Hands-On & Interview: World of Speed Preview - Team-Based MMO Racing

By Published March 30, 2014 at 3:56 pm

I’m always incredibly skeptical when presented with any form of MMO, especially of the F2P variety; so many dwell within a realm of repetition and disguised bypass-this-grind-with-a-microtransaction mechanics that it’s tough to get excited about them anymore. This is a classic instance of abuse by the industry – abuse so pervasive that it turns players off before they’ve even laid hands on the game. Some games shine through the pile of opportunists – like ArcheAge, which has deeply interesting economy and warfare mechanics – but they’re big productions and tough to pull-off.

World of Speed is a bit different in that it’s a closed-world MMO racing game driven primarily by player skill. At least, that’s what they tell me. I got a hands-on with the game at GDC 2014 and had a chance to speak with Sean Fitzpatrick of Slightly Mad Studios, a company you might recognize for its work on the high-fidelity “Project Cars” game. Slightly Mad’s track-record with Project Cars – to include widespread use by nVidia as a graphics demonstration – carries over to World of Speed as the teams share experience internally.

World of Speed Video Interview – Overview, Gameplay Mechanics, and Tracks/Cars

What is World of Speed?

World of Speed is a self-branded “triple-A” synchronous racing MMO developed by Slightly Mad Studios. The game puts players in licensed cars on licensed pro street and pro racing tracks, including the likes of San Francisco, London, and official tracks. The Nuremberg ring, for instance, is a track the team is attempting to license. Most MMOs you’re familiar with are likely open world, invariably requiring some sort of inane questing for NPCs and hotbar-based combat; this isn’t that, quite obviously, and is branded an MMO purely insofar as its presence in a large server network with thousands of players.

Despite being mechanically unique from most MMOs, the game borrows a few design elements from MMORPGs; clubs (“guilds”), club houses (guild houses), and what are effectively in-race quests or objectives are a couple of examples of this.

I was told that World of Speed is more of a NFS: Shift type of Pro Street and Pro Track racing game, as opposed to something more similar to NFS Underground’s street racing. You’ll gain currency to buy new cars, upgrade them, brand them with your own team colors and style or individual flair, and generally progress as a racer in this persistent world.

Your races start from a menu, so once logged in, you choose the type of race you’d like to compete in and add other requirements, then hit ‘go’ to start. No manual server selection or other MMORPG-like networking that many of us are used to. It was mentioned that teams can connect to non-competitive tracks as a sort-of training tool or so they can take “team pictures,” though that wasn’t expanded on.

World of Speed Mechanics & Unique Gameplay Features

world-of-speed-2

This isn’t the first time an MMO racing game has been attempted. In fact, the highly-successful Need for Speed series put out its own adequately-confusing “Need for Speed: World” game, which has struggled to gain traction in the market.

It seems reasonable to assume that moving “World” to the front of the title can only guarantee success.

We’ve only played one game mode thus far, but I’m told a couple more are in the works. I asked about drift races and drag races and was given the oft-heard “we can’t talk about that just yet” answer, but I’ll update with a new post once we hear back. Of what we’ve played, World of Speed lessens focus on a hard first-place finish and instead acquaints players with team-play mechanics. Racing with your team (the “guild-equivalent” is called a “club”) is about being the best in different driver skills, calculated-out as a “driver skill level.” This contributes to the score at the end of a race, ultimately determining placing on the leaderboard.

One of the examples provided was that of time holding the lead positions: If you’re in a race with eight players and your team holds first (between each of your four drivers) for 60% of the time, assuming you’ve done well in other aspects, your team could end up winning even without finishing in first. Driving actions also build into the final positioning of the team – things like drifting, drafting, power slides, and clean overtakes will benefit the team greatly, so it’s as much about skill as it is pure speed.

Objectives are assigned in the race that contribute to final positioning, but aside from the “time in first” and “use a shortcut” objectives, we don’t know much about these.

Oh – and yes – there are shortcuts. It wouldn’t be a proper racing game without them. This does mean that players who are more familiar with the map will be more likely to win, but that’s going to be true whether or not shortcuts exist.

What Matters Most: Feel of the Game

world-of-speed-3

Everything else is irrelevant if the driving doesn’t feel right. Driving games are tough because they have a unique game design challenge: We drive cars in everyday life and most of us (looking at you, NC drivers) have a second-nature feel for how a car should handle once we’ve driven it. Whether or not you’re cruising around in a McLaren doesn’t matter – your brain is calculating turning radius and speed in the games as it would in the real world.

Games like GRID 2 have gone through great pains to compute hundreds of driving variables per car, measuring them closely with high-end electronic monitors hooked up to the real cars. The goal of that is to make them feel intuitive, unique, and balanced in a way that would be expected from petrolheads who know their specs. Everything matters when it comes to control and feel, all the way down to the viewpoint options (GRID 2 sorely lacks a cockpit view, I was happy to see that World of Speed is offering it).

But not every racing game has to be so hyper-realistic. Ridge Racer: Unbounded is an example of a very fun, playful, arcade-y racing game that’s excellent in its own right; Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is fun for its inclusion of high-speed police chases – Underground 2 focuses on tuning and styling elements and is a hallmark game in the genre.

When I asked where the team places World of Speed on the arcade-to-realism scale, they told me it lands somewhere between Ridge Racer and GRID – that’s a pretty massive range. Fitzpatrick, the developer seen in the video interview, went on to explain that the game’s intention is to be highly-accessible to the mid-range players and doesn’t want to exclude those who aren’t fanatical about simulation. It’s not a racing sim, I was told, but it’s not as arcade-like as Ridge Racer.

