The sign above the digital garage of the NASCAR world has read "vacant" now for almost two years. In 2008 EA released the final installment of its NASCAR series, titled NASCAR 09. While it received mixed reviews, many felt like the game was progressing in the right direction. In 2009 rumors surfaced that EA was not going to re-sign with NASCAR, and would therefore no longer be providing a yearly title any longer. That rumor was substantiated in early September 2009 when Peter Moore, the president of EA Sports, confessed that there would be no more installments of the NASCAR series. This was devastating news to console racers because they had no other alternative to turn to that would replicate the sport that they so dearly loved.
In early 2010 more rumors surfaced that a company out of New Castle, England was in talks to secure the NASCAR license. Then, in September, it was confirmed that Eutechnyx had in fact secured that license. The company has actually been developing a new NASCAR title for almost 18 months and will have a full two-year development cycle before the retail version hits store shelves. Eutechnyx is developing the title, NASCAR 2011: The Game, and the company has partnered with Activision to release the title on February 2011.
I had a chance to sit down with Eutechnyx executive vice president, Ed Martin. Mr. Martin was kind enough to answer some questions about the upcoming title.
Operation Sports: We appreciate you taking the time to do this as we know how busy you must be.
Ed Martin: Well, we are finally getting to fun part where we get to talk about all the stuff we have been working on for the past 18 months. We have had to keep our mouths shut for an awfully long time.
OS: Ed, obviously Eutechnyx is developing the game, and Activision is acting as the distributor. Did Eutechnyx approach NASCAR, or did they approach your company?
EM: Well, let me give you a little background as I have been doing these games for years. I started with Papyrus in the early '90s, and ran the NASCAR franchise for Hasbro Sports (NASCAR Heat) and Electronic Arts (NASCAR series), so I have been around these games for a long time. There has not been anything this detailed since the Papyrus titles, and that was not even this grandiose. I believe it was at E3 when NASCAR approached Eutechnyx, and they were looking for a company with some great ideas. They were really shopping the license around, not for someone who was just going to take it, but find someone who had that spark that they were looking for. They were also looking for someone who was willing to work directly with NASCAR themselves. In the past it was difficult to get information out of the NASCAR teams and R and D, as the information was considered proprietary stuff. Now it has evolved to the point where they [NASCAR] really want to be involved, and they were looking for someone who they could open up and share their ideas with.
OS: You have been doing this for a long time, but what were some of the more difficult aspects of developing NASCAR: 2011?
EM: Honestly, when you take a look at NASCAR, it is the hardest motorsports or driving game possible to create. The reason I say that is because you have a nightmare scenario of a pack of 43 cars coming around the back stretch at Talladega, which is a mile long. You can’t cheat, you have to draw everything and calculate everything. It’s not like Grand Turismo where you can create tracks, put in buildings, hills and tunnels. You have 43 cars and just cannot have anything less than 43 cars in a NASCAR game. The other difficult challenge, which is parallel to that, is that NASCAR is all about a "pack" mentality. NASCAR is all about having these other drivers around you, so creating and perfecting the AI behind that can be very difficult. To add onto that, you have to have Dale Earnhardt Jr. drive like Dale Earnhardt Jr. You have to Have Kyle Busch driving like Kyle Busch, so you have to get the personalities into the game also.
OS: As far as the driving model itself, where did you guys get your information and feedback from?
EM: We gathered our information from everywhere. Honestly though, the first place we started was with the NASCAR fans themselves. We talked with them, did some surveys and a lot of face-to-face interaction by literally going out and just being at the tracks and talking to people. When you start getting into the formal side of it, NASCAR themselves offered up their research and development as we had incredible two-way communication going. They really are open to giving us whatever we need, including a lot of top-secret stuff that’s not even out there. We kind of know where they are heading with rules, car changes and that kind of stuff. The teams and shops themselves have been key to making sure that we built the cars correctly. They have been an incredible source of information when it comes to the cars in order to make sure we can replicate them in the game. Every race team has its own little secrets and nuances, and those teams have helped us out a lot. We also have the driver advisory board, in which we have about a dozen NASCAR drivers with Xbox 360 test kits, and they are running laps and giving us feedback.
OS: Could you talk a little bit about the difficulty of the game, and will sliders be included in the game to adjust the difficulty?
