Martin Edmondson on Driver: "I wanted a darker, grittier look for Tanner"
- Driver: San Francisco
July the 4th 1999 was a historic day for the driving genre as we know it. Having first captured my imagination at the tender age of just 9 years old, Driver is a franchise that will always be close to my heart. Everyone has a game that feels like it was made for them, and Driver was just that for me since it was principally made as a tribute to Hollywood car chases, which happens to be a personal interest of mine. For Founder of Reflections Interactive Martin Edmondson, it was this same love for movie car chases that led to the inception of a revolution in 3D city driving games.
Driver has just celebrated its 12th birthday, and so when I was given the opportunity to sit down with its father Martin Edmondson I was eager to find out everything I possibly could about this influential driving series. Join me behind the wheel in this exclusive interview from a long-time fan’s perspective as we trace back to Driver's roots, solve a lingering car mystery and find out why the notorious car park was so damn difficult.
When Driver first burst onto the scene in 1999 it was truly in a class of its own, at a time when GTA was still in 2D. Reflections Interactive, previously known for its Amiga games such as Shadow of the Beast, were just getting to grips with the PlayStation after their successful launch title Destruction Derby proved that they meant business when it came to driving games.
So what inspired Martin Edmondson to come up with such an audacious project? “In terms of the subject matter, it was a bit of a childhood obsession with car chases,” he recalls. “The first movie I can remember going to see was the Walter Hill film The Driver with my parents when I was really small, so when it came to wanting to do that kind of game that’s where that came from.”
Driver is notable for being the first 3D city driving game of its kind. Before Driver, Reflections were already becoming known for their love of cars and smashing them up in the Destruction Derby series. “It started from Destruction Derby, which was our first game on the original PlayStation. I was driving around the figure of eight track, and I looked at that junction and thought ‘Wouldn’t it be great if that had traffic lights on it and cars coming across and we had a whole world built out of these?’ I didn’t know if it was technically feasible or anything like that but it was just a first starting idea.”
And yet it seems Martin had the idea for Driver drifting in his creative mind long before Destruction Derby and indeed the advent of the PlayStation. “It actually started on the Commodore Amiga - I roughed out the graphics for something that was top down but really not very satisfactory because it didn’t get that sort of movie feel, so that went no further than a mocked up graphical thing. We had to do a sequel to Destruction Derby so we had to do Destruction Derby 2 first and started working on Driver straight after that.”
With Driver now under development, the next battle was of course pitching the ambitious project to the publishers. “It was a difficult pitch in some ways because we didn’t actually pitch it as a paper document. We developed the game to a running demo which played a car chase movie between yourself and four cops and in the background it was playing Crosstown Traffic by Jimi Hendrix. It was running on a PC so we showed it and most people thought it was amazing.” says Martin.
Not everyone could understand the concept of Driver, however. “A few couldn’t see how it could have been made into a game – ‘If you don’t know where you’re going, if there’s not a clear direction or a clear track, how can that be fun?’ was the response from one or two publishers. But most of them thought ‘Right this is brilliant, we need to do this.’”
Another concern was whether or not Driver was actually feasible for the current hardware at the time. “What we hadn’t done was demonstrate that it could run on the PlayStation and of course running something like that on PlayStation is a very different proposition to running on PC with a big graphics card,” says Martin. “It was not too much of a hard sell once we demonstrated how we thought we could do the tech on the PlayStation - we actually got it up and running fairly quickly on the PlayStation.”
GT Interactive soon saw the potential of Driver, and acquired the publishing rights. “Because the gameplay was so new, we were also lucky to have GT Interactive who published it. There were a bunch of guys working in the marketing and PR who were really behind the game. They could see how great it could be and therefore they were telling their bosses and their bosses told their bosses and so on”.
Driver introduced us to Tanner (now known as John Tanner in Driver: San Francisco), an ex-racing driver turned maverick undercover cop working as a getaway driver for hire. “We based his look a bit on the Ryan O’Neil character from The Driver film. We wanted him to be quite smartly dressed. The most practical stuff for him to be wearing would be a tracksuit and racing shoes but we wanted him to look a bit dapper so we put him in a suit. I was keen for him to be this gritty character who didn’t say very much who seemed disconnected from reality almost and just being quite cold – not in an unpleasant way but someone who would be very hard to get to know and wouldn’t want you to get to know them.”
