One of the big franchises that Sony is relying on to boost expectations for the PSP in 2009 is crash spectacular racer MotorStorm. Instead of a reimagining of either the desert conditions of the original PS3 game or the island location of Pacific Rift, though, the PSP game is taking to the icy wastes of Alaska.
Heading up development duties on MotorStorm Arctic Edge is northern England developer Bigbig Studios, best known for its PSP action franchise Pursuit Force, and which is now an official part of Sony's UK set-up.
We caught up with game director Richard Ogden to find out the hows, whys and wherefores of playing in the snow.
Pocket Gamer: When taking a PS3 franchise like MotorStorm to PSP (& PS2), how do you try to constrain the scope of game in terms of elements you focus on?
Richard Ogden: From the beginning of development, it's been our ambition to bring MotorStorm across to the PSP completely intact - the handling, crashes, ragdolls, player-centric excitement: the whole brutal off-road racing package.
We've had to compromise a little, but this is done under the bonnet and players shouldn't really perceive the difference. Clearly, we can't match PS3's fidelity but we think that the game will really show off what can be achieved on PSP and hope that players will be wowed when they get to play it.
How much of the technology for the game is built upon your existing Pursuit Force technology?
For Arctic Edge, we've created a new engine, completely from scratch. We've built upon our experience of the two Pursuit Force games to implement more efficient and powerful technologies. This was done to allow us to attain the goal of making a game that people wouldn't believe possible on PSP.
How does it compare making a straight racer to a character-based combat racer?
From a technological perspective it's not very different. We still need rendering, audio, animation, physics, vehicle handling etc. As a game design it's certainly less complex but overall no less challenging. Over the course of the project there's still an immense amount of art, game design, programming, management and QA work being done.
Why did you decide to take on a new environment for Arctic Edge?
We could've just ported the PS3 games but doesn't the PSP deserve its own and unique MotorStorm game? It's such a cool system and great to develop for. We want to bring MotorStorm to a whole new audience as well as please owners of the first two games who don't yet own a PSP.
How difficult has it been to get the icy physics feel both right and nice to play?
You would imagine that icy surfaces are going to be really slippery but if you look into the handling of racing vehicles with spiked or studded tyres on snow and ice, you find that they actually have a lot of grip. So, these surfaces won't feel too different, at least for some of the vehicles.
It just gives us a larger palette of surfaces to work with and balance across the different vehicle classes. And, our deep snow has the boost cooling mechanic from Pacific Rift.
However, we do have one really slippery surface and that's on our bobsleigh corners. These have very little grip and you need to judge the entry to the corner correctly and control the vehicle with boost to get around.
At the moment, these are proving difficult to balance but we should get it right with a little more experimentation. It's more related to the corner's geometry than the grip level.
Why did you decide to put in features such as the breakable ice bridges and other environmental hazards?
It just made sense to take inspiration from our new snow and ice location to include a few cool features that wouldn't be seen in other MotorStorm games (or even any other racing games). We've got avalanches which can be triggered by the player or AI vehicles, the breakable ice bridges that can be destroyed by heavy vehicles and there are the bobsleigh corners, as previously mentioned.
How do the new vehicle classes - the Snowcat and the Snow Machine - affect the game?
They give us another distinguishing factor from the previous games and, obviously, they fit with the setting perfectly.
Both are tracked vehicles. The Snow Machine is one of the lighter vehicles but has a track and skis instead of wheels. It'll be pretty effective on the snow. The Snow Cat is more a rival to the Big Rig and will perform well on any surface. Just be careful with the amount of momentum it can build up.
The joy of crashes is a big part of MotorStorm so how have you tried to build on that thrill?
As with the rest of the game, it is MotorStorm, so we've just tried to emulate what's seen in the PS3 games. The crashes will be there, vehicles will crumple, bits will fall off and ragdolls will fly through the air - all conveying that intense, destructive side of the experience.
What are the differences between the PSP and the PS2 versions of the game?
The game is developed primarily for PSP but they're essentially the same game. It's mainly the multiplayer modes that make them stand out.
The PSP version will have Ad Hoc and Infrastructure Mode multiplayer for as many as eight players, whereas the PS2 has split screen for two player races at home on the sofa. The PS2 version will also have uprated graphical content to suit its technical capabilities and bigger screen area.
What should we expect in terms of downloadable content?
Unfortunately, I can't reveal anything about this at the moment as we're just looking into what's feasible.
How long has the game been in development for and with how many people, and at what stage is the development currently at?
The game has been in development for about 15 months now with around 30 people working on it. We're in very good shape code-wise so watch this space!
Thanks to Richard for his time. MotorStorm Arctic Edge is due for release in the autumn.