Firemonkeys on Real Racing 3 going free-to-play

Inside Mobile Apps yesterday got a hands-on preview of Real Racing 3. We also spoke with Ptolemy Oberin, one of the game’s programmers and project lead at developer Firemonkeys, about the studio’s experience going free-to-play and the game’s Time-Shifted Multiplayer feature.

Real Racing 3 is the first game in the Real Racing franchise that’s developed by Firemonkeys, a studio consisting of developers Firemint and IronMonkey. In July 2012, Electronic Arts merged Firemint, the developer of the first two Real Racing titles, Flight Control and SPY mouse, with IronMonkey. Melbourne-based IronMonkey was purchased by EA in February 2010, and are known for bringing EA franchises to mobile as it did with Mass Effect Infiltrator, Dead Space and The Sims FreePlay. Firemint, a Melbourne-based studio as well, was acquired by EA in May 2011.

Modifications made to Real Racing 3

The most noticeable difference going from Real Racing 2 to the third installment is the graphics. Oberin tells us that Real Racing 3 is pushing about the same graphic fidelity seen in PlayStation 3 titles such as Polyphony Digital’s Gran Turismo 5 and Xbox 360 games like Turn 10 Studios’ Forza Horizon. Oberin adds that Real Racing 3, which runs on Firemonkeys’ in-house engine Mint3D, is pushing around five to six times more polygons in the cars, and that the tracks have been upgraded graphically as well. Other graphical touches include full damage visibility on cars, multiple camera angles and real-time images on the mirrors in cockpit view.

The game is broken down into multiple series, each featuring various events. According to Oberin, who was the project lead for Flight Control Rocket and SPY mouse, there are about 900 events in total. There are 46 licensed cars in total from 12 car manufacturers including Audi, Bugatti, Ford and more. Control-wise, users steer the car by tilting a device side-to-side and braking by pressing the screen — the gas pedal is automatically pressed down.

The biggest change in Real Racing 3 is Time-Shifted Multiplayer (TSM). TSM records a real person’s skill level and attributes on EA’s servers. That data is then used to program the AI opponents in races. This works because every user that plays the game will have their driving data recorded. If a user integrates with Facebook or GameCenter, they can then asynchronously race versus AI opponent that are programmed by a user’s friends. Oberin says the cars are not just ghost racers, he described the AI driving the cars as an “AI doppelgänger.”  It should be noted that TSM isn’t a mode, it’s in every race. Real Racing 3’s TSM will also be platform agonistic, meaning players can compete against each other’s TSM AI-controlled driver whether they are on iOS or Android devices.

Shifting gears from the premium to freemium model

Real Racing 3 will be free and monetize through in-app purchases. Comparatively, Real Racing 2 still costs $4.99 for iPhone and $6.99 for iPad. The decision to base the game off the freemium model was planned from the beginning and the game was built from the ground up with the model in mind, Oberin says. TSM was the key element that led the developer to make the game free.

“The more friends you have the better [TSM] is, so we want as many people to play [Real Racing 3] as possible,” he says. “Without TSM it may have been a different story, but for TSM to work, you need a lot of people and our servers to be full. Being free makes sense to us.”

Players can earn or purchase two types of virtual currencies — R$ and gold coins. R$ can be used to pay for upgrades, repairs, resprays, cars and more. Gold coins can be used to skip ahead and advance through series and events as well as for other things. Real Racing 3 monetizes through various ways such as speeding up repairs as well as buying virtual currency with real money for upgrades, cars and tracks. One example, cars can be damaged, but cars can never be completely destroyed. Instead, a car’s stats will drop the more its damaged until its repaired. Users can use R$ to repair cars, but it takes time to repair, so users can spend real money to buy gold coins and use the coins to skip the repair time.