It's not easy making a great motorbike game, you know. See, the main stumbling block is that age-old problem of finding the right balance between realism and fun, something that's made all the harder by the fact that, unlike in a four-wheeled racing game, there's the chance that you can actually fall off your vehicle... regularly. And let's face it, for most of us, that's about as much fun as exfoliating with a cheese grater. While bathing in vinegar. After you've been flayed.
So just how do you find a middle ground - one that will sate the petrol-head biker with skin-free knees who demands extreme realism, as well the uncoordinated masses who just want to stick to the road like glue while holding down the accelerator button, and everyone in-between? Well, Nottingham-based developer Climax believes it has the answer with the third game in its excellent MotoGP series. So, eager to find out for ourselves whether the team had found the magic formula, we pootled up to Nottingham to speak with Climax and get our leathery hands on the latest version of the game.
Perhaps the most striking thing about Climax's approach to developing MotoGP 3 is its determination to make this previously hardcore series more accessible to the average gamer, while staying true to its roots. "There've been two big schools of thought on what the fans want for MotoGP 3," explains Rik Alexander, the game director. "One side wants it to be more arcadey with less real-world physics, the other wants more of a simulation. Our feeling was to take it down the simulation route, but make sure we made it more accessible to newcomers. So we decided to go down a similar route to Gran Turismo that has the depth of a hardcore simulation, but is forgiving enough on the track to still be fun and accessible."
Climax's most major innovation has been to introduce a far wider and more balanced range of crotch rockets than before, each of which will be upgradable and fully customisable in MotoGP 3's all-new Extreme gaming mode. Extreme mode will task you with winning money by competing against fictional riders over 16 imaginary courses - based in a variety of countries ranging from Japan to Qatar - then using your winnings to upgrade your bike or buy bigger, badder, sparklingly new two-wheeled racers.
"We've broken it up into three bike classes," says Greg Bryant, the game's lead designer. "You start off with the 600cc bikes, which are slower but take corners better, and you'll then be able to upgrade various components and blueprint your engine to make sure it's all running smoothly. You can also tune your bike and tweak the gear ratios. As you progress through the races, you can then use the currency you earn to upgrade your bike and buy more powerful ones. As well as the 600cc bikes, we also have 1000cc and 1200cc ones, which are really fast but heavy to manoeuvre. The 1000cc bikes are a mixture of the best of the other two groups, as they handle smoothly and feel nice and weighty."
And you know what? Each bike really does feel unique. We took a 600cc bike for a spin around one of the 16 Extreme circuits, Tokyo - a claustrophobic night-time level riddled with tight bends and bottlenecks. Using the Left analogue stick to control the rider's lean - forward and back as well as left and right - the Right analogue stick to accelerate and turn, and the two trigger buttons to control the front and rear brakes, we glided around the circuit, hugging the corners and sticking to the tarmac like dried-out week-old Frosties to a cereal bowl. Admittedly, the seemingly complex controls took a few laps to get the hang of, but it wasn't too long before we were burning more rubber than an arsonist in a Durex factory.