Metropolis Street Racer: The Development Diaries

I do occasionally find myself browsing old websites via the Wayback Machine, and they usually tend to be websites linked in some way to the Dreamcast. Whenever I flick through the manual of an old game and spot a URL, I have an urge to just go and have a look at the contemporary online presence the developer or publisher had. I know I've waffled on about my affection for the Wayback Machine on multiple occasions but there's just something so fascinating about trawling the long forgotten sites of old, sites that date from before the internet was as ubiquitous as it is today. I mean, even fridges and dishwashers can connect to the internet these days, but back in the early 2000s just getting online was an arduous process - even if you had a Dreamcast. 
Anyway, due to my insatiable thirst for the widely forgotten, I found myself looking at the Bizarre Creations website when I noticed a tab for a development diary. Weirdly, it is now only accessible by using the 'console friendly' (read: Dreamcast compatible) version of the site, but upon clicking it I was met with a fascinating insight into the development process of one of my favourite Dreamcast games. Here, buried in time being read by precisely nobody was a glimpse into the past. Anecdotes about nights out on the town with other Dreamcast developers of the era, office politics and even some fascinating tales of pranks played in the MSR engine by the programmers (I'd kill to see the 'MSR with rabbits' that's referred to!). I had never read any of this before, and I thought it was worth preserving and sharing with like minded fans of Metropolis Street Racer. 
Naturally, what makes this even more poignant is that Bizarre Creations, even after the critical and commercial success of later titles such as Project Gotham, no longer exists. So, read on and get ready to be whisked back to 1998 and the inner sanctum of Bizarre Creations' Liverpool offices...

Please note that the original dev diary is written in reverse chronological order with the most recent updates first, so I've rearranged them for ease of reading. If you spot any references to a game called 'Crimson,' that was the working title for MSR; and another game referred to is 'Furballs,' which later became Fur Fighters. The images used do not really relate to the dates of the diary entries, but some of them are from various demos, promotional shoots and periods in the development process, so hopefully they give some context. Anyway, on to the diary itself which has been reproduced here verbatim, so don't blame me for any spelling mistakes!

It's a busy time for the Crimson team, with an internal demo deadline at the end of the month. And so, with the law of sod, this week has been as hectic as they come.

Monday: Some Austrian Journalists and Competition winners come to play. Matt scares them, and the Artists show them the F1 tracks and stuff. People have trouble remembering how F1 and F1 '97 were made! Well, it was months and months ago! Big respect due from all of us to the guy from Red Bull who visited. He doesn't realise how his product kept everyone going through the long nights putting the games together! We swap him a huge F1 '97 Jean Alesi for some Red Bull - sounds like a good deal!

Tuesday: The Crimson team invite their friends, Kylie and Josephine, over to play. Kylie beats her high score at Nemesis. Pizza for lunch - Steve from Psygnosis offers us all eating lessons.

Wednesday: Dave sulks all day as Nemesis - his favourite - has been replaced in the office arcade machine by Robocop. Everyone else tries to get top of the Robocop league.

Thursday: Not even the new machines arriving could stop the despondency felt by the team when a friend of theirs didn't come over. Boo Hoo! Keef was so upset, he went to Paris for the week-end.

Friday: A big meeting to check the progress of the project. All seems to go smoothly - the programmers didn't need the straight jackets much. Everyone's happy with progress, and so celebrations are in order! We all go to the bowling alley after work for a few shandies, to take over the pool tables, and to try and beat the high score on 'House of the Dead'!
Working towards another demo, which is designed to show us how well all our tools and methods are working for constructing the game. No 'day-by-day' account, I'm afraid, as the webmaster was on holiday and therefore not there to witness the progress in person!

The last demo done was playable, but still had the test engine and no AI at all. This is the first time that the beginnings of the real engine, and early AI are actually in the game, so it will be interesting to see how it all fits together.

The artists are working on bringing together the modular work they have been doing, and seeing how well it all works, especially with the editor.

So tune in next week for a blow-by-blow account of how it's gone!!
Well, the demo is finished and done and sent off! It seems to be well received, which is alright with us!

We've learnt quite a bit in doing the demo. It was a great testing ground for the tools, and also the methods the artists are using for modelling. The artists are planning how to take the next stage further, and doing some test pieces to see if the current theories are correct.

Playability is such a major part of any game, and the planning of the playing environment is the latest issue we're working on. It's difficult to describe without actually explaining the game, so I'm afraid you'll have to bear with us on this one for the time being.

However, our new Publishers have provided us with some brilliant people to support the development, so they've been helping out where-ever they can. Hello to them - they know who they are!!!

Still don't know when the game is going to be announced, especially as its so early on in development. All the PR and marketing for a new game always has to be carefully planned and scheduled, so you have to keep things under wraps until it's all ready to go. But you can be sure we'll let you know what it is as soon as we can!
This occurred as someone found out that a game called Crimson was in development for Dreamcast. It was important that we kept our Dreamcast involvement secret until the press conference in Japan, hence the swift denials and hurried name change!

