Summary: JCal goes one on one with the developers of Test Drive Unlimited, grilling them on the features and plans for this game that gives you access to the entire island of Oahu. It claims to the world's first MOOR - Massive Online Open Road racing game.
FiringSquad: First, how did the idea for the latest Test Drive Unlimited game come about?
Ahmed Boukhelifa: It was a clash of eras, actually. When we were given the opportunity to design the next Test Drive, we went in two directions. First, we went back to the roots, with the very first Test Drive games, a loooong time ago. We had very good memories of these games, as they let us drive very cool sportcars in the open, chasing with cops, with unprecedented details in the recreation of the fully functional cockpits. This was, and still is the core of the Test Drive experience: you test drive unique, amazing cars and enjoy the pleasure of driving at insane speed in the open.
But our game is not about nostalgia: our intent was to bring this Test Drive experience into the 21st century. So we decided to break all the rules, and to try and give birth to our wildest car fantasies, which basically is: let’s recreate a perfect world for car lovers to play their way.
Imagine: You’re in your house, you go to your garage. You pick a ride among your amazing collection of Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Ducati… and dozens of other brands. Drive out: you’re in the street, among the traffic. Other sportscars you meet are actual players, driving around like you do. Challenge one if you wish, and race till the goal you set wherever you want on the island – with a bet if you wish. Then why wouldn’t you go to a car dealer to see the latest models, or try and defeat a solo challenge? Or maybe you’d rather go to your club and chat with your friends? Or create another challenge and post it in the drive-in for other online players?...
Test Drive is about freedom – freedom to play your way in the biggest sandbox ever offered to car fanatics, with over 1000 miles of roads in Oahu, Hawaii. Test Drive is about community, as you’ll be transparently logged in as soon as you enter the game.
The ultimate sandbox for car & bike enthusiasts online – this is really the experience we want to offer to xbox360 players.
FiringSquad: How hard is it working on a next generation version of one of the classic racing game genre?
Ahmed Boukhelifa: From the very beginning, we wanted to go boldly where no man had gone before. We started two-and-a-half years ago, and the concept did not change much since the beginning. The hardest part was actually to convince people that we were not completely insane, and that this very cool concept was actually something that could be done, and not the delusionnary dreams of grandeur of would-be Napoleons. Very often, you’re afraid not to do enough – not enough innovation, not enough new features… We had the chance to walk the other way, as our main worry was to aim at the sky and try and reach it.
Just to give a few examples, we not only wanted to create incredibly beautiful next-gen cars, but make them available with full manufacturers options – which required to create shaders for all available materials and colors, from alcanthara to carbon, from plastic to leather… We not only wanted to create huge roads to unleash the power of your supercars – we actually decided to try and recreate a real-scale replica of Ohau, Hawai…
Ahmed Boukhelifa: I already gave you some hints before. We wanted to recreate the perfect car fan fantasy. The story’s build around that: you fly to Hawaii, land at Honolulu airport. Rent your car, go to realtor and car dealers to buy your first house and car… and you’re set to live the life. Explore the island and enter offline challenges to progress through the solo mode – and meet hitch hikers and shoping girls, or wealthy owners who’ll ask you to transport their expensive ride - or go straight for online face-off in instant challenges and online lobbies. Or maybe you’d rather just hit the road and make the big car dealer tour…
FiringSquad: We have heard there is a sort of MMO style of gameplay design to Test Drive Unlimited. Can you go into more detail on that?
Ahmed Boukhelifa: Test Drive Unlimited is going to be the first Massively Online Open Road (M.O.O.R.) racing title. What that means is that an unlimited number of players can drive around the island of Oahu at the same time, although you will only see eight cars on the screen at any one time. You will have the option to create clubs (guilds) and invite your friends to join. There will be various meeting spots, like diners, around the island where players can meet up and chat or arrange races. When free-roaming the island, if players that meet your skill level or preferences are nearby, you will be alerted and you can race them on the fly if you wish. You can also trade cars with other players online, arrange your own races with your own specific rules and meet new friends and rivals. The M.O.O.R. aspect of Test Drive Unlimited is one of the title’s major drawing points and is shaping up to be something very new and exciting.
FiringSquad: What can you tell us about the vehicle line up in the game?
