Project CARS VR Interview With Slightly Mad Studios’ Andy Tudor

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Project CARS is without a doubt the most technically advanced racing game on the market. It offers resolutions of up to 12K, second screen applications, and dozens of wheels and peripherals for hardcore racing gamers. The title now supports VR through the newly released Oculus Rift headset, offering an immersive first-person driving experience like no other.

I got in touch with Andy Tudor, the Creative Director at Slightly Mad Studios to talk about Project CARS VR and what it has to offer to gamers.

Your studio believed in the potential that VR could bring to the racing genre, and seeing Project CARS today is validation to that idea. Where do you see VR going and what it means for the future of gaming?

Andy Tudor: VR has been a long time coming. There have been many other iterations over the years, but right now if you thought that maybe the graphical leap between last-gen and current-gen wasn’t as obvious as it was in the previous hardware cycle, then VR is the thing that you’ve been waiting for. The racing genre is perfect for VR, so certainly it’s something we’ll be considering for all future titles now.

It wouldn’t be hyperbolic for me to say Project CARS for the Oculus Rift is a revolutionary advancement for the racing genre, but it could not have been easy combining the traditional racing game with VR technology. What was your biggest hurdle in utilizing the Oculus version?

Andy Tudor: There’s a number of things, but I think you can broadly break them down into categories of Performance, Immersion, and Comfort.

Performance-wise, there are improvements we made to the game engine to draw it for each eye at a silky 90fps. In VR, it’s all about the close-up experience so we can afford some savings to far-off and edge objects since your brain doesn’t register far-off and peripheral items when wearing the headset as much as it does on a flat screen.

Immersion-wise, we obviously want the entire experience to be in VR from the moment you boot the game up to the moment you take it off. And when you’re sat in a car, we want you to feel like you’re really sat there, peering in at the dashboard, looking up at your rear-view mirror, glancing left or right when a car overtakes, leaning in to corners, and turning towards the apex when cornering.

And lastly is comfort. Project CARS is rated an ‘intense’ experience since you’re zooming a car around a track at over 200mph, but equally it has to be a comfortable experience. The racing genre is perfect for VR: we’ve all sat in a car before so know the expectations of movement, the horizon line remains constant, and there are lots of cues in the world as to speed and direction. It feels perfectly natural therefore wearing a ‘virtual helmet’.

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Immersion is paramount for any racing game. How much difficulty was there in replicating a real-world driver’s actions and perspective?

Andy Tudor: Cockpit cam in racing games always felt like a restricted view – like you were squinting through a claustrophobic widescreen border. So we changed that in our previous Need For Speed SHIFT titles – we attached the camera to the head of a driver who was, in turn, attached to the physics of the car. And we gave you full rotation of your head on the right analog stick. With G-forces applied to the camera view and other stylistic effects added to make that view more exciting and immersive you can see right there that we were passionate about the player having a ‘first-person’ view of the racing.

As soon as Oculus announced the Rift, I think we all collectively jumped onboard from day one since it seemed a natural evolution of our thinking –which was, to already to provide a fantastic cockpit experience. Soon we found that many of the ‘tricks’ we did to get across the sensation of speed or G-forces had to be removed since they weren’t in tune with what your brain was actually processing, and that made you nauseous.

We’ve been working with Oculus though ever since the first DK1 kits became available, so as soon as we enabled VR in Project CARS many of our community that had Kickstarter headsets also got to experience it, too. They were key to providing feedback on what was a comfortable and immersive experience, what made them feel sick, and where performance needed to be improved. So together with this great testing team of passionate first-adopters, we were able to fine-tune it all to make it a great experience.

Some gamers have bought Project CARS to hear the sounds of the engines. Your dedication to replicating the racing experience is not lost on fans. How will the VR version of this game increase this aspect of the simulator?

Andy Tudor: From a player standpoint, it’s the final piece of the puzzle: now allowing you to be completely immersed in the cockpit using the most natural interfaces for driving: wheels & pedals, a racing seat, and a helmet. And additional spatial awareness that VR affords you makes you a better driver – you can judge upcoming corner distances better, you can turn your head into the apex, and you can glance left or right, or up at your rear-view mirror. So racing fans eager to take their game to the next level need to get a VR headset 😉

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What else can we expect to see from Project CARS in the future now that the game is being released for the Oculus Rift?

Andy Tudor: We’re only just beginning really! Within the next month we have the Game Of The Year Edition coming out as well as the Perfect Edition over in Japan. Our 2016 Esports season begins April 15th and in the meantime the team are transitioning over to full production on Project CARS 2. We’ll be at the London Motor Show in May, and you may see us at the odd exhibition/conference this year with some more news 😉 Plus you’ll see the franchise continuing to grow in brand-new ways throughout 2016, so keep an ear out on our social media channels for more info.

What does your studio plan to work on for future projects? Do you see more efforts in VR space on the road ahead?

Andy Tudor: Right now we have a team working on the official Red Bull Air Race game – that has VR built in from day one, and you’ll be able to play that later on in the year. And as I said, we’re hard at work on Project CARS 2 also which will support VR in exciting ways also.

It was a pleasure interviewing you both and allowing our readers to learning more about Project CARS and your studio in the process. What important message would you like to convey to any would-be buyer who may want to purchase your game?

Andy Tudor: Unlike other titles, Project CARS was crowdfunded by racing fans like you – the person reading this article – and professional racing drivers that helped us make the game from day one (as opposed to being paid to turn up to PR events). Ultimately that amazing three-way conversation between ourselves, the fans, and the drivers created Project CARS – the highest-rated racing game on PlayStation 4, and the most successful racing Esport ever. That mentality of ‘by racers, for racers’ is at the core of our vision for the Project CARS franchise going forward, and therefore players wondering whether to pick it up or not should have confidence that ultimately it was gamers like themselves that gave it their seal of approval, and made it the most beautiful, authentic, intense, and technically-advanced racing game on the planet.