Project Cars – Preview

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Project Cars is responsible for a first in my life, my first 4K gaming experience. In an era where open world driving games seem to be the more successful of the four wheeled genre, Project Cars has gone to a very traditional route. One that games like Gran Turismo has treaded and arguably worn out over many years.

Photo-realism in both environments and cars is not just possible but also essential. Manufactures get the final say on the cars they’ve licensed as well as track owners and sponsors having to clear their input as well. We’ve said before, in an interview with Project Cars Creative Director Andy Tudor, that photo realistic driving games should not only be the norm but are practically the only option. The technology is there, the capability is there and the requirement to produce games like this demands it.

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However, pulling off the technical excellence is one thing. Giving a game a feel and a character on top of that is another thing entirely. It’s something we felt DriveClub was lacking. It’s something I find personally with the later Gran Turismo’s. Something about them feels a bit nebulous in the cars and the driving itself. You could argue that I’m being a tad pious but simulations and arcade games should be able to define the cars ability much clearer in these times. Especially when a game like Assetto Corsa is doing it independently of big publishers and money.

So where does Project Cars sit in this? I have to say, especially to a console audience, it sits at the top of the pile. There are many things that games like Forza Horizon 2 and DriveClub have done well independently like great lighting, dynamic weather, day/night cycles and car customization. Project Cars does it all, excellently, from the get go.

Firstly when tackling the selection of cars, this is very much a racing game, not a streetcar racing game. These are the kind of cars you’d see at a weekend at Brands Hatch, Silverstone or Nurburgring. Not just your big DTM, LMPG supercars, McLaren’s and Pagani’s but the other classes and manufactures closer to the street like Ford, Mercedes-Benz, and BMW. The interesting thing is that the vintage cars are well represented here too. From my guilty pleasure of a Ford Capri to my non-guilty pleasure of old Lotus F1 cars, everything is not only perfectly reproduced but the way the cars drive are all unique and challenging in themselves. This is a game for people who know names like Jason Plato, Alain Menu and Jim Clark as well as names like Andre Lotterer and Tom Kristensen.

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The tracks range from actual circuits like the ones listed above and including many others across the globe like Australia’s Bathurst and California’s Laguna Seca with its infamous Corkscrew turn. But it also stretches to real albeit less licensed areas like the Cote d’Azur or Monaco, as we all know it. There are even some nice fictional road trip areas to the region, as well as the California area, to give you that off-the-track feel.

The real magic of this game is its dynamic environment system. The game has settings that can change the weather randomly or by design, everything from clear days to rain and thunderstorms. The date and time is also customizable with an option to speed up the progression of time so that you can literally experience four seasons in one day… One full day, that is, with night included. You can also historically set the date and time of a race so that it takes historic weather data to produce what was actually happening at the time. June 3rd 1984 at Cote d’Azur would certainly be one of my recommendations.

All of this works perfectly well straight from the off and whilst there are still a few bugs in the preview we played, these are mostly fine-tuning of cars handling and collision dynamics. Make no mistake about it, this is a game that will be enjoyed by the virtual petrol heads, as well as the more casual intrigued racer, but it will take some mastering, as it should do. If playing Gran Turismo has taught me one thing it’s that repetition is key to driving. Project Cars however makes that just a bit more fun than previous genre titles. This is definitely helped by the immersive graphics. These look great on the PS4 preview build we played and it has all the traditional views you’d expect, including the more immersive helmet cam.

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This is where my first 4K gaming experience came in to play however. I was lucky enough to play the game on a PC at 4K, 30fps (the game can handle 60fps, but the TV we were using couldn’t) and with a wheel. At this point the game really blooms. Things that you might not notice so much on the console really shine. For example I went around Cote d’Azur circuit in a generic pre-hybrid Formula 1 car in the helmet cam view. Firstly the things you notice are the things that racing drivers actually do.

