Caution flag

GamesBeat: When it comes to wrecks and incidences where a wreck would normally hurt somebody and knock them out of the race, do you simulate that? This guy’s out of the race? Or do you just do that by having the car so damaged that they can’t come back?

Martin: They are able to repair damage to their cars at a level greater than what you could do in the real world. If a car sustained the same amount of damage in the real world, they would be out of the race in some cases. But we’re also not completely blind to the fact that–you can do enough damage that you would get knocked out. There was one guy who got knocked out of the race last night because the wreck was so big, there was no way he’d be able to continue. But what we do, again, because you have a compacted race, is we allow you to repair damage on your car, and it just impacts the amount of time you would have spent in the pits. You start further back in the field. The more damage you cause to your car, if you go in and fix it, the further back in the field you start, but you’re not going to be multiple laps down. If you take a Cup race and Kyle Busch gets a wreck and he spends three laps behind a pit wall fixing it, it’s going to take a long time to get back to the front of that field. If you have a three-hour race, you can do that sometimes. But in our case you have a 30-minute race and you don’t have enough time to do that. We just put you at the back of the lead lap and go right back to the action.

GamesBeat: Do you just use ovals, or do you go to Watkins Glen and Sonoma as well?

Martin: We do everything, including both of those tracks. One of the exhibition races was Sonoma, and I can say that the Watkins Glen race, that was four weeks ago now, was probably our most exciting race of the year. There was some incredible passing going on, beyond what you see in the real world. Watkins Glen is exciting now in the real world, but it was a fantastic race. Even Indianapolis last night, in the real world that sometimes gets stretched out and can be a little boring. It was an incredible race last night. Big pack racing, crazy moves at the end to try and win. Really exciting. Again, you only have a few laps to get it done. It packages up that intensity in a really cool way.

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Camera work

Above: Camera angles matter in NASCAR — you’re getting multiple angels on the track, from the car, and even the racer.

Image Credit: 704Games

GamesBeat: Does the way you have to position the cameras to catch all the action — does that change when you’re doing a road race, as opposed to an oval?

Martin: It does. We have what we call observers. They’re our camera systems. We use six of them to put together the Pro League races. Each one of those cameras–I won’t go through the math, but each of those observers represents 154 camera locations, potential camera locations. But obviously we don’t go through, what is that, 900 cameras? We don’t really use 900 cameras. But we could. What’s neat about this, and this was a lot of fun when we got together the game people and the NASCAR people–when we got them together in the production studio, we had to learn a common language. They were used to physical cameras. Our cameras are effectively 250-mile-an-hour drones. We can follow a car and we can do a perfect orbit around that car. You see that in the race. When there’s damage done to a car, we get out there, and the car is traveling 150, 200 miles an hour. We’re going around it perfectly showing what happened to that car while it’s in the middle of the pack racing at that speed. We’re able to do really cool things. We can put cameras into the middle of the track that the cars can drive through. You could never do that in the real world, obviously. Someone would get killed, and so would the camera. Road races, we did do some really fun things with cameras at Watkins Glen. The bus stop is what comes to mind. We had some really cool camera angles over at the bus stop, because we knew there would be some cool passing and a lot of strategy as they come out of the bus stop, how you hop that last curb. We’re able to position things there. The final thing is, we’re not limited to where the cameras are at the beginning of the race, having that be where they have to be at the end of the race. That’s not true at all. Our cameras don’t exist in the physical world and we can move them anywhere we want on the fly. We’re constantly able to show new camera angles and things you couldn’t do in the real world. Even in our world, it progresses through the race. If something is going on that’s really exciting, like the Charlotte oval, we can dynamically move cameras around and reposition them throughout the races and focus in on where the action is.

GamesBeat: Do you just use courses that exist on the circuit, or do you use any historic courses as well?

Martin: For them 2019 season we’re only using real tracks. We’re actually only using real Cup tracks, although we do have Xfinity and Gander trucks series tracks in the real game. We are not using those in the league this year. We are planning on expanding next year and doing more with Xfinity and trucks. But this year it was enough to chew on to do the Cup tracks. We only have 12 races in the season. There’s 27 tracks in the series. Even if we wanted to, we couldn’t get to everywhere we wanted to go.

GamesBeat: I assume you use Daytona? It would be weird not to.

Martin: Yeah, we did. Daytona is coming up. We’ll get the big one there. Those types of wrecks do happen. We’ve already run Talladega as well, and we had some of that action there. You can get the big one. We’re pretty realistic to how drafting work. We’re sort of hyper-realistic, a little bit, so it’s almost exaggerated, which brings the pack together even more. I will say this, though, about the Pro League drivers. These guys are really, really good. The moves that they make are absolutely amazing. Out of the 28 guys racing in the Pro League, every one of them could beat anybody that works in this company that actually develops the game. We spend thousands of hours in the game as we’re making it. These guys are that good. They truly are the best of the best. If you take these guys and put them at Daytona, they tend to be pretty clean. But it happens. Every once in a while, somebody makes a mistake and boom, the big one happens. The fun part is, 20 seconds later everything gets cleaned up and you’re racing again in our game.

