How DriveClub is seeking to perfect social racing
Few artifacts of the entertainment-consumer complex are quite as fetishistic as the racing game.
How the lolly-eyed cut-scenes linger over those gleaming radiator grills, flashing pistons and magisterial headlights. How the sun sparks on gorgeous shades of Lust, Ruby and Maroon.
We play the games as a substitute for owning the carriages. Their thrusting horsepower so wildly outside the means of mere mortals, that simulation becomes the only recourse to satisfaction; that and the odd hour in the hot, drowsy company of Top Gear‘s petrol-headed pimps.
Sony’s DriveClub is yet another attempt to capture the roaring head-throb of desire that comes with fast, shiny cars. It is a racing game in which light and movement dance together on the bonnets and wheel caps of Aston Martin, Pagani Zonda and Hennessey Venom. Even the names are like porn stars.
But look, you need not enjoy this divine pleasure on your shameful lonesome. DriveClub is not about locking yourself away as you furiously try to beat that best time. It’s about doing the deed with like-minded others.
“We’re bang in the middle of the spectrum of simulation to arcade racers,” said Rustchynsky, when I made the point that the game seems very forgiving.
“We ground ourselves in reality of the real world and real cars and we use a lot of the actual manufacturer reference data to set up the cars,” he added. “Then we add layer upon layer to make sure that it is accessible and pick-up-and-play.”
He said that the game starts easy, but becomes way more challenging as players progress. “It’s important that every car has that depth and has the character of the car, the personality of each vehicle.”
It is a very simple matter to play a course and then send out a challenge to friends and acquaintances to try to best it. This is the work that Evolution said it was doing, to explain the game’s delay from a proposed launch title, to late 2014. The project has also been hit by departures and lay-offs at the developer’s North England HQ.
“Primarily you want to team up with your friends,” said Rustchynsky. “But if you don’t have that then we want to create these connections that are relevant to you.” Social tendrils appear, and you are expected to grab them. It is difficult to imagine wholly ignoring the temptation to beat your pals’ best time.
“You can’t guarantee that everyone has a friends’ list so we have to make sure that there are suggestions or that challenges are pushed to you from suggested users to try and interact with those games,” he added. “If you have no friends we are pushing things to you that are relevant so you might see a time that you think you can beat and perhaps that will create a connection that afterwards will form the basis of the club.”
Sony has been talking up DriveClub as an almost-Facebook social network in which car lovers connect through PlayStation 4’s many and impressive sharing tools. It is the digital version of hanging out together, cruising the streets, and generally being obnoxious to the other crews. There is always the danger, with all things social, that the attempt will devolve into spam.
“DriveClub is a service,” said Rustchynsky. “It’s not just something that we put out there and leave. We want to make sure that the game evolves and meets the needs of the players. If we find that challenges are too spammy or intrusive that is something we will deal with at the server side so we won’t have to patch the game over and over again. We can make tweaks. We can change the experience according to the feedback we are getting.”
At the other end of the scale are the diehards, and how they will react to the thrill of group driving contests. “There might be instances where players in level 50 clubs, which is the maximum level, might try and tempt someone in who is a particularly good racer,” he added. “You’d say, come to our level 50 club, we’ve got all the cars.” Club transfers come with costs and benefits. If a player leaves a club, he or she loses the upgrades and cars that have been earned. “I don’t know if the casual players will do that but the serious players will,” said Rustchynsky. “It happens all the time around our office. We know who the best players are. Everyone is fighting to be in the top club.”
DriveClub has taken a genre in which obvious and significant visual and gameplay improvements are difficult to achieve. The new innovation is all about sharing; creating stories as part of a social group.
“Driving is driving,” added Rustchynsky. “But there are so many of us who love the thrill of driving. If I could be doing anything right now I’d be sat in a super-car buzzing down the highway. It’s important that we try to recreate that experience for the fans. We are pushing the boundaries of things like social because that is what is happening right now . We are not the only ones but all the time we do need to evolve and trying to keep things fresh. We need to keep pushing.”