The Crew 2 – How Ivory Tower built a Motor Nation

The Crew was a tremendous success for Ubisoft and the development team at Ivory Tower, enticing more than 12 million players to compete across a massive open world. For The Crew 2, the team wants to bring players closer than ever to the culture, the competition, and the camaraderie of motorsports by cutting them loose in the vast open world of Motornation. We spoke with Stéphane “Fergus” Beley, creative director on The Crew 2, about the inspiration for the game’s direction, the team’s extensive research, and how the new open world allows you to freely switch between a plane, car, or boat at almost any moment.

How would you describe the concept of Motornation, and why is the United States an ideal setting for it? 

Stéphane Beley: The vision behind The Crew 2 is deeply inspired by today’s real-world motorsports, not only in the way competition has evolved to include more and more disciplines, but also in the way fans live their passion on a daily basis. The US is where motorsports are celebrated and pushed to the limits in so many ways. And in today’s connected world, they can share every experience instantly. We want our players to experience that same American motorsports spirit, to discover all the different ways to live their passion for all things motorized. So we’ve created a new take on the USA, a huge open world shaped for all motorsports.

When did the idea of motorsport families factor in? Did that serve as the foundation for how The Crew 2 was developed? 

SB: We’re all motorsports fans on the team, so we knew about the variety of cultures surrounding motorsports in the U.S. This incredible richness is what appealed to us in the first place.

The question was: how do we capture this human reality in our game, how do we make it fun to play as well as authentic? This is where the four motorsports families come in: Street Racing, Off-Road, Pro Racing, and Freestyle. Street racers show off their rides and speed up through the city, off-road explorers forge new paths in the middle of the wilderness, pro racers master speed and the perfect line, and freestylers push the limits to achieve the craziest stunts. Each of those families has its own way of living and expressing its passion for motorsports, its own take on Motornation through a specific set of disciplines, play styles, and general moods.

During your trips to the United States for research, what did you set out to learn about the various motorsport disciplines? 

SB: It’s one thing to be knowledgeable about today’s motorsports scene, watching competitions and doing research from your desk, but if you want to really grasp its reality, you have to go there and see for yourself.

The research in the field allowed us to witness motorsports fans’ and champs’ way of life, to see how their passion becomes a lens through which they see everything. It was also a way for us to lift the veil on how it all happens: what makes a fan or a champ, who organizes events, who’s coming, what’s the atmosphere….

You also talked to a few experts in their fields and we’d like to dive a little more into what you took away from those meetings. Let’s start with Mario L. Ojito, the creator of the Street Racing Made Safe program. What drew you to Ojito and his program specifically, and what would you say were the most important things you learned from him about street racing and how his program reflects those aspects of the culture?

SB: Street racing is at the core of the action-driving genre. It’s one of our players’ favourites, and it has a strong cultural appeal, to the point where it has become a true lifestyle. It’s also been overexposed for a couple of decades now, so it was very important for us to give our very own take on it in The Crew 2.

We’ve met with all kinds of street racing enthusiasts, from official drift competitors to illegal race promoters. They’ve all shown us that there’s much more to street racing than just showing off and speeding. There’s a real passion for the raw power of the engine, a true skill in building up a vehicle so perfectly tailored for one driver, and a will to express oneself freely and completely. That’s why more and more street racers want to shift from hardcore illegal competition to a safer, more official environment that would allow them to fully live their passion. Mario is one of them, and he’s taking action by organizing legal street racing events, making it a party rather than a drama. And he’s pretty successful, too! His mindset and project spoke to us: Fun, freedom, and fresh experiences are exactly what we want for our players in The Crew 2.

With Azam Rangoonwala, you got to learn more about powerboat racing and professional racing. How did that influence how The Crew 2 implements that particular sport, and the way that it approaches pro racing?

SB: When you think about pro racing, you think leading-edge mechanics, the perfect line, the hardest training, and competition. Just add water, an unpredictable element, and you’ve got powerboat racing. Who wouldn’t want to try that, right?

Azam introduced us to this emerging motorsport, and it’s one of the most challenging we’ve ever seen. Powerboating is also a great example of the way a motorsport can take over a spot and turn it into a dedicated playground, even for just a few hours: powerboat races take place on the open ocean, as close to the shore as security allows, while people are watching and cheering from the shore and shallow water. It’s really just like a regular day on the beach, except for the 150 mph boats passing by.