GamesBeat: When it comes to the presentation of the competitors — because you’re not in a car. You don’t have helmets. You can see their faces, right?

Martin: Yes, yep.

Above: Capturing the curve of a track from the car shows the beauty of racing.

Image Credit: 704Games

GamesBeat: Do you take advantage of that at all, or do you mainly try to keep it on the action?

Martin: We do. A big thing, if you think of this series, we started off with nobody knows who these guys are. Suddenly there are these 28 people drafted and nobody knows who they are. It’s not like they came up through the series and suddenly you’re Jimmie Johnson or Tony Stewart, where people know those guys because they’ve been watching them their whole lives. These guys kind of came out of nowhere. Building those personalities was definitely a big deal to us. We did that through big production. We had the preseason, putting all kinds of vignettes together. As the season has progressed, we’re placing more and more webcams in the drivers’ homes, where they’re racing from. We’re constantly able to cut to them during the race. We’ll do a lot of picture in picture stuff. If you have some cool passing going on, you might see the action from the game in the big window, but then you’ll have two windows next to it showing those two guys sitting at home and what they look like when they’re passing each other. Or if there’s a wreck, these are the really fun ones. You cut to the guy sitting in his racing seat at home who was just involved in the wreck. He’s fine. He didn’t move. His car didn’t flip. But in the game it flipped over five times. He’s sitting there throwing his hands in the air like, oh my God, I can’t believe that happened. Great reaction shots. You hit the nail on the head. Because they’re not wearing helmets, we’re able to get the facial expressions. That builds the personalities of these guys. They truly become human, not just metal cars, or in our case virtual cars.

Finish line

GamesBeat: Do the racers represent the teams in NASCAR, or are they their own thing?

Martin: No, they represent the NASCAR teams. But each race team involved came up with a slightly different gaming brand. So instead of Levine Family Racing, we have Levine Family Gaming. Instead of Stewart-Haas Racing we have Stewart-Haas Gaming. We have Team Penske Esports and Hendrick Motorsports Game Club. They did slightly different brands for their e-drivers. But the main brand of the big teams is always the highlight of each one of them. The team branding is on the car, on the banners, on their shirts, on their hats. It’s everywhere. All of the drivers in the league, obviously, have favorite teams and favorite drivers they follow in the real world. We had a few instances where drivers were drafted by teams other than their favorites. We had one guy whose gamertag included the word FedEx, obviously a Joe Gibbs Racing fan, and he ended up getting drafted by another team. He’s a great driver. Joe Gibbs Racing just didn’t have a high enough draft pick to get this guy, so someone else got him. He had to change his gamertag. [laughs] You can’t have FedEx Racing running for Stewart-Haas Racing. That just wouldn’t work. But I’ll tell you what, right now they’re very loyal to the teams they race for. They’re getting a paycheck from these guys to race for them. They’re as much a part of those teams as any of the Cup or Xfinity drivers out there. It’s fun to watch.

GamesBeat: Do you plan on doing exhibitions where these guys compete against racers from the circuit?

Martin: We do. And also racing against fans. We had to get the series off the ground and build it up, but as we progress toward our playoffs, which are going to begin in early September — not coincidentally, right around the same time NASCAR Heat 4 ships — we’re going to transition as we go into the playoffs from NASCAR Heat 3 to NASCAR Heat 4. We’re going to run exhibition races with the Pro League drivers and celebrities. We’re going to run exhibition races with some lucky fans out there that will get preview copies of NASCAR Heat 4. After we get out of the end of the season and the playoffs, we’ll do more of that with the Pro League drivers as we go into the holiday season. The focus will go from NASCAR Heat 3, what we’re running on right now, into the new game, NASCAR Heat 4. That’s where the exhibition races start to kick in.

GamesBeat: Do you have a playoff that’s similar to the Chase for the Championship?

Martin: We do, but again, everything in our world is a bit compressed. Our playoff is four races. The way it’s going to work, right now we have 14 teams all competing on each platform. We don’t do individual driver points. There’s only team points. At the end of the race, the points for the PS4 driver and the Xbox driver are combined, and that becomes the team points. That’s what we track. We have 14 teams and when we go into the playoff, four of those teams will be eliminated from playoff contention. Only 10 teams are going into our playoff as eligible to win the playoff. The way you do that is you either win on a given week in the 12-race regular season, or you have the highest points. We’re truly “win and you’re in.” If you win on a race weekend in our league, you’re guaranteed a spot in the playoffs. Then we fill it up with people through total points. You go into the first playoff race, there are 10 teams eligible. After that first race we take off the bottom two and you’re down to eight. After the second we take off two and you’re down to six. After the third we take off two and you’re down to four. When we go into that last race, which will be in late October, there will be four teams eligible for the championship, just like there is in the real Cup series. Instead of doing it over 10 weeks we do it over four.