Tony Lay talks Real Racing 3, future of iOS and indie development

The Real Racing franchise has gone from strength to strength since its debut on iOS devices back in 2009. Since then Firemint has become synonymous with exceptional quality titles for Apple devices, following it up Real Racing 2 and SPY Mouse which both garnered universal acclaim from fans and critics across the globe.

How did the team feel about including real-world tracks for the very first time in Real Racing? Was it a challenge to sculpt them in the game? What sort of research was involved with providing a realistic experience?

Adding real tracks to Real Racing 3 was quite a challenge and there were many different technologies and techniques used in order to get a good representation. Our goal was not to get the track mathematically perfect but to get the experience of driving on the track to feel real and fun. Driving in a game has different characteristics than driving in real life and we never forget that when making a game. First, we had to get a good representation, then we had to make it fun.

The first task was to collect reference material of all sorts including elevation data, satellite images, photos and videos. We had a head start here since other EA studios already had a lot of data from prior partnerships with the real track owners. Once the reference material was in our hands, our team developed a number of different techniques to combine all the data and imagery together to create the track. Once we built a first pass of a track, we checked the result by flying a virtual camera around the track and then comparing the results of our virtual photos and videos to real photos and videos that we had from the original reference. When our virtual camera was taking shots that matched real reference material then we were sure that we had it right.

Basically, there was a lot of iteration involved and as a general rule if you start out with great data and reference then you get to a great result quicker. We were very fortunate that we had good data for many of the tracks. In the case of a street track that we are working on currently, we had to get out there and physically survey the area ourselves, building up our own data and reference. Once we had a good representation, we would still have to drive the track and get the feel right, so there is quite a long and iterative path involved in making a great track.

Many gamers are often critical of touch-based control for simulation-style games. How will Real Racing 3 use touch controls to its advantage?

We haven’t announced details of Real Racing 3’s control scheme, but Real Racing 2 uses the accelerometer controls and depending on how you like to play, you don’t have to touch the screen at all. Simply rotate left to steer left and rotate right to steer right. Or if you prefer, you can use the touch screen entirely to control the car, we offer numerous options in that game. We are quite happy with that control system and it is that flexibility that has helped to make Real Racing 2 the number one racer.

The graphics from what we’ve seen so far are utterly amazing. Just how hard are you pushing current iOS hardware?

We are pushing current iOS hardware very hard indeed. We didn’t start out by thinking about the limitations of the device, we started out with a higher goal, to make the best game we could without getting hung up on what was or wasn’t possible. Although we did have to scale back our artwork a little, the really big surprise for us was not how much we had to cut away from our ambitions but how much we were able to achieve.

If we had started out by working within our limitations, we would never have discovered what was really possible with the newest hardware and we wouldn’t have stretched ourselves. We now have a 3rd generation iOS engine with Mint3 and we have spent over 4 years of optimisation efforts on iOS platforms to achieve the results we are now seeing.

How important do you think AirPlay is to providing a truly amazing Real Racing experience? Do you expect a number of gamers will be playing on their TV’s?

Playing on the big screen has always been something we are excited about at Firemonkeys. Real Racing 2 was the first mover and most significant innovator with Airplay and this should remain a focus for us. I don’t think a lot of people play over Airplay currently, but I think games like Real Racing 3 will start to convince people of the sort of immersive experiences that can be driven from a single iPhone. I think there will come a moment when people do start to use TV out features en-masse, I am not sure when that will be, but we will be there with the best big screen experience when they do.

How has the recent re-structure of Firemonkeys effected the development of Real Racing in either a positive or negative way?

When we merged together into Firemonkeys, we also formed the studio into strong and autonomous teams that focus on a particular game or type of game. The Real Racing team remained the same throughout the merger so there weren’t any significant effects on the group. The advantage of being Firemonkeys is that we have access to some incredible developers at EA and we are able to share all our best ideas.

Where do you think the future of iOS gaming is heading? Is free-to-play the answer as so many indie developers seem to think?

No one can ignore the trend towards free games and it is a big change in our industry but there are still a variety of business models out there. What really excites me is the massive audience that is growing around iOS, and the incredible pace of technology. It is the growing and maturing audience and iOS ecosystem that is most important to the future. As technology improves, the level of immersion and social connectivity within games will also improve which will drive the audience to become more and more serious about iOS gaming.

Basically, the growing audience is exciting, but they also have growing expectations. Making a great iOS game is now a significant investment, and Real Racing 3 is pushing the boundaries of how big these games can get.

Do you have any advice for Australian’s looking to join the local gaming industry?

My best advice to anyone wanting to get into the games industry is that you should practice your passion. If you are passionate about programming games then you should already be making them, if you are passionate about art and creating new worlds then you should be doing it. Follow a path to higher education (particularly as a programmer) and I would suggest foundational degrees like engineering or maybe industrial design as an artist and they will help teach you a way of thinking. Most of your learning about games development will be achieved by projects that you initiate and finish yourself, on your time. When you come in for an interview, we want to see the work you have done outside of your education. We want to see that you are passionate and that you are able to design and learn independently.

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