MX vs. ATV Reflex

Platform(s): Nintendo DS, PC, PSP, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Genre: Racing
Publisher: THQ
Developer: Rainbow Studios
Release Date: Dec. 1, 2009

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'MX vs. ATV Reflex' (ALL) Developer Interview

by Adam Pavlacka on Oct. 21, 2009 @ 7:07 a.m. PDT

MX vs. ATV Reflex introduces revolutionary physics that allow for real-world terrain deformation and an intuitive, dual-stick control scheme that separates man from machine, as well as a wide variety of race modes, vehicles and worlds to explore while utilizing the all-new Rhythm Racing 2.0 physics engine.

MX vs. ATV Reflex introduces revolutionary physics that allow for real-world terrain deformation and an intuitive, dual-stick control scheme that separates man from machine. MX vs. ATV Reflex will deliver a wide variety of race modes, vehicles and worlds to explore while utilizing the all-new Rhythm Racing 2.0 physics engine.

WP: Who has the honor to speak with us? State your name, rank and occupation!

I'm Elliott Olson, and I'm the lead technical designer at Rainbow.

WP: It seems like you've packed a lot into the multiplayer aspect of the game. There's almost as much content in the multiplayer as there is in single-player. What were some of the main concerns and goals that you had for the multiplayer portion?

EO: Well, first and foremost, we wanted to make sure at a singular level that just the experience you have is the best that it can be for a racing game. From a performance standpoint, from the number of players — we have 12 players both on the Xbox and PS3 — we started there and made sure that that was really solid. We had some issues that we didn't like so much about collisions and different things, so we really wanted to tighten everything up and get it up.

From there, we were able to say, "Well, what do we want to let people do online?" We basically put pretty much all of our events online, and we brought back Free Ride again — that's really popular — and we have a couple of mini-games that are online-only, and of course you have leaderboards and all the different stuff. When you're racing, we have great AI in the game as well, but also a big part of motocross and off-road is what they call "bench racing."  That's kind of where you're jawing back and forth with a guy of who won, who took you out or "I won" and "I was faster than you." Now with voice and everything online, it's a big part of our game so we wanted to make sure that if you're racing and you want to compete, that's where you go.

WP: What about the mixed vehicle events? It's one thing to balance out vehicles when you've got AI and you can tell the AI to weaken up or get smarter. How do you balance out mixed vehicle types for multiplayer?

EO: You know, a lot of games do it in different ways. In some cases, you'll have games where they'll give separate paths. For us, it really came down to our new physics engine, and we committed and had confidence that if we built the vehicles to drive the way they were supposed to drive, that they'll balance themselves out, and then you throw the terrain deformation and everything else on top of that. You look at one of our events, Omnicross, and that's where all the vehicles can race against each other, and there are pluses and minuses to all the different vehicles. If you have to go around rocks and different things, they're a lot more brutal in the trucks and the bikes can dive between them. In the snow, the trucks can go better, but if you get in a rut from a truck before on a bike, you'll be right behind him. It's really about paying attention to what's going on and looking for those openings to get ahead.

WP: As you mentioned, the physics engine that you've got in the game allows for terrain deformation.  In the single-player, that's not a problem because you're on one console, but when you've got 12 players, each one creating different ruts in different tracks, that sounds like a lot of data to be passing back and forth to the server. What kind of issues did that present when you were developing the multiplayer aspect?

EO: Without getting too technical about it, we came up with some pretty smart solutions to not really actually — without giving it away, it's basically up to you and your box to handle that. It really allowed us to keep things fast and let it be what it's supposed to be. The cool thing about it is that whether you are racing AI or you're racing online, depending on who you're racing, your tracks are always going to be different.

WP: Visually, the last MX vs. ATV got a few negative marks. What have you done with MX vs. ATV Reflex to up the ante a bit?

EO: With our last game, Untamed, that was our first jump to the next-generation consoles, and it ended up being a foundation year for us. In doing that, we wisely picked the different parts of the engine that we wanted to bring to the next level, and that left us some room to amp everything up visually and put everything where we want it to be for what it looks like, from lighting to textures and everything else. We have a big thing where everything has to fit and everything has to go together, so if you bring new physics and new controls to a certain level, it also has to look that level too.

WP: When you're setting up the online play, obviously the online UI is always a challenge. What goes into designing a good lobby system?  What issues did you guys run into along the way that you had to fix?

