From WRC to Test Drive Unlimited, how KT Racing prepares for its future | Xbox One

Xboxygen was recently invited to the premises of the KT Racing studio in Paris. It was on this occasion that we were able to meet and discuss with the teams that are currently at a pivotal stage in their existence. After the release of WRC Generations on November 3, KT Racing ceded the WRC license to Codemasters and is now fully focused on new projects.

This transition represents a big challenge for the studio, which already has several games in the works, including Drive Unlimited Solar Crown Review. In order to better understand his state of mind in the face of this new challenge, we were able to speak with Alain Jarniou, Creative Director at KT Racing and veteran of the Test Drive license. From his role in the game to the future of the studio, he talks with us about the post-WRC era, the wait around Test Drive and the evolution of racing games that we find today in the video game landscape.

When the WRC license changes developer

KT Racing is at a turning point in its existence. After releasing seven WRC games, the studio was snatched the license by Codemasters. We asked Alain Jarniou why the studio had lost the rights to the WRC and his feelings about the situation.

Alain Jarniou: To make it short actually, the license is negotiated with the WRC promoters, in this case every 3 – 4 years… It’s not my part, so I don’t have all the exact information, but basically , it is renegotiated like a FIFA, a Formula One etc.

I think we got it twice in a row and it just so happened that at the time Codemasters made a better offer. And right after, they were bought by EA so I also think that was part of a fairly large strategy.

Xboxygen: Was it heartbreaking for you to lose the license?

AD: Yeah, of course, but I think we got the job done. There are not many people who have done seven WRC games, to do nine would have been like Loeb who was nine times World Champion (laughs) but seven is already not bad. I think we really grew with this license, I think we brought a lot of things to this license, with the Career mode that we did, the livery editor, the historic cars, everything that ‘we added leagues to the game this year… Really, we used WRC to try to innovate as much as possible and I’m proud of that. I’m proud of Kylotonn’s evolution during that time. It’s true that today you’re back to WRC 5, it stings the eyes a little, but hey, it was our game, it was our first and it was still a good game and it took everything build for WRC 5, even a team.

Building a team of people who aren’t necessarily either enthusiasts or experts at the start, and who become enthusiasts and who become experts, and that was super important. So here we are, we grew up together, the project is major, now you can live your life elsewhere. (laughs)

Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown, the studio’s big project

While it is easy to understand that losing the WRC license was an important turning point for KT Racing, Alain Jarniou explains that the studio did not really have time to rest and that it was also an opportunity to do something else since Test Drive was already under construction.

He explains in particular that when he arrived at KT Racing in 2014, he already had in mind to do a Test Drive Unlimited, because he knows the license well and knew that it was “asleep”. As a reminder, Alain Jarniou worked on the first Test Drive Unlimited and was Game Director on Test Drive Unlimited 2.

Xboxygen: For you personally, it was great to tell you that you would work on TDU?

AD: Bah TDU yes, absolutely of course! In addition me frankly, I am the only one to have worked on the three iterations of TDU, we have a person [ndlr : chez KT Racing] who worked with me on TDU 2, and not just any TDU 2 (laughs) He was my Technical Director at the time, who has been working with us since the first WRC and deals in particular with simulation and car dynamics. We’ve been working together for a long time, we both work in trust.

He then confirms that Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown is not only the biggest project of KT Racing but also of the Nacon group. When we talk about the pressure for him and his teams to work on the license, he replies:

AD: It’s always complicated a TDU. Because MMO, open world, everything is possible, huge fanbase, you can’t miss each other. WRC 5 had a lot of flaws, but there was a lot to do… 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, Generations… We didn’t know we would go to 11 (Generations), but we had time to make things better […] TDU we don’t have the right, TDU it has to be good right away.

We bounce back by evoking the chaotic launch of Test Drive Unlimited 2, released in 2011 on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC, which was a very bad moment for Alain Jarniou and his teams at the time, because of server concerns preventing players to play for more than a month.

AD: The 2 was great except its servers crashed and it was a disaster. A month of sleepless nights for me. TDU 2 was meant to be played offline as well, except that when it sensed you were connected to the network, it didn’t offer you to go offline. You have network, you are online, but when the servers farted at the other end, it was still trying to connect and suddenly you couldn’t get into your game.

We had a metacritic when it came out in 84 with people who played the official version, before there were any problems. We had a hundred thousand players trying to throw it all the time… It was horrible. It was horrible and yet, it was still a very good game, there are people who still play it, it was a magical game, it’s a great game, but we lost ten metacritc points; we ended up at 72 because people had trouble playing, or even couldn’t play.

Test Drive and competition of open world racing games

Test Drive Unlimited was, when it was released in 2007, one of the few open-world multiplayer racing games on the market. It has been appreciated by many players and one could say that Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown will therefore be able to win with ease.

