Post Script

In­ter­view: Stéphane Be­ley, de­sign di­rec­tor, Ivory Tower


De­sign di­rec­tor Stéphane Be­ley has spent sev­eral years co­or­di­nat­ing Ivory Tower, Re­flec­tions and other Ubisoft teams in a mon­u­men­tal ef­fort to con­struct a dig­i­tal ver­sion of North Amer­ica. But he was well aware of the chal­lenge that goal posed, hav­ing al­ready di­rected open-world driv­ing game Test Drive Un­lim­ited at Eden Games. With The Crew fi­nally out, we ask Be­ley about his stu­dio’s re­mark­able in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the States, and what it took to make it. MMOGs are more com­monly fo­cused on sci-fi or fan­tasy themes. What made you de­cide to build one around car cul­ture in­stead? I’m a huge fan of MMO games, and I’ve played World Of War­craft for ten years now. The whole team are huge MMOG fans, in fact. For us, the idea re­ally came about at the end of Test Drive, and it felt very in­stinc­tive to be­gin work on an MMO game. Be­cause when you think about a car, you think about all the parts – that’s how The Crew was born seven years ago, when we de­cided to use RPG el­e­ments for cus­tomi­sa­tion. It’s a sim­ple and nat­u­ral way to cus­tomise and tweak your cars. And we felt the driv­ing genre lacked new propo­si­tions. The Crew fosters an un­usu­ally strong re­la­tion­ship be­tween the player and their cars. For me, when I started to talk with the team, it was very im­por­tant that we give real value to the car that you drive. If you want to stick with a Ford Fo­cus from the start to the end, that’s fine. The game will never push you to buy a Lam­borgh­ini or a Fer­rari. They’re there if you want them, but you don’t need them to win. It’s not like other games where you’re bom­barded with cars – here it’s im­por­tant to cus­tomise and take care of the car you have. Why did you de­cide to re­quire first-place fin­ishes in ev­ery event to progress? It was re­ally just re­lated to playtest­ing. When we started, the game was more gen­er­ous and you only needed to come third or sec­ond in the first ar­eas, and you didn’t have to come first un­til you reached the later events. But each time we gave it to testers, it was per­ceived as too easy and gen­er­ous, and the start of the game got neg­a­tive feed­back as a re­sult. So we de­cided to keep things more chal­leng­ing from the start. How did you co­or­di­nate with Re­flec­tions, which built the PS4 ver­sion? It was a long jour­ney! The Crew has been worked on by many stu­dios, in­clud­ing [Ubisoft] Shang­hai and Re­flec­tions, as well as Ivory Tower. But to de­velop with Re­fec­tions, we first cre­ated many bridges be­tween the teams at ev­ery level. The only way I’ve found to make some­thing like this work is to have [a sin­gle] The Crew team. Not Ubisoft, Ivory Tower and Re­flec­tions – we were just The Crew team. It takes a while to es­tab­lish re­spect and trust be­tween the de­vel­op­ers in each stu­dio. But I’d al­ready worked with Re­flec­tions – when I was with Atari, I worked on Driver 3 and 4 – so a lot of that mu­tual re­spect was al­ready there. There were some server is­sues at launch, but it seems to be set­tling down now. Is that all in hand? Most of the trou­ble has been to­tally solved, and in the four days after the game launched we re­ally sta­bilised the server and there were no big hic­cups. Some small ones, but it’s get­ting more and more sta­ble. The Crew takes on some of Ubisoft’s tra­di­tional open-world struc­tur­ing. Was that some­thing that was sug­gested to you? To be hon­est, it’s my idea. I work a lot with [Ubisoft chief cre­ative of­fi­cer] Serge Has­coet and to­gether we try to go in the same di­rec­tion – cre­at­ing an open world with a sys­temic way for the player to dis­cover it. It’s re­ally some­thing that we have in common. And seven years ago, when I pre­sented The Crew to Serge – at the time it was named Route 66 – the Data Sta­tions were al­ready in my mind. It’s some­thing that’s com­pletely nat­u­ral for me, and a sim­ple way to un­lock ar­eas. Given that ex­plor­ing the world is such a key part of the game, why is the cam­era so re­stric­tive? This was a pro­duc­tion con­straint. We have a cam­era bet­ter suited for ex­plo­ration in the pipe­line, but it’s some­thing we’ll up­date in the fu­ture. I had to de­cide to cut it for launch due to time con­straints; de­vel­op­ment was a long run, and the baby re­ally needed to go! This is re­ally just the start, and we’ll keep up­dat­ing the com­mu­nity with, for ex­am­ple, an ex­plo­ration cam­era and the abil­ity to cre­ate movies and things like that. There’s also no way to chal­lenge other play­ers to ad-hoc races. Is that a planned ad­di­tion too? Yes, ab­so­lutely. In the near fu­ture we’ll be adding In­stant Chal­lenge races as a free up­date. You’ll be able to do a race with any­one around you, propos­ing it to ev­ery­one in the ses­sion or your crew. Any plans to ex­pand the game’s bor­ders out into Mex­ico or Canada? [Laughs] That’s an in­ter­est­ing ques­tion! At the mo­ment I’d pre­fer not to add to the world. It’s al­ready enough for play­ers. But we’ll see what hap­pens in the fu­ture – it won’t be Canada or Mex­ico, though.

“It’s not like other games where you’re bom­barded with cars – here it’s im­por­tant to take care of the car you have”

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