Ahead of The Crew’s launch this November, Nick Cowen talks to Creative Director, Julian Gerighty, about creating a vehicular MMO for new gen consoles
Is it true that The Crew has been in development for seven years?
It’s not quite true. I know that some of the development team love saying that, but I don’t like it when they do (laughs). I think a lot of them had left Eden Games – the developer behind Test Drive: Unlimited – seven years ago and it took them time to get the studio and the tools and the funding together.
So the development cycle itself hasn’t been seven years. I don’t want to diminish The Crew – we’re super proud of it – and seven years represents such a big chunk of someone’s life that to spend that amount of time on one game doesn’t in my mind represent an achievement. It’s more a sign that something went wrong. It was more a very intense four-to-five year development cycle.
So where did the idea for using a car rather than a character as your avatar in an MMO come from?
Well, I joined the team three years ago. This idea really comes from Fergus [Game Director Stephane Beley] – that’s his online handle. He worked on Test Drive: Unlimited and that game did pretty much everything that we’re hoping to achieve with The Crew. He’s obsessed with MMOs and cars, so the world of Carcraft is kind of his thing.
So how do you go about creating Carcraft? It seems like an awful lot to cram in your game in five years?
You start with the tools. That sounds boring, but without a good toolset, you’re doomed from the start! The team is fundamentally fifty programmers who speak the same language as computers and fridges.
They started off by asking how we could create a huge open world that’s fun to explore and that poses the players as few barriers as possible. Once that’s done, the database and the approach to creating cars – which are pieces of the same puzzle – started and once you have those, everything starts falling into place. The handling and physics are addressed, the rendering process starts and the art assets evolve.
Then you look at depth; how do you keep hundreds and thousands of players engaged over a 20-plus hour experience. You look at customization and mission structure and then you start the balancing process.
How much of a pain was that? Apparently you had to clear every modification on every car with its real-world manufacturer…
It’s a challenge (laughs). Everything has to be approved from the colours of each car, to the liveries – and that’s before you even start on the base spec kits and the modifications.
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Weren’t you just tempted to do what Rockstar did with GTA 5 and just create your own vehicles and make up names for them?
When I saw that GTA 5 trailer where they have the pastiche of the Audi R8 and the pastiche of the brand insignia… (laughs) Wow!
But they’re very brave and they have huge teams of lawyers. I don’t think Ubisoft would ever go down that route.
Then again, there are tonnes of games that have been released without those car brands and they failed to capture the imagination of players. For the game we’re making we needed the cars to feel authentic. No matter how outlandish the cars in The Crew look, they’re based on real life vehicles.
Isn’t there a bit of a contradiction about The Crew? Races need barriers and routes and boundaries and MMO’s are pretty much defined by the freedom they gift to players.
Well, for me, it all comes down to feedback. Creatively, racing throughout a city to hit different checkpoints gives players a sense of freedom. The best races for me are the ones that are truly open world – some take place in cornfields where we simply drop in checkpoints and players can find their own way through. We drop in Chevron signs and route ribbons in street races, but those don’t restrict the player at all – they’re there just to prevent them from getting lost!
With every race we approached The Crew in the knowledge that we were crafting an open world MMO, so we didn’t want to restrict players that much. That sense of freedom was a guiding design principle.
The definition of each object in the world – what’s breakable, what’s not – is a big challenge because we do we want to create fun allowing players to ram through things. But we need some structures to be able to withstand the players slamming in to them. Our lead environment guy found that a lot of races were being constrained by cities, so he created alternate routes and ramps allowing players to jump off the tarmac and clear barriers easily.
Final question: the two trailers you released at E3 had amazing songs backing them up. Who cuts those two trailers?
Me! I didn’t do the last trailer, so I don’t know the reception that had! The entire soundtrack of the game, by the way, is something I was intimately involved in. Music is something I’m very passionate about!
The Crew is out on November 11 for the Xbox One, PS4 and PC.
See also: Xbox One vs PS4