Recently we had the opportunity to visit Ubisoft Reflections in Newcastle to check out its latest game, Driver San Francisco. As well as spending the good part of the day checking out the game and the studio, we were also able to grab a few minutes with Reflections founder and Creative Director, Martin Edmondson to pitch him some questions on the game.
Our first question was a simple one, just where did the idea for the shift mechanic come from? “The idea came from Google Maps,” Edmonson told us, “Everyone has been on Google Maps to find their house or work and obviously it’s a photograph that was taken 6 months or a year ago.
“The idea really was that we could have this world that you could see in that way and be as reactive as that, but the world would be running, with all the pedestrians running around and all the cars driving around, the whole world running.”
Shift is one of the most important aspects of the game, however should it have been an unlimited power it would probably have taken away from the experience, however as explained by Edmonson, this ability is not free and will need to be purchased with Willpower.
“Willpower is earned in many ways, you get this for completing missions. You can even get it for doing little things such as drifting around a corner or doing a jump. Willpower can also be earned by completing a chase within a police car to take down a bad guy.”
Most importantly Willpower is earned by cool driving, therefore not only will you need to complete the objectives within the game, but you will also need to be good behind the wheel.
Interestingly you can also buy cars using Willpower and once you invest Willpower in a car it’s there for good. Given that there are 130 cars in the game this is quite an interesting prospect. But how many of these cars can you store and is there the ability to fix them once wrecked, because lets face it, you are going to wreck a few of them, aren’t you?
“There is a garage system which you can drive your wrecked car through to repair it and yet you can have all 130 cars in there if you want,” Edmonson told us. “These are also city wide as well, meaning if there is a challenge you can drop down, take a suitable car and easily complete that challenge.”
This could be quite handy because this San Francisco is one huge city, although it’s not quite to scale in Driver: San Francisco as Edmonson explains.
“You will find real landmarks, real locations and so on but what we have done is to take these locations in the real world and crushed them together. What we didn’t want was Downtown is an interesting place to drive around and Golden Gate Park is as well but in between is a large boring residential area. This would also drain our memory and other resources so we crushed them together to get the biggest bang for the buck.”
Fair enough yeah? I mean who wants to Drive in those boring bits anyway? If it means a better experience then we are all for it, and from what Edmonson tells us, it certainly is a better experience.
“There are 22 million quads in the city running at 60 frames; we haven’t cheated at all as it’s drawing right to edge of the world,” said Edmonson. “It really helps you to navigate, though it takes some time to get used to 210 miles of road, but once you are used to it you can tell if your downtown from your Marin or Sutra.
“In previous Driver games we at some point clipped it in or whatever but Driver San Francisco draws all the way.”
The fact the game runs at 60 FPS is certainly an interesting point, a lot of developers seem to sacrifice this these days in exchange for a better all round experience, however according to Edmonson, 60 FPS was a large focus for the team.
“It was an absolute total focus because you can’t be hesitant about which quality you use. If you were to play a 60 FPS game back to back with a 30 FPS it looks horrible in comparison.”
All the graphics and fancy features in the World would be no good if the game was over in a few hours, thankfully though Driver San Francisco has a lot going for it, thanks not only to its robust multiplayer modes but also its large focus on the single player campaign.
“There are over 200 missions within the game,” explained Edmonson, “This is the main story thread, and then there are side missions to upgrade your experience, upgrading your boost, strength of your car and you. You don’t have to play all of them but you will need to upgrade to complete certain missions.”
Interestingly Edmonson also told us that the game can be completed “within the 12ish hours mark”, although he also explained that you can do it quicker without the side missions, although it will be considerably harder without them.
The above completion time doesn’t include the time it will take to complete the 13 movie challenges, each of which are based on movies which inspired the game. On a similar note film director is also back, allowing you to create your own movie and upload it for others to see.
This all sounds great, but do you need to be a fan of the original to understand it all? Or if you are a fan, has it changed beyond all recognition? We asked Edmonson to shed some light.
“It’s so long since the first Driver game; most people were too young to remember it. It’s great when we show it to people who do remember because there’s so many little things within the game that have deliberately been put in there to make people smile.”
Before we finished our chat with Edmonson we had to ask the obvious question, is there DLC planned and will there be a demo for people to make up their own mind? The latter question was met with a strict no comment, however we did get some information regarding future support.
“We did plan for DLC but [instead] we put it into the game,” Edmonson told us, “Driver San Francisco was meant to come out last September. We looked at all the stuff we wanted to put in the game including some DLC, we decided to spend more time on the game adding Movie challenges and split screen and all the planned DLC and just put it into the game.”
Unusual indeed, at least we know we are not getting a half finished game.
There is no doubt that Driver San Francisco has surprised us, though we will save most of our opinion for our full preview which you will be able to read very soon. In the meantime why not check out our recent preview with the multiplayer side of the game?
Driver: San Francisco is released September 6 in the US and September 2 in the UK for PS3, Xbox 360 and PC. You can pre-order the Driver: San Francisco Collector’s Edition (PS3 | Xbox 360) by clicking the relevant link.