Developer Interview: Jussi Laakkonen – Business Development Director For Bugbear Entertainment

Publisher: Empire Interactive / Developer: Bugbear / Genre: Racing Action / Release: 06-14-05
Already released in Europe, this summer Empire Interactive and Finland based developer Bugbear Entertainment bring thier popular destruction-fest racer FlatOut over to North American for Xbox, PlayStation 2, and PC. Inside Pulse’s Geli Warner recently had the chance to chat with Bugbear’s Jussi Laakkonen concerning the game’s highly touted “ragdoll physics engine” and what changes we can expect to see in the North American edition.

Developer Interview: Jussi Laakkonen –
Business Development Director For Bugbear Entertainment

Geli Warner: Bugbear Entertainment seems very focused on driving games. In fact, your mission statement says that you strive “…to produce innovative racing games of the highest quality…” What was so appealing about this particular genre that prompted your company to focus on cars?

Jussi Laakkonen: The root of being fanatic about racing is something very Finnish. Our relatively little country has produced scores of world championship winning rally and Formula 1 drivers and there is a real strong motorsport culture. For Bugbear in particular the important thing was that our founders had previously worked on a futuristic racing title, so they had experience in that genre.

GW: We’ve know that FlatOut uses a more realistic and at the same time very dynamic physics engine to give you flying bodies, flying cars, etc. for some quite crazily comical results. What was the biggest challenge when dealing with this new ragdoll physics engine?

JL: I’m glad to hear that the physics side of FlatOut has made an impression! On the technical side it was quite a feat to squeeze enough power out of the Playstation 2 console to make it produce the amazing results. Still the main challenge probably was thinking really out of the box on how to best utilize all that physics innovation in a racing game. It wasn’t a straight forward logical process to come up with ragdoll drivers flying out of the windshields. Sometimes the strangest ideas you have end up being the best ideas!

GW: On the same vein as the above question, what was the funniest bug you had to deal with when programming the game with the physics engine?

JL: Haha =). There were plenty of those peculariaties that the physics engine would produce. You could have the ragdoll being stretched to 100ft long, having the cars do insane cartwheels just after touching a tiny pebble on the road, but probably the funniest bugs happen when the ragdoll characters flew out at high speed and impaled several feets of concrete and emerged unscatched on the other side!

GW: We’ve heard the game promises around 3000 destructible objects per each course. May we just say that clocking in at about 36 tracks that’s… insane. The attention to detail is staggering just purely from a destruction standpoint. Why so much attention? And did you accomplish everything you set out to do, or were there even more destructibles that had to be omitted?

JL: FlatOut is all about all-encompassing interactivity in the tracks. You will feel so much more engaged by the game than in other racing titles as the whole track reacts to your and your opponents actions. Once you topple over huge billboards, crash through picket fences to take your own shorcuts and get pieces of lumber thrown through your cockpit, you know that there is no substitute for interactive environments. To achieve that level of cinematic action you simply need thousands and thousands of objects to crash into! We are quite happy with the results and still after thousands of hours of playing the game we enjoy going around the tracks!

GW: We know that there are a large number of brainstorming sessions when creating any game but what specifically inspired using a car or a driver as a bowling ball or a dart in the much heralded mini-games?

JL: There is a long story about cold, dark winter nights in Finland and which of course has been blown completely out of proportion when it comes to the alcohol part. No, we are typically a very sensible bunch, but in this case there was hint of vodka-induced creativity involved in coming up with the ragdoll stunts. Once we had the ragdoll physics technology in place the ludicrous black humour of the ragdoll flying through windshield was so enticing that we couldn’t resist coming up with even crazier ways of using that innovation. So everybody in the team just suggested their wackiest ideas for it and we picked the best for all the gamers to enjoy!

GW: All are pretty inventive, but what’s your favorite FlatOut ragdoll physics mini-game and why?

JL: Personally, the high jump is my favourite. It is challenging, but not too hard and the jumps simply look spectacular as the ragdoll flies over 100 meters in the air!

GW: There’s some buzz going around your site forums about players going 100+ feet on the long jump mini-game. Are you going to be keeping an all time high score board as a part of the Xbox Live online portion of the game?

JL: There have been many amazing feats in the ragdoll sports and sometimes we don’t even ourselves know in advance what is possible and what is not. The highscore boards for Xbox Live seem to be really popular wish for FlatOut, but at the moment it seems that the timeline is just too tight to include them.

GW: Multiplayer seems to be an area where FlatOut truly shines. Can you go into detail on FlatOut’s numerous multiplayer modes? Particularly for Xbox Live?

JL: The US version of FlatOut will benefit from increased multiplayer support options. An online play option has been added for both PS2 and PC, so now all platforms have really good support for playing over the internet. All of the cars and the tracks are available for online play and you can go against up to eight opponents over Xbox Live! Naturally on Live you have voice chatting and scoreboards. On the PS2 Online the maximum amount of players will be six. On the PC you can challenge up to eight players for a race.

GW: Are there any plans for hidden “Easter eggs” and can you give us any hints on what interesting things are to be discovered within FlatOut?

JL: FlatOut’s environments are open, that is, you can go exploring outside the actual track and there are some surprises you can find there. There are also a couple of cheats, but unfortunately they are a bit secret.

GW: In less than five words how would you describe FlatOut?

JL: Physics galore destruction racing!

GW: We see that you’re hiring right now. Are there grand plans for the next big game from Bugbear and can you give us and some of your potential new employees a hint of what’s to come?

JL: The next big thing from Bugbear is our N-Gage game Glimmerati, due out during summer 2005, but the new employees weren’t hired for that =). New announcements will be forthcoming, but I can’t yet spoil the surprise =).