Test Drive Unlimited as been revving our 360's engine red hot for quite some time now, with a succession of screens and movies which have slowly manoeuvred it into becoming a serious challenger to established 360 motoring merchants like PGR 3 and Forza Motorsport.
Although the game leads on 360; PC, PSP and PS2 versions are also in the works, but with a big emphasis on online gameplay and the addition of some two wheeled biking action, it's the 360 version which excites us most and we're really looking forward to September when we can take Atari's challenger for well ...erm a proper test drive.
So high time then to get some more detailed info on Eden Studios' work underneath the hood and so we sat down with producer Ahmed Boukhelifa to learn more about what inspired Test Drive Unlimited, its comprehensive approach to persistent online racing, why there's still plenty of single-player content to get your teeth into and where it sits amongst the Test Drive series' illustrious heritage.
So pedal to the metal racing fans, the lights are going out and it's time to floor it...
First of all, how did the idea for Test Drive Unlimited come about?
Ahmed Boukhelifa: We have a strong history of making racing games and our team have a real passion for 'pin-up' supercars. We knew if we were going to make a racing game for the Xbox 360 and high powered PCs that it had to be something that had not been tried before. There were a lot of ideas suggested and it was the massive online content that really got everyone excited.
People have made racing games with lots of online content before, but not to the extent that we have gone to - a beautiful persistent online world where players can drive glamorous supercars anywhere, do anything, race anyone and set up clubs and challenges - this really is the ultimate racing game.
What was the inspiration behind the MMO-style gameplay? How difficult was it to pull off in a racing environment?
Ahmed Boukhelifa: The inspiration came from two sources: what Microsoft is trying to achieve with Xbox Live and the Xbox 360 and the fact that we thought a persistent online racing world would be a really cool idea!
There were a few difficulties that we had to get around - damage was an issue and in the end we decided to leave it out. We thought that it would be a major issue if you were playing online and others were driving round the island deliberately trying to smash up other cars. If you had spent lots of time earning money and upgrading your cars it would be extremely frustrating to have an idiot deliberately crash into them the moment you drove out of your garage.
On top of that we had a think about all the other aspects that we could really push in a racing game if we based it on a persistent world - estate agents to buy houses, car dealerships to visit to buy/look at cars, clothing dealerships to help customise player avatars - these are all things that haven't really been done before in a racing world.
On top of that we had the enormous challenge of modelling the entire island of Oahu from GPS info - THE ENTIRE ISLAND!!!! This is something that we hope people will appreciate as generally racing games are just circuits and it's easy to use development tricks to make everything appear in a big environment - but with TDU we can't get away with tricking the players like this - we have to draw the entire island and do so to a high quality as that is was the public expect. Now that was a challenge.