NASCAR 14 is the first big sports title to launch in the new year, but even with a release window hitting the week of Daytona (Feb 18; Xbox 360, PS3, PC), not much is known about the game. We went straight to the source, going under the hood—it's a car game, see?—with Eutechnyx’s EVP, Ed Martin, to find out what NASCAR fans should expect from this year’s game.
For the first time, up to 16 players can create or join a league, and then race their own Sprint Cup season.“Without question, this was the most requested feature,” says Martin. “We expect hundreds of thousands of people to be running their own season." People win points depending on how they finish, with other stats—such as average lap speed—also tracked for comparison. Adds Martin: “We heard of a lot of gamers actually doing this offline. They would hold private races and keep track of the stats themselves. Now we handle all of that for you.”
One of the most frustrating parts about racing online in past years is the randomness of who you faced on the track. There could be a five-year-old kid racing against a field of experts, and the results were crash city. That's going to change thanks to NASCAR 14’s dynamic field matching. Instead of getting dumped in a random lobby, the game now keeps track of how you race and places you into a group based on your skills. “The game is keeping track of your top speed, and it’s keeping track of this on a per-track level,” says Martin. “We know how good you are on a lap, we know if you’re out there wrecking a lot, and now you’ll be able to race against people who are just as good—or as bad.”
The good: New drivers are making their debut in NASCAR 14. The bad: Some virtual favorites had to be removed, for the time being, from the lineup, including Bobby Labonte and Jeff Burton. “We needed to have the game submitted for Microsoft’s approval back in November, so we had to have all of the 2014 season finished in our game before the 2013 season ended in real life,” says Martin. “It was a virtually impossible task to field all of the drivers, not knowing who was going to have a ride. So what we did is, we filled out the lineups as a stopgap. We went to NASCAR and asked who they thought would fill out the field, and we included some of the younger guys. We added guys like Kyle Larson and Paulie Harraka, then we also signed a driver from the Nationwide Series named Ryan Reed.” Look for an online update to fill out the field with anyone initially omitted.
NO XBOX ONE OR PS4 VERSIONS
“We took a good, hard look at it, but there just isn’t enough hardware out there yet to justify the cost of development,” says Martin. “The nail in the coffin was when a guy from Sony talked about Gran Turismo, and how their new game was launching on PS3. He said something like, ‘Why would we put Gran Turismo on a console that has zero units in the market when there are 150 million PlayStation 3s out there?’ Well, it’s a great question. It costs us about $6 million to develop a next-gen version of NASCAR. You have to sell an awful lot of copies in order to meet the development costs, on top of all the licensing. There are about 4-5 million worldwide combined units of PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, so it just doesn’t add up for us right now. We own the rights, and we absolutely have plans, but it won’t be later this year.”
Retaliation is the name of the game with NASCAR 14
’s AI. In past games, when you raced a road course the line of cars looked almost like a train, with the AI afraid to pass. This year, not only are the drivers more aggressive, but if you bump them, you’ll get an almost immediate response. “Last year, if you bumped somebody, they’d chicken out and get out of your way,” says Martin. “The AI drivers will come after you now. They won’t be wildly aggressive, but they’re not going to give up their spot, either. It’s a lot more realistic with the amount of attitude that’s in the game.”