"It has taken longer than, I think, most people would have expected," says Driveclub's recently inaugurated game director Paul Rustchynsky, who took the role back in February shortly before the game's second major delay was confirmed by Sony. "But we've done what's right for the game."
I think it's safe to say that Driveclub has had its fair share of ups and downs since it was first unveiled alongside the PlayStation 4 back in February 2013. Originally slated as a PS4 launch title, even the game's unveiling--focussing on the pristine accuracy of the exquisite luxury leather seats--led many to believe that the former MotorStorm developer had its eye on a realistic sim racer in the vein of Gran Turismo and Forza.
But Driveclub is not a realistic racer: the game's 50-odd vehicles have an entirely unrealistic stopping distance, and you're more than capable of pulling off physics-defying high-speed turns without spinning out. Unrealistic car physics are fine, if you ask me, because driving like an action hero is an awful lot of fun. That original unveiling was meant to be about aesthetic of Driveclub, which is aiming to be entirely authentic, even if its tracks are only loosely based on real-world locations. As someone who was forced to sit through an hour long presentation focusing about the environmental art in Driveclub earlier this week, I can confirm that the Liverpudlian developer is taking the look and feel very, very seriously.
The version of the game I played this week feels like it's progressed massively from the build on show at E3 2013, even though I remain a little skeptical that there won't be enough variety in the way of tracks in the final game. Has the whole project been a difficult process for Evolution? "It's been a fun experience," says Rustchynsky. "All the games I've worked on have been a relatively smooth ride... well, maybe not [MotorStorm] Apocalypse with the earthquake. [Driveclub has] been a bumpy ride here and there. It's been a difficult few months for myself, the team, and people at Sony as well, but I think we've all come through it with a lot of confidence now. I think we've proven now, at this stage, that we've got something really special."
Rustchynsky maintains that the primary reason for Driveclub's lengthy delay is the game's interface, which the team maintains is vital for game that wants its players to group themselves up into clubs of 6 players and challenge the rest of the world. Interface? Does he mean game's tile-based menu system? "UI is what people associate with the interface," he says, "but there's a lot more that goes into it. When you're building a social network--I'm not saying like Facebook, we're not on that sort of scale--but there's similar sorts of things that need to be done. Whether that's the servers behind the scenes, or the UI layer and what you see, and also how they communicate with one another, and how you transition between various elements of the game. And we just had to make sure that was slick, seamless, and almost invisible in terms of not interrupting the player, or becoming a boundary to you doing what you want to do."
I commented that it was vital for the studio that Driveclub didn't become the Bebo of socially-connected racers, then, and he said he couldn't remember Bebo. My point exactly.
Still, I can't help but shake the feeling there's more to the Driveclub delay than just network connectivity and a slick interface--the car handling alone is massively different, and vastly more enjoyable, than it was this time last year. Rustchynsky says that, yes, the team has been working on all the facets of the game with the extra development time. "I thought it was a more-than-competent racer last year, but I think we've really taken it to the next level to where it absolutely excels in terms of driving." Such as? "There's a lot more subtly inside everything you see, whether that's the feeling of suspension, or the leaning of the car into the corner. Everything just feels more connected, and I think we've got closer to that sweet spot between simulation and arcade where you have got all that depth, but it is actually still really easy to pick up and play."
As a developer behind a game that, on some level, compares itself to Facebook, it's little surprise that Rustchynsky is frequently seen on Twitter, and often pops up on gaming super-community NeoGAF. "You've got this fantastic communication now between your fans, and the ability to see exactly what they're saying about your game at all times," he says. But the rise of online media has changed "the gaming scene beyond all recognition" and "there are times where you read some things and it's not always pleasant. It's depressing occasionally. You've got to be thick-skinned to be a game developer nowadays."
Rustchynsky says that he's been a NeoGAF member for "quite a few years" and that his communications with fans aren't always officially approved by Sony. "I get my wrists slapped every now and again," he adds. "I've always felt like we should try and be more honest and more open with people, if possible, and I try to do what I can to interact with people within the limitations of what I'm allowed to do."
"I think I said a few cars were going to be excluded from the game and that was interpreted as, you know, that one or two might be removed," says Rustchynsky. "In fact we didn't go into specifics because we weren't talking about it there and then, so we just used a vague term and, yeah, people have kind of looked back... but we never specified anything. You've got to be really careful what you say because it can come back to bite you."
My concerns aside, the new and improved Driveclub left me with a very positive first impression--I'm far more excited for the game now than I was a few months ago. It might have taken a year longer than planned, but Driveclub appears to be shaping up nicely. But I can't help but ask if the delay will spell serious trouble for this UK studio if the Driveclub fails to sell well when it's finally released.
"In modern day games development, for a studio of this sort of size or bigger... I mean, Driveclub is a massive investment," says Rustchynsky. "It's a very expensive game. It's a very good game. But every game needs to be a success. We've got the backing of Sony, though, which is fantastic."
"I'm more than confident that we can deliver more great experiences with it in the future as well. I think Driveclub is going to be a big success, because PlayStation 4 owners in particular are craving for the next racing experience."
Driveclub will be released for PlayStation 4 on October 7.