It’s not that simple, however, since the video game landscape of 2022 is very different from that of 2007, and licenses like The Crew, Need For Speed ​​and obviously Forza Horizon are now well established. On the subject of competition, Alain Jarniou explains:

AD: TDU didn’t have one, TDU 1 was really a revolution, really, whereas today we think it’s an obvious idea. We played World of Warcraft every lunchtime and car games at the same time, and it still took months to log on and say to ourselves “If we made a car game in an open world, in an MMO, it would be too much great.”

Xboxygen: The expectations today are very different, the players have seen other games, we imagine that this is an additional pressure for you?

AD: Yes (laughs) Yes, but with, I think, the TDU side. It’s a different experience. There’s the chill side, not just the competition, and there’s the avatar side, I’m with my friends… Me, since I finished working on TDU 2, it was 10 years ago, I I spoke with a lot of players who liked this game, and there are many who said to me “I connected in the evening with my friends, we went for a walk”. After us, there is competition, we put activities, but there are certain players in TDU, they just want to walk around with their friends.

We talk about the fundamentals of the Test Drive Unlimited franchise such as its progression and its economy which Alain Jarniou describes as aspects that he wanted to be “hard” at the time of Test Drive Unlimited 2, in order to reward the player. He explains that in Forza Horizon, in his opinion, what makes the salt of TDU is missing:

AD: You launch Forza, you spin the wheel [ndlr : les tirages Forza permettent de gagner des voitures et des récompenses diverses]… I did it, I had a designer who wanted to try the game, but he told me “I don’t have a super car”, I told him “Did you spin the wheel?” And he wins a BMW i8, in 30 seconds.

They have the fault of their quality, their quality is that they have 700 cars, it’s a sick thing, except that in fact, they have too many. In TDU you have this emotional side with the car, which you don’t have at all with Forza.

[…]

It’s a really well-regulated open world, very fun… But I find that things are missing that make you play a TDU, that there are still people who play TDU because you can’t find not that elsewhere.

Xboxygen: How does it feel to be a studio of, let’s say, modest size, next to the behemoths of EA with Codemasters, of Microsoft which has two studios for Forza, how do you fight in this AAA environment?

AD: Well that means that we move one foot in front of the other, and that we develop the engine at the same time as the game, that’s why it takes a little time. It’s the same engine as WRC. Generally when we finish a game, there is a moment, we freeze the engine and we continue to develop the engine for other games. So suddenly, the WRC engine is a little less advanced than that of TDU.

Shaping Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown

He then explains that certain developments made to the KT Engine during the development of Test Drive, for example, were used in WRC Generations. In the same vein, KT Racing released in 2019 TT Isle of Man 2, a motorcycle game taking place on the Isle of Man which notably offered to discover the map freely. This helped to develop techniques that are used for the open world of Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown.

As we know, the game will take place in China, and will offer a 1:1 scale reproduction of the island of Hong Kong, i.e. 550 km of roads with varied landscapes.

Xboxygen: How do you choose the destination of your next game?

AD: Full, full, full, full of things. The desire to go to Asia, an island generally, we like for TDU because it’s something closed, we don’t have to justify invisible walls. A size that corresponds to what we can technically do…

[…]

There are a few islands which are interesting, which we have studied… For TDU 2 we went to Tenerife for example, then we see if it is interesting. Hong Kong for diversity, it’s super interesting.

Xboxygen: And you have ties to the government? Do you need various permissions?

AD: There are of course stories of rights on buildings, for example, when we reproduce real buildings. The signs, the signage, the fact that they drive on the left… We like this kind of detail in the TDUs, we like that you really feel like you are somewhere else.

He then talks about several details that make the charm of the license:

AD: The indicators, the windows, the hoods… You know that’s one of the things that came back the most from TDU 2? When we asked people what they remembered from TDU 2, in second place it was the turn signals (laughs).

[…]

We can’t afford a Ferrari, in any case I can’t afford a Ferrari and there are plenty of people who can’t afford a Ferrari… But buying you a Ferrari in a circuit racing game, it’s not the same as buying you a Ferrari when you drive with your friends, having it in your garage, walking around, it has nothing to do in fact. What we try to give with TDU is also this feeling of living an exceptional life of someone who loves cars.

Xboxygen: Why did you call the game Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown, and not Test Drive Unlimited 3, it’s not a sequel for you?

AD: Well, it’s not the same studio, it’s not the same team, it’s a license that we have to appropriate. And Solar Crown, that was the name of the competition in TDU 2, there’s that “legacy” of 2, but it’s a new game, KT’s Test Drive Unlimited.

We obviously thank Alain Jarniou for his kindness and his availability as well as Nacon for the invitation. See you in 2023 to learn more about Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown.

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