro Machines. How have you appealed to that audience? What sort of features have you retained from the earlier Micro Machines games?
Gavin Cooper: We’re very familiar with that audience, as most of the team fall into that category! The great thing about Micro Machines is that everyone has their favourite. We’ve got folks here who remember the original games on the Mega Drive, and others who came onboard with Micro Machines V3 when the console scene exploded on the PSX. We even have a guy here who worked on Micro Machines V4 back in the day! So, with that spread of experience, we’ve worked really hard to pull out the threads that are common to all Micro Machines games. What’s the DNA? What are the things that make a Micro Machines game what it is? And those are the things we’ve committed to bringing back. The biggest part of that has to be Elimination mode – the classic “drive your opponents off the edge of the screen” racing mode that was responsible for more ranting and more cries of “one more go!” than almost any other gaming franchise I can remember playing. Power-ups (which were introduced to the series in V3) are there if players want them, and we’ve built on those massively in the new battle modes… But they can be turned off if in local multiplayer you’re a purist that fondly remembers the early games. And you might see a few familiar faces in the roster of AI characters…
GameWatcher: I noticed that you have included Loot Boxes in World Series. A lot of games now implement this kind of system. How do you think this enhances the Micro Machines experience?
Gavin Cooper: We’ve gone to great lengths to bring Micro Machines up to date, to try to meet the expectations not just of franchise fans, but also those of a modern gaming audience. For a game that’s enjoyed so much as a multiplayer experience, customisation is a feature lots of players would want to see - and we’ve had a huge amount of fun diving into that, coming up with fun ways to tweak your in-game cars. Loot boxes are a great fit for the kind of diverse audience a game like Micro Machines is aimed at; players who get really into the online game have an avenue of progression that they can really sink their teeth into, but more casual online players – or players who pick up the game primarily for the local multiplayer side of things – don’t feel like the game is shutting them out, or denying them access to the game content like maps or modes. All these loot box items are for fun – there’s no power creep, no feeling that you’re going to get destroyed by someone else because they’ve been playing longer than you and have better gear. Retaining that, keeping the game balanced for players of all skill levels, was really important to us.
GameWatcher: World Series feels noticeably slower than its predecessors. I was playing Micro Machines 2 the other day and it feels much faster than this game. Why did you guys decide to decrease the speed of the cars this time around?
Gavin Cooper: Finding the right balance of speed versus accessibility was a fine line to walk; Micro Machines games were always pretty unforgiving to newcomers! Because of the top down camera, the faster you go the less time you have to react to the track – especially in Elimination. So, what we’ve done is introduce an overtime mechanic to Elimination rounds – if the round goes on too long, then after a while the camera will start to slowly creep closer and closer in. As your visibility of the track ahead gets more and more restricted, you’ll start to feel more and more that you’re going faster than you can handle! This system has given us a lot more scope to balance the game across a wider spectrum of ability. Weaker players don’t get destroyed by the high speed right off the bat, but good players will last longer in rounds and get to the point where their driving skills really become paramount to victory!
GameWatcher: What did you learn from making Toybox Turbos and how did that influence the choices you made when creating World Series?
Gavin Cooper: Probably the biggest lesson we learned is that nostalgia alone wasn’t enough to hook people. So, when it came to developing Micro Machines: World Series, that was the issue we wanted to tackle head on. We didn’t want to just make the original games again – people have already played those (a lot)! We wanted to make a Micro Machines game that offered that core Micro Machines experience, but one that also delivered the kind of depth and complexity that a modern gamer would expect. A persistent progression structure, so you can feel like you’re working towards something. Modes that let friends play cooperatively (on the same team) instead of always having to compete against each other. Vehicle interactions, synergies and counters, for players to explore, learn and master. Ranked play with season prizes. Global elite leaderboards. Vehicle customisation. A schedule of special events. And more!
GameWatcher: Each of the cars now have their own stats and abilities, which makes the game feel very different. For example, there’s a car that’s great for gliding across honey on the kitchen level and ice on the garden level, and another that can take considering more damage than the others. Was this something that fans were crying out for, or was it more just something that you wanted to change?
Gavin Cooper: It wasn’t being specifically requested by fans, but it’s a big part of our solution to the problems that were being called out by fans: that they wanted more game modes, more ways to play with these fun little cars. Team-based battle modes give us a (and players) a huge gameplay space to explore, and – given that power-ups have been a part of the franchise since Micro Machines V3 – diversifying the vehicles by giving them their own rosters of weapons and abilities builds upon that even further. This kind of stuff also gives an even broader range of players a hook to get into the game with. As opposed to a race, where only one person can win, a team-based game allows an entire team to win – and players can contribute to that in a really diverse bunch of ways. Whether you’re Dr. Mel Practice keeping your team’s health topped up as you fight over a control zone in King of the Hill, or Captain Smallbeard dropping buoys to try and intercept and slow a flag carrier, or the G.I. JOE MOBAT calling in an airstrike to break up a clump of defenders in Bomb Delivery – each playstyle gives you a different way to approach and enjoy the game.
GameWatcher: It must be difficult developing a game that so many people are excited about. A lot of fans will likely have very high expectations, which puts you under a lot of pressure. What has been the most challenging part of development?
Gavin Cooper: I think the hardest part has been balancing the requirements of racing versus battling. Both types of play affect core gameplay mechanics in different ways, such as how the cars handle, how cars are damaged and destroyed, how the AI works, and so on. But ultimately, the fact that these are toy cars has helped us out a bit – I’m sure most kids with toy cars find it as natural to pretend to race them around the living room carpet as they do to smash them into one another and make pretend explosion noises! Similarly, I think we’ve managed to make the two styles of play in Micro Machines World Series feel natural and complementary to one another.
GameWatcher: In the past, Micro Machines has supported up to eight players local multiplayer, whereas World Series only supports four. Is there any particular reason why you decided to keep it at four-player this time around?
Gavin Cooper: As in any game development, you pick your battles. We had a finite number of things we could add to the game, and while 8-way local multiplayer was something we discussed, we ultimately decided that the amount of time people would actually spend using it wasn’t enough to warrant dropping another feature that might be more useful, more often, to a larger number of players. That said, it’s definitely a conversation we’d consider reopening for a future update or sequel!
GameWatcher: This game seems like it would be kind of perfect for the Nintendo Switch. Do you have any plans to release it on this platform at a later date?
Gavin Cooper: I’m a proud member of the growing Switch cult at work, and I agree that the nature of Micro Machines makes it an especially good fit for that platform. But for now, the team is wholly occupied with the PC, PlayStation4 and Xbox One versions of the game. We’re watching what happens with the Switch with great interest, but there’s nothing more we can say right now I’m afraid.
GameWatcher: Do you have any plans to bring in VR support for this game in the future?
Gavin Cooper: A lot of development teams are interested in VR, and we know the top-down nature of Micro Machines would work really nicely. However, there’s nothing we can announce at this time as our focus is on finishing this version.
We’re sure many Micro Machines fans are looking forward to playing World Series. Thankfully, you won’t have to wait long to play it as it will be launching on June 23rd. It’ll certainly be interesting to see what returning fans think of the new instalment in the series – we can’t wait to play the new kitchen level again!