Your view naturally turns to look at the corner but your virtual head barely turns. What it does is focus on the corner, which completely alters the depth of field you have to your dashboard and the surrounding environment. It’s a subtle touch that naturally happens anyway if you drive and might even pass you by because it is that natural. Secondly, the lighting changes and the shadows move around the inside of your helmet as you go around a track. It’s when you notice that the game is doing this everywhere that it really begins to impress you. With the future of Oculous Rift support, this game’s immersive racing will be a massive cut above other PC options and definitely a rival to the independent games currently available.

Driving with the wheel certainly left my arm a little sore thanks to force feedback and occasional collisions. But what was certain was that it was far easier and much more fun than using the controller. That deftness of throttle control is hard to achieve any other way and the game certainly rewards you for using this method. Having used a wheel for other games, this game is definitely worth the sacrifice of savings to get a good wheel and seat combo.

The game has had a few delays, which is understandable once you play it and see the work that has gone in to it. Mid-March is the current estimate but I wouldn’t be surprised if it went a bit further back just to perfect it. Because that is something this game prides itself on, its perfection. With a 30fps cap*, the PS4 handles the game well and I would presume that the Xbox One does the same thanks to the newer SDK’s giving more memory usage. Although the release is planned to be 60fps. How the Wii U version will turn out is anyone’s guess. But if you are the kind of person who has the time and money to build a phenomenal PC and can support 4K gaming, then start saving now.

*This cap refers to the experience of the preview build on PS4 that we played. Not the final product.

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This preview is based on a preview build, played on a PS4 and a PC.

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Project Cars interview with Andy Tudor

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Project Cars is the new offering from Slightly Mad Studios. Sean got to sit down and chat with Creative Director Andy Tudor about the game at EGX.

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Project Cars is a very big, graphically awesome simulation. Simulation is the key word here I suppose compared to everything else that’s out there.

Yeah, I think the word simulation or simulator kind of gives people the impression that it’s hard, or difficult and challenging. But actually, all it means is simulating real life so it’s accurate, realistic. But compared to the competition there is out there, we said from day one planting our flag in the sand, we were going to be a competitor for Forza and Gran Tourismo. Compared to the other guys that are in that arcade space. So if you’re looking for that Forza/Gran Tourismo kind of game with a bunch of features that have never been in those games but have been on the PC sims, just not on console, the Project Cars is just that.

I’m a child of the Geoff Crammond years so I love the… I say simulation aspect but I probably mean the more technical tweaking aspects of it. And there’s a lot of things in Project Cars in driving that you won’t normally feel in other games because of those options. Just tell us a little bit of how you managed to recreate that experience so realistically especially on tracks like Brands Hatch.

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With Brands Hatch we used a laser scan. So we have the mathematical data of it, we know the elevation changes and all that stuff. Next the track team go out there and take gigabytes of data so we know visually what its like. The third thing is getting the guys out there to try it out themselves. So if you were watching a race at Brands Hatch on TV, you would see the cars flying around the track and they’d look perfectly smooth. Get in there, get in to a Formula Brands/Formula 4 kind of car, and go down the main pit straight, the engine the right behind you 6 inches away from your head, the car is screaming, the wing mirrors are vibrating so much and you’re making all these micro little movements. When you’re braking the car is trying to get away from you and you’re hearing the tinkle of gravel, tarmac and bits of rubber underneath the car… That kind of stuff you never see on TV or hear about it in a press briefing afterwards from the drivers, you don’t see it in the grandstand. You only get to experience that when you’re doing it yourself. That’s the key to it. The mathematical data is there, there visual data is there but the emotional bit is the thing that we bring to the table.

You’ve had a lot of input from racing drivers across different disciplines. How’s their involvement in the game helped?