Patty Wagstaff gave you some insight into championship aerobatic flying and the idea of a freestyle family. Would it be fair to say your interviews with her had a considerable effect on the game’s design, considering The Crew 2 will be the first time players can fly in a Crew game? 

SB: Not only did I interview Patty, I actually flew with her in an aerobatic plane for the first time! That was an incredible experience: exhilarating, mind-blowing, physically challenging… and strangely close to a video game, when you think about the controls! After that, we knew exactly what we wanted for our plane gameplay, and how it could be both realistic and accessible – we had to roll up our sleeves and get to work.

Patty was a huge inspiration for the team: she explained how her passion for aerobatics has defined every other aspect of her life, why this motorsport is both serious business and the ultimate thrill, and what it takes to go out and play in the clouds. Back at the studio, we’ve worked hard to translate that blast of emotion you feel when you get off the ground and lose your bearings.

Then we have off-road. What makes that family so much different than the others? What did you learn from your research?

SB: Off-road is really about taming nature, forging your own path where there is none, or shaping the terrain into a new challenge. We’ve met motocross rookies at a muddy track they’d build out of nothing with an excavator, went to off-road races in the middle of nowhere… whatever the event and the place, it’s always about being as one with the track – or the lack thereof. The physical challenge is real, too: disciplines like motocross or rally racing take an incredible toll on drivers and riders. But in the end, what really counts is that you’re doing what you love in a beautiful environment.

Fast Fav is such a cool feature. What was the inspiration for it? 

SB: Being able to switch between vehicles was something we thought about early on – we actually wanted to do in the first instalment of The Crew! But since we only had ground vehicles at the time, it felt like cheating, so we kept it for later… until now!

The idea behind the Fast Fav feature is to give the player the freedom to interact with the world the way they want. Here’s a city, a forest, a desert, or a riverbank: do you want to drive or sweep through it? Fly over it? A little of each? Our role isn’t to tell you what you can or can’t do, but to provide you with the tools to do just what you want, the way you want.

What were the goals for the team in creating this new open world for The Crew 2?

SB: We wanted to build a playground for all motorsports: one that would be beautiful, varied, action-packed, and fully shaped for the crazy amount of disciplines we have in store for our players.

Does the structure of The Crew 2’s open world differ from The Crew’s in terms of how players can interact with it? If an experienced and well-travelled The Crew player were to start freely driving through The Crew 2, what kinds of differences would they immediately notice?

SB: For starters, players will be able to explore 100% of it, on the ground, water and in the sky. This opens up an incredible variety of new perspectives. The way players can interact with the world has also been enhanced: flying over a sea of clouds, bumping on the highest waves, looking for rainbows, and racing in the rain are only a few examples of the fresh experiences in The Crew 2, but there are so many more.

To satisfy the needs of each discipline, we’ve designed specific spots all across Motornation to provide the best environment for competition. This is still an open world, of course, so you’re free to roam these playgrounds however you like; try drifting on a single-seater circuit, or dodging traffic in your off-road buggy.  It’s a free country, after all!

What kind of balance between fantasy and reality does the team try to achieve when creating the spaces in which players will drive and fly? 

SB: Our first and foremost goal is to surprise players and provide them with a fun and fresh game experience. We want The Crew 2 to be accessible, we want players to pick up the pad and enjoy real emotions right from the start: the sense of speed, of thrill, of achievement. Of course, there’s a real depth to our many game mechanics as well, and we’ve designed each of them to be different and challenging in their own way. We work hard on vehicle physics and realistic environments – but fun is really what drives our choices. The Fast Fav feature, jumps in the middle of powerboat races, and rooftop driving are a few examples – we can’t wait for our players to enjoy them all!

A closed beta for The Crew 2 starts later this month, running from May 31st till June 4th. Make sure to register your interest over here!

The Crew 2 is due for release on Xbox One, PS4 and PC on June 29th.  For more on the game, check out our previous coverage.

The Author

Giancarlo Varanini picked up a controller at the age of four and hasn't put it down since. This makes things like eating hamburgers or driving a vehicle incredibly problematic. You might remember his previous work from great media outlets such as GameSpot, EGM, Official US PlayStation Magazine, Nintendo Power, and others. Follow him on Twitter: @gvaranini