EO: Typically, with most online games, you want people to get in and play quickly, but at the same time, you want people to play what they want to play. Traditionally, it's always a challenge to get you into the race in the event that you want to be, and a lot of times, that means a lot of menus, a lot of options and different things, so for this go-round, if you want to just get in and play, we have playlists already set up that say, "This is what I want to do," and they'll put you in and get you going. For private matches and custom matches, you basically set up what you want, so we kind of give you a flavor of both, but at the same time, approaching the UI where we really try to expose things up front, so you're not in the menus a lot, you're not digging for things, you're not knowing what you're doing. We also have the fully interactive online lobby, so when you're sitting there waiting, you're not just on the screen. You're actually practicing and playing around and stuff, so that seems to make things go a lot smoother.

WP: We noticed that the online lobby is also used as the interactive loading screen in the single-player.  Did that originate online and migrate to single-player, or vice versa?

EO: It actually started in the last game, where we kind of became anti-loading screen. The next-generation consoles are really powerful, but at the same time, a lot of games are pushing a lot of data. It was just one of those things where we wanted you to be able to be just playing, doing things, practicing, test-driving and being in the lobby. Fortunately for us, even if we didn't have that, our loading times are pretty much nonexistent. We actually find a lot of people hanging out in there and messing around and not knowing that the level's loaded because they're just having so much fun.  It's actually kind of nice. It's like a rest area when you come back from a really hardcore racing session online, where you can just hang out with your buddies, talk, go back and forth, and then go back and race again.

WP: In terms of loading that data, looking at the next-gen consoles, how important, really, is having a hard drive? We've seen a lot of games on the PlayStation 3 require installation. The Xbox 360 has the optional ability to install to the hard drive, but it also can run the game off the disc. As a game developer, when you're looking at that, if you had to describe the importance, is it nice to have? Or has the hard drive become indispensible and is never going to disappear from future consoles?

EO: I think you're just starting to see games look at ways of taking advantage of having a hard drive.  We have one console that doesn't require you to have one, so that's a little bit of a challenge to make a commitment to say, "Yes, we're going to make use of that." I think it's really in its infancy. At the same time, from a technical standpoint, you're at the limitations of how fast a hard drive is, and a lot of times, we have to push data faster than what we can read from it. There are definitely some challenges there, so it'll be interesting to see how people make use of having a hard drive and what can possibly come about.

WP: How did you go about determining what the multiplayer Achievements and Trophies were going to be?

EO: We kind of want to tie the whole game into it, from the career to the single-player to the multiplayer, so you will have Achievements from anything basic to some pretty tough ones in single-player, and there are some online Achievements as well for winning races and beating opponents to encourage people to play online and get on the leaderboards. That's another thing, too. In a lot of games, you have unranked and ranked matches, and it's kind of hard to figure out where I want to race and what I want to do. That's our approach to this one: If you're racing online and you're doing well, you're going to go on the leaderboards. The same goes for the Achievements. It doesn't matter what you're doing online; we're trying to give you some benefit for how well you're doing.

WP: We're just trying to get an idea of your thought process that goes into that. Do you guys sit around and say, "This would be a cool Achievement!" Or is it QA, as the tester is playing through it and starts tossing out ideas?

EO: It's actually a little bit of everything. You have your given ones of winning a certain number of races, but there are also some really cool things that happen just naturally in the game, and we try to find those things. What happens a lot in the studio is a screenshot or video will go out, "This just happened," or "This race is really cool." We look at those things, and we figure out, "Does it happen a lot, or is that something cool that someone would like?"  Then we say, "Is that something that we should award to the player as an Achievement? We constantly look at off-the-wall kind of stuff too, that makes people say, "Oh, I want to try to do that too," or "How did they do that?" We look at either stuff from test or us as the designers or even engineers. It's a big thing in our team that we do; we really involve everyone in the team as far as their input into what the game should be, so there's stuff flying around the office all the time.

WP: Are there any plans for DLC for MX vs. ATV Reflex?

EO: I don't see how you can ship a game nowadays and not have any DLC.  We're fully built up to support DLC. We haven't announced anything that we're doing yet, but we do plan to extend the game to the players. We have so much to offer now that we want to make sure that we offer more as well in the future. We just traditionally are a really big game, and we wanted to throw that out there. If you don't have DLC in your game, then something's wrong.

WP: If you had to sum it up in two to three sentences, what really makes MX vs. ATV Reflex a game that's worth playing?

EO: I think Reflex is worth playing because it's a genre-changer, from the controls to the deformation to the visuals to everything. You haven't experienced off-road racing or motocross or ATVs until you've played Reflex.

WP: Is there anything about the game that we haven't talked about that you wanted to add?

EO: This really is a game for everyone. We really wanted to make sure that the casual gamers could pick it up and play and the depth is there for the core players. If you've never played one of our games or never played off-road, don't be afraid to pick it up because you can get right into it with everybody else.
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