RaceDepartment talk to the new SimBin Studios team about the upcoming Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Windows PC racer GTR3.
As you all well know RaceDepartment recently had a conversation with the newly reformed SimBin Studios UK development team, where we sat down and discussed the future of the studio, what they have in store for gamers going forward and a few things in between.
Without doubt one of the highlights of the recent visit was the breaking news of the return of the legendary GTR name to modern gaming machines, as we revealed in our article back at the end of January. The news was received to much fanfare from fans and industry insiders alike and it is now time for us to publish our full GTR3 interview with Allan and Chris Speed. Today we talk about the new game and Simbin in general prior to launching GTR 3 next year.
Keep an eye out in the coming days at RaceDepartment for the second part of our interview where we discuss the exciting future of RaceRoom Racing Experience - including some very big news indeed...
So without further preamble please see below the first part of our interview below:
RD: OK thanks for having us here at Simbin UK today. First things first, if you could introduce yourselves to our readers please?
AS: Hi, I'm Allan Speed. I've been making games for 20 odd years. I started at Psygnosis in QA and then moved to EA Sports. Went down to Guildford in the Bullfrog office and then got sent up to Dundee, based at Visual Sciences to do Formula One.
I did 3 years doing Formula One and did Quake as well. I created a test department that had about 25 testers on 2 12 hour shifts running 24 hour testing. Then EA decided not to renew the Formula One licence so I moved back down to Liverpool for a Producer role at Bizarre Creations. I started at Bizarre when it was 28 people based at Wavertree opposite the Sony building and when I left we were 200+ people.
I worked on Gotham but I wasn't the main Producer on Gotham, I took areas of the game to work on, then we started a third person shooter character based game and I was lead on that. My team grew to 75 people and we did the Club with Sega and as I was finishing that Activision bought Bizarre and I worked on the the next Bond game. The team size was roughly 75 people plus 30 people from the shared tech teams and then I outsourced 60% of the art.
Then I decided to leave and went to Sony to do Little Big Planet 2, which was the title I was working on. Then I decided to move into mobile and moved over to a mobile distribution company and was Head of Developer Relations and did 2 years of mobile stuff with Apple, Google and the 200 distribution channels we had with other companies. After that I moved over to Route 1 games in Sheffield to do an education app for Learn Direct and a load of quiz games and Facebook poker games etc. At that point Chris and I just started talking about the future and what we were going to do and it took us seven or eight months to get Simbin started and up a running.
CS: Hi, I’m Chris Speed and I’m the CEO of Sector3 Studios. I’ve been in the industry for around 15 years, starting off as an’ after school’ games tester at Psygnosis. It was actually Allan and my Uncle at the time, who was Finance Manager at Psygnosis, whom got me the role and I was made up. Getting picked up in a taxi from school, heading to the office in Wavetree Tech Park, sitting there and playing games and above all being paid to do so – Loved it.
I left my sixth form studies to become a game tester, actually I think I took Allan’s job as he was leaving and spent the next six years testing games. Some good times at that place with plenty of banter.
From there, I took some time out and worked with the old man renovating pubs and nightclubs and after I had enough of that Allan and a chap called Brian Woodhouse who was Studio Head at the time over at Bizarre asked me to come help out with testing on PGR2. Luckily they kept me on and my role evolved from there really from Production support, plenty of reference trips for locations to then settling into Vehicle Licensing and then heading up the Vehicle Team at Bizarre.
After the acquisition of Bizarre through Activision and then the closure, I was at a point where if I never would have left Liverpool then I would never leave the place so I decided the sent my CV out to companies in Europe. Thankfully, I was given a chance over at SimBin, moved to Sweden and now we are here.
As Allan said, we had been discussing next steps for some months from both sides and this opportunity presented itself so we took it with the help of an investor whom I have been very fortunate to have met when I joined SimBin in Sweden.
RD: So with SimBin UK now announced, what's your role at the studio Allan?
AS: Studio Head. Overseeing the whole development side of the software. A lot of the business side is the responsibility of Chris, I just want to make games!
RD: Right ok then, tell us more about GTR3!
CS: Well we know we are going to make GTR3. Right now we have a couple of options on the table regarding how we are going to do it. There are two ways we can go. We can either fully fund the project ourselves or we can get a publisher on board, and that is where we are at today. Of course the strategy for Allan and the studio in Manchester is they need to get to a certain point of development before we can take that decision. So we put a budget in place, Allan has that budget and he's using it month after month and with more people joining the company over the next eight weeks we need to get to that point first and that's our target right now. Then we asses what we've achieved and at that point we take a decision.
