SUVs and BMWs are so passe. In video gaming circles, this year's automotive elite favor trendy European motorcycles. Luckily for cost-conscious buyers, they're both affordable and safe to drive in Acclaim's new "Ducati World" for the PC and Dreamcast. International Brand Manager Ned Browning describes what it's like to sit behind the wheel of a detailed automotive simulation.
Q: How can computers accurately model finely tuned machines?
A: Graphically, it's no problem. The amount of detail that can be accurately taken from an existing bike and converted to computer graphics is huge, right down to the nuts and bolts. Audio is also a key area as it can be used to mimic real-life engine sounds. For "Ducati World," each model's sounds were painstakingly recorded, then attached to the simulated bike.
Q: Did the team actually ride Ducati bikes to capture their feel accurately?
A: Quite a few of the team members do actually ride Ducati bikes anyway, so it was a big help. Actual bike data and physics are built into the game to give the correct handling and setup for each bike, so they do all handle very differently. Each vehicle is configured according to certain attributes, that is, weight, seat height, horsepower, torque, etc. Once all these numbers are punched in, you get a pretty accurate simulation of how it would actually drive in real life.
Q: Where is historical bike data culled from?
A: A great deal of it came from Ducati HQ in Italy. They have a great deal of historical data, which they were more than happy to share with us, plus a very impressive museum featuring bikes from the 1950s to present day. Also, we managed to get in touch with the Ducati owners club, which was also really helpful.
Q: Any racing experts contribute to the project?
A: I'm sure there are programmers who would like to think that they are racing experts, but no, as the majority of bikes are road bikes, it's relatively easy to research the feel properly. However, in the U.K. we have been able to use Carl Fogarty for marketing purposes, which was great. It's a shame he's not really into computer games, though!
Q: With so many popular cars out there, why choose motorcycles as your subject?
A: We chose motorcycles for that exact reason. Everyone else is doing cars, and there hasn't been a really great bike game for ages.
Q: What makes motorcycle sims so different from car racing sims?
A: It's you and the road and nothing in between. Also, you get much more of a feeling of true speed, and the relationship between the vehicle and road is much closer, so the overall experience is more thrilling. And everybody's driven a car in real life, but not everybody gets to ride one of the best bikes in the world.
Q: Any close calls during development?
A: We've just finished shooting the TV commercial at Brands Hatch racecourse over here in the U.K. If you can, picture a racetrack in the English countryside: Mid-January, 1 degree centigrade, freezing cold and black ice on the track, four experienced Ducati riding instructors looking a bit nervous on the sidelines, etc. Needless to say, there were a few minor spills, but you know what the good old British resolve is like.
Q: Is a love of the subject matter mandatory?
A: Most definitely. I couldn't think of anything worse than working on a game for 18 months if I wasn't into the genre. Obviously, you're going to get much better results if the development team's fanatic about what they're doing, and it will show in the finished product. You can always tell if a bit of heart and soul has gone into a game.
Q: Best part of the project was?
A: Getting the finished product in my hands! It's always a real buzz when you finally get the final article. As for the biggest downside, it was being personally taken round the Ducati factory, getting treated like a king, getting loads of free Ducati merchandise and checking out all the new models firsthand. What a drag!
Q: Do you endorse wearing a helmet?
A: Of course. Not just for the protection either. It's bloody cold in Europe at this time of year; frostbite on the ears can be hell. And I've already fallen off once this year and broke both my hands. If I hadn't had a helmet on, I doubt you would have had the pleasure of this interview.
Q: Fancy yourself an Evel Knievel then?
A: Evel who? Just joking. I had loads of Evel Knievel toys when I was a kid and always considered him The Man. Thinking about it, that could be a cool idea for a stunt game. I'll keep you posted.
Scott Steinberg is a freelance writer specializing in video games.