With Sony calling WipEout 2048 "the biggest WipEout ever", and our positive WipEout 2048 preview available, we needed to find out more about the futuristic launch racer. We sat down with Sony Computer Entertainment Studio Liverpool's Mike Humphrey, senior designer on WipEout 2048, to learn more about this bewitching title.
Push Square: 2048 takes place in the near future — only 36 years away. So how did that change your approach to the design of the game?
Mike Humphrey: Well, from an art standpoint, it obviously gave a new art direction. We’ve based it in a city, which meant we’ve widened the tracks. And what that meant from a gameplay point of view, the tracks became slightly easier than traditional WipEout tracks. And that meant that it changed the focus towards ship-to-ship racing, it made it more combat-focused. So what we did, in order to add an element of strategy to the combat, we split the weapon pads. Traditionally in WipEout you have one weapon pad and you pick up a random weapon, but we’ve split it into offensive or defensive, so that when you get out front you can pick up more defensive weapons, like your shields, or acquire that kind of thing, and when you’re at the back you pick up the more offensive weapons like cannons and missiles to attack the guys in front of you. It actually had a massive rippling effect all the way through the design.
PS: In 2048, the sport of WipEout is just starting out.
MH: Yeah, it’s season one basically, it’s the dawn of the sport. What that meant for us is that we could go back to basics on a lot of the areas if we wanted to, which meant we could really concentrate on gameplay. The dawn of the sport obviously is also an influence on the art direction. It’s very much based in a city you would recognise. When you drive through the city you can recognise traditional brown stone architecture at ground level, and then you have the near future buildings built on top, and then they go up these massive skyscrapers you can race around. On one of our tracks you can actually race up the side of a skyscraper and then you can fight about on top, and then you come down the other side. It’s pretty cool.
Basically when you buy WipEout you also get all the WipEout HD content to play online against PS3 players.
PS: Yeah, I noticed some of the tracks were going through parks, or places that looked like parks.
MH: Yeah, that was the thing. Traditional WipEout, the tracks themselves are quite abstract. What this meant is that it really kind of grounded our track design, so we really had to concentrate on: how do you integrate this into city streets? How do you allow people to more easily identify with it?
PS: Since this is the dawn of the sport, are the teams formed yet?
MH: Well, we’ve got some of the teams that people will recognise, but we also have precursors to the teams that people know. Piranha, for example — this is an earlier version of Piranha. We’ve hired in writers to work on back-story. That’ll be delivered through various media for people to see. You can see the evolution of the different race scenes.
PS: There’s the cross-platform aspect. How does that work?
MH: Basically when you buy WipEout 2048 — it’s a huge game, it’s actually the biggest WipEout we’ve ever made, and there’s a very in-depth online campaign for WipEout 2048 — what you also get is all the WipEout HD content to play online against PS3 players. You can just jump into any PS3 lobby, it’s just connected by PSN. What that means is that when you get WipEout 2048 there’s already this community online playing WipEout HD, and you can jump into their games. Any number of PS3s against any number of PlayStation Vitas, up to eight players online. It’s totally seamless and it plays exactly the same. We’ve gotten a lot of comments that say it actually looks better on the Vita, which is really good for us.
PS: Did you have any difficulty integrating that?
MH: No, it was really easy. Our artists and our code team have been really pleased with what they’re able to do on PS Vita. Whenever we show it to anyone it’s really obvious up front how good it looks, how well it plays. Yeah, really easy.
PS: Have you used PS3 assets for it then?
MH: Yeah, absolutely. Everything is pretty much the same. The PS Vita pushes something like 250,000 [polygons] every frame, which is basically the same as we do on PS3. That’s what I’ve been told to say — I’m a designer, I don’t know the technical specs! As far as I know it is pretty much the same.
PS: Which of the Vita features, like the back touch-pad or Near, are you using?
MH: We do utilise Near. You can drop challenges for people that they can pick up. We’ve used everything in a way that is appropriate for WipEout. For example, with the rear touch we have this really beautiful canvas which forms our user interface at the front-end, so when you’re selecting events you can actually use the rear touch to interact with the canvas, almost like it’s a piece of cloth. And we have hidden events on the canvas, and as you move your finger around on the back touch you can unlock these hidden events. We use tilt control for steering, front touch we use for activating weapons or shields. Basically there are a lot of things that really fitted in very easily. Anything that didn’t really fit with WipEout we had the freedom to not use it, but the device is so user friendly and so intuitive that everything pretty much fit.
PS: So why should people buy 2048 over the rest of the launch line-up?
MH: Well, personally I would say buy everything! But WipEout 2048 is a showcase title for the platform. It looks absolutely beautiful, it really, really plays well. Players that are used to WipEout, they’ve played it for a long time, there’s plenty in there for them. We have skillcuts, which are these really hardcore shortcuts, which give you an advantage but they’re really difficult. For players that are new to WipEout the tracks are wider, they’re easier to navigate at first. I think it’s got something for everyone. And the fact that when you buy it you can get into cross play and play against an established audience on PS3, I think is a really good deal.