My first ever glimpse of Driver that instantly hooked me was from a video on a demo disc (link) that featured a yellow Buick GSX lookalike being pursued by police. Since this was my first ever memory of Driver, I was disappointed to find it didn’t appear in the final game. I therefore quizzed Martin about its subsequent removal.
“It wasn’t a real Buick GSX, I think it was a tuned version of the Skylark (the grey replacement car in the final game) but the colour scheme was authentic. We weren’t using real licensed cars, we were using these lookalike cars,” says Martin. “We changed it at the last minute because I wanted a darker, grittier look for Tanner. He didn’t say much in the game, so he was meant to be a serious character and driving around in a canary yellow car didn’t really fit it at the time. I thought at the time it was a bit loud for an undercover cop. It became a sort of mythical car.”
The car that never was has now made a comeback in Driver: San Francisco however, as Tanner’s Dodge Challenger R/T sports the same colour scheme. Considering Martin’s previous reluctance to cast Tanner with such an ostentatious vehicle, I asked what this reflects about the evolution in tone between Driver and its latest incarnation.
“It reflects two things. First of all, yes it does reflect a lighter tone. Tanner’s not humorous in an outwardly humorous way, but he’s very sarcastic and dry so he is quite a humorous character if you like that sort of sense of humour”, Martin explains. “Also, he’s not undercover in this game. Before, he was driving an old, dark coloured, dusty, not particularly high performance car and now he’s got this Dodge Challenger R/T with a bright yellow paint scheme. It’s a mixture of his attitude and being much quieter, darker and less humorous. Since he’s not undercover he doesn’t have the necessity to have a stealthy vehicle.”
The opening car park level, a direct homage to the same scene in The Driver film, in which you complete a series of driving tests under a time limit became notorious for its off-putting difficulty level. Martin Edmondson seems to have mixed feelings about its implementation: “In all honesty it was just not a particularly great design decision. It was a good idea to have it, but what I should have done is said if you failed it three times in a row then you just skip it.”
“But what it did do is become legendary within the Driver games and about Driver generally about that car park, so it did achieve that”, Martin continues. “Unfortunately it meant a lot of people didn’t actually get out of that garage and spent all their time playing in Take a Ride which you could access straight away.”
So was it too difficult? “I didn’t think it was particularly difficult, it’s just that it was too tight timing wise,” explains Martin.” The way we argued it at the time was that because I could do it in 23 seconds, I thought 60 seconds is a ridiculous amount of time - it should really be 30 seconds or 45 seconds but we did a minute thinking it was enough time and it wasn’t. Plus back in those days the feedback weren’t as advanced and accepted as they are now . It was just "“reverse 180” written on a piece of paper - can you guarantee that everyone knows what that is and how to perform it? Now you would have something more explanatory.”
Driver was one of the first games to incorporate real-life locations into a driving game, featuring faithful recreations of four well known US cities: Miami, San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York. But there was an extra location that not many people got to see too accessible via a cheat cartridge, situated in the developer’s hometown of Newcastle.
“The hidden Newcastle thing was a very small area so you couldn’t include it in the game as a drive around area because you went up streets and you ran out of map and the game would crash, so we would have had to block off all sorts of things to do it properly, it was so tiny. It was just a little bit of fun for us as we were just based down the road. It was just a day with cameras, small area to build so it wasn’t a big deal and it raised a bit of awareness of where the game was created. I don’t remember the rules for entering it, but it was somewhat hidden and it was never robust enough to be something that could be considered a full Newcastle level. And it would have made no sense anyway – Tanner enters Miami, San Francisco, LA and…Newcastle. It just wouldn’t make much sense.”
Driver achieved mass success selling over a million copies, and so a sequel was inevitable the following year in 2000. Our interview with Martin Edmondson continues in part 2, where Martin discusses the technical challenge of Driver 2 and the demise of Driv3r.
This article was originally published on Drivinggamespro.com.
Words by Martin Bigg (Twitter: @drivinggamespro)
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