Exclusive Interview with Ed Martin: Executive Vice President of Eutechnyx
Steve Masters: So what have you guys been working on lately?
Ed Martin: We’ve been real busy, there’s no such thing as an off season or on season for us. It’s just always the season it seems like, but the big project we’re working on right now is NASCAR ‘14, which will be coming out this February on Playstation 3, Xbox 360, and PC all on the same day. Exact release is on February 18th , the Tuesday before the Daytona 500.
Steve Masters: So do you guys have any plans for Playstation 4 and the Xbox One?
Ed Martin: We are looking at the sales of the hardware right now. Plans, yes, we have the rights to do it, but we want to do it at the right time where the software is going to be in the hands of enough NASCAR fans, so right now they (Xbox One and PS4) both came out a few weeks ago, so sales seem to be going pretty well, but we’re in a world where there’s 150 million active Playstation 3 and Xbox 360s out there and there’s probably 2 million Playstation 4s and Xbox Ones out there, so we’ve got to keep an eye on it and keep our eye on the industry. The biggest indicator to us is that Sony decided to release Grand Turismo 6 on the Playstation 3 this year instead of going to the Playstation 4, so who can argue with Sony and Polyphony themselves if they decide to hold off on PS4 and put out GT6 on PS3. I don’t want to say we’re holding back, but we’re keeping a keen eye on it to make sure we come out when there’s going to be a market for the game.
Steve Masters: Understandable. I think sales are pretty robust here, but I think finding one right now is a little difficult, with stores sold out of Playstation 4s and Xbox Ones.
Ed Martin: Yeah, they’re similar designs to how Apple releases things, they release just enough so there’s a big demand and it gets sold out and it’s a got-to-get item. I think if Sony and Microsoft had their druthers, they’d probably have more units available for people because there are still long waiting lines of people, not physical lines, but people want to get them, so indications right now are very positive. We think the hardware’s very cool. We have development kits we’ve been playing with for a while so it’s really just a matter of looking at the market. There’s just so much more active hardware out there with the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. It’s just sort of simple math. It’s definitely something we’re looking very seriously at. I can tell you we are sort of designing what we can do in that game to make it really cool on the new systems, and, regardless of what we do in 2015 in the background, we certainly basically updating every aspect of the game to be ready for that type of hardware and that type of experience.
Steve Masters: So the title of the next game is going to be NASCAR ‘14, correct?
Ed Martin: NASCAR ‘14 is the title of the next game. We changed the title a little bit and called it just straight NASCAR ‘14, but you have to have an apostrophe before the 14. That’s very important to do that in the NASCAR world because 14 is owned by Tony Stewart in the NASCAR world, so we can’t just call it NASCAR the number 14, it has to say apostrophe 14. One of those tricky legal things I have to deal with all day long in this sport.
Steve Masters: I bet. Tell us about what things you’re most excited about the new game. Any new changes or anything you want to tell people about?
Ed Martin: Yeah, I think a big area of improvement we try to do every year, because it gets more and more popular, is the online experience. People absolutely love it. When we came out with NASCAR The Game 2011 two years ago we got dinged because multiplayer wasn’t as robust as it should be and I think the market has certainly seen us focus on that, with patches for that game, with enhancements and Inside Line and then we did the PC version of NASCAR The Game 2013 and that was even better. This time not only have we gone in and really polished it the multiplayer, we brought in the #1 feature that everyone has wanted in multiplayer since we started doing it, and that’s online leagues. People will be able to go out and join their own leagues, on their own schedule, and track their own season points and play against each other in their own groups.
Steve Masters: Can you explain that a little more for those who don’t know anything about it? You can create your own car, customize it and your number?
Ed Martin: Within multiplayer, you’ve always been able to do that, create your own car and pick your own number and go out and race as yourself and you can pick your number, Ed Martin, Chevrolet, Ford, Toyota, whatever I want to do and put decals on the car and go out and race that, or I can pick the licensed cars in the game and go race that way. With online leagues, what I’ve been able to do is create groups that really track your season points. They’re just like the real guys in the Sprint Cup series, they go from race to race and they earn a certain number of points and go on to the next race and the next one and the next one and at the end of the season there’s a champion. This year it happened to be Jimmy Johnson. But if I were racing in our own league, we would be tracking our own points week to week and race after race. So, you can have your own collection of friends that are racing a season of your design and tracking points and that’s something fans have definitely wanted because until now they had to keep track of it offline on an Excel spreadsheet or a piece of paper or whatever they used, but we finally brought that organization and brought these nice online leagues to them.
Steve Masters: How many players can be in a league?