Ahmed Boukhelifa: Test Drive Unlimited will feature more than 125 licensed vehicles from some exclusive manufacturers like Aston Martin and Lamborghini. The vehicle lineup will feature some classic cars, some current models, some concept cars and some vehicle models that have yet to be released. Vehicle types range from stylish sports cars to raw power supercars. In short, Test Drive Unlimited’s vehicle lineup aims to have something for everyone. And as an added touch, all vehicles will be fully customizable with parts that come straight out of each manufacturer’s official catalogues. Not all vehicles will be included at first, we plan to add more cars later.
FiringSquad: How will the car physics be handled for Test Drive Unlimited?
Ahmed Boukhelifa: As in most aspects of Test Drive Unlimited, it will be your choice. Do you want to go for that extra second you long for and hit the world series? Then you’d rather remove all helps (like ABS…) – the car handling will be realistic, and therefore more difficult to master, but will allow you to master it perfectly. If you don’t want to go for that extra performance, and just want to hit the road with arcadey pleasure, then increase the help level: gear ratio change won’t be so effective as when you tweak them perfectly, ABS will get your car to drift less… You choose the way you want to play – but remember mastering your car will be necessary if you want to shine in online competitions.
FiringSquad: What will the tracks and settings be like in the game?
Ahmed Boukhelifa: 1000 miles of roads. That’s more than you need to offer the most complete combination of tracks to race on – from highways to coastal road, from downtowns to moutain roads… Choose between game modes (race vs AI or online players, speed, time). Add in many parameters like : do you want traffic, do you want cops, number and distance between checkpoints, penalties for leaving the road or hitting other cars, vehicle category authorized,… You already have hundreds of unique challenges, evry single one offering a new experience. And when you’ve done it all, access the game mode editor and create your own challenges!
Ahmed Boukhelifa: The single player mode in Test Drive Unlimited starts you off by throwing you on the island of Oahu with basically nothing to your name. Your first task is acquiring a house and a car so you can travel around the island. Cars can be quite expensive, and you start off with pretty limited funds so your first vehicle will be just enough to get you from point A to point B and win a few small races along the way, earning you extra cash. You’ll need to buy a house next; this is where you’ll be storing your car/s and it will serve as your base as you get more acquainted with the island. As the single player mode progresses, you’ll be able to unlock more parts of the island, compete in more races, buy newer and faster cars and buy newer and bigger houses. The island of Oahu is huge and the single player experience is very deep. There is a lot to explore, unlock and purchase and this is where you’ll get the majority of your vehicles and upgrades that you can then take to the multiplayer mode of the game.
FiringSquad: What sorts of multiplayer options will there be in the game?
Ahmed Boukhelifa: As stated earlier, multiplayer will allow you to meet up and race with other online players, create clubs, trade cars and make friends. Also in multiplayer is the option to create single races or whole tournaments based on your rules and specifications. When players are free-roaming the island, all other online players will be indicated by red dots on the main map. Only eight cars (yourself included) will be shown on the screen at any give time, so if there are more than seven other players in the area at one time then only those who are the closest match to your skill level and racing preferences will be visible onscreen. This way, you can arrange to race with a fellow online player who matches your level on the fly.
FiringSquad: What other unique gameplay options will Test Drive Unlimited have?
Ahmed Boukhelifa: Test Drive Unlimited will also allow players to purchase houses (65 houses are available in all) all over the island. Players will also be able to customize their characters by purchasing clothes from trend-setting designers like Marc Ecko and Ben Sherman.
FiringSquad: What can you tell us about the graphical features of the game?
Ahmed Boukhelifa: As you can probably see from the screenshots that have been released so far, the graphical quality of Test Drive Unlimited is very impressive. Everything, from the cars to the environments, is being modeled with the closest attention to detail and lifelike realism possible. As the game progresses along the development cycle, it becomes more polished looking and more stunning graphically. The goal of Test Drive Unlimited is to create a world where the cars and the landscapes look so breathtaking that the player is able to totally immerse him/herself in the gaming experience.
FiringSquad: Finally, what is the current status of the game's progress and when will it be released?
Ahmed Boukhelifa: Beta shown at E3, released in September on Xbox 360 and PC.
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