It’s kind of come full circle. Usually when you hear about racing drivers giving their input in to games it’s usually at the end where there’s marketing pushes. But we’ve had those guys from day one so it’s a different angle. Ben Collins, the former Top Gear Stig, we hired because he doesn’t like racing games so he’d give us completely honest feedback. Nicholas Hamilton (brother of Formala One world champion Lewis Hamilton) has been playing sim racing games on PC for years. So he gives valuable insight on the expectations of that community, what the games get wrong and how Project Cars can do it right. Ollie Webb is a test driver for BAC Mono. He’s a European Le Mans driver so he’s driven 75% of the tracks in our game as well. So he can give us incredible insight on the car on a one to one basis and give us a direct comparison and he can say “oh I was just at Monza and they’ve changed the rumble strips.”. So much so [is the games realism from driver input] that real drivers are using it for training for the real thing. It was completely out of the blue that Rene Rast, a German GT driver, showed up on YouTube with a video of him driving Project Cars on the Le Mans track and was within one tenth of his real life lap time. He was using it because the game is so accurate that when he’d go to do the real thing, he’d have the sense of training you can’t get on a multi million pound Formula One simulator.

I noticed racing on Brands Hatch, something that most racing games don’t achieve is how thin the start finish straight is and how claustrophobic it feels.

Brands has got great elevation. Your eyes have a certain field of view. In games you have a different field of view. So you need to do things to make sure you get the same as you get in real life. [At Brands] You can’t see the peak of the hill from the cockpit. So it’s little things like that .

There’s been a lot of feedback from the manufacturers. Who have you had involved?

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We’re an independent developer but we’ve been doing games for 10 years so we have a relationship with a lot of manufacturers and a lot of track licencees as well. So there are certain cases, those guys are coming to us saying “We loved what you did in Shift 2 or GT-R and we’ve heard you’re doing something new, we’d love to have our cars in the game.” They’ve been absolutely great. The cars are 1:1 recreations, we get CAD data, the technical data, the lap-time information, plug it in to our engine. The guys make the cars from million of photo references from the manufacturers. We make sure the liveries are all painted effectively. We make sure the paint schemes are all perfect as well. We make sure all the interiors are done; every car has a full cockpit with functional dashboard as well. And then we have to give it back to the manufacturers so that they can approve it. So they have to be accurate. Graphics wise, we have got to the point where we can make everything photo real. The next generation consoles are quite capable of achieving photo realisim with glass and metal which makes up about 95% of a car. So they are a 1:1 recreation.

Racing games create massive communities, people who share their set-ups, form clubs and clans. There’s already quite a big community and interest around Project Cars. 

Absolutely and it’s always in our intention to not be hypocritical and support our community after launch. Which is why we have the Driver Network. Your profile is your licence and your stats, showing your what you need to improve. Your favorite cars and tracks, tracking your reputation online, how much you cause yellow flags, etc. The other big area is sharing. Steam has the screenshot gallery, you can stream by twitch, you’ve got the Xbox One Upload studio, you’ve got the share button on PS4, and YouTube. If you go to our Driver Network Flikr pages and YouTube playlist, we’re showcasing all the best bits from the community. Some people live on different time zones and even if you aren’t, the chances of you being online at the same time as a friend is a lot slimmer than before. With Project Cars you can do time trials against each other by downloading the ghost of a friend or anyone on the leader board. So you can see how people get those amazing time. And finally you have the Driver Network Community events. These are regularly scheduled events happening all the time, and everyone loves bragging rights.

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What has the feedback from players and the community been like so far?

Honestly if it was terrible, I’d tell you. But it’s been really good. There’s so much feedback from people who are playing and what they want. Graphically it looks great, gameplay is great. We’ve got a FAQ’s on our page but everyone wants to know about what cars are coming, what tracks, Oculus Rift support, wanting to set up their driver clubs and clans. So it’s been great but we are an independent studio and it’s taken a long time. Project Cars is ambitious but it’s worked. The PS4 version is already there and Xbox One version will be 1080p and 60fps at launch. We’ve always been honest about getting there and we have.

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Project Cars will be available on PC, Xbox One and PS4 on November 18th US and November 21st in the EU, with SteamOS and WiiU versions to follow in 2015.

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