Welcome to the first of our two-part interview with Reiza Studios discussing the newly announced Automobilista 2.
We've recently had the opportunity to speak with the man behind the magic, @Renato Simioni, and discuss in-depth the very recently announced Automobilista 2 - set to release this December and using the MADNESS game engine for the first time. We've obviously got loads of question for Renato, and so have the community! So many, we've had to split the interview in two parts in order to fit it all in...
So, part one here we go... enjoy!
RD: Hi Renato, thanks for taking the time to speak with us today. First things first, congratulations on the recent Automobilista 2 announcement! The reaction from the community has been considerable, are you surprised at the response from the community?
RS: I was confident it was going to be well received, as the sim racing community has generally been kind to us over the years and we´ve always tried our best to repay that vote of confidence, so that in itself wasn´t surprising. The sheer volume was probably towards the top if not exceeding my expectations though, and really heart-warming to see. Now we just have to try sweat away non-stop for 6 months to get this thing right so it doesn’t blow in our faces, but we already intended to do that anyway!
RD: Now first things first, let’s address the elephant in the room. MADNESS engine – that one came as a surprise! What made you decide on taking this engine for AMS 2 development?
RS: Firstly one clarification that may be worth making is that specially when it comes to more sophisticated racing sim engines, there aren´t just options one can simply pick off from the shelf at our own discretion - the engine providers also must want to work with us, under conditions that we can meet.
MADNESS was one option we had in our radar, but it was actually Ian Bell who approached us first at some point last year looking to do something together. Although I believe his original idea was a little different, I made the point we were already committed to doing Automobilista 2, and that we were on the market for a game engine - if he was kind enough to let us have a go with his with no strings attached we´d be more than happy to try work out something in case we managed to get on with it. To my pleasant surprise and his considerable credit, he did just that.
RD: If you compare MADNESS to the gMotor engine of AMS and also the rF2 engine you know from the recent ‘Reiza Pack’ DLC, what advantages do you think MADNESS offers over these solutions?
RS: To use the tired cliché, they each have their pros and cons... Obviously we can´t comment in-depth about actual differences in code, not least because we didn´t actually have access to the rF2 code beyond information that S397 would supply to us on a need-to-know basis to get our content to work in their engine.
With MADNESS, obviously the graphics engine is one of the strong points, and it generally runs smooth as butter no matter what you throw at it in terms of weather, time of day, number of cars so for us that´s a welcome change of pace!
Moreover the physics, Audio and AI fronts are for the most part an evolution of what we were already used to, so that has allowed us to continue progressing from the solid base we already had on those fronts; The SETA tyre model is a bigger departure to our old tyre model, which is always a tricky move considering how much of good racing simulation physics rely on not only an advanced tyre model but one that´s manageable to work with - luckily SETA has proved surprisingly accessible, very versatile and we´ve been achieving good results with it pretty much from the get-go.
The engine features models for a large range of drivetrain and aero systems, and a variety of rule sets, all of which suits us very well as Automobilista 2 is also due to feature many different motorports types.
Last but not least, Livetrack 3.0 is arguably the most advanced technology for dynamic track conditions in consumer level simulators, and that is a crucial feature for a truly realistic racing experience.
Naturally there are some things we´ll be adding or tweaking to our own preferences and requirements, but all in all we couldn´t ask for a better platform for the racing sim we aim to create.
RD: While we are on the engine topic and relationship with Slightly Mad Studios, how does that work in this deal? Do SMS have any involvement in this project?
RS: SMS supply us the engine with source code, a good level of tech support and some of their assets in exchange for participation on AMS2 sales, but we retain total design and development control of it. It is again to their credit there hasn´t been so far one thing they´ve asked us not to do, nor one thing we asked from them they´ve said no to.
RD: Many of the community appreciate the good and bad of PCARS 2 that runs on the MADNESS platform, what does sharing the same engine mean for AMS 2 – do carry over items like Live Track 3, VR support etc come as ‘ready-made’ solutions for your sim – or how much work is involved to bring this or similar to AMS 2?
