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INTERVIEW
Richard Yasi

Classic Gamer & Senior Designer for Papyrus Racing Games!

MT> Papyrus Racing Games creates only racing titles. Racing games have been around since the beginning. As a matter of fact, Indy 500 (a/k/a Race) was an original launch title for the Atari 2600. How do you feel that racing games have changed since 1977?
RY> Well, obviously the staggering improvements in technology that have taken place over the last 24 years have been quite beneficial to racing games. We can now put players into the 3D cockpit of a painstakingly modeled racecar, surround them with 5.1 channels of surround sound, and deliver photo-realistic graphics. Force feedback technology is just starting to come into its own, and when it's used properly (don't get me started on THAT...) it can really add to the player's immersion into the gaming world.

Technology aside, I think the biggest difference when it comes to actual gameplay has got to be the incredible depth of today's games. Just look at Gran Turismo - it's got hundreds of different cars, dozens of different upgrade options, many different tracks, and so forth. It just goes on and on. You could play that game for 50 hours and still be nowhere close to unlocking all of its features.

BUT, would I rather play Gran Turismo or huddle around an old Indy 800 arcade game with 7 other insanely competitive people? No contest. Give me Indy 800 any day. So I guess the bottom line is that utilizing cutting-edge technology and depth are important, but at the end of the day, whether it's 1977 or 2001 it all comes back to the same thing: Is it fun?

MT> Driving in a first person perspective never really felt realistic until a camera view of the driver's eye became an option. While the simulated 3D games of the 80's like Out Run came close, they never fully reached the point of being believable. Is the 'believable' feeling what Papyrus aims to reach in the end?
RY> Absolutely. Our goal is to create the most realistic driving experience you can get without actually being in a real racecar. That involves a lot more than just having good artwork, because today everyone's got a first-person, 3D cockpit view in their game. For a driving game to be truly realistic, it's got to feel right, and by having the most advanced 3D physics model in the industry under the hood of our games, we've taken some big steps forward in terms of our ability to deliver that "ultimate driving experience."

MT> Racing games certainly became more appealing to me personally when 3D models and animation was incorporated into the mix. Virtua Racing certainly upped the ante! Have you and/or the individuals at Papyrus ever address the original 3D Racing title?
RY> The advent of the 3D cockpit was a HUGE step forward for racing games, no question. Virtua Racing stole many, many quarters from me. As you said, the 3D cockpit does indeed "up the ante" in terms of giving the player that "you are there" feeling that we as a company are striving for.


MT> Most classic games were created by a single individual mounting the roles of programmer, designer, audio creation, and wore a few more hats as needed. You are a Senior Designer for Papyrus. What is your primary role, what do you do in a typical day?
RY> Oh yes, the days of the "one man show" are gone, that's for sure. As Senior Designer I'm responsible for generating and presenting product proposals to upper management, but my primary function is to serve as the creative director for whatever product we're working on. That means specifically identifying what we want to accomplish with a certain project, doing a lot of research both into the subject matter and into the target market, looking at competitive titles and determining what (if anything) we can learn from how they do things, and documenting everything from "How do we want this to be a better game than the last one" all the way down to "Where do we position this button on the screen, and what color should it be?" That documentation will then serve as the basis from which the engineers and artists work their magic. Once the documentation stage is over, I help the Producer manage the project and I also help out on the production side of things, mostly with play balancing. I've produced the intro videos for our two most recent projects, and for our most recent project (NASCAR Racing 4) I did a lot of work on the game manual and the sound. So I can definitely relate to the "wearing hats as needed" part of the question.

MT> How do you interact with the other individuals of the team? What are their roles in relation to yours?
RY> Papyrus is a pretty small company, so basically everybody deals with everybody around here. That one-on-one communication makes it very easy to get things done, and it also cuts through a lot of the red tape that can cause a bigger company to grind to a halt. We don't have to have 28 meetings involving 150 people in order to make a decision. The other thing I like is that the corporate structure is pretty loose here. Anyone is free to go into our Art Director's office and make a suggestion about how something should look. Anyone can come into my office and talk about a new feature they'd like to see. Anyone can go to our Technical Director (and company co-founder) Dave Kaemmer and make a suggestion about the AI or the physics. That sort of culture makes it easy for everyone in the company to feel truly involved in the creation of our games.