AS: It's progressing well at the moment. It's going to happen, 100%
RD: We know know the game engine will be Unreal 4, can you share with us some more info?
AS: Yeah we are going to use Unreal 4. In GTR3 we will have full weather adjustablity, day night cycle, much improved car damage over what is industry standard at the moment as well as a new particle system and a modern UI system. Additionally we are going to improve on the physics found in RaceRoom Racing Experience and take over the best bits of the audio from RaceRoom as well.
CS: As Allan said, we've taken elements from the strongest parts of what we know RaceRoom is today. In terms of tech and the R&D phase we did last year it was all about looking for the best solutions. We've even done a hard coded proof of concept in Unreal 4 and it looks exceptional.
AS: What we are trying to do with SimBin and GTR3 is take a fresh look at how we develop games. The way we are going to be developing will be modular based, so were going to modularise as much as we can and if say a publisher came to us and asked for some sort of racing game in the future we can have the technology ready. The tech will be shareable and I can go boom, here's a finished product. So rather than starting from scratch and taking say eight months it can now be done in three.
We want to make the tech as shareable as we possibly can. I know at some point you have to branch it off and make it bespoke to the client, but we plan to have a shareable code base that we can pretty much tailor to any racing game, be it Formula One, GTL, WRC etc
RD: So why Unreal 4? What does this give you over developing your own graphics engine, and what improvements do you expect to see over, let's say, RaceRoom's current engine?
CS: It think first and foremest we have to be realistic from a few sides, development cycle, what the engine has to offer and ultimately money. You have to understand that developing an engine is quite a cumbersome, lengthy and expensive procedure. What Unreal offers us right out the box is an engine that works, a pretty powerful engine might I add that offers developers like ourselves to take advantage of and give us a headstart. Why would we at this stage spend 8-12 months just working on an engine when it’s there already? It’s a no brainer.
Regarding the RaceRoom Engine, it’s an old DX9 engine that has been built upon since way back in the days, we are extracting as much as we can out of it currently but ultimatly there will come a time when we can only go so far without investing quite significantly.
That Investment is essentially already being spent now with Allan working on GTR3 and Unreal which will give us the ability to create racing games from now and into the future.
RD: Will Sector3 and Simbin utilize shared resources across the both GTR3 and RaceRoom?
CS: We will certainly try, we have our stuff we need to do with RaceRoom and Allan has his stuff he needs to do with Simbin. Of course people like Anthony with the sounds will be a shared resource and if anything we can support Allan with in terms of physics and car handling we will look to do that if we can, but there isn't much else we can offer as our resources are tight and obviously Allan probably has much more of a chance to get someone in to do these things. Just like sharing assets, we'll try to share resources where practical.
AS: The reason we started SimBin UK was basically resource issues in Sweden. You just can't attract people to move that far out. In Manchester we are in the center of the country. I can tap into Liverpool, Sheffield and stuff. Manchester is good for transport facilities and I am hour and 50 minutes to London on the train so its ideal really.
CS: The North of England is renowned for race game developers. I use the term race game developers because they do a multitude of different racing games.
RD: So you state that GTR3 will share some resources and assets with RaceRoom Racing Experience and Sector3 Studios, doe's this then mean that the physics engine in GTR3 will essentially be an upgraded RRE?
CS: I can say that we will be taking the best working elements from the physics system of R3E and upgrading them in the new physics engine for GTR3.
RD: So would GTR3 be looking to go down the full sim route, almost overdeveloped as per the previous GTR titles?
AS: The plan will be at some point to branch off. It will be proper simulation but for the console version the non-hardcore user is just as important. At a later date R3E will switch over to the technology we are creating and we'll just take that a different route as in simulation with support for console as well. We have to do both I don’t see it working any other way.
CS: I think another thing to look at is, whilst the PC community would love this hard core simulation thing which is fine, as Allan said there is a console community that aren't going to adhere to that so we have to explore both avenues. I'll tell you a game that does really well is Formula One. I can have fantastic fun in the simulator on PC and I can have just as much fun on a console. They do it really well. I'm not saying for one minute that’s our approach or that's something we are going to follow I'm just saying that they've done a decent job catering for both sides.