Putting the pedal to the metal was necessary at this point. A group of three other journalists hopped into the game with me at GDC; we were assigned Xbox controllers (my nemesis) and fancy racing-like seats. Once I’d remembered ‘A’ from ‘X’ – really, it’s keyboard, wheel, or nothing for me – we loaded up a team racing event of standard red vs. blue.

My assigned mentor leaned over my racing seat to inform me that holding down the e-brake while accelerating (effectively revving) on the start line would give me a boost upon release of the brake. I was also notified that I had a limited tank of nitrous oxide on board (oddly, the devs were unable to get approval of the UK government to test NOS on the street). N2O doesn’t replenish at all, so once it’s used, you’ve exhausted your trappings for eking-out a finish if in danger. Of course, I didn’t know this during the race, so I just drained the entire tank as soon as possible. After another round, though, I’d found that saving the tank for long strips in the final stretch was most effective – just as you’d expect.

I can’t recall which cars we were driving, but it was on the San Francisco map unveiled, appropriately, at San Francisco’s GDC. The handling was rough to get used to at first; the car’s cornering felt stiff and unresponsive at times, but it was tough to determine whether that was a controller configuration issue (sensitivity, perhaps), an attribute of the car, or the game in general. Racing lines are drawn on the ground to recommend the best course of action in conjunction with a suggested speed (green-to-red coloring), which was helpful in learning braking and acceleration in the game. I’m personally pretty strongly opposed to racing lines being painted on the screen – I don’t like being told by a game how I should race, especially once I’ve learned to slide properly – but we didn’t get a chance to discuss whether the lines would be ever-present or if they were optional.

The graphics were pretty enough and the aesthetic felt natural. Map layout was also intuitive and predictable (which is good), with a minimap to help warn of upcoming corners and straights. We didn’t have enough folks or machines present to fill a game with the maximum number of players (I am unclear on the maximum – I know it’s at least eight total, maybe more) and the racers were of various skill levels; this meant that, once I’d taken off from the finish line, I didn’t really see anyone else for the whole race. This was quickly resolved when a dev jumped in to play, making for some fun back-and-forth overtakes until he inevitably cheated (read: shortcut) and broke away.

A lot of the more long-term gameplay will stem from its MMO framework of persistent advancements on individual and team levels. Interestingly, territorial wars between clubs will determine who owns a percentage of a track; the team that owns a track will gain a foothold there, granting some sort of benefit that pans-out as a “home-field advantage” type of thing. I could see competition between clubs over a track being a fun bit of gameplay over long periods of time, if executed properly.

If the stiffness of handling isn’t a problem in the finalized game and was more of a result of the car or controller, I’d have few complaints from my limited hands-on time. As-is, though, it was pretty annoying at times to have the car refuse to turn at any reasonable radius.

Licensed Tracks & Cars

world-of-speed-4

It wouldn’t be a proper racing game without real-world cars and tracks. In observing the trailer and speaking to Fitzpatrick, we know that BMW, McLaren, Lamborghini, Dodge, Mercedes, Pagani’s Zonda has been spotted, and more manufacturers will all be present. The list is still being finalized.

A mix of cities and licensed tracks will be playable, too; so far, we know of San Francisco, London, and Moscow and we know that the team wants to add the Nuremberg ring to its otherwise-quiet track roster.

Concerns with Server Architecture & Networking

From a hardware and server perspective, racing games exhibit yet another challenge that isn’t necessarily present in other online games. Because we’re dealing with such speeds and precision in order to make a turn properly, any bit of latency over 100-150ms becomes massively detrimental to handling. Racing games couldn’t be hosted online for a number of years because of these issues, and the early attempts often featured teleporting cars and no collision to bypass precision hurdles. Even the modern GRID 2 exhibited flickering and laggy car response in some cases.

No one present could get into architecture details on the server or networking setup, but I was assured that latency was a major concern within the team and that it was being focused on. It is uncertain at this time whether the servers will be a frontloaded node-based system or if we’ll be communicating with regional servers.

On behalf of our vocal Australian readers – you know who you are – I asked if Australians could expect local servers or if they’d have to route through Asia somewhere. That isn’t yet known, but will be looked into shortly. I was told that your concerns were duly noted.

Overall: World of Speed Has Merit, but It’s an Uphill Battle

world-of-speed-5

Monetization of World of Speed will be what ultimately dictates its survival in an otherwise-fierce marketplace. The stiffness of handling on the demo car was a bit off-putting, but I'm going to give Slightly Mad the benefit of the doubt here -- I'd assume it was likely a matter of the controller, the rather limited environment, or some sort of early-dev issue that will be resolved. The territorial wars and club system have the most promise to me; I've always preferred racing offline if only for the stability and get-to-the-action advantages. I was told that griefing will be handled with a fairly robust system, but the team wasn't ready to talk details just yet.

As someone who absolutely loves racing games, I think World of Speed could be fun, it's just very difficult to make multiplayer racing successfully. There are a lot of technical hurdles, player population hurdles, griefing hurdles, and so forth; monetization will kill or make the game, but the promise of added cars as the game ages does give it a bit more staying power than we're used to in the racing genre.

- Steve "Lelldorianx" Burke.

 

Steve Burke

Steve started GamersNexus back when it was just a cool name, and now it's grown into an expansive website with an overwhelming amount of features. He recalls his first difficult decision with GN's direction: "I didn't know whether or not I wanted 'Gamers' to have a possessive apostrophe -- I mean, grammatically it should, but I didn't like it in the name. It was ugly. I also had people who were typing apostrophes into the address bar - sigh. It made sense to just leave it as 'Gamers.'"

First world problems, Steve. First world problems.

We moderate comments on a ~24~48 hour cycle. There will be some delay after submitting a comment.

Advertisement:

  VigLink badge