The Wheelman Developer Q&A

The Wheelman Developer Q&A

Published On December 20, 2008 | By Anthony Barker | News

Early next year, Midway Games will bring you an upcoming open-world driving game starring action-film megastar Vin Diesel as an expert driver for hire. Set in picturesque Barcelona, the game is scheduled to be available in stores everywhere by February 20 next year, and as well as an achievement list we also bring you a Q&A with the developers of the game.

So if you feel the need for speed, without the jerks, then read on to find out more about this upcoming action/racer.

Wheelman is a Vin Diesel game, how has it been working with Vin and his Tigon studio?
It has been great. Vin is a passionate and informed gamer and both he and the team at Tigon have the same high standards of quality we do in our studio. Vin and the guys at Tigon helped craft both the story and script and Vin’s VO is great. They are always happy to feedback on the game and the success of that working collaboration really shows through in Wheelman.

Can you tell us a little bit about the storyline?
I can tell you a little bit, but I don’t want to give the plot away too much… Vin Diesel stars as Milo Burik, a CIA agent who goes undercover as a Wheelman to infiltrate the gangs and criminal powers of Barcelona, in order to stop a potential nation breaking situation. Milo’s driving skills are legendary and he uses these to great effect to undertake key jobs for each of the gangs working him into their trust, so that he can get to the top bosses of each gang faction. Once he is in with the bosses, he plays the gangs against each other to… can’t say anymore

Barcelona is a new location for a video game, what’s the thinking behind the location?
You are right – it is entirely new to videogames and there are 3 main reasons for choosing Barcelona.

1/ It is a beautiful city with some great geography and natural landmarks, which we have reflected in our art style of the game. Great weather, blue sky, green trees, stunning architecture… imagine a Mediterranean holiday setting and then add the carnage of an open world action driving game, with almost everything in the environment being destructible! Most open world games have gone for that gritty, smoggy, grey dark look – we wanted something fresh and exciting that makes you feel good driving around.

2/ It makes for a great story setting, with different gang factions having a real world grounding to them, including Romanian arms dealers, Spanish mafia and our Chulos street punk biker gang. Combine these with our cast of characters of all nationalities and it really is a cosmopolitan story which fits perfectly with Barcelona. Also, Barcelona is clean and new from an IP point of view, as there have been no significant games or movies set there. People don’t associate Barcelona with anything apart from being a great city, but perhaps in future, people will associate it with Wheelman.

3/ Most importantly, the city geography makes for some great game play. Barcelona has everything from sweeping highways and tunnels (which make for some great high speed pursuits), twisting roads for escaping pursing police and a hive of narrow alley ways great for bikes and smaller cars. Our game version of Barcelona is huge, but due to the natural geography we have faithfully recreated, you instantly recognize the city and landmarks as you go through the game. This helps create that sense of familiarity to make you drive and enjoy the game even more (of course you also have a full city map on your PDA).

There have been comments that Wheelman is reminiscent of Driver and there are also nods towards GTA and Saints Row. What does Wheelman give the gamer that’s a bit different?
We have had favorable comparisons to all of those products and more, including some classics like ChaseHQ and RoadRash, but for me, we are right in the middle of both Burnout and GTA. Sure, we are an open world game with 3rd person on foot gameplay, a strong story arc and a ton of side missions (plus a few hidden Easter eggs), but our driving is up there with some of the very best driving games around. Each vehicle type has its own unique physics model for both handling and damage and this lets you do some amazing drifts, handbrake turns and 360 spins, not to mention being able to take out other vehicles with our “vehicle melee” system or shooting at enemies from vehicles whilst driving.

Wheelman gives the gamer the things that all gamers want – a polished, well executed game experience that has been balanced to be both accessible and challenging, whilst remaining hugely fun and satisfying to play. We have also innovated action driving and car chases by introducing a number of special moves that have simply never been seen before. Our vehicle melee system is radically new and gives car to car combat the depth and fun of a fighting game. Imagine that you are embroiled in an intense car chase with a rival gang member. With a flick of the right analog stick, you instantly slam into the car beside you, propelling them into a wall or off a bridge, only to be shown a spectacular explosion of sparks and twisted metal. The ability to Airjack from car to car means that the days of stopping the action and getting out of your vehicle are over when you can now leap from one moving vehicle to another) and with Aimed Shot, you can slow down time and gain pin point accuracy on enemy vehicles weak spots. Finally, the player can perform the Cyclone move, which allows you to spin your car or bike 180 degrees and perform an Aimed shot on vehicles pursuing you, making the aggressor the victim in the blink of an eye. In Wheelman you are THE driver and the car is truly your weapon!

So, is Wheelman a driving game, or an action game?
It’s both and takes the very best bits from both genres. In most action games, even the top ones driving sections tend to suck pretty bad. This is something we desperately wanted to change and focus tested our game heavily both in the US and Europe with fans of both driving games and action games because of this. As a result, we had extremely positive feedback from players of both genres and have tweaked and modified the game based on their feedback, with in game hints and selectable options tailoring the needs of both game types. We have also looked at our peer products, assessing them in detail and modifying Wheelman to ensure we are absolutely competitive come February. You simply cannot ignore a product like GTA coming out and changing gamer’s expectations on how open world games should play, so we didn’t. We assessed it, we spoke to the gamers and we improved Wheelman as a result. I believe we really have cracked the balance of both open world action and driving. Not many studios can claim that.