RD: Do you think it would be fair to say then that GTR3 will have advanced physics, with assists that can be turned on or off to support a more casual gamer? So if someone wanted to turn everything off they can have an rFactor 2 type experience?
CS: Yes it has to be that, simple as. GTR has always been about offering the user this unforgettable driving experience and we need to 100% achieve exactly the same with GTR3. I refer to what I said earlier, GTR had a driving school before, GTR had the ability to turn driving aids on and off so why would we do it any different? At the end of the day it’s about offering an experience everyone should enjoy whatever settings you may choose.
RD: For me you have two distinct kinds of sim racers. Those like myself who can't afford / aren't good enough to do the real thing and want something as close to reality as humanly possible, and those who just enjoy driving a selection of cars on track against other racers, what will this be?
AS: First of all it needs to be competitive on the level that you are at, otherwise people are just not going to play it. It's about having someone to race whenever you sit in your simulator or at home with your joypad. This could be offline or online and we are catering for both in GTR3.
CS: As Allan said it needs to be competitive and that means being placed against opponents in Single Player or MP that are on the same skill level. With regards to the physics and how GTR3 will look and feel then we will 100% do our best to deliver the close to reality experience and for those who want that casual, driver aids fun game then this will be an option too. At the end of the day we are not just developing for PC now, we have to take into consideration the console market and the type of player that is out there.
AS: As Chris points out, we will deliver an experience for those hardcore sim racers but also adopt a different approach for the non-hardcore user base. Neither side will be forgotten especially those sim guys!
RD: Do you have a license then? Obviously it used to be the FIA GT Championship back in the day
CS: I can say we are talking to a few partners right now. As you pointed out GTR has always been linked to a real world championship and our aim is to do just that with GTR3.
RD: As and when you do secure a series license to take up, are you looking for a fully accurate representation of that championship?
CS: Oh yes absolutely. We will mirror the full weekend structure, rules and regulations, types of class and individual driver strengths of that series, different weather attributes, day night cycles, animated pit stops everything you would expect from that series will be included. We have also looked into crucial experience elements like online driver changes, driving school and even split screen mode for added fun. It’s safe to say we are exploring everything we want and can to bring back the GTR franchise to where people expect it to be.
RD: Saying that, would you anticipate that GTR3 for whatever series you license will have a year on year release for whatever the new season of that series is, like say FIFA do?
CS: Probably not. Because you don't want to put yourself under this annual release strategy, that is a big ask for any dev studio. I'll be honest, the reaction and the recruitment process and all that's happened here (in Manchester) I couldn't be more happy about. It was exactly what we wanted, but we kind of didn't know.
RD: Has the reaction been as good as expected?
AS: The reaction that we've had, especially from people looking for jobs has been unbelievable.
CS: There is a lot of good will for Simbin yes, and whatever happened in the past happened for a reason. But there is a goodwill for working on good racing games, and this will be a good racing game.
AS: The other thing is there is not much happening in the UK at the moment. Evolution have shut down and they won't be the first one. Not much is happening and there is no excitement in the UK at the moment for a boxed product. What are we expecting next, what's happening? Because of this the amount of people that have applied for jobs has been unbelievable. At the moment I've got 4 people in the team, Darren wrote the physics and handling for Gotham and Forza, Nick has come from TT Fusion and he knows many online racers and actively participates in top events, he even went to Daytona last year so he knows his stuff and then a couple of junior lads with Unreal experience make up the team so far.
We've got three more people starting next month, a track designer from Evolution Studios with Unreal experience and already we're looking at a bigger office that will accommodate 34 people with three offices and a board room. Where looking around to see what is suitable.
CS: The thing about the SimBin name is there is a lot of history and a lot of heritage attached to the studio, we know that they made great racing games. Race 07 onwards seen a decline and you only have to look at the metacritics, since then always playing catch up. RaceRoom was announced and it wasn't the game people expected or anticipated, it was just a hot lapping machine. Again starting to play catch up, didn't work and a lot of money spent. Then the doors were closed. We wanted to shut the name down, think things through and take it from there.
You only have to look at Sector3 when it took the baton over how things have progressed. Of course bringing it back we always had the rights for every asset SimBin had, all the IPs, name rights etc. We were thinking what can we call it, should the new studio be Sector3 UK or how should we play it. Then we thought ok if we are going to do GTR3 why not just bring the name back. It just made sense. The name alone will get people interested. If it's SimBin and GTR3 again eyes are going to be firmly focused on what we produce. Then we'll probably have people who worked on racing games in the past looking for a new opportunities working on a good franchise.
