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Man In The Mirror

Reflections' Martin Edmondson on making Driver relevant again

The Driver franchise has spent a few years licking its wounds after a severely critical response to the third game in the then Atari-published series, but now it's planning a dramatic reboot with the help of Ubisoft.

Driver: San Francisco is due for release on September 2nd this year, and features a return to the original PlayStation 1 games' Hollywood car-chase values, as well as introducing a new mechanic, Shift, which enables to play to instantly jump from and to any car in its huge, streaming recreation of San Francisco.

Here, GamesIndustry.biz talks to Martin Edmondson, the creative director and co-founder of Newcastle, UK studio Ubisoft Reflections (formerly Reflections, until acquisition by the French publisher in 2006), who has returned to the developer after temporarily parting ways following the Driver 3 backlash. (Read more about the Driver series' background in today's Franchise Cheat Sheet.

Edmondson explains why this is a concerted attempt to restart and re-establish the franchise rather than simply to roll the dice again, and talks about defeating negative preconceptions.

GamesIndustry.bizIt must feel pretty good to be showing off the new Driver after so long in development.
Martin Edmondson

Yes it is. Showing it properly rather than just little snippets after four or five years. We've hit major milestones for a number of months and years – it's just getting it to a point where we feel all the pieces are in place and also that Shift [a new game mechanic] is integrated into the game well enough that we can show it to somebody with virtually no explanation.

I've not had any comparisons to GTA for Driver: San Francisco. There's precious little that the two share.

Martin Edmondson, Ubisoft Reflections
GamesIndustry.biz What's the thinking behind the Shift system?
Martin Edmondson

What we've done is to first of all focus on something that's unique. There's a lot of games where you can get out of cars, and obviously one of those [True Crime] has been cancelled recently, so we've tried to focus on something that's very unique and very reactive, much quicker.

GamesIndustry.biz What would you describe the game as, given you've got rid of all the on-foot elements in favour of purely being within a car?
Martin Edmondson

I would refer to it as an action game – it's an action game with a lot of driving, or a driving action game.

The thing that makes it unique is that sort of Hollywood car chases movie angle. There really isn't anything else that competes with Driver on that particular aspect. There are plenty of driving games and racing games, but something that really nails or even attempts to nail that car chase environment, there really isn't anything out there. I'm talking about the movie car chase style, not a videogame car chase.

GamesIndustry.biz Are you at all wary of GTA or open-world game comparisons, given the reception to Driver 3 and as you say the cancellation of the latest True Crime?
Martin Edmondson

We didn't deliberately edge away from GTA or anything. It was inevitably always compared to that when we could get out of the car and walk around, those sort of things. But I've not had any comparisons to GTA for Driver: San Francisco. There's precious little that the two share.

GamesIndustry.biz It's more like Burnout in a way...
Martin Edmondson

Possibly Burnout, but in that there's no story and all the rest of it. So again I keep coming back to saying that it's really quite a unique little position that this game sits in. We don't have the same comparisons that we used to have, and I think that's a good thing because obviously GTA does what it does very well, and if you go head to head against a game like that you take the risk.

GamesIndustry.biz How much resonance does the IP have to today's gamers now, given it's been away for a while?
Martin Edmondson

I think it depends on the age of who you're talking to. Absolutely anybody who played the first Driver game.

But if you talk to someone who's very young they've certainly heard of it but it's a bit how everybody's heard of Elite but hasn't necessarily played it. You've heard of something that's an old game that had a certain amount of interest and was well known.

It was interesting to me that before we embarked on it, Ubisoft decided to do some research to see how big was the name in reality, and how well-liked the Tanner character was, before all this time and energy was spent on bringing the franchise back – and the results of that were surprisingly high. High enough for them to go, "Right, off you go, we're 100 per cent all in on this."

That surprised me, genuinely, because I was a bit like, "I know it means a lot to me, and to people a similar age to me, but I'm just surprised it had a bigger following than that."

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Alec Meer

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A 10-year veteran of scribbling about video games, Alec primarily writes for Rock, Paper, Shotgun, but given any opportunity he will escape his keyboard and mouse ghetto to write about any and all formats.