Last Tuesday, I attended a press event at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco highlighting the upcoming video game for Cars 2 from developer Avalanche Software. While it has become the norm for those writing about games based on properties to make note about how most video games associated with movies to be shameless cash-ins, it seems that Pixar and Avalanche are out to shatter that line of thinking with one clear focus: quality. They collaborated on the Toy Story 3 game, which blew away many by the sheer scope of the Toy Story game universe. Both Pixar and Avalanche employees spoke about the care they have taken in creating the game world of Cars 2, and from my time with the game, that attention to quality continuously shines though.
To kick off the show, the organizers invited an ex-CIA operative to speak about her time spent with the notoriously secretive organization. She presented a fascinating talk about her training process for becoming a spy. At first, I was a bit puzzled as to why she had been courted by Disney to speak to those covering the Cars 2 video game, but somewhere in the middle of her discussion, it dawned on me just how much care and research went into developing the game. The storyline for the game picks up after the events of the film, and has players training to become part of the spy organization known as C.H.R.O.M.E.. The story was created by Avalanche with guidance from Pixar so that what happened in the game stayed true to the story and characters in the film. Players enter simulations of spy missions, allowing for weapons to be utilized by all players (think Mater shooting a machine gun), not just by experienced spies such as Finn McMissile.
Next up, the producers of the game took to the stage to show off the game in action. There are many multiplayer modes, ranging from straight-up racing to capture-the-flag-like games that can be set up. Yours truly volunteered to be participate in a demo, and in turn was set to be destroyed by the competition. In all fairness, I was playing the producer and he has spent quite a bit of time with the game, so when I came in last it was of no surprise to me. I had spent a bit of hands-on time with the game before, but that was over a month ago. Given that, it was still incredibly easy to pick up on the controls and the game responded fairly well and accurately to my inability to drive well.
For this reason, the game will appeal to both the young and the old. It is easy enough for kids to pick up and play and is packed with features to have adults coming back for more. On top of that, there are what I call “equalizers,” which allows those players who are in the last few positions to attain great items that will help them catch up. It keeps things moving at a rapid pace and the unpredictability factor makes it a blast for everyone involved. Definition: perfect game for all ages.
During the final demo, there was a loud noise and all of a sudden John Lasseter literally drove into the event on a sweet classic car. The great entrance from the Cars 2 director had members of the press clapping enthusiastically. He took over the mic and went in-depth into the inspiration for the film and showed off a few brief clips from the film. Following the screening of the scenes, a panel was held with Avalanche and Pixar employees (including Lasseter), where they spoke about the film and the game. I will hold all film-related discussions for a future post, as this event was focused on the video game.
I asked the panel of Pixar employees (which included Cars 2 Story Supervisor Nathan Stanton, Production Designer Harley Jessup, Animator Adam Burke, and “Franchise Guardian” Jay Ward) how they worked with Avalanche to create a game that worked alongside the film. While I had often heard that the two companies “collaborated,” I was unsure how deep the partnership went. Essentially, the folks at Avalanche have almost evolved into an extension of Pixar Animation Studios. Stanton and Ward described how much time they spent with the game developers to ensure the quality stayed high. Actually, that was one of the reasons why Pixar is working with Avalanche again – in the game developer, Pixar saw a company devoted to the type of quality that the animation studio represents. The creation of C.H.R.O.M.E., the utilization of the characters, had Pixar and Avalanche effectively huddled together throughout the development process.
When the panel wrapped, we were allowed to mingle with the panel members and spend lengthy amounts of hands-on time with the game. I played the PS3 version (nearly identical to the XBOX 360 version I volunteered to help out with in the demo) and walked away impressed by how much Avalanche has packed in – many characters to choose from, various weapons to take out fellow players (or blow them into oblivion, at least until they are brought back), and the large amount of multiplayer modes. The developers were clearly passionate about the quality of their game and that could not be more evident.
“Cars 2: The Video Game” is scheduled for release on June 21! You can expect to see a formal game review around the time of the game’s release.