Ed Martin: Well 16 players in the limit you can have on the track online in a race, so 16 players the maximum amount of players you can have in a league. We wish we had more bandwidth and ability to have even more cars, but we’re pretty much limited to 16 at this point.
Steve Masters: Sounds like a blast. So that’s something people can look forward to for sure.
Ed Martin: Yeah, that’s a big one that people have wanted for a long time. We’ve also done some things with dynamic match making to really keep track of people’s performances on the track. If we went out there, and let’s say you’re a really good racer and I’m a really bad racer because I just hit everything in sight and cause trouble. When I select Quick Race, we wouldn’t be playing in the same race lobby. We wouldn’t be able to race because I’m bad and your good and we shouldn’t be on the track at the same time. But, there’s probably a good amount of people out there just as bad as me, so a rookie driver or whatever, they’re looking for people just like them to race against on a level playing field, which makes it more fun for everybody because it’s competitive. I went out and raced Craig MacQue, who’s the lead engineer on the game, Craig’s going to kill me because he races this thing all day, every day and he’s just really, really good at it. It’s not a lot of fun to just go out and get beat by somebody, but with dynamic match making we’re really keeping track of everybody that races online and give them a much better experience of “like” people together.
Steve Masters: What about some of the Gen 6 cars that you guys had as a download in the last game you put out?
Ed Martin: That was NASCAR The Game: Inside Line, which shipped last holiday season. A year ago. We then updated it in February and put up the Gen 6 cars and the 2013 paint schemes. Now, we’re doing something that, I’ve been doing these NASCAR games for 20 years now, now, we’re doing something with this one that I don’t think anyone’s pulled off before. As I sit here today, I can’t understand why, but we took on the challenge anyway, when we ship the game on February 18th, 2014, it will have all the 2014 cars in the game when it ships!
Steve Masters: Is there any noticeable difference in the cars between the two years?
Ed Martin: The physical cars are very similar, there’s only a minor difference. Things with aerodynamics right now, but the big change is going to be the 2014 paint schemes. The guys that are going to be running in the Daytona 500, the ones racing the Tuesday after the game ships, those are the cars you’re going to see in the game when it ships. Trying to pull that off has been somewhere between impossible and a miracle, so there’s a fine line there, actually getting all the paints schemes from all the teams that are going to Daytona because frankly a lot of the teams don’t have all of their final paint schemes done.
Steve Masters: That has to do with all the sponsorships and finalizing agreements, right?
Ed Martin: You’ve got a lot of teams out there doing that. You have a lot of teams out there that have things that are extremely top secret. We’re dealing with sponsorships of, 10, 20 million dollars and, guess what, there’s a lot of sponsors coming on board that want to make a big splash of this thing in December or January. The reality is we have to ship this thing off to Microsoft and Sony for approval to hit the February 18th ship date and we have to ship it to Sony and Microsoft next Friday, so you factor in the holidays and there’s long wait times between QI and manufacturing. We really have to scramble with the teams and this is the beginning of December. We wish we had until February to figure it out, but nope, we need it now for what we wanna do! It’s been a lot of fun. A lot of the big teams have been giving us these top secret base skins that if you saw the list of things that I have on my wall here, we can’t release, screenshots, trailers, creating boxes, and all the things that we’re doing and all of the things you have to keep track of. We can’t show the back of that car until December 27th, we can’t show this car at all until January 6th, we can’t even mention the fact that that one exists until January 17th, so it’s kinda fun. We’re good at keeping secrets though.
Steve Masters: So are there any new teams, any new cars coming on board that players might not know about?
Ed Martin: There aren’t any major new teams, but we’re obviously following everything that’s happening,. Stewart Haas Racing will have four cars this year, Tony Stewart, Danica Patrick, Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, and the associated sponsors that go along with that. If people who are really into NASCAR are following any of the rumors out there, we can neither confirm nor deny them, at least in public, but we’ve worked with the teams to confirm those changes and get things done because there are certain things that have just not been announced publicly, although people kind of think they’re coming. We’ve got a few surprises which will be fun, but when you get the game there will be stuff in there that probably won’t be announced for another 30 days. We’re going to get into December or even January before some of this stuff is even announced by the teams because they want to make a big business or PR splash out of it. There aren’t any really major new teams coming in.
