Though racing sims continue to flourish in our industry, over the past decade or so, arcade racers have, sadly enough, fallen by the wayside. Attempting to fill that void, R8 Games recently launched Pacer – once known as Formula Fusion before its rebranding – with the promise of futuristic, high-speed, arcade racing. Before the game’s launch, we sent across a few of our questions about what players can expect from this high octane experience and how it’s promising to deliver something that’s been largely missing in the industry of late. The questions below were answered by senior producer Steve Iles.
Note: This interview was held prior to the game’s launch.
"The Pacer rebrand is essentially part of a wider repositioning of the game, in short. While the spirit of Formula Fusion lives on in Pacer, the game itself has changed significantly with a ground up re-coding of the core gameplay systems and a huge stack of new content."
What led to the decision to change the game’s name from Formula Fusion to Pacer?
The Pacer rebrand is essentially part of a wider repositioning of the game, in short. While the spirit of Formula Fusion lives on in Pacer, the game itself has changed significantly with a ground up re-coding of the core gameplay systems and a huge stack of new content. We just felt like we wanted to give the game a fresh spark that quickly indicated to our fans that this is something new.
To the fans who have been on board with us ever since we first announced the original game back in 2015, we see this evolution is representative of our ambition to deliver more of what they love. Basically, Pacer is the realisation of our original vision, but we’ve made it a whole lot bigger and bolder.
How extensive are the customisation options in the games?
I think players are going to be surprised with just how much impact customising your craft will have on how races play out. We really have designed Pacer to accommodate different racing styles – from those focused more on combat to those who want to slide through the pack as quickly as possible. It really is an important part of racing in Pacer, and I think it’ll help the game appeal to a wider array of players than people might initially think. This level of customisation is not something that most games in this genre have attempted.
The customisation options in Pacer lie at the heart of the race strategy. Where we start with a series of craft, each offering different strengths and weaknesses, the Garage mode allows players to tailor most elements of their craft to their own preference of play; acceleration, top speed, turning speed, airbrake turning, brake strength, hover strength, shield capacity, and health. Indeed, more can be tuned to allow players to take any craft and make it feel they way they want it to.
This level of customisation also extends into the weapons system. We offer a series of what I’d call base weapons such as Mine, Cannon, Pulse – each with their own role in dealing out damage, controlling space, or protecting and avoiding other players and weapons as needed. We then allow players to customise not only the attributes of these weapons – such as damage, ammo count, explosion radius, lifetime, etc – but sometimes even their behaviour. Some weapons allow for a multi-shot where a weapon can target and hit multiple opponents, some weapons allow for a “Gravity” effect, that attracts or repels other players and projectiles.
All of these options are presented as cards that are equipped into one of a pre-set number of slots. The number of combinations alone is huge and spans large behavioural changes to subtle tweaks that can help balance a craft to any individual style. On top of this, a player can alter how a craft looks using visual loadouts, changing their paint job, trail, exhaust, and even equipping additions such as side skirts, scoops, spoilers, and more.
Yours is a team that has had a lot of experience with working on the Wipeout games, a series that Pacer itself takes cues from. How helpful has that past experience been with the development of this title?
There’s no denying that games like Wipeout and F-Zero have a massive influence over all games in this genre – they are the benchmark, and to be frank we wouldn’t be doing what we’re doing without either of these games. What makes this all the more interesting, however, is that there hasn’t been a major game in either of these franchises for years. We want to take that same energy that everybody was so addicted to back in the 90s and noughties and bring it into the modern era. We think there are plenty of gamers out there who want the same thing.
"Combat is going to play quite an important part in how races in Pacer play out. We’ve got some exciting things to announce regarding Pacer’s AI in the near future that will cast a lot more light on this, but what I can say now is that coming out on top in play will depend not just on your ability to race, but also just how good you are at taking on your opponents."
Can you speak to us about your future plans for the game as far as new content is concerned?
To be perfectly honest, we’re still wrapped up in piecing together all the different elements we have for launch – believe me, there’s more to come than what we’ve shown so far. What happens in regards to new content is something we’ll be talking about once we’ve actually got the launch out of the way and Pacer in the hands of players.
How heavily does combat factor in during races in Pacer?
