FlatOut: Ultimate Carnage Interview
We catch up with the Finns to find out why you should be playing last year's PC hit on the Xbox 360.
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What is it about smashing cars into bits that entrances us so? Whatever it is, what was once a childhood pastime has evolved into technological feats of automotive destruction our child-selves could scarcely have imagined.
Sony played a big role in the sub-genre with its Destruction Derby series on the PlayStation, but leading the way these days is Finnish developer Bugbear Entertainment. At their office in bustling Helsinki, the Finns spend their time creating new ways to destroy cars on the track in their award winning FlatOut series.
Last year FlatOut 2 earned the team an armload of trophies, including several Best Racing Game titles. But that was for the PC. So this summer Bugbear is back in the seat of FlatOut 2, with a new version dubbed FlatOut Ultimate Carnage coming to the Xbox 360.
We caught up with Jussi Laakkonen, business development director at Bugbear, to find out more about the game.
Kikizo: Please tell us a little more about Bugbear's history and the studio's relationship with Empire?
Jussi Laakkonen: Bugbear was founded in the year 2000 with the intent of creating great racing games. Our first game was Rally Trophy, a historical rally-sim that received rave reviews and won a number of awards, including GameSpot's Best PC Driving Game of 2002. FlatOut was our first console game; going from PC to console is a difficult transition that not many developers can make.
That's where Empire came in and was willing to bet the farm on us. That bet really has paid off for both parties as FlatOut became wildly successful, with over 2 million units sold across the lifespan of the franchise.
Kikizo: We've been playing FlatOut Ultimate Carnage and our first impressions are positive! We've noticed that in this version the handling can be precarious at times; unexpected crashes seem very frequent and rarely the player's intention. Is this deliberate? Do you feel that making crashing more likely adds to the central crash theme, or is it something you want to tune to enhance overall game balance?
Laakkonen: Our goal was to turn the action meter up to 11 with FlatOut Ultimate Carnage. The game's a re-imagining of FlatOut 2, which won several Racing Game of the Year awards, and with Xbox 360's power we have really been able to pump up the action.
The action really comes from 12 cars racing side by side through thousands of objects sending billowing clouds of dust and dirt in the air. We want the AI to be vengeful and aggressive, we want you to feel in danger when you dive through the dust cloud kicked up by the crash in front of you, we want you to take risks like in no other racing game.
Kikizo: Can you tell us about how the design theme/look/feel of the series was decided on from the first game to now? By this I mean art style, branding, logos, presentation, menus - do you think it's a good move to shun the ultra glossy presentation favoured by products like Need For Speed?
Laakkonen: FlatOut 1 was truly the down and dirty "raw racing" experience. With FlatOut 2 we also added in cityscapes and street cars and perhaps went a bit too close to NFS and Burnout. FlatOut Ultimate Carnage returns more to the original experience of FlatOut 1, and personally I think it is a fantastic game because of it.
The original inspiration for the game is the Finnish "Joe Average's racing class" where drivers take old, beaten up Vauxhall Escorts and VW Beetles on rallycross tracks laid out in sand pits and forest roads. It's the raw essence of motorsports, the pure thrill of aggressive racing that we wanted to capture in FlatOut. That pretty much has defined the style of the game from the get go.
Kikizo: Xbox 360 has been out for a while now and you must have seen plenty of next-gen effects that have impressed you as gamers but that are now becoming standard and expected, e.g. high dynamic range lighting and realtime shadows. How have you sought to use the potential here to make things stand out visually among the next-gen crowd?
Laakkonen: FlatOut has always stood out with its visual quality and with FlatOut Ultimate Carnage I believe we are among the very best across all genres on the new-gen consoles. From very technically demanding things like parallax mapping to deforming the track surface, to the peerless particle system delivering unprecedented dust and smoke effects, FlatOut Ultimate Carnage pushes the technology and pushes it hard.
When you add into the mix our own physics system that delivers over 8,000 dynamic objects per track (each naturally self-shadowing and deforming), 12 cars each with over 50,000 polygons (25,000 for the pristine model and another 25,000 for the wrecked model) and full dynamic vehicle deformation system, you get a game that delivers unbelievable action.
Kikizo: Did you consider adding more in the way of new tracks? Or did you perhaps feel, Not enough gamers have enjoyed the full offerings of FlatOut 2 just yet, so here's another chance in HD!
Laakkonen: This was a rare chance for us to make a good game into a great game, and the best way to do that was refine what already exists. HD resolution and improved visuals are just a part of it. New and improved handling models, loads of new game modes, pumped up action and refined track layouts all make FlatOut Ultimate Carnage a new experience even for players who have enjoyed FlatOut 2.