By: DAN EMERY on October 5, 2008
Original Article: SUNDAY TIMES, THE

Car makers are working with game designers to preview future models, writes
Dan Emery

Car manufacturers have long seen driving video games as little more than a source of revenue. While they beg Hollywood to use their vehicles in blockbuster films – and in some cases pay millions of dollars for the privilege – when it comes to gaming it’s the other way around: games companies must pay royalties for any car featured – as much as Pounds 1 for every game sold.

However, that relationship could be changing: a street-racing game, Midnight Club Los Angeles, is set to break new ground when it is released this month by being the first to feature close collaboration with top marques such as Lamborghini, Dodge, Chevrolet and Saleen, the US car customiser.

Not only have the car makers waived their demand for a fee, but they have also offered players a glimpse of what cars could look like well before they officially launch. The companies are even exploring the possibility of incorporating gamers’ feedback into real-life designs.

Midnight Club – which challenges players to race around the streets of LA, winning cash prizes that can be used to “pimp” their cars or buy new ones – features more than 40 vehicles. Two of these – a Dodge Challenger SRT8 and a Chevy Camaro – were still concepts when work started on the game, and are not due on the forecourt until next year, meaning that players of the game will be the first members of the public to test-drive them, albeit in a virtual environment.

Lamborghini, which prides itself on cloaking new models in secrecy, has supplied data for its Miura, Gallardo Spyder and Murcielago models. “Video games are part of our brand expansion programme,” says Maria Lucia Lazzarini, licensing manager at Lamborghini.

“In the old days, children used to play with diecast toys, today they also play video games. There’s a real satisfaction for us in knowing that our cars are the most desired by the games industry, that people dream about owning or driving a Lamborghini.”

Cars have featured in video games since the 1980s, but it wasn’t until the 1990s that players began getting realistic representations of cars that were for sale. Games makers would use CAD (computer aided design) files detailing the entire vehicle – although they also relied on pictures of the car photographed from many different angles. Next, all the extras were added, from sound effects (created by hanging microphones in the exhaust and interior) through to fine detailing such as the wheel rims, hubs and internal trim. Small wonder that it costs between Pounds 10,000 and Pounds 15,000 to make each in-game car.

This process reaches new heights of realism in Midnight Club Los Angeles, the fourth game in the series, which puts you in numerous races and challenges in central LA.

Not only do the in-game vehicles look the part, but their handling is equally realistic, says Mark Garone, the game’s lead producer.

“The software at the heart of Midnight Club turns the game into a full-blown simulation. Each vehicle has a full set of test data – pitch, roll, 0-60mph times, tyres, you name it. Sometimes we get that data direct from the manufacturers; for older cars we have to comb automotive magazines, websites or the library,” he says.

It’s not just the cars that are realistic; players can customise their chosen ride with real-world accessories such as nitrous oxide injection systems and Wings West carbon-fibre kits.

The game’s driving challenges are varied, from basic point-to-point races through to time trials and circuit races. Competing in these races nets you cash and reputation points. The gameplay is slick and polished, seamlessly switching between general driving and racing.

The designers take some liberties. “Although we try and keep it realistic as much as we can,” says Garone, “we do start tweaking when the performance impinges on the fun. In Midnight Club, you can drive up to 240mph round the streets. Try that in real life and you’ll die.”

Marques McCammon, general manager of Saleen, is impressed with the game and says “the cars just feel right”. He’s also enthusiastic about the idea of using a game to test a prototype design, as Lamborghini is.

For this to happen, however, a new system would have to be put in place to gauge players’ reactions – at present it involves manufacturers trawling through fan-boy bulletin boards and specialist websites.

Midnight Club Los Angeles is out for the PS3 and Xbox 360 on October 24, price Pounds 44.99.


During the early stages of a game’s design, artists rough out the required cars and their accessories. Then computer-aided design (CAD) files supplied by manufacturers add the fine details of the real-life cars – in the case of this Ford Mustang minus the spoiler imagined by the game designer

The CAD wireframes provide a skeleton over which the game designers can add a ‘solid’, three-dimensional skin. After weeks of detailed, highly accurate work costing up to Pounds 15,000, the completed version of the in-game car is ready to be raced by gamers.