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Interview: Infogrames Tanners our hides

GBA gets a version of the massive selling PSone classic Driver 2, as we get the low-down from developer Sennari Interactive
Reflections' Driver series was a revelation on PSone, practically defining a genre all by itself. Offering a thrilling, action-packed insight into the criminal underworld, gamers assumed the role of the unflappable Tanner, who drove around a sprawling metropolis, evading the cops while carrying out critical missions.

Driver 2 upped the ante by allowing Tanner to leave his vehicle and take to the streets by foot, or seize control of other vehicles should he wish. And the advent of the GBA and the incredible technical feats achieved by developers over the last year or so has now made the likes of Driver 2 Advance a reality, with Sennari Interactive performing a stunning job of recreating the PSone original.

With the game due for release this autumn, we met up with the development team in a dark alley in Brixton, and handed them a brown paper bag full of questions, then scurried away to our hideout in anticipation of a positive response. Answering the questions were lead programmers Shawn Freeman and Joe Sengir, lead artist Ian McIntosh and producer Craig Selby:

How does the GBA version relate to the PSone original?

The GBA version of Driver 2 is very closely related to the original PlayStation game. We were able to maintain a similar storyline and plot, and use the same characters that we featured in Driver 2 PSone. For the GBA version two large cities are featured (Chicago and Rio De Janeiro) rather than the four in the original. We've added up to four-player link play where the original PSone version featured two-player split screen play. Graphically the environments and cars look very similar to the PSone version.

For someone who may not be familiar with the Driver series, what sort of
gaming experience should they expect?

Driver is a very unique gaming experience, and there is currently no other game like Driver for the Game Boy Advance. Driver 2 places you in the role of Tanner, an undercover cop whose job it is to bust an international crime ring wide open. Tanner becomes the wheelman (or Driver) for this crime ring. The driving is intense with lots of screeching tires, big collisions and fantastic jumps.

Can you tell us a little about the technology behind the game and some of
the effects you've been able to achieve?

Driver 2 Advance is built on Sennari Interactive's X2 Engine. This is a highly tuned engine that is written entirely in Assembly Language. This engine is composed of a highly accurate physics module, a proprietary sound engine, and a very efficient memory manager. This engine allows us to focus on creating a huge 3D world with hundreds of objects present at any given time.

Some of the effects in Driver 2 Advance are destructible world objects, working brakes lights, backup lights, flashing police lights, a particle system for the smoke, fire and collision effects, real-time palette manipulation to represent vehicle damage, and the use of the GBA's hardware scaling and rotation to achieve an accurate 3D look.

When you're on foot, can you commandeer any vehicle on the road and how
many different types of vehicle are available?

When you are on foot you can commandeer any vehicle except moving cop cars. If you find a parked cop car, you can steal that as well. There are eight different types of vehicles to drive in the game, each with 17 different possible paint schemes. Each vehicle drives and sounds differently based on weight, power, and suspension.

What's your general opinion of the GBA hardware and has the dark display
caused any particular issues during development?

The general consensus of the team is that the GBA is a wonderful piece of hardware that we enjoy developing for. It was also fun to get the GBA to do more than it was originally designed to do. The dark display did present some challenges as far as getting certain images to appear bright enough. The cut scenes for example were gone over at least three times to get them bright enough. However this game is highly visible in most lighting conditions thanks to superb art direction.

How is the single-player mode structured?

The single-player has many different options as far as gameplay goes. The main single player mode is called Undercover and is the focal point of the game. Undercover mode features 30 missions spanning across two major cities. There are several other driving games for the single player to choose from. There is Quick Chase where the player chases an AI getaway car through the city; there is Quick Getaway where the player must flee from a pursuing AI vehicle; trailblazer allows the player to follow and knock over a preset group of markers in the shortest time possible; in Checkpoint mode the player must race from point to point in the shortest time possible; in Survival mode the player must try and survive for as long as possible against four supercharged AI controlled police vehicles. Finally there is Take a Ride mode where the player can jump into any car and any city and just explore as long as they want.

What multiplayer modes have you included and can you link-up from a single

In order to make the multiplayer gaming experience complete and enjoyable we do not support multiplayer link up from a single cart. There is simply too much content in the game for us to be able to do that. We do have four multiplayer games to choose from and they support two to four players. In Cops 'n' Robbers mode one player is the robber and the other players are cops. The robber must try and stay alive for as long as possible.

Everyone gets a turn at being the robber and whoever lasts the longest wins the game. In Checkpoint mode each player has their own set of checkpoints that they must drive over - the first player to drive over all of the checkpoints wins. In Crosstown race each player is racing towards the same goal located across the city - each player can take a completely different route to try and reach the goal first, but there are cops everywhere trying to impede your progress and destroy you. The first player to the goal wins. In Free 4 All mode it's every player for themselves - this is a deathmatch mode complete with power-ups, defensive items and radar. The first player to earn five kills wins the game.

What steps have you taken to ensure longevity?

As you can see from the above descriptions we have tons of different modes in this game. There is something for everyone in this game, and the multiplayer games are a blast. There are lots of different vehicles to drive while exploring the two huge cities, with each city covering approximately 50 square miles, which equates to lots of places to drive.

What's been the most satisfying aspect of development?

It is always nice at the end of a project to have a game that everyone enjoys playing even after working on it for months on end! We have received extremely positive feedback from all who have played the game and that makes all of the long nights worth it. We are also very proud of huge living environment that we were able to create on the GBA. Overall watching people play your game and seeing them laugh and have a good time is what makes this industry so satisfying.

How would you recommend Driver 2 over any other racing title on GBA?

We do not actually consider Driver 2 Advance to be a racing game. You can drive or even walk anywhere in the city if you chose to. This is something that you cannot traditionally do in most racing games. But there are some similarities between Driver 2 Advance and other racing games: we have a very accurate physics model that allows for an exciting driving experience through huge cities filled with traffic; there are shortcuts to find, missions to complete and multiplayer games to challenge your friends with. Overall Driver 2 Advance is a very unique experience on the GBA.

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