AS: We need to start generating a bit of momentum for the brand and for what we are doing. That's what we are trying to do.
CS: I also have to point out that whilst we made some noise with the announcement of the studio and GTR3, this also brought forward an abundance of questions with it. When you announce GTR or any franchise that has been successful in the past this will always raise an eyebrow, will it be like the old games, will it have this or that, can they achieve it.
All I can say is that we know what made the GTR games good in the past and we don’t plan on messing it up.
RD: So what sort of development plan do you have for GTR3, when will we see the fruits of your labours with the sim?
AS: The plan is six months and we'll have a first playable. We are talking to some publishers right now and seeing what is out there. It's not that we need the published deal, because simply we don't, but you need to explore all options. We'll have something on all three platforms, it will be one track, weather, damage, new particle system, physics and AI. I suspect we'll have multiple cars on that track with all the new systems running. This of course is our internal 1st playable that we are talking about and nothing that we will be sharing with the public.
RD: Ok that's a tight time frame and I appreciate this question is a little early in the process, but will GTR3 be always online like RaceRoom? Basically will we need to connect to the internet to access the game?
CS: No. The only thing you'll need internet for is if you want to race online multiplayer, that's it. Which is different from R3E but its different for a reason. In R3E we are using Steam wallet and a shop portal that needs an internet connection. All those things always mean online. With GTR it's a standalone product, you pay once for the game then you are done.
RD: So would you be looking to expand GTR3 over time with DLC?
CS: Yeah I think so and that is the plan moving forward. Whether that is adding more of the same license, historic cars in that series or look at other race series in addition, of course this will happen.
RD: Will GTR 3 be moddable?
CS: I think it's a bit to early to say right now. Other than the traditional modding things you can do like livery editor and things like that.
AS: It's a fine line to be honest, you don't want people making obscene liveries then taking it online into competitions I suppose. We might do something like making it so you have to submit your livery and we can approve it if we have some sort of community led management system, I don't know yet. We are just talking about it at the moment and we've been speaking about having some kind of livery editor.
CS: I think at present we've got more priorities than a livery editor to get right at the moment, but its on the list.
AS: Yeah its on the list its just to what extent we implement something into the game. We have that issue where certain manufacturer says you can't have such and such sponsor on their car.
RD: By the time we air this Q&A the world will have seen your Unreal 4 "proof of concept" screenshots. Are the images revealed a fair representation of what the new game can do, or how much more work needs to be done until you can safely say "yes, that's what it's going to look like!
AS: I think people have to understand that this was a R&D phase that Chris and the team in Sweden did a fair while ago. Looking at what they did it’s very impressive but is it final – no absolutely not. There is much more to come from the visuals and the engine itself which we need to explore.
Those screens were taken from assets being built specifically for RaceRoom, it’s safe to assume that texture, poly budgets and the way things are going to be built for Unreal is going to be a lot more visually compelling.
RD: Can you elaborate what the weather be like in GTR3?
AS: Well with Unreal we will have aquaplaning and water displacement that will affect the handling of the car, as realistic as possible here. Puddle build up around the track, rain on different parts of the tracks and as much variables in the weather as we can achieve. Weather and in particular rain plays such a huge part in racing and can define certain moments on track which can be the difference between winning and losing.
RD: When you first announced SimBin coming back you suggested you were going to do "mostly" race games, does that mean Simbin have scope to do games outside of the racing genre?
CS: No. We are 100% concentrating on racing games as has always been the SimBin way. Maybe we might do some sort of mobile stuff but it will always be tailored to racing.
On a final note please do have a look and leave a suggestion in the 'Things I really want to see in GTR 3' thread. Firstly it's good fun to stretch our imaginations and on a more serious note the developers might actually be taking notice of our ideas...
GTR 3 is due for release on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Windows PC during 2018.
If you are looking forward to GTR 3 and want to join in the excitement with your fellow GTR fans then head over to the GTR 3 sub forum here at RaceDepartment. Keep up to date with all the latest news with regards to the new title and join in the discussion with your fellow fans. Head over today and get yourself involved in the community!
Looking forward to GTR 3? Did you find anything interesting from the interview? Do you want to know anything specific we haven't covered already? Let us know in the comments section below!