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[In this Gamasutra-exclusive postmortem, David Jefferies of UK-based Black Rock Studios (formerly known as Climax Racing) follows up last year's postmortem of MotoGP'06 with an honest look at this year's THQ-published Xbox 360 iteration, covering optimization, frontend, crowd systems and more.]
MotoGP'06 was released in June 2006 for the Xbox 360. Developed by Climax Racing and published by THQ, it enjoyed good commercial and critical success including receiving a BAFTA nomination. As soon as we'd got it out the door we started work on its sequel, MotoGP'07.
As it transpired, it was to be our final outing with MotoGP franchise because Disney acquired Climax Racing in the fall of 2006. Our name was changed to Black Rock Studios and we were tasked with working on original IP for Disney. But before that, we needed to finish MotoGP'07. Now that this was our swan song, we were determined to end on a high.
The Spectacle - One of our objectives on MotoGP'07 was to try and get across more of the spectacle of the race. The tension, noise and hubbub on the grid just before a real race are incredible, as is the color and palpable excitement of hundreds of thousands of fans. I think we all recognised that one of the shortcomings of MotoGP'06 was its lack of dynamism around the track -- the tracks looked great but they could also be very static.
In order to achieve this spectacle we invested in pre- and post-race cutscenes, a new crowd system and some new audio to go with it.
The crowd system in MotoGP'06 was a mixture of a few dozen animated instances and tens of thousands of static billboard characters rendered using the same technology as our volumetric grass. This time we wanted to have tens of thousands of animated crowd members decked out in the colors of their favorite rider, and when you got close to them they needed to turn into 3D models.
Crowd systems can be controversial on development teams because they require a large investment yet don't provide any gameplay advantage. You also can't see them when you're powering along at 200mph. All that is true, but we believe that, especially for sports titles like ours, they provide an essential level of immersion that just isn't there with a load of static billboards.
The system was based on a highly optimized CPU skinner that meant all the 3D crowd members could be rendered with a single draw call, coupled with an impostor system, which meant all the billboard characters in the distance were always animating. The system applied random clothing, skin tones and accessories (sunglasses, cameras etc) to the characters but the artists could also specify grandstands as having allegiance to certain teams and riders so, for instance, all the Ducati fans would be stood together in a grandstand wearing their red shirts.