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Midtown Madness (PC) Interview

We are also holding a Midtown Madness giveaway contest to coincide with our Midtown Madness interview. Be sure to read the interview carefully because somewhere in the interview there will be a link to the contest sign up page.

Our own Joe McGinn recently had a chance to ask some of the members of the Midtown Madness development team questions concerning Midtown Madness of course.

1) Could you tell us what role(s) you had in Midtown Madness?

    Project Director and Programmer of the UI and input devices.

    I was responsible for working with Sam Buss on vehicle simulation and physics. I also provided a framework for managing all physically simulated bodies in the game engine.

    Ryan C
    Programmed the networking features and game logic.

    I was the Audio Programmer. The composer and sound designer, Paul Lackey, supplied me with the music and sound effects, and I would work the magic in code: apply doppler shift to the horns and engines; trigger the correct CD music tracks; apply echo effect in tunnels, etc.

    I designed and wrote the online help system and the jewel case booklet. I also wrote the game design document—although I didn't actually design any part of the game, except in the indirect sense that I came up with a few details to fill out the document. (This early design document, in conjunction with a kick-ass prototype, convinced Microsoft to fund us as the developers of Midtown.)

    I was one of the 3D artists on Midtown Madness. I specialized in the development of the city assets.

    I was the Test Lead, and assisted in the production of Midtown. I was with the team for 12 months, slightly less than the full development cycle.

2) How long was Midtown Madness in development? Around how many people worked on the game?

    It took 18 months to develop, and we had 8 to 15 people at any one time.

3) Is it just tradition that compels developers to ship games with most of the cars locked, or do you think that forcing users to race repeatedly to unlock additional cars increases the game's replayability?

    We made design decisions on which cars to lock, and also on what it would take to unlock them. For example, the Panoz GTR is the hardest car to drive, but potentially the fastest—if you are a precise enough driver to negotiate the curbs. This car could be very frustrating for the novice driver, but very rewarding for an experienced gamer. So we made the GTR hard to unlock, making it a reward to those experienced drivers. Other vehicles, like the city bus (which was kind of a fun car to drive and not too challenging) was made very easy to unlock; the few races you need to win to get it are very easy.

    My own opinion on this question is that unlocking cars does increase the game's replay-ability, since it would be way too easy to win certain races with certain cars.

    The idea behind locking/unlocking cars is that you're trying to reveal the game in stages, rather than just give it all up at once. You're creating a situation where players have something to look forward to...something to "work for" and get "rewarded with." This concept plays into the good old American spirit of competitiveness—not only within the game (you vs. the game), but also with your friends who own the game, or who play it with you.

    You set up a situation where Billy comes over to Johnny's house on Friday night, and they stay up playing the game until they can unlock this or that car. They work together to figure out what they have to do to win the car. Or they merely compete with each other, taking turns to see who can do it, with the associated bragging rights granted the first who does.

    Unlocking vehicles breeds a different kind of fun than you get when you're given the keys to the candy store. Struggling to unlock vehicles makes you "work" toward the opportunity to experience something new or different, and thus may savor it more. In the keys to the candy store analogy, you go inside and gorge yourself, and then get sick and bored much more quickly. If the game is fun, then you don't need to worry very much whether you're going to have locked/unlocked vehicles, characters, races, or what have you. You only need to figure out how easy (or tough) it will be to unlock them.

4) There don't seem to be any cheats available for making all cars accessible. This is one thing a few people have complained about - it's too hard to get their favorite car. Are you considering adding cheat codes in a future version, or perhaps a wider selection of skill-setting options?

    There are some cheats on the Internet which are basically a player file that you replace your own with. The idea has been discussed to allow all cars to be driven in the Cruise mode, so that people can try any car.

    We have considered unlocking almost all vehicles in single player cruise mode. This solution would satisfy the many people who are barely interested in racing, but just want to check out all the vehicles.

    Ryan C
    The easiest "cheat" to unlocking all the cars is to hack your player profile.

    We do have cheats the public doesn't know about yet...

5) Around our house this is one game that has very widespread appeal. My friends, my fiancée, her eight-year old son - everybody loves playing this game. I think the appeal is a combination of good gameplay and the absence of explicit violence and bloodshed (i.e., you can't hit the pedestrians). Was this a conscious decision to try and make a game for all age brackets?

    Definitely. We wanted our family to enjoy this game with us. Microsoft has seen a lot of value in doing this for all the other Madness titles as well.

    Ryan C
    A wide audience was definitely a goal. Fred [the game's designer] wanted Midtown to appeal to everybody, regardless whether you were a hardcore game player or not.

    The decision to eliminate explicit violence and bloodshed from the game was made by the designer, and it was a commendable one. There are a lot of people out there (myself included) who are sick of the unnecessary gore and "shock factor" of games, and realize that you don't have to include that sort of thing to make a great game. I think Midtown proves it.

    I consider myself something of a video game "connoisseur," and though my tastes in gaming are pretty specific, Midtown has a place among my favorites. I think this fact is especially remarkable, considering that I've played many hundreds of hours of Midtown, and I'm not bored of it yet.

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