Simulation and neck-and-neck accessibility for racing studio Milestone

For a quarter of a century now, the Italian studio Milestone has built its reputation as a racing game developer. But as Milestone CEO Luisia Bixio tells us, it did not start like that.

In the mid-90s, Milestone was known as Graffiti, and its first project was a Super Nintendo adaptation of the game Loopz, which in accordance with the convention of the time was named Super Loopz.

“They started out with a puzzle in the beginning, but they were something like three people,” says Bixio, who first started working with Milestone in 2005. “It was a very, very small team. It was the beginning of our market. “

The team followed it up with Iron Assault in early 1995, a futuristic first-person shooter centered around mechanics perhaps best remembered for its stop-motion video clips.

Milestone is best known for racing sims like the just released MXGP2021

Milestone is best known for racing sims like the just released MXGP2021

At the time, Bixio says the team had grown to seven or eight people who had discovered a shared passion for racing. So instead of taking publisher pitch for work (as they had with Iron Assault), they started pitching their own racing game, which was picked up by Virgin Interactive and became the arcade racer Screamer, released later that year.

After Screamer, Graffiti changed its name to Milestone, produced a couple of sequels to Virgin Interactive and (almost) never looked back. Apart from a brief round of film adaptations of mid-00s TV shows – the Italian quiz show L’Eredità, The X Factor Sing and Australian Idol Sing – Milestone has been a pedal to metal with the racing genre ever since, specializing in ii simulations, but occasionally swings back to the arcade style.

In two-wheel racing, Milestone has developed dozens of games across the SBK Superbike, MotoGP, Ride, Monster Energy Supercross and MXGP series, the latest of which – MXGP 2021 – was launched earlier this week.

For those who prefer to ride on four wheels, Milestone has made Gravel, Sébastien Loeb Rally Evo and a handful of World Rally Championship games.

Along the way, the studio has grown to 300 people, and while it does not appear to be more video game show adaptations, it has shown signs of branching out a little longer. For example, in September, it released its first game based on a toy license, Hot Wheels Unleashed.

Hot Wheels Unleashed is a different kind of racer than Milestone is used to doing

Hot Wheels Unleashed is a different kind of race than Milestone is used to doing

“Our DNA is somehow linked to racing,” Bixio explains. “This is our experience. The positive thing is that I think we have reached a really good level in simulation with the licensed games, Moto GP and Supercross and so on. At the same time, the studio is capable of anything else that we did. Hot Wheels, but in a way where we do not lose our DNA.

“Our engine is developed for racing physics and so on. What is important to us is that we do a good job with simulation, and we will continue to improve in this area … At the same time, racing can be “Many things … You can have interactions of different types of genre. You can think of racing aimed at a wider audience, as we did at Hot Wheels, and we can do even more.”

Hot Wheels Unleashed did not come about just because Milestone was willing to go a little wider with its appeal. The rights owner Mattel also had to sign the deal, which was a lengthy process in itself.

“We fought to get the license,” says Bixio. “We worked a lot with Mattel on the game design and the prototype and so on.”

She says the discussions with the toy manufacturer lasted for two and a half to three years before Milestone finally got the license. And while she can not speak for her licensing partner, Bixio believes that Milestone’s success with the AMA Supercross licenses – another American outfit – was meaningful for Mattel.

After ultimately convincing Mattel to sign, Milestone had to make sure it could get consumers to do the same.

“We tried to respect the spirit of the license,” Bixio says. “Hot Wheels is about creating the track and then playing with the track. So for us, it was very important, not just to have a simple racing game, but to respect the spirit of Hot Wheels.”

That meant the game needed a track editor, and while Milestone has made editors for its other racing games, the differences between a Supercross race and the most out of Hot Wheels tracks are significant to say the least. Milestone also added a new split-screen mode that seems more in line with a family-friendly title than a hardcore simulation. But that also does not mean that the studio would snatch its own fans.

Hot Wheels Unleashed required a completely different kind of track editor

Hot Wheels Unleashed required a completely different kind of track editor

“Hot Wheels for us was a big challenge, even because we were trying to address not just a children’s game, but our audience,” Bixio says. “Our goal was definitely to talk to children, but also to adults who used to play with Hot Wheels. We had to work a lot in the pre-production, because it was different for us.”

She adds, “The new challenge for us in the field of simulation will be to improve the quality of the game, respect even the small details that are so important from our core audience, but at the same time work with accessibility.”

While a perfect simulation of the racing competitions that Milestone makes games based on would necessarily mean that only a handful of people in the world could compete at such a level, Bixio rejects any suggestion that the goals of the simulation are contrary to the goals of accessibility.

“I do not think they are against each other. One can have different levels of accessibility and reality. At the high level, it can be a pure simulation where only a few people are able to run it.”

She notes that in the esports championships for the Moto GP, the players are “incredible and they do not use any kind of help.”

“At the same time, you can get some [levels] where a person can be supported with AI that is less competitive. I think it’s a problem to solve with the right level and the right interface. “

Even if Hot Wheels Unleashed should go down as an outlier in Milestone gameography – a game with a mainstream license that splits a number of more hardcore racing awards like past game shows – Bixio is sure the studio’s experience with the game will pay off. benefit from making all of its titles more accessible in the future, from the technology in the track editor and split-screen to the attention to the game’s tutorial.

“I am convinced that what we have learned from Hot Wheels will help us expand the audience to simulation titles,” she says.

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