At release, combat is going to play quite an important part in how races in Pacer play out. We’ve got some exciting things to announce regarding Pacer’s AI in the near future that will cast a lot more light on this, but what I can say now is that coming out on top in play will depend not just on your ability to race, but also just how good you are at taking on your opponents. This is a balance that will also be rather prevalent in Pacer’s Storm Mode, which will act as a Battle Royale mode of sorts, tasking players with staying alive in a contracting field of play.
Pacer has, in one form or another, been in Early Access for some time now. How helpful has that period been to you as developers?
We’re not really thinking about it in those terms, really. The Early Access period has proved to be vital for many games since it became a staple part of development, giving studios an amazing insight into just what their players appreciate in play and what they’re less keen on ahead of release, but Formula Fusion’s transition into Pacer means that we see this more as a bona fide fresh launch. We certainly learned a lot with Formula Fusion’s Early Access, but we’ve had new people join the team since then and Pacer is a new proposition. We’re doing something bigger and better now.
"We never discount any platform if the demand is there, to be honest, but for the moment we’re focused on delivering the best possible game we can on PS4, Xbox One, and PC."
Has there been any particular bit of feedback that has defined the game’s development or brought about a major change more so than any others?
When showing the game off to players early, we received a lot of feedback saying that the handling model was difficult to adjust to and learn. Whilst these reports would often go on to say that the handling was rewarding for time invested, it still highlighted an issue of accessibility and suggested that we were at risk of alienating players who did not, would not or could not get over this initial difficulty.
This brought about a series of changes to the handling model in order to compact the onboarding process and make the game more approachable for newer players and non-racing fans.
Do you have any plans to launch on Switch?
We never discount any platform if the demand is there, to be honest, but for the moment we’re focused on delivering the best possible game we can on PS4, Xbox One, and PC.
Will the game will feature Xbox One X specific enhancements? What can players expect if they are playing the game on Xbox One X? Is 4K/60fps on the cards? And how will the PS4 Pro version turn out in terms of resolution and frame rate?
We’ve been incredibly focused on getting the most out of both of these systems, and yes, Pacer will run at 60fps and in 4K on both Xbox One X and PS4 Pro across all tracks and all game modes. Safe to say this is something we’re incredibly proud of.
How is the game running on the original Xbox One and PS4, frame rate and resolution wise?
It runs at 60fps consistently across all tracks on both the original Xbox and PS4. We’re committed to make sure all Pacer players have the optimum experience whatever version of the hardware they’re running. Again, this is something we’re really proud of.
The PS5 specs were recently revealed in an interview with Wired. What are your thoughts on that?
Heh, it’s easy to understand why gamers out there are excited when details about new hardware hits the press, but we’re focused on the current hardware to be honest. The next Xbox and PlayStation are not consoles we’re thinking on right now – for Pacer, there’s power enough in the current systems to do an amazing, amazing job.
"More CPU processing power is always welcome, whatever the console, as this allows us to develop more complex systems such as advanced Artificial Intelligence and real world physics simulation for the in game worlds."
The PS5 will have a Zen 2 CPU processor, which is a major leap over the Jaguar found in the PS4. How will this help in games development?
More CPU processing power is always welcome, whatever the console, as this allows us to develop more complex systems such as advanced Artificial Intelligence and real world physics simulation for the in game worlds.
What is your take on Sony’s reluctant policy on cross-play with Xbox and Nintendo?
To be frank, we couldn’t possibly hope to wrap our heads around the day to day running of the likes of PlayStation and Xbox – Pacer puts enough on our plates. Sony will do what it does and Microsoft will do what it does. I think it’s fair to say the climate within the games industry has changed recently – we’ve seen Microsoft and Nintendo starting to work together over the course of the last few months – and I think it always serves the player when those leading the industry co-operate. That said, it’s important for the competition within the industry that no one company ever dominates – variety really is the spice of life – and so we enjoy what all three platform holders bring to the market. It certainly makes our lives interesting.
Do you think cross platform will be one of the defining features of next-gen consoles?
I think the games industry is most definitely in transition and what we understand as a platform is shifting from pure hardware to pure software. Just how those new platforms will interact is still in flux and will very much depends on market factors when the new generation kicks off, but I’d say the opportunities for cross-platform play on major platform are as wide open as they have ever been.