Interview: Driver: San Francisco creative director Martin Edmondson

Formed in the mid-1980s, Reflections Interactive has been making games for longer than you might remember. While the studio has franchises like Shadow of the Beast and Destruction Derby under its belt, its longest standing franchise is Driver. This fall the wheelman returns in Driver: San Francisco, and Reflections -- now owned and operated by Ubisoft -- is once again steering the ride.

Also returning to the series is Reflections founder Martin Edmondson who, in March 2005, walked away from Reflections Interactive and filed suit against former publishing partner and company owner Atari for "constructive unfair dismissal" before settling in 2006. We spoke with Edmondson regarding Driver's return to the streets and the finer points regarding the upcoming game's "Shift" car jumping system.
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Joystiq: It's been quite some time since Driver has been in the spotlight, in fact this marks the debut for the franchise in this generation. Why is now the right time to bring the franchise to players?

Martin Edmondson: It's actually a function of what's happened in the past. The franchise was originally published by Atari and then Ubisoft bought Reflections [Interactive], my old company, from Atari and took with it the license. We basically built the game from the ground, up. We use no "off the shelf" physics-engines, it's all proprietary tech. So, it's just been the length of time its taken to create, basically.

So, it was simply a function of getting the tech ready?

Right.

Why go back to basics? Why jump back to the world of Tanner [protagonist] and Jericho [antagonist], specifically?

A number of reasons, really. We wanted to refocus the game on what was important in the first game and what made the first game so unique and enjoyable. That was the whole "car chase" experience, also the handling of the cars. The characters are just something that the fans of the original game, they remember -- you know, Driver 4 [Driver: Parallel Lines] didn't even feature those characters -- so for them we wanted to bring the series back to its roots, on many levels.

Have you been able to process some of the reaction from gamers online? How have their reactions been to the news of Driver's return?

Yeah. It's been really great. Obviously we've known about this for a long time, we've been working on it for a long time. We've had a chance to live with the project but have not be able to tell anyone. The last couple of weeks, and E3 obviously, is the first time we've been able to talk about it.

I had no idea how many fans of the original game that still -- you know, obviously it depends on the age group -- remembered playing the original, some who even bought a PlayStation so that they could play it. It's great to have their reaction because when they drive the cars they can feel that is really is back to its former glory, in terms of the driving.

I think if gamers remember anything from Driver it will be the chase sequences and stunts but there was also an underlining realism to the series: Real world settings and situations. In Driver: San Francisco, Tanner is in a coma and you have this ability to shift from car-to-car, which is an idea that seems sci-fi. As one of the founders of this franchise, how do you feel about this change that approaches Driver's story in a less-than-realistic way?

The concept was designed from the beginning, this is how we wanted it to be. We wanted an innovative feature. The coma is actually a good way of rooting it in reality because a coma is a real thing that exists. You really have to play the game through and play the story through to see how that all plays out. It's difficult to talk about it and not give away what happens but know that it's an important part of the story. It's not just that we said, "Oh, we've got this great new mechanic called Shift, what should we do? Oh, Tanner is in a coma!"

It's really, really integrated into the story and how real life reflects what's going on in his coma and what happens in his coma changes his perception once he comes out of his coma. And how does the player get him out of his coma? What point does Tanner realize that he's actually in a coma? The interesting part is how the two things interconnect.
I saw in the single-player demo that whenever you take over a vehicle there is a life in that car, a person that may have a problem they need Tanner to help solve. Is there any kind of morality system within the game that players are being scored on throughout the course of the campaign or is it an idea that, as a police officer, Tanner will always be forced to make the "good" choices?

It depends on the mission. For example there's a car chase we're showing here: There's a getaway driver and two cops. You as a player can choose to shift into the cops and help them try to take out the getaway driver or you can shift into the getaway driver, then you're playing the mission as the getaway driver. So, it depends on the choices you make and what you prefer. You don't have to complete all missions to complete the game, so there's an element of choice there.

Can you shift into the getaway driver and then just stop the car so he gets picked up?

That's a very good question. So, the way it works is we have a system in place called "Willpower." Drivers of each car has a certain amount of willpower, we're not showing it here because it would confuse the situation, but if you have more willpower than that driver then you can drive into that car and be that driver.

When you first go into it you may just have the cops and the getaway driver may be unavailable. If you play the game 50% of the way through and you build up your willpower, come back to that same mission and you can now do those sort of crazy things. So, try to take down the getaway driver or just shift into the getaway driver and smash him into a wall.

It would be like cheating, except you've already done that mission now. It's to come back and have fun with those missions you've previously done.

Thanks for your time.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.