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Interview: The Surprising Mutations Of Ridge Racer Unbounded

Bugbear Entertainment's Joonas Laakso and Karri Kiviluoma discuss working with Namco Bandai on Ridge Racer Unbounded -- a process the game's producer says is "not what I expected at all."

Christian Nutt, Contributor

August 31, 2011

5 Min Read

Earlier this year, Namco Bandai announced a new Ridge Racer game -- Ridge Racer Unbounded -- developed by Finland's Bugbear Entertainment (FlatOut series.) Usually known for slick, polished visuals and arcade-style drifting, the series is going in a new direction thanks to its shift to a Western developer. Gamasutra speaks to producer Joonas Laakso and lead designer Karri Kiviluoma to find out more about the change. "Well, I haven’t been in on the meetings where they chose to work with us, but basically Namco came to us and asked what kind of a Ridge Racer game would we make. And obviously they had been aware of the FlatOut games that we had been making before, so they must have known that it would be different," says Laakso. However, he says, "We are working in very close quarters, actually, with the guys in Tokyo." "There’s no sense to come to us and ask us to do like Ridge Racer 8, it won’t feel right... we’re not going to say that this is a traditional Ridge Racer title. It’s not. It’s a new title for Namco," says Laakso. He also says that the relationship with the Japanese publisher has been "very good." "Namco has been very closely involved in just about everything," he says. "They’ve been almost like an in-house design department." "They come over all the time -- like much more often than what has happened with other publishers. And they just generally seem -- they like to talk about the game. In our meetings, we are very rarely going over business matters; that’s separate. When they’re over they just want to talk about the game," Laakso says. "I would love to work on a sequel with Namco. They have been by far the easiest publisher I’ve ever met. We’ve had like zero arguments, no problems whatsoever. The only thing is the blasted language barrier." Says Kiviluoma, "they know what we’ve done in the past and they know what we’re capable of. We have this engine that we’re using for it, and it’s going to make a different Ridge Racer game. And we are sort of like showing them 'Hey, this is what we do. This is what we can bring to the table,' and then throwing back and forth ideas. Like, what do they like, what don’t they like, how is this going to fit our game and what’s the best option for this?" "We have been building the racing and destruction technology for over eleven years now so it’s really very good in what it does," adds Laakso. Like many games these days, the team has settled on three keywords to define the game, something Kiviluoma describes as "the core pillars" of the title: Driving, Destruction, and Domination. How did they arrive at them? "Carving mercilessly -- like I don’t know how many iterations we’ve gone through. It started from like a couple of pages of text, and carving it down, down, down, down until we finally just had three words left," says Laakso. "Having key words or key phrases that define your game, it’s something that you arrive at at the very beginning in pre-production phases when it helps us very much, as well as the whole team, to narrow in on what exactly is this product, what are we doing here," says Kiviluoma. Once you arrive at that, he says, "prototyping is very important." "We’re testing out different things and trying to figure out what would be fun -- and that’s one of the things that worked in FlatOut as well, it was the whole ragdoll thing sort of came by accident. It just was born," he says. The series focused its non-racing challenges around tossing physics-enabled ragdolls at targets -- which became a signature activity for fans. Rapid prototyping also allows Bugbear to work with Namco more easily, says Kiviluoma. "They can tell us they’d like to see this and this tried out, and most likely like during that same day we can show how it would work to them," he says. When it comes to developing, "We just like to keep iterating it until we have to let go," says Laakso. He suggests that this can sometimes cause problems with publishers. "We’ve become aware of some new possibilities very late in the development, because we haven’t locked down the features... it’s really a mutating thing, even today." However, "Namco [has] been easy, in the sense that we’ve been very open about, 'Okay, this thing that you are proposing sounds really cool. We think we could make it work in this fashion, but that’s going to mean this much extra time, or maybe we should cut this feature instead,' or so forth, and it’s really easy. Namco has been really good in making those decisions and figuring out what they like most." Says Laakso, "I sort of expected the Japanese to be super organized and everything, and it’s not so. They’re not interested in our plans and stuff; they just want to talk about where the game is today, and what they want to see next, and that can be a problem -- if we plan things out further into the future. And we’ve learned not to do that anymore, and it’s hard to sort of live by the day, but it’s been very interesting." "They like to look at the game and try to figure out, 'Okay, what should we do next?', which makes sense, but it can be difficult -- when we are, at the same time, fighting against deadlines. I think it would be very interesting to see a couple of weeks inside a Japanese studio. It’s been not what I expected at all," he says.

About the Author(s)

Christian Nutt


Christian Nutt is the former Blog Director of Gamasutra. Prior to joining the Gamasutra team in 2007, he contributed to numerous video game publications such as GamesRadar, Electronic Gaming Monthly, The Official Xbox Magazine, GameSpy and more.

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