EM: There are actually a lot of sliders that will be in the game to adjust the difficulty. Out of the box, what we do is toss you into a race and try to adjust the game to your driving style. So we are going to toss you onto Indianapolis or Daytona, go run a quick race, and that’s how we are going to set the difficulty level for you. From there you can really adjust everything. We have assists in the game that do not exist in the real world -- we have traction control and a steering assist to give the entry-level user a chance. Slowly though, you can start to turn that stuff off as you become more comfortable. Then you start getting into the tuning of the car, where by default you can go into the pits for example, you can tell it how much gas you want, how many tires you want, and if you want your car looser or tighter. You can also hit the square or "X" button [depending on the system] and you can do everything to that car that Chad Knaus can do to Jimmy Johnson's car on a Sunday afternoon. So for people who want to get to the Papyrus level, you can do that. Now I don't want to say that we are iRacing, we are not. We are a console-based game, and although we do have a great sim engine under the hood of NASCAR 2011, we are still a game. If you want to look at this way, we are sort of high school and college, and iRacing is the pros. Sometimes even the hardcore NASCAR fans want to just sit down and have fun with a game, and sometimes they want it to be more simulation. I think we covered both realms with NASCAR 2011.
OS: What will gamers see on the more technical side of things? Will gamers see dynamic weather, real-time damage and changing track conditions?
EM: Well, there will be dynamic weather, but obviously we are not going to see it rain, as it is the Sprint Cup series. It is a technology that Eutechnyx has, but we need to do the Sprint Cup series right, so we are not going to go that route yet. As far dynamic weather goes, every time you go to the track the weather is going to be a little different, and it’s going to impact the car. You will see things like wind and track temperature impact the race, and it will change throughout the race. The schedule will mirror that of the real Sprint Cup series, so you will see the February race at Daytona be a day race, and the July race will be a day-to-night transition race. As far as mechanical failures, yep, those absolutely happen. It can happen in the AI car, and it can happen in a human car also if you turn that [option] on. By default we give you visual damage, but if you turn on full damage anything can happen, including mechanical failures. What’s very cool with our damage though -- and this is something that is completely new -- is that we have the most advanced damage model to ever don a racing game. Every time you bump into the wall or bump into a different car, your damage is literally based off of what just happened. There will be cracked fiberglass if you interact with another car and damaged pieces can fall off. If you run over a piece of sheet metal on the track and you have full damage on, you're going to cut a tire.
OS: Obviously presentation is such a big part of the NASCAR experience, could you talk a little bit about how NASCAR 2011 will handle this aspect of it.
EM: Well, we have already showed the pre-race flyovers, and that was meticulously modeled and unique for not even every track, but every event. So we have 36 total races in there, and we have 36 different intros also. In regards to the post race, if you get out there and win, and you want to do burnouts, it’s all yours. We have also done a really cool winner's circle where you can get up on top of the car, you can do a victory dance, you can even spray your team with "non-alcoholic" champagne. In a nod to our friend Carl Edwards, you can even back flip off the car. All of this is interactive, so if you really want to go to town at the end of the race, you can. We don't care if you race a two-percent race or a 100-percent race, if you win, you want to go celebrate.
OS: Will there be full field of 43 cars, and will they all be Cup drivers?
EM: We do have the list complete, but we just have not released it. There will be 43 real drivers in the game, and almost all of them are Sprint Cup drivers. There are a few exceptions where we added a few non-Cup drivers. For example, we really wanted Danica Patrick in the game, although in 2010 she has only participated in the Nationwide Series, but we are going to portray her as a Sprint Cup driver. Every driver is a licensed driver, with a couple of the Nationwide drivers to fill out the field.
OS: To confirm, NASCAR 2011 will not include The Camping World truck series or the Nationwide series?
EM: That is correct, we are firmly based off the Sprint Cup series. Out of the box, what you are going to get is the 2010 season. We’re currently working on our DLC plans, and we hope to be able to offer updates to reflect the 2011 season, but we’ll confirm these bits as we get closer to launch.
I was very impressed with The attention to detail and the extremely firm grasp that Eutechnyx has on the sport of NASCAR. The studio seems to understand that there is more to a race weekend than just "go fast, and turn left." I will have the second part of the interview posted relatively soon, and this will include a full breakdown of Career mode, online multiplayer, the control schemes and much more.