Joonas Laakso interview: Next Car Game – ‘We’ve gone to town on deformation of the cars to deliver the best hits in gaming’

Joonas - LA 2013

We talk to Joonas Laakso, Producer at Bugbear Entertainment, who is a man on a mission. Not only has he strong ideas on how he wants Next Car Game to be, he’s willing to remain defiant against publishers in order to achieve his goal. He is confident that listening to gamers and what they want is the best road to take. In their latest trailer for NCG he proclaims that “publishers just don’t get it.”

It was that trailer which demonstrated amazing car crash physics and that quote that made us want to delve into the mind of Joonas and set up this interview.

GC: For people that haven’t read and heard about your game, can you give us a description of project “Next Car Game”?

JL: Bugbear’s “Next Car Game” is a re-imagining of what would a demolition derby racer in the style of our first big hit, the original “FlatOut”, look like if we made it today. If you’re into crashing cars and white-knuckle racing in old cars on run-down tracks, this is your game!

GC: If you had to compare NCG to Flatout, what are the differences and similarities?

JL: There are a lot of similarities with FlatOut; the setting, the old and battered cars, the full-contact racing, the physics-powered destruction. We think the original game was great and here we just want to build on it. There are some differences, too, mainly our career mode is as much about building your cars as it is about racing with them. You need to replace broken parts and you can’t always get the part you want – you may lack the money or it might not be available! A lot of folks are asking about ragdoll drivers and mini-games – we think those belong in the original game, but we don’t have a definite answer to that yet.

GC: There are a lot of parallels that run with Destruction Derby which failed to make any sort of impact going into the PS2 era. You picked up the dropped ball with your game Flatout, how do you intend to take it one step further?

JL: A big part of why we believe “Next Car Game” will be a success is the vocal Destruction Derby fans. We know we’re appealing to them. We very much intend to make the definitive demolition derby game! Certainly compared to the current competition we believe we’re going to dominate. It’s not going to be super realistic, but realistic enough. The arenas and hits are larger than life, but if you squint a bit and apply a dash of Hollywood editing, you could just about imagine the action happening in real life. Not with real, breathing drivers, though! Damage is tactical – we’re tracking your condition on all sides separately – and we really, really enjoy big crashes. We’ve gone to town on the physics, effects and deformation of the cars to deliver the best hits in gaming.

GC: You describe NCG as a game going back to your roots and the game you envisioned in the early 2000s. At what point did you realise you were straying from the Bugbear Entertainment path and what restricted you from creating your original vision until now?

JL: I guess we’ve always known that the original FlatOut’s core is what we’re all about. Going with the times, we wanted to make better and especially bigger games for bigger audiences, and perhaps that was something we had better not pursued. The first game feels like the pure version, the one with the most soul. The sequel sold more and was arguably our biggest hit, but it lacked focus. Pretty much all the car game studios really struggled in the mid-2000s and certainly towards 2010; all new franchises bombed, regardless of quality. It was really hard to get any sort of development deal for a new car game, we toured and toured to get something signed… it wasn’t fun. To us going back to that pure vision feels like the right thing to do and a way of reclaiming our fan base, now that the digital distribution channels have opened up.

GC: Your in-house ROMU engine sounds pretty awesome. What are you able to do with it and why is it different to something like Unreal?

JL: ROMU shields us from the competition. It’s a very purpose-built engine that’s good in specifically cars going too fast in a big, dynamic game world, bursting through things to win the day. Everything has been built with that in mind. We make sacrifices elsewhere to buy power for the car simulation, the physics driving the whole world, and the multiple damage systems. It’s very difficult to make a quality racer in any of the off the shelf engines, the requirements are so different.

Next Car Game 001

GC: You talk about how publisher “don’t get it” and want you to make a game that appeals to the “mass market”. If you did decide to go with a publisher, how drastically would it affect the game?

JL: The “problem” with publishers is our goals just not meeting where they should. When I say we’re against the “massmarket”, I don’t mean that we dislike money or a big fanbase. But the way most publishers approach a deal is figuring out how we can make this as widely appealing as possible… whereas we believe in maintaining focus and playing to our strengths. “Build it and they will come” doesn’t work quite that way, but there’s a lot of truth in that, too. The reason people still love those early games of ours is their unique flavour, which is decidedly not for everyone.

In the case of “Next Car Game”, we might be forced to compromise on our core idea of featuring only cars that are true to the cheap everyman class racing we’re going for, as well as the tracks being old and worn. Our whole take on handling in not to make it difficult – it should be accessible – but there must be depth to it, and in a publisher-picked focus group it could very well be labelled “too demanding” and “not fun”, even if we know that’s not the case. Generally I would fear for the whole aesthetic of the cheap and endearing to suffer. It’s kind of the same worry any marginalized sport or culture has whenever money becomes involved.

All that said, we’re open to publishing deals where it makes sense. There’s been a lot of demand for a console version of Next Car Game, and that’s something a publisher might help us with once the PC version is done.

GC: From what we’ve seen the game looks pretty good with awesome car damage. This game has great appeal so why do you feel that publishers don’t get it?

JL: I’m not sure if the appeal is wide enough for them. We have a lot of very enthusiastic fans and we believe that’s enough people for our purposes, but when you bring on additional parties you need to split the income. And then you need a much wider audience. We’ve tried selling more and less direct contact racers for years and years – I don’t know how many pitches I’ve ran, but it’s a lot – and there’s just very little if any interest. They agree it looks cool, but they don’t think there’s a buying audience.  

GC: With PC being the first platform we’ll see NGC on, when you hope to release it?

JL: Spring 2014 with the early access available later this year. 

GC: How likely are we to see a console release?

JL: It’s our goal. There’s been interest from both fans and publishing partners, so I do think we can make it happen. 

GC: Talking about consoles, have you had the chance to check out next gen console specs? Can you comment on the PS4 and Xbox One?

JL: I like them because now it’s basically just developing for one platform. Being freed from console hardware that’s some six, seven years old by now does feel good! 

Pre-order now and get to play an early access demo before anybody else.

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