Project CARS: changes the face, Interview with Stephen Viljoen

Despite numerous delays, the anticipation for Project CARS is still massive. With driving enthusiasts the world over champing at the bit to get hold of Slightly Mad Studios’ latest, highly realistic motorsport simulator, we managed to catch up with game director (and fellow South African) Stephen Viljoen, to pick his brain about this game, it’s unique design approach and what driving fans can expect…

What’s the main thinking behind Project CARS?

We wanted to create simulation that is both authentic and accessible, with a focus on motorsport. Previously games were about creating fairly realistic physics and a bunch of cars and off you go. But we wanted to create the experience of what it is like to participate in motorsports, so our focus is very much on you establishing a career in that. We cover quite a number of motorsports; we have open wheel racing, GT, prototypes, karts, track days, road cars.

When you start your career in Project CARS you get some contract offers from different teams and you decide which motorsport you want to start with. We let you go where you want. We don’t force you into a lowly little beat up car and make you play through hundred of hours to get to the car you really want to drive. This is your fantasy, your opportunity to be a virtual driver in the motorsport world. We simulate that world around you as well. On the calendar you will see all the other  events, including all the other motorsports. The ones you are not participating in are being simulated all the time, and you see the results of that in your dashboard, media feed and social feed.

So we wanted to create the experience of what it’s like to be part of that world. Of course we do all the obvious things; we have world class physics and tyre model. We set new standards as far as environment simulation goes. We believe that for you to experience everything correctly, it all has to be accurate including how the weather works, how the time cycle works. So for example, you can experience the Le Mans 24 race as it happens. You can play the full 24 hour event, watch the sun rise and move across the sky, see clouds form… everything is dynamic. And what’s more, because of the way our system works, we give you the opportunity to do a sort-of time travel thing, where you can choose, for example, to experience Le Mans in 2003. You set your calendar date, and you can simulate the start times and real world weather, as it actually was that day, in the game. You then drive and experience the race the sun, the moon, the weather… everything will be accurate.

OK, so Le Mans is driven by a team. No one guy is going to do the race on his own. Are you going to have that kind of team facility?

Initially, it will be AI team mates. When you need a break and you pull into the pit (again, accurately recreated with full detail pit stops that vary according to the motorsport you’re participating in) and on the menu that pops up you can change drivers to an AI team mate. When you get back a few minutes or hours later you can hit a button that requests a pit stop, the AI team mate will pull in, and
you can take over again.

The next phase will be online co-op play, and you can play a series like that already.

But I need to point out that although it is awesome to exprience a full rae, it takes some serious commitment to race for a full 24 hours. So what we do is allow an option for you to compress time via a slider. You can scale it for whatever you want. And we still simulate the whole experience, so you will still experience a 24 hour light and weather cycle, only compressed to a shorter time.

So aside from being able to tweak race settings, will you be able to customise cars?

Absolutely. When we accurately simulate a vehicle, it’s not just what it’s like to drive it. We simulate everything about it, including what is configurable on the car. On most road cars, there’s not much you can change, aside from minor tweaks. But in a full out racing car you can change a huge number of things, and you can set up and save multiple configurations. So you can customise to specific tracks and conditions per car, per track, multiple slots… absolute detail.

During the development, you allowed the community to contribute and create content for the game…

Oh, far more than just creating content. We believe that this approach is the first time something like this has been done with a triple-A title. The typical process is develop a game and when it’s nearly finished you release a beta or demo, and people give you feedback. You do a few last minute tweaks, and then release the game. With Project CARS we created a system called “worldwide mass development”. We got the community involved from day one. We allowed them to sign up to the system and help to develop the game. By gamers, for gamers. We have over 80 000 people involved. They were get daily, weekly and monthly builds, and they could give feedback and make suggestions, and contribute content. There are amazing artists in the community that have contributed things like textures, paint jobs on the cars and even some elements used in the user interface. Some of the guys even helped out with the dynamic dirt layers on the cars.

And they’re getting a share of the profits?

Yes. I am not going to go into detail of the contracts but, suffice to say that those that bought in unlike Kickstarter they actually became shareholders in the game, and will share in the profits. We actually started this before Kickstarter was a thing.

Speaking of economics and getting back to the game what kind of economic system will the game use?

It’s part of the simulation of the motorsport world. How many drivers do you know of that sign a contract and then have to go buy their car?

We do it in the way that it happens in the real world. Real teams don’t expect their drivers to buy cars. They provide the car.

The way we do it is that you get different motorsport offers, and each offer then has different contracts from different teams. There are sports where the cars are identical, and then we have sports like GT3, where you have BMWs and Aston Martins and so forth. Different cars and models within the same sport. So you still get to pick the car that you want to drive, by choosing a contract that offers it.

In that case, is there flexibility within the contracts? Will you be able to bounce around between contracts?

Yes, sort of. How it typically works is you would participate in a season, and you don’t have to win all the time. As you progress through the game, we track your performance and use it for teams to scout you in the game. Based on that you’ll get contract offers.

But if you’re in a contract and you decide you don’t like it, we’re not going to force you to complete a season. We provide you an escape clause. But you’re not going to get an offer from the same team if you dodge around.

If I hear the name Stephen Viljoen, I think nuts and bolts driving simulations, which have formed the greater part of your career… but there are players out there who don’t want that extreme depth. Will project CARS be accessible to them to?

Absolutely. What we do is simulate the world. Not everyone who is in that world is a tech head or petrol head. They have engineers and technicians who take care of those things, and so will Project CARS. You don’t have to get into that… you can leave it to your AI team engineer, and he will take care of it. But it is there if you wanna play a guy who likes to get under the hood, like Michael Schumacher. And it pays off, because you can trim those valuable milliseconds off here and there.

So Project CARS is a simulator for everyone who has an interest in driving?

Definitely. Traditionally there’s been this idea that simulators are boring. People want to play arcade style racers because they’re fun, but simulators are for the guys who sit and fight their way around the track. But real world motorsport isn’t like that people participate in it because it’s fun! And that’s what we want people to experience, as the games also get more and more realistic.

We even see real drivers practicing with simulators these days. And our real world cycles and simulations are helping drivers prepare for things like Le Mans, well enough for podium positions.

That’s quite a feat for a game that hasn’t been released yet…

It is. And I love what Ben Collins said we’ve had him on board since almost the beginning of the project. And, of course, he’s driven many cars during his reign as the Stig, and even now he’s still racing GT3 and participating in Le Mans. So our CEO contacted Ben, and Ben said “you must have the wrong guy, this is not for me… I think simulators are rubbish.” But after some convincing, he came on board, and for the first year or two he kept saying that it’s not right, it doesn’t feel right. And then about six months back, Ben said we had a break through, and he’s been loving it ever since. So it’s great when a guy like him says, “guys, you’ve nailed it.”

And what will we see in the future? More editions, DLC and so forth?

What we’re releasing now is a platform. We will be releasing new game modes and content for a good while to come.

Our traditional closer: what’s your favourite part of Project CARS?

It’s difficult to pick out one. It is a massive package. We didn’t know it, but Project CARS is the game we’ve been working towards making for the last ten years. It’s visceral and real and intense. So for me it is difficult to pick. I love the weather system, and the physics. I love the tyre model, which is worlds ahead of anything we had before. I love what we’ve done with the graphics and the sound it’s mind-blowingly good. I just love the whole package. I love Project CARS. 
Thanks gamecca

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