RS: In some fronts there is a lot of work, in others not so much. Nothing is out of reach though. Put it this way, it would be much riskier, time consuming and expensive - and thus ultimately impossible for us - to try build the features the MADNESS engine has to the same level around the AMS1 engine, than it would have been to bring the good stuff over from AMS1 to MADNESS. We wouldn´t have made the move otherwise.
RD: On the over side of that equation, regarding AI, previous MADNESS games have some very distinct behaviours. Do you anticipate these being shared in AMS2, or is it a case of simply developing your own that has no relation to the PCARS / PCARS 2 versions?
RS: It will certainly have a relation, as it already did before we added anything to it. It´s a matter of polishing what´s there, disabling what we can´t get to work and try integrating stuff we did that does work over. Simpler said than done, but far from impossible and already a work very much in progress.
RD: Rolling this back a little, what sort of process did you undertake when considering the game engine for AMS 2? How many contenders were on the cards for the new game, and how long did the process take?
RS: It took several years. For a good while our intention was to keep developing the ISIMotor 2.0 engine we had licensed from ISI back in 2015, and possibly integrating it with another graphics engine. As we stated a few times we very much licensed ISIMotor with the longer term and AMS2 in mind – we wouldn´t have done it for AMS alone as AMS was basically continuing development of products we had released back in 2013 and financially that didn´t quite add up, even if ultimately AMS1 shelf life turned out to be considerably longer than we first anticipated.
Once it became clearer upgrading it to the required standard was a bigger and more resource consuming task than we´d be able to afford we went back on the market for a game engine, but remaining committed to not fully throw away what we had put together over the years specially in terms of physics, AI and Audio, and that in turn considerably limited our options.
There weren´t “contenders” per se, as some of the people we talked to weren´t really interested, or didn´t offer conditions that we could make work, and in any case these generally didn´t feel like the right step to take anyway. So one way to see it is that there weren´t great options, and rather than forcing the issue trying to fit a square peg into a round hole we just tried to hold our nerve until the right one came along, and fortunately it did.
RD: You’ve already stated the game will release in December 2019, which leads one to believe that development must be quite well advanced now. How long have your team been working on the game in MADNESS?
RS: We´ve been working with the engine proper since October 2018, but in terms of design, licensing and developing the content it´s been pretty much a concurrent production with Automobilista 1, as everything we did for AMS 1 was already with AMS2 in mind; beyond that we did a lot of work in those fronts too in between AMS1 development wrapping and the engine being decided.
RD: Has the engine surprised you in any way, good or bad?
RS: It hasn´t surprised us In a bad way yet because we haven´t run into any problem that has proved insurmountable yet.
The positive surprises though have been many... finding out how sophisticated some of their systems were, how similar others were to stuff we already had, how optimized the engine is, how tidy the codebase generally is, and how well our things translated pretty much from the get go… Put it this way, there has been no shortage of fist pumps along the way.
Obviously it wasn´t all smooth sailing, some of the workflow procedures had to be completely revamped specially on the art front, some things took quite a while to figure out and there´s still quite a bit we´re working our way through, but all in all it´s been a very positive time.
RD: You’ve obviously had a very long and successful relationship with gMotor from the GSCE / AMS days, how significant of a change has it been for the team to move over to MADNESS? Has this required any changes to things like workflows and such back at HQ, and how challenging has that been to adapt?
RS: Yes, as I mentioned putting together builds, the art workflow is very different, the Audio engine is also completely different so it´s a considerable reboot on those fronts, but once we got through the learning curve it actually became more efficient.
RD: Speaking of staffing, I hear plenty of people on the forum asking if Niels is still involved in the project (being something of a gMotor expert but missing from the rF2 Reiza DLC credits) – is he still with you?
