After witnessing the community reaction to Real Racing 3 going free-to-play, you'd think that the team at Firemonkeys would be hiding out in a nuclear bunker right about now.
But, that's not so.
The Melbourne-based developer is, in fact, out in force, promoting its upcoming game ahead of its global launch on February 28th.
So, I sat down with Michael De Graaf, the game's associate producer, to find out about Real Racing 3's development, and to learn more about that oh-so-contentious pricing model.
We talked about recreating real-world tracks like Silverstone and Hockenheimring; modelling realistic damage on a car; making games for Android (and maybe Ouya); and more.
Pocket Gamer: All the tracks in Real Racing 3 are based on real-world tracks, right? Talk me through the process of replicating the real-life circuits in video game form, and the research involved in that.
Michael De Graaf: From the very start, we're talking to the guys who run the tracks and who obviously know the tracks inside out. This is great as far as being able to get that feedback and knowing we're doing everything accurately.
But, when it comes to building a track, we work from CAD data and models. Some other things that we found incredibly useful were Google Maps and Street View. You can get a lot of detail without even going to the tracks.
We have visited a number of them, as well, though, and taken extra reference photos and things like that. Melbourne is a bit different, because we can…
Walk out the door?
Yeah, exactly. That one was a lot of fun to do.
So, what's more challenging to recreate - a real car or a real track?
Well, a track is a really big thing and it takes a lot more time to build just because of the scale of it.
As for the cars, well, they're interesting just because there are so many different materials that go into making them, and there are lots of shaders we use to accurately represent what those real-world materials look like.
And obviously we've got the cockpits to consider, too. So, it's not just the exteriors of the car we need to worry about. It takes a lot of time to make sure we get the details of those right.
There was always this rumour about the Gran Turismo games back when they didn't feature car damage that companies didn't want to see their cars getting smashed up.
Did you have any interesting conversations with the car manufacturers about damage modelling?
Well, they are always concerned that you are accurately representing what a car can do. And they definitely have an interest in how the damage is represented. But, they are generally pretty good about that, and all our Real Racing 3 cars can be damaged.
It's something that they give you feedback on. They'll say, "the bonnet wouldn't crumple that way" or "you wouldn't crack glass like that". There's only so much we're able to do as far as capturing that realism, though. We want to - it's more about what we're capable of doing technically.
There is a little bit of leeway. It is interesting to see what they're interested in. But, more than anything, it's really just realism. They want their cars to look the way they do in real life, and drive like they do in the real world.
Let's talk about Real Racing 3's Time Shifted Multiplayer (TSM) mode. So, there's no traditional multiplayer in the game, right?
Well, at launch there isn't.
So, it will be added later?
It might be. We'll look to see what the community reaction is.
We're very keen on continuing to update the game, and we'll be looking at what the community is interested in doing. We'll try to tackle those things that keep getting requested.
Was the push for time shift a reaction to the rise of asynchronous multiplayer games on mobile? Things like Draw Something and Hero Academy?
Yeah. We've always seen a relatively low number of people actually playing the real-time multiplayer [in our previous games], and that's likely just because it's a lot of work - particularly if you want to play with friends - syncing up and being able to play together at the same time.
But, we know that - we can see it in other games, and what people are talking about - people do want to play with their friends.
So, the TSM was the result of our looking at the game and thinking, "what's going to be the best way to get you racing against your friends but without your having to actually co-ordinate and play at the same time?"
I want to talk about freemium for a bit...
Did you anticipate the, let's say, 'mixed' reaction that there's been online to Real Racing 3's F2P model?
Well, if you've been following the gaming press closely, you're going to expect that sort of reaction. So, it wasn't a huge surprise.
But, what we definitely strongly feel is that once you've actually downloaded and played the game you'll realise that they [the wait times] really don't actually obstruct you in any way.
It's not as if we're stopping you from playing the game because you haven't spent any money. From the start of the game, you are able to gain access to all the content.
We don't make you buy any car in any particular order. Just whatever car you want to drive. It's really quite a natural model - as far as fitting in with how people like gaming on mobile.
Did you discuss or test any other payment models during development of the game?
Pretty early on, we decided to go free-to-play. And I think that was driven by the fact that we wanted to be able to get the game into the hands of as many people as possible.
I mean, a terrific number of people did play Real Racing 2, but it's always a barrier if you're charging for a game and it stops people from taking that plunge. No matter how much you're charging.
We knew that millions more people would play it if we put it out as free.
What I meant was, though, was it always going to be about repairs and wait times? Did you ever consider offering, say, five cars for free, with the option to buy more if you want?
We did look at different ways of doing it. For us, though, the repairs and servicing mechanics just seemed like a natural fit for the franchise.
We've progressively made the Real Racing experience more realistic with each generation, and being able to bring in the repairs and servicing seemed like a logical next step.
Firemint started on iOS, and now Firemonkeys [Firemint and IronMonkey merged in 2012] is producing games for Android, too. Are there any other devices you'd like to develop games for in the future. Maybe Ouya?
Ouya is definitely interesting, in that theoretically we shouldn't need to do really anything to get Real Racing (or any of our other titles) working on it. I think we'll be watching Ouya closely.
As far as we're concerned, though, Real Racing should be able to perform on any of those mobile devices. The quality of devices out there - no matter the platform - is just getting better and better. So, there aren't really any limitations as to where we can take it.
What is it like working with Android? What is the difference between iOS and Android for you guys?
The key difference between iOS and Android is just the number of devices.
Being able to support different resolutions and aspect ratios was something we were already doing on iOS, so if you're able to support the full range of devices on iOS it's not that much of a leap to then do the same thing on Android.
The biggest thing is just physically testing, what, 2,500 different devices?
How many devices do you have at the studio, do you think?
I don't actually know. We have quite a few in our studio, and then our testing teams have access to a huge number of Android devices.
You said before about future content. Do you have any concrete plans for Real Racing 3 updates?
There are the obvious things, like new cars and new events and tracks and things. We've definitely got ideas for what we can do there.
But, what we're really keen to do is see what the community is interested in and respond to what our fans and players are asking for in terms of new content and new features.