The lights are on
Project Cars is a nondescript name that belies exactly what former Need for Speed developer Slightly Mad Studios (the NFS: Shift imprint) is trying to achieve with the sim racer. From the way it's being designed to the experience for the players, the studio is approaching this title from different perspectives in the hopes of giving racing fans the game they've always wanted.
Racing games have a lot of givens – particularly sim-based titles. Add conventions that have been laid down by venerable series like Gran Turismo and Forza, and it's easy to expect a similar experience when you hear there's another racing title hitting the market. While Project Cars does indeed features four-wheeled vehicles racing around tracks like its contemporaries, it has some elements that make it stand out.
Fueled By Fans
One of the major points of differentiation is how the game itself came to be. Instead of using Kickstarter to help fund development, Slightly Mad started its own portal called World of Mass Development (WMD) delivering what Kickstarter couldn't – influence and access. Andy Tudor, the studio's creative director, has donated to Kickstarter projects, but feels the process is missing something. "I don't have any sense of contribution to those projects. It's more like I'm just donating money to a friend who's about to run a marathon."
WMD lets fans fund projects and become team members in their development (FYI, it's now closed for Project Cars), accessing everything from varying levels of forum access and weekly or monthly builds to being able to private message developers and attend meetings. Contributors will also get perks such as a copy of the released game, insertion of their name in the game, exclusive cars and tracks, and – at the highest Senior Manager level – VIP treatment at track days. Perhaps more importantly, WMD lets gamers deliver input on the game itself.
"We want that feedback to guide the success of the game," Tudor says. "The days of sitting in the dark for two years and then coming out and hoping the game is good are way behind us with the way the community is giving feedback on the game. We have instant turnaround. We put a feature in the game, and people say, 'Oh my god, this is awful, why is this in the game?!' It makes us reassess why we've put it in there, but that's great."
More than just giving feedback on existing ideas from Slightly Mad Studios, contributors have spawned features that will appear in the game both big and small. The community led the charge to bring the game to the new systems (and Wii U), and Tudor says that having weather in the game was their number-one request. "Every single thing that is in the game has been expanded upon or steered and guided a little; molded a little bit through the help of the community." He admits that some of the features brought up were ones the studio originally didn't give much thought to, but turned out to be important to their audience like including certain racing series or being able to move your virtual car seat back in the cockpit.
Project Cars' weather necessitates pit stops to change tires, and the game has a dynamic night/day cycle.
"We think that the racing genre continually needs to innovate"
Even racing fans who were not contributors to Project Cars' creation will reap the benefits of Slightly Mad's thinking. The game is eschewing some of the features of sim racers Gran Turismo and Forza, which have become staples of the genre.
You can jump into the best cars straight away and compete at racing's highest level or you can work your way up from the bottom with less-powerful cars. You can hop around among the eight racing series (including karts, Formula 1, touring cars, Le Mans prototypes, and more) or concentrate on one. The game awards three historic goals that mirror the way you tackle your career. A zero-to-hero, fixed progression similar to Lewis Hamilton's ascent from karts all the way up to formula, a Michael Schumacher-like domination of a single championship over several years, and an award for those who dominate racing series in the order of their choice.
The game features a large number of real-life and fictional cars and tracks. The cars cover manufacturers like Ford, Pagani, BMW, Lotus, McLaren, Audi, and many more, and can be tuned to your liking and cover the spectrum of racing tastes. Tudor stresses that all the game's cars are free and can't be bought via microtransactions. Slightly Mad is still deciding on how DLC will be handled and what it'll cost (if anything). Perhaps it will consist of bundled cars and tracks, or maybe the game will follow MMOs by providing updates with additional content.
No matter which car you use, your affinity for that car, favorite tracks, and other stats will be kept and shared via the online Driver Network, and the game also features various flavors of online racing from asynchronous challenges and matchmade duels to a full season stocked with special community events with real-world prizes. Tudor mentioned co-op play and team racing, but only to say that they'd talk about it in the future.
It's been a long development road for Project Cars since work began in 2011, and there's still work to be done before the game comes out in November (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Wii U, PC). But by choosing less-traveling roads it's fast becoming a racer to watch.
Email the author Matthew Kato, or follow on Twitter, and Game Informer.
The game definitely looks pretty. This sounds like a cool way to develop a game.