RS: Niels is still onboard as a consultant but his involvement had already gradually decreased over the years as his hardware business grew and took most of his time. He still has a peek in from time to time to provide some insights, which is most welcome as he has the uncanny ability of coming up with good ideas and finding solutions in whatever area that happens to catch his attention.
With regards to the day-to-day nitty&gritty of physics development he´ll be a bit less involved as he is understandably not keen on completely revamping his physics tools for the new engine and tyre model, but that in itself isn´t a big change as Niels has always enjoyed a loose commitment with us where the door just sort of remains open for him to come and do whatever peaks his interest - he did usually find time to do most of the baseline physics for our cars but general physics development hasn’t ever been a one-man job.
In any case he´ll still be helping us out whenever we have some issue or a funky new bit of aero or suspension to figure out, and for all other cases we still have the products of nearly a decade of collaboration and a physics database covering pretty much any type of vehicle to draw from for years to come.
RD: You (Renato) often and rather unfairly get overlooked for your physics creations within GSCE / AMS in the past – from a personal point of view have you enjoyed a change of scene using a brand new engine?
RS: In terms of physics development it hasn´t been a big change – some of the models are still very similar to what we had, others are a bit more elaborate but generally speaking physics is still physics, the SETA tire model is not hard to work with so this has been one of the fronts we managed to transition to most smoothly, and some of the cars already drive better in AMS2 vs what we had in AMS1.
From a personal perspective I already spent 50% of my work time in physics / FFB / AI development, it´s still the best part of the job for me so not much has changed!
RD: Obviously the trailer came out with the announcement and it showed some very interesting content in sim – especially the 1988 and 1991 Ayrton Senna McLaren – as Brazilians that must be a massively proud moment for you all?
RS: Definitely proud, and something we have been working towards pretty much from the inception of Reiza. Obviously I´m from a generation of race fans, and particular Brazilian race fans who pray at the altar of Senna, he´s the guy that got me the racing bug from a very early age and his era of racing in particular, from the cars to the tracks is the one I´m personally fondest of.
I should clarify that the Mclarens are not going to be part of the base game, but rather of an expansion pack we have been piercing together for a very long time. Can´t share much more with it yet, but for now let´s just say there´s more where those came from.
RD: With two such iconic cars in the career of arguably the greatest racing driver of all time, the pressure is on to get these right in the game – is that something you and the team feel back at base, or is it just seen without sentiment as “just” another piece of content?
RS: We feel it´s a very special thing as again as I´m huge fan of those cars and that era but it´s a source of excitement rather than pressure. Ultimately we try to get every bit of content right, any licensed car and hi-detail 3D model costs too much for us for it to pack them with throwaway physics or sounds… So as far as development procedures go it´s just another car.
RD: As we are speaking about content, and I’ve promised myself not to do this but I’m going to anyway… we’ve seen plenty of cars and tracks that feature in ‘AMS 1’, plus a couple of new ones too, is the plan to keep focus on Brazilian content in the new sim, and maintain the awesome tradition of official licences for your nation series championships?
RS: I think we´ve already demonstrated especially towards the tail end of AMS1 development and again with the new AMS2 release that we´re going for a broader international scope now. We still have the Brazilian angle of course, first of all because it´s an accessible and a valuable USP for us. But most importantly, we find these national series to be genuinely compelling - very competitive, with good talent pool, great cars and tracks to drive and still that roughness around the edges that I think serves as a welcome throwback to more exciting times, in an era where most high profile racing series feel very clinical and antiseptic.
Which is not to say we don´t enjoy modern high-profile international motorsports of course, on the contrary if there´s anything AMS demonstrates is that we find pretty much anything on wheels to have inherent joy in them!
Ultimately though the Brazilian angle is a plus, not a detrimental focus to the rest –I´d suggest you could strip all the Brazilian content off of the final version of AMS1 and it would still pack as much value for the buck in terms of content as your average racing game.