How many vehicles are available to drive? Can you hi-jack any car GTA/Saints Row style?
We have as many vehicles as GTA, multiple car types and multiple classes that range from compact hatches, two seated sports cars, German sedans, limousines and we have also licensed the G8 Pontiac and Opel Astra. We have multiple types of vans, trucks, scooters and my personal favorite: sport bikes. So basically, all the vehicles you would expect and more! Each one handles and drives differently, so as a player you will each find your favorites and slowly learn which vehicles work best in which missions and against which opponents. Yes, you can hi-jack the car in a “traditional” GTA/Saints Row style, but in Wheelman we have took that principle to the next level. By timing it right, you can Air jack and jump from your car at high speed onto the roof of any other vehicle, kick out the driver and instantly take that vehicle. This all happens in one fast movement and keeps the action moving extremely fast. Needless to say, traditional carjacking feels boring after you have experienced an Air jack in Wheelman!

Its looks pretty colourful from the screenshots that have been released, can you tell us a bit more about the visual style?
We wanted to be unique and different in our visual style from other open world games and setting the game in Barcelona really helped us get that Mediterranean look as opposed to a gloomy, smoggy city. We have different time of day settings that we change during specific missions, as it makes sense to the game play and story. This ranges from the colourful afternoon blue skies lighting up Barcelona, to foreboding dawn and dusk settings that gives the city a quieter, more silhouetted look with streetlights and car headlights adding to the visual style.

Tell us a little about the on-foot gameplay, how does it play? What weapons do you have?
We have considerable experience in the studio of staff that have made shooters before and we also had the benefit of the Stranglehold team in Chicago to feedback on mechanics and the on foot parts of our missions which has been really useful. We have also carried out a ton of focus tests with players that play the likes of GTA and Saints Row and we have listened to that feedback to get our on foot gameplay really tight and fun for all skill levels of player. We have a soft lock auto aim system that a lot of games use effectively, which is now considered the norm and we also have an over the shoulder, close free aim for those shooter fans that want more of a challenge. The feel of our on foot gameplay is still very Hollywood action. Milo Burik against a horde of bad guys in stunning locations – plenty of fantastic set pieces, exploding barrels and breakable environments, including breakable cover. As for weapons, we have all the standard weapons you would expect to see, including pistols, sub machine guns, machine guns, assault rifles and grenade launchers.

Being a Vin Diesel title there’s a film of the same name due next year is that right? Is the game based on the film or do they standalone?
We have collaborated with Tigon studios on the IP, story and Vin’s starring role, but the game is uniquely a game in its own right (not a game based on a movie which is the common misconception) and Tigon are in the process of commissioning a film based on the same IP. The most recent update I got was that they had a really cool script which had received a great deal of Hollywood interest. Obviously having a next-gen game and some stunning key artwork to show the type of action that the film would portray helps that pitching process.

Will there be any downloadable content along the line? What will it be?
Yes we have download content planned, the way our game is structured allows us to be very versatile in the delivery of that downloaded content. Our game has 105 side missions broadly split into 7 unique categories (Fugitive, Contracts, Street Showdown, Taxi, Hot Potato, Made to Order and Rampage). 15 missions can be found per category, all of which tie into the game, but are in addition to the main story arc. These side missions unlock bonuses such as weapon/ammo caches, garages, tuning shops and taxi points that help you through the main story, as well as earn achievements or trophies. Each side missions shows up on your PDA map and sends you an email once it is unlocked. We will deliver the DLC in the same way and we can introduce new side mission types or give players more of the popular types. For example, our Street Showdown side missions are street races with a difference: you can use the vehicle melee and special moves to take down other opponents so you either can beat them in a straight race or destroy them so you are the only one to finish! Add to this the ability to Airjack and change vehicles mid race and you have an extremely versatile and tactical game mode. It always makes me smile to think that one of our side mission categories is more of a game and more fun than some of the core street racing games out there. If they were to prove popular (as I’m sure they will), we could release more street showdown missions with different routes, objectives, vehicles or opponents.

February is usually a quiet time for games releases, do you anticipate that Wheelman being the biggest launch in Q1?
It was the right decision to move from our original release date of Q4 for two reasons. Firstly was the no win situation of releasing a new IP in Q4 against the massive noise of established big hitters and sequels. Secondly, it gave us the time to conduct more focus testing, tuning and balancing of our key features and missions. We had a solid game in October and we have an amazing game now!

Wheelman will be the biggest game in Q1. It is original and its innovative in its genres and a very well executed, high quality, feature packed game.

The streets are his battle ground. The car his weapon…

So there you have it. Are you pumped for more Diesel? Let us know in the comments, and if you wish to find out more information on this wheel spinning action game head on over to its official site – www.wheelmangame.com

About The Author

Anthony is the designer, developer and owner of Console Monster. In his spare time, Anthony is a keen gamer who enjoys playing mostly First-Person Shooters and Racing games. When he is not developing games or tweaking this site, Anthony likes to be on the slopes snowboarding or hurtling down off-road tracks on his mountain bike.