Thursday, March 5, 2009

Quick Thoughts: Need for Speed Shift

Wired Game:Life just had a nice hands-on preview of the new Need for Speed: Shift. This simulation racing game seems to a be first for the series that made its name with arcade racers. I will be honest here, I haven't been really impressed with a NFS game since Most Wanted. Pro Street had some good concepts, but it just couldn't pull all their ideas into a cohesive product. Add to that EA's incessant need to add “catch up” to their games, and some of the races just are not enjoyable. Having a car blast by you at the last corner, even though they were way behind you, just because you braked a second too long is not really fun in my book. So with that out of the way, I will just quote some of the more interesting bits from their article and add my thoughts.

“In Shift, subtle details go a long way toward enhancing the racing experience. Every car features a fully modeled interior, which we are told will be accurate down to the knobs on the Audi RS4's radio or the distinct logo on the Corvette's speedometer.“

This part is interesting because a lot of racing games are starting to do this. It started with TOCA, got popular with Project Gotham Racing 4, then Gran Turismo hopped on the bandwagon. Now it is becoming standard and that is a good thing. This really helps the “simulation” feel of the game and who hasn't always wanted to see what it would be like to race around in Lamborghini Gallardo? This next part is even more interesting:

“Should you choose to race with a view from inside the cockpit, you'll find a fully animated driver, and an involved driving experience. A helmet-mounted camera will react to your actions -- accelerate, and the camera will pivot back, while braking suddenly will cause it to dip forward. Once you've really picked up speed, you'll experience tunnel vision, blurring your surroundings and bringing the camera's focus onto the road.

These camera effects extend to moments when you're not racing. Hit a wall and you'll experience a moment of disorientation: The camera will jostle, and your vision will blur, with effects intensifying for your more spectacular screw-ups.”

The part in bold is what caught my interest. This will do wonders to help simulate the feel of actually “being there.” It is hard to really “feel” how fast a car accelerates because everything is static in the game. You don't get the movement that your body would feel when the sudden rush of Gs hit. If they can implement this properly, it could honestly revolutionize the way these simulation racing games work. I want to experience it in person but I am very intrigued by this.

“Shift also features full damage modeling, which I saw in its earliest stages. The occasional dent or dirt collecting on the hood might mar the paint finish, but serious mishaps will ultimately affect the performance attributes of your vehicle. If you choose to sit inside the cockpit, you might find your vision suddenly obscured by a cracked windshield or a raised, crumpled hood -- perfect for getting a peek at the fully modeled engine rumbling underneath.”

This is something else that is becoming standard in almost all simulation racing games, with one notable exception. (I am looking at you, Gran Turismo.) The part that caught my eye was the bit about the fully rendered engine. If they do it correctly, I expect to see my tuning changes also affect the look of the engine. I don't want to fully upgrade a car and then when the hood flies off, I just see the stock engine. More racing games need to understand the visual impact of tuning and take appropriate measures to show these changes.

“Computerized competitors will adapt to your performance as you race. Aggressive players will encounter racers who are more than happy to nudge them into a guardrail, while civilized drivers will be left alone. Your automated opponents will also make the occasional mistake -- these can range from locking up their brakes to causing multiple-car pileups, encouraging racers to keep an eye on their surroundings.”

Yeah, we will see about this. I remember hearing this for Juiced, and for Project Gotham, and for Gran Turismo and also for Forza. And yet, if you ask around, none of these actually pull it off. Honestly, GRID seemed to be the best at this. You would regularly see the cars slide off, spin out or just make general mistakes. I am curious about this but I am not exactly holding my breath. Let's just wait and see how it pans out.

“The game will ship with somewhere between 60 and 100 customizable cars, and an unspecified number of tracks that will feature full weather effects that affect your performance. These will range from official circuit tracks like Brands Hatch, to fictional courses in real-world locations like London.“

This was expected, although I admit I would have guessed a larger car selection. It is becoming pretty much standard for these games to have more than 100 cars. So I hope it is closer to the second number and not the first. Although if they implement the customizable aspect well, the number of cars might not matter all that much in the long run. And we will also have to wait and see about the official tracks. Having Brands Hatch is an interesting choice and I hope that means they will be using those over looked tracks that all the other games have forgotten.

....please give us Mid-Ohio! PLEASE?

Thanks again to Wired Game:Life for their informative article.

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