MT> You designed the point system for the NASCAR games. Please describe the "incident" penalties concerning instigators and vitims. This was a concept that 'arcade' racers like myself found very intriguing.
RY> Sure. Well, accidents are a part of racing. In the multiplayer mode of our NASCAR Racing 4 game, you can race against up to 42 other people at the same time over the Internet or over a LAN. Take all those cars in such close proximity to each other and then throw in the inevitable lag and warping that a sub-par internet connection can cause, and it doesn't take a genius to figure out that there WILL be wrecks out there. Unlike real-life NASCAR, in our game there are no "officials" present who may determine who is "at fault" in an incident, and even if there were such people, the cause of many incidents can certainly be open to debate. So yes, occasionally our system will penalize an innocent party, but for the most part the guilty party will be penalized EVERY TIME, and that's really the most important thing.

MT> Dale Earnhardt, Jr. plays your games - that is quite an endorsement! He even claims that it helps his driving performance. How closely does Papyrus work with individuals in the racing industry?
RY> Very closely. We solicit their feedback on EVERYTHING. The accuracy of the tracks... clarification on some of the rules... how realistic the car's handling changes when adjustments x, y, and z are made... and on and on. No detail is too small. Dale Jr. and Kevin Harvick have incredibly demanding year-round schedules, and because of that they don't have a lot of free time. Nevertheless, they both helped us tremendously on NASCAR Racing 4. We took all of their comments very seriously, and they definitely had an impact on many areas of the product.

MT> The NASCAR Racing series is considered a realistic driving simulator. Have you considered creating a less realistic and less technical game that has a more 'arcade' feel? How about a realistic vintage stock car racing of the 30's?
RY> Papyrus has done quite well by sticking to making what it knows best: realistic driving simulations. There are many companies out there that make arcade style racing games. I always tell people to go to their local Electronics Boutique and count the number of racing titles that are available today. It's staggering. We realize that the market for pure racing sims isn't a huge one, but that's where our strength lies and that's where our comfort zone is. That's not to say that someday we won't try to branch out and do something more mainstream, but it would represent a departure from everything we've previously done.

As far as historic stock car racing games go, a few years ago we made a game called NASCAR Legends which simulated the 1970 season. That was the year of the "winged wonders" - the Plymouth Superbird and the Dodge Daytona. It's a few years old, so it's not nearly as cutting edge in the graphics and physics departments as NASCAR Racing 4, but it's still a fun little game. I'm a big fan of historic racing. In many ways, I think it's vastly superior to the heavily sanitized racing and cardboard personalities we see at the track these days. Unfortunately, that title didn't exactly fly off the shelves. The public seems to have little interest in historic racing, so I doubt that we'd ever do another historic stock car title. But, in this industry you never say never.

MT> So, what do you and Papyrus Racing Games have planned next ?
RY> I'm afraid I'm not at liberty to reveal any of our future plans, but it's probably a safe bet to assume that at some point, Papyrus will do another product that features fast vehicles with four wheels traveling on a closed circuit of some kind. Then again, maybe we'll do a lawn darts simulator. That would be great! Realistic physics... wind... variable ground conditions...sun glare...adjustable air foils on the darts...try to avoid the children... Ack! I've said too much!!!

MT> Other than your own creations, what other driving and racing games do you personally enjoy? Any favorites from older computers or aging consoles?
RY> I get my fill of sim racing with our products, so the only other racing games I play regularly are pretty much all light, arcade-style stuff. I love Mario Kart 64. It's one of the best 4-player games ever. In fact, I think it's second only to Warlords on the Atari 2600 in terms of being the ultimate trash talking game. I still play Indy 500 on the 2600 once in a while, and Turbo on the Colecovision. I also like Auto Racing for the Intellivision, although I wish it had a better single-player mode.

MT> We're with you, brother!


Keep up the good work Richard! We appreciate your involvement within the industry,
and it is refreshing to know that classic gamers are represented in the current
mix of game development. Here's until your games are classic...

E-Mail Chris: E-mail Richard Yasi
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