GRID Interview with Simon Barlow

Recently, COGconnected was afforded the opportunity to go hands-on with the upcoming GRID. In our preview, we noted that “GRID looks to fill in the midpoint between arcade and simulation.” While being lead through a variety of races with Principal Games Designer on the game, Simon Barlow, we also got to chatting about the GRID brand as well as the game.

COGconnected: We are here with Simon Barlow, Principal Games Designer on GRID. Simon, thank you for your time, could you preface this conversation with a brief description of what your role entails?

Simon Barlow: No problem, thanks for talking to me! As principal games designer my job is really to be the voice of the player, and an overall advocate for design. I take creative direction from the game director and translate that to concrete designs, driving the features through to implementation and making sure we’re always pulling in the same direction.

We’ve seen other franchises reboot with the same name, but often having both similar and very different themes depending on the game. For GRID, what factors went into deciding to keep the GRID name rather than start fresh with a new brand?

Even before we settled on a name, I think generally we’d already considered this as a sequel to the previous GRID games rather than GRID Autosport in particular. It blends elements of all three and adds a bunch of new things to the mix, so overall it felt right to call it GRID, not so much as a reboot but more a culmination and continuation of everything that came before.

What sets GRID (either the franchise or specifically this game) apart from other racing games? With highly popular games such as the two Forza lines in the market that have nailed their own formula down, do you guys look to their success or focus more internally on making GRID what it is?

As gamers we obviously play a lot of other racing games, and we’re definitely all fans of the FORZA series. I feel like they’ve maybe moved away from racing a bit to concentrate more on driving and the lifestyle that accompanies it. They’re still great games but it leaves a lot of clear water for a much more compelling on-track experience, and that’s where GRID comes in. Thankfully we’ve always done well with that on-track experience, so we could simply concentrate on doing what we do best rather than having to keep an eye on the competition.

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What sort of lessons or takeaways did you guys have from the first few GRIDS? Did the older games have a big influence on how development worked for this title?

Absolutely! As I mentioned previously, we set out to make this game a culmination of what came before, so there are elements of all three previous GRID games in this one. One thing that was always apparent was that, despite the differences in content and focus across the series, the tone was always there, that attitude of being slightly outside the norm, being a bit dirtier and grittier. You can see that in the graphic design, the audio, and most obviously in the racing itself.

For players who were fans of the GRID series before, how do you keep true to the GRID name for them?

We feel like there is a strong through line from the first GRID to this one, combining awesome on-track action with a great mix of vehicles and locations. That’s what GRID has really always been about: awesome and sometimes quirky cars and tracks with great handling and really exciting motorsport ‘stories’.

In my hands-on time with the game, I felt like I played a decent chunk of the game, experiencing the various racing styles in the game. One thing we talked about was how different the styles felt. How do you keep the game interesting for players who, for example, might not like racing stock cars?

One of the decisions we made early on was to not overly restrict the player; that meant giving everyone the chance to experience every race in the career regardless of their ability or finishing position. We obviously offer greater rewards for placing higher up the table to reward more accomplished driving, but you’ll never hit a brick wall and there should always be something interesting for you to do at every point along that path.

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The Nemesis system in GRID made the game feel much different than previous racing games I have played. It made the game exude the “multiplayer feeling” you get when playing against friends. When I gained a Nemesis, I made it a goal to block them from passing, beat them, etc.. What prompted this addition to the game, and what do you expect will be the result of this addition?

First of all thank you – it’s great to hear you enjoyed it! When I talked earlier about motorsport ‘stories’, that’s really where the idea for the Nemesis came from. Far too few racing games spend any time capturing the drama and excitement of a real race. They may have accurate vehicle physics and licensed tracks, but they rarely recreate the thrill of real-world motorsport. That thrill primarily comes from the drivers themselves and how they interact with each other, so for us emulating that experience became an important pillar of the game.

I have had a good hour with the game, and I am sure you’ve had exponentially more time with it than myself. Is there anything you want to share with gamers that we either didn’t get to touch on today, or you feel deserves some more attention?

We’ve all poured a lot of blood, sweat and tears into making GRID, and there’s a lot of love there as well, not just for the other games in the series but for ‘simcade’ racing as a whole. We miss those games too, and that’s why GRID feels so familiar yet clearly so very different. I honestly believe it feels like no other racing game, and if you crave that visceral thrill, the drama and excitement of real-world motorsport, then this is absolutely the game for you.

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GRID is set to release on October 11, 2019. Let us know in the comments below what type of cars you are looking forward to racing with!