Monday, July 6, 2009

Driving Games: Change we need

Apologies for lack of posting recently, my exams are over, so I really have no excuse.

Racing games, in my opinion, are no longer designed. While racing games aren't my favourite genre, I certainly enjoy them. For me, however, I believe the game play is beginning to get stale. Obviously the racing component is essentially right; it's the rest which I have a problem with. In this post I hope to explain exactly what I have a problem with and what I think can be done to fix this.

When new racing games are released, the major focus is the physics engine that can realistically model the cars. This seems to be almost exclusively what is demonstrated. Now don't get me wrong, of all the genres, racing is the one where the physics engines are most important. And it is important, as I discussed in my post about excessive graphical focus on Veteran Gamer, it increases the tension within the race, making it much more enjoyable.

However, there is more to a game than one aspect. And a genre needs change, not just improvement. Every racing game follows the same basic plan. Loads of realistic cars, extensive realistic modding for said cars, hundreds of realistic tracks and a realistic physics engine. With the exception of Mario Kart, all racing games seem to target the realistic market.

On top of that, the game play does not change. You race, you earn money to buy cars, you do more races. You fail a race, you retry. The game is always linear but without a story. I don't think racing games need a story, but if it doesn't have a story, why is it so linear?

One of the things I would like to see is a more believable world with a fixed calendar of events. Obviously you wouldn't have to wait months to play the game, but if you loose a race, you might have to wait a game year to play in that race again instead of instantly retrying until you succeed. Make individual failures acceptable and you should make the game less frustrating.

One of my favourite off-track racing experiences was in some formula one racing game on the PS1, where you had to qualify for a tournament and you were given 12 game hours to do so. In that time, you had to get a qualifying time, fix any damage done to your car whilst doing this and do any upgrades/changes you wanted. This made the game feel more real and made the race more tense as you had already invested a considerable amount of time and effort in to it.

At the moment, racing games lack interesting decisions, you race as well as you can in every race, if you fail, you just restart. There is no reason to do anything else. If however you had a calendar, you may have to choose between two tournaments (with different rewards, one might come with more money, the other with more prestige or a rare cup).

And that is just an example. There are surely many ways to mix up the game play so it is not all the same. Take, for example, Burnout: Paradise, where you had an open world to explore.

Another thing that seemingly all racing games do (Mario Kart excepted) is use super-realistic cars. While the real world is often a very good source to base your game ideas on, it certainly shouldn't be the sole source in a whole genre. The world lacks variety (there is, after all, only one). However, if you delve in to the fictional, your options are limitless.

But even sudo-realistic universe could be significantly better in game play terms. In real life, cars are made to be as good as possible at everything. In a fictional, albeit similar universe, this could be impossible and instead cars have to be highly specialised or or below average in all areas. This would make choosing and tuning a car not so much a matter of finding the best, but the one best suited to the race ahead.

However, I am not optimistic we will see this any time soon. As I've already said, good physics are important in a racing game and these are still expensive to create. This means that indie developers who want to try something new can't choose this genre (or else fail on the racing part, which is more important, no matter how I try to argue this). Publishers will not want to invest in other areas of the game that they cannot so easily demonstrated, particularly if it means cuts to the physics development or their own profits.

Thoughts and opinions welcome. Have I missed the point, are racing games fine?

1 comment:

kingey said...

need for speed???? burnout???? slightly unrealistic
and project gotham 4 has a calander of race events as does rally sport challenge 2