RD: So regards to content, will we be seeing much that we already know and love from AMS 1 come to the new title?
RS: Most of AMS1 content will make into AMS2, including all DLCs except maybe Hockenheim to begin with as base game content. The stuff that does make it in will all be upscaled or remodelled, and in case of some fictional series expanded. Id say that will add up to roughly 75% of the total AMS1 content.
The stuff that doesn't make it is either too outdated or the models are too low quality for Madness, or it is tangled up in licensing negotiations. Which is not to say they wont be added later, most of it will.
Obviously we then have new AMS2 content which is considerable, so the overall total even at v1.0 will be similar if not higher than AMS1 at the end, and certainly higher quality.
RD: can you share with us now any new licences you’ve secured for the new title?
RS: We still have 6 months to go and we want to spare some surprises to share along the way!
RD: With the new game now in full development swing and a public estimated release day in the wilds.. does this mean no further rF2 DLC content is planned?
RS: None is planned beyond ongoing updates for the existing Bundle. While we find that S397 has made rF2 much better all-around over the last year or so and we very much enjoy using our content in it, the original Bundle was already partially done with the purpose of having a more in-depth investigation into the engine as an option for AMS2, and we already learned what there was for us to learn there.
From a development perspective it is also a step back for us to essentially revert to being a mod group just producing content and not the sim around it, and working on multiple engines at once ends up putting an extra strain in the team - at one point we were working in 3 engines at once and that is not sustainable. We still have an AMS1 update to deploy and after that focus is 100% on AMS2.
With this said I believe the rF2 Bundle was a very positive venture, it does provide us with a welcome extra source of income and I think we did a good job in it to deliver a worthwhile addition to rF2.
RD: Going back to the schedule and development time – games such as Assetto Corsa Competizione and even AMS have benefitted from Early Access programmes in the past – is this something on the cards for AMS 2? Will we be able to get our hands on the title earlier than December 2019, even if it is in an unfinished state?
RS: Probably, but only when it´s really up to Beta standard – as in, completeish beyond ironing out bugs and minor functionality quibbles.
I say completeish because obviously v1.0 is not finished – we will be developing AMS2 for years to come and already have a 3-year plan for it mapped out - but v1.0 should ideally be well rounded enough for public consumption. When we feel we´re at that stage we may open it up for a couple of weeks of bug hunting, as these are obviously complicated bits of software and there´s a big difference as to how much in-depth feedback you get when you go from 20 developers to 100 testers and finally to XX thousand users.
Offering early access period does have considerable advantages – it adds often much needed cash flow during development and helps the team considerably to have thousands of its more loyal supporters onboard for testing and making major design during production; it does have the major negative side in my opinion of essentially deflating the magic of experiencing something complete-ish for the first time. I find that the recent experiences with Early Access in sim racing have not been a positive thing overall for those sims and their developers.
RD: Here’s a much more general question for you – what is the focus behind AMS 2? By that I mean, are you looking at broad cross section of content for example like Assetto Corsa 1, is the plan to focus down on series licences, or do you have designs on something different altogether?
RS: Our ethos remains pretty much what it was with Automobilista - If there´s an interesting racing experience that´s worth getting it right, we´ll try to include it – it doesn´t matter if it´s a historical F1 car around Imola or a GT3 around Silverstone or a Stock Car at Taruma or a Truck around Cascavel. If we are interested in it, believe that it will add an interesting dimension to the sim and the license is accessible we will consider it.
RD: Of course MADNESS in the form of the PCARS series also works on console… does this have implications for yourselves with AMS 2?
RS: It has implications in the sense that consoles are a much more accessible destination than it ever was before, but the focus now is very much on the PC release. We´ll see what else is worth doing after we get that right.
Part 2 can be found HERE.
For the latest Automobilista 2 news and discussions, head over to the AMS 2 sub forum here at RaceDepartment and get yourself involved in the conversation today!
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