Italian developer Milestone has been working on racing games since 1996, and judging by its latest two-wheeled racer, SBK X, it's clear that that every one of those 14 years of experience has been poured into it. The studio has built the game around an entirely new in-house game engine, which it calls X Engine. This engine provides brand new lighting, effects, and damage modeling. The game has also been given a brand new Arcade mode, hefty expansions to the Career mode, and online play that doubles the player count from last year's game. We got to see all of these features in action recently when the developer invited us to see the game.
6248510Producer Irvin Zonca talks us through the new features in SBK X.
Producer Irvin Zonca first took us through a demonstration of the X Engine, showing us examples of its capabilities. On the cosmetic side, the stands are now filled with real 3D crowds, and there are better environment details on items, such as trees. There's also much more marshal activity, as they wave flags after a crash and at the end of the race. Zonca is most proud of the positive gameplay effects the new engine has had, though, such as the tire marks that wear on the track after a few laps, which not only indicate when to brake, but the residue also provides you with more grip on the road.
The defining characteristic of the SBK series is that it caters to both the arcade and simulation audience through a series of options you can tweak. These include crash damage, driving assists, and opponent AI. SBK X is no different, but it now also offers a brand new distinct Arcade mode. "We thought about Sega games like Outrun and more recent titles, such as Need for Speed," says Zonca about designing this mode. While this doesn't mean you'll have a beautiful woman alongside you or cops chasing you, what the Arcade mode does feature is accessible handling, fast pacing, and an emphasis on fun, which is certainly unique in the world of motorcycle racing games. Thanks to this, Zonca hopes that pretty much anyone can pick up the game--even people who've never played a two-wheeled racer before.
Thankfully, SBK X still offers the in-depth, long-term challenge that simulation fans will want. The expanded Career mode allows you to create own rider, customise the rider's face, height, date of birth, and riding position. Then, the latter can be tweaked as you progress. You go on to compete against more than 80 opponents on 14 tracks, starting by using 600cc displacement bikes and working your way up to the 1000cc category. Eventually, you'll get to race superbikes, but to get there, you have to play as part of a team, which includes allowing teammates to win if it's strategically necessary. And if you decide to turn on the simulation settings, you'll also have to take part in qualifying and testing. Then, there's the brand new office--a full 3D environment complete with "a beautiful assistant," according to Zonca, where you'll take on business considerations and design custom outfits.
Online is also an important consideration for SBK X, and the team at Milestone was aware that its online mode last year wasn't up to scratch. "The old mode was based on a host-server connection," explains Zonca. "This year, we've used a peer-to-peer system that's allowed us to double the player count to 16 and also eradicate lag." The new online features sound impressive, although this is one area where we'll have to wait for the full game to find out how it copes.
Thankfully, we did get a chance to try out the single-player game in both Arcade and Simulation modes. The Arcade mode was as easy to jump into as Zonca promised, with forgiving handling, intermediate opponent AI, and a racing line to tell you when to accelerate or brake. In fact, it was pretty much impossible to crash the bike no matter how much we tried. That's not to say there's no challenge--you still have to position your rider down on the bike to make him go faster on the straights, and cornering on two wheels is still tricky, but it seems like a great way to get people into the game.
The Simulation mode is a considerable step up, though, and straight after the Arcade experience, we had to completely change our approach. Sharp corners need to be taken extremely slowly, small nudges against other bikes will send you both crashing out, and overall maneuverability is greatly reduced. Milestone has worked with Ducati to engineer all of the telemetry data, and while we've never taken one of these bikes at 100mph before, the game certainly feels authentic. And if you're an SBK simulation veteran, you'll be pleased to know that Zonca's team has implemented a new physics system to eradicate last year's problems with braking around corners.
"We know we have a big competitor," says Zonca, addressing Capcom's Moto GP 09/10, which launches in March 2010. We'll see how SBK X fares when it hits the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC in May. And if you're itching to find out more about the game, check out our video interview above.