We’ve done some really cool things this year. We’ve obviously want to have a full field of 43 drivers out there, so we’ve gone back and forth on this a while and we’ve thought you know there’s some cool up and coming drivers that we really want to give them some exposure to. One that comes to mind is Darrell Wallis Jr. He’s actually a truck series driver, but he’s the first African American driver to win a race in almost 50 years. He won a race this past season. He’s really really nice kid and he races for Kyle Busch Motorsports, which is very closely associated with Joe Gibbs Racing. We will have Darrell Wallis Jr. in the game this time driving a car, not a champion series truck, but bringing in some of those young guns and those up and coming stars, you know, the Kyle Larsons of the world, who is going to be racing for Earnhardt Ganassi. You have guys like Chase Elliott racing for Junior Motorsports and some of those guys, giving them some exposure is great, plus, they just love that exposure and seeing themselves in video games, but that’s the kind of stuff we like to do.
Steve Masters: Tell us about all the tracks that you have, all of the ones represented in the world of NASCAR.
Ed Martin: Yep, we do. We got all 23 Sprint Cup series tracks. The most recent one that came up was actually a couple years ago, Kentucky. We continue to update the tracks as new things come along. We continue to build things with the tracks before they even exist in the real world. When this game ships, I don’t know if people will remember but Texas Motorsports Speedway announced that they would be installing the largest TV in the world at their track. That record used to be held by Texas Stadium until Charlotte Motor Speedway came along and built an even bigger one. Well guess what? Texas is putting one in that’s even bigger. It’s called Big Hoss. They’ve cleared out the area and started putting the pilings for it, but it won’t be completed until April, but we’ve already got it in the game. So Big Haus is sitting there at the Motor Speedway and it looks really cool. We animated it, so as you’re playing the game and driving around, it’s actually showing action on the track. Things like that are fun. We work closely with the tracks if they change any of the buildings, moved the configuration of the infield, all of those things we try to be up to date on and get as much stuff we can get in there as we can. Sponsor changes, things like that are all in there, but no new tracks per say, just the updated 23.
Steve Masters: What about voice over work? Are there any of the drivers doing their own voice over work?
Ed Martin: We don’t have any drivers doing voice over work because they don’t really do too much talking on the race track except to their crew chief. We do have some NASCAR celebrities there that do all their voices in the game. Returning this year is our old friend Ty Norris. He is the voice of the spotter once again. We’ve also got the director of the Sprint Cup series. If you do anything wrong on the track, David pops up and reprimands you a little bit like in the real world, so he also decides when the yellow flag gets thrown. We also got Daryl Waltrip and Mike Joy doing the intros to all the races again like they do on NASCAR On FOX and a new voice this year is Jeff Hammond , also from NASCAR On Fox in the Championship Crew Chief, where Jeff plays the crew chief in the game. We actually just did that voiceover work a week and a half ago.
Steve Masters: So if I just want to race with a certain driver and track, I can do that?
Ed Martin: Yep, just jump into Quick Race, pick your driver, pick your track, pick your own car if you want to, and go out and race. You can run in season mode if you want to. You can run the full season, you can run the chase for just the Sprint Cup, or you can jump in and do a full career, which is multiple seasons and an unlimited number of seasons. You work your way up and earn sponsorships and reinvest that in your team and work your way up from a rookie driver to a 6 time champion! Jimmy Johnson, Richard Petty or Dale Earnhardt are popular choices. You can win as many championships as you want.
Steve Masters: I’m going to ask you to look into your crystal ball right now, who are going to be the hot drivers next year? The same guys, Jimmy Johnson, the Busch brothers? Is anybody else gonna break through?
Ed Martin: You know, it’s funny, Jimmy Johnson winning the 6th championship as he did this year, is sort of like the second act of the play. You just want to get it over with so you can go on to the real meat. Think about it, #6, nobody really cared about. They do and they don’t. It was monumental, but it wasn’t really historic. People have won 6 before. Now he’s in position where if he wins one more, he ties Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt. If he wins another one, he has more championships than anyone. The next two years, with that dangling in front of Jimmy Johnson, that’s going to be almost irresistible to watch. Whether you like the guy or don’t like the guy. By the way, he’s a really, really nice guy. Not a boring guy, he’s really just a fun guy that just got a reputation. It’s going to be amazing to watch and we as NASCAR fans are watching history right now. I don’t see anybody in the sport that’s gonna win 6 championships, let alone 7 or 8. That’s pretty astounding. I think that there’s definitely been some great momentum and I think everybody’s gonna want to hear this but in the 88 team, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s gonna have a great year. I also look at Joe Gibbs Racing. Man, do they have a line up. Matt Kenseth had an amazing year last year. Kyle Busch had a great year. Denny Hamlin got hurt early in the season, but that organization really has their act together. I gotta believe that anyone of those three guys could be a top contender in 2014.
Steve Masters: Ed, thanks for the time. I love NASCAR video games, and I’m looking forward to this year’s game in February!