An Introduction to Sega
Yippee! We can finally talk about Metropolis! It's been so difficult keeping this project secret, along with the fact that we've been Dreamcast developers for a long time now! We thought the game was up about a week or so before the Press Conference in Japan, when Game-Online said that they knew about a project codenamed 'Crimson' in development. Luckily, a hasty name change seemed to cover that one up, and we managed to keep the game quiet until the conference, which was Sega Europe's aim!

And from now we can be a little more open in the Diaries, and chart the progress of the project on the new platform, rather than avoiding the issue! Perhaps some of the earlier diaries make a little more sense now, especially when you know Sega is the publisher too!

In this diary, I want to bring you up to date with the cool we're working with (I'll leave the more nitty gritty project details for the next update). So now let me introduce you all to a few people from Sega, who have been mentioned under codenames in previous diaries:

Kats 'Kylie' Sato: Kats is our Senior Producer, who looks after us, works with us on game design issues, and doesn't make the tea - but we're working on that! You may have heard his name before from his work on Sonic R (Producer), Clockwork Knight (Character and game Designer) and if you're really old (!), Outrunners (Artist). Kats is Japanese, as you might have guessed, and used to work in Sega AM and CS departments, before being sent to Europe to persecute European developers. Our current quest with Kats is to teach him the English art of sarcasm!

Jose 'Josephine' Aller: Jose is also working on the project, as our Assistant Producer. Jose has worked at Sega Europe since the distant days of the Megadrive (Genesis for our American cousins) in the 3rd Party support group. And now - perhaps as a punishment for some hideous crime? - he has been paired up with Kats to work in Development on our Metropolis Project. Jose is a very good Producer, mainly down to the fact that he's ACTUALLY MADE THE TEA - hint, hint, Kats! Our current quest with Jose is to find out his 2 very secret middle names which he won't tell us!

Mark Maslowicz: Mark is the cool dude who now manages Third Party Licensing and Acquisitions. He generally looks after us little developers, and is probably the first port of call for any developers interested in Dreamcast development. Mark carries some interesting photos in his wallet (scanner at the ready!), and has been known to use one of them as an excellent chat-up line - 'Would you like to see my Ferrari?'

'Hoshy' Hoshino: Mr Hoshino has recently moved over from Japan to head up the Third Party division of Sega Europe, and deals mainly with business issues. He's been helping the Bizarre bunch out in many ways, including teaching us some useful Japanese phrases, and introducing us to Grappa, an Italian liqueur, which is well recommended if you want an excellent hangover!

Colin Carter: Colin is in charge of European Technical Support department in London, and therefore speaks many languages - C, C++, binary..... Although the story of Colin's karaoke rendition of 'Anarchy in the UK' has reached the far corners of the development community, Colin has another deep dark secret which we won't mention. Honest. Nope, not at all.

There are, of course, many other people we have been working with in both Sega Europe and Japan, but those mentioned are the people who have to put up with us on a day-to-day basis. We'd like to say a big hello and thank you to them all!

Metropolis itself is progressing well - the progress report on the project will follow in the next update.
OK, here's the REAL update! Things are progressing fine, if a little slower on the artwork side - as there are 2 artists currently off somewhere secret on a research trip. We have a new texture artist starting on Monday to help all of the 3D artists out - but he's from the N-E of England, so we have to use a translator!

The programming is coming along well too, with the next revision of the 3D engine being started on now. 3D engines are always an iterative process - you do a bit, then do some more, then scrap some and re-do it, then add some more, then revise that, etc. etc.....

A bit of a worry this week has been the rabbits. We have had an outbreak of rabbits in a Metropolis city, which has caused many problems...... A programmer who shall remain nameless found an old cartoony animation of a rabbit and inserted loads of the little buggers into the city. It looked totally hilarious, especially when the cute little animals hopped bouncily up to and tried to jump off an overhanging bridge!!!
Time for another update, I suppose!

Things have been building up pace in the last month or so, especially on the art side of things. Some of the Artists have been out of the office on research trips for the game, and there's plenty of research material cluttering up the Metropolis end of the office. We're having to get another 4 bookcases, just to cope with this batch of materials!!

On the programming side, the editor is nearly sorted, and the artists are using it to get the initial layouts in place. It's difficult at this stage, because you're developing the editors alongside the layouts themselves, and also alongside the need to have something playable for the gameplay side of things. It's an iterative process (big word for a Friday, I know) - everyone starts with something basic, and then you all build on it in stages, until you achieve the desired result.

As an aside, there's a nice little development community building up around Dreamcast over here in Europe already. The 1.5 party developers have been joined (in a development sense) by other key developers from around Europe. These newer developers are just finding their feet, and we're realising we can help them out, having gone through this stage ourselves. We met up a couple of weeks ago with another UK development team, who were just getting going on the kits (sorry, no names, but hello to them, they know who they are ;-) It's great to see loads of developers over here getting involved, and we wish them all well with their ideas.
Well, it's now post ECTS, with the standard aching legs and free t-shirts, but the pressure's still on!!

ECTS was cool as usual, and it was really great to see glimpses of the other Dreamcast titles, and a longer look at Sonic Adventure. The quality of all the titles was high, and it really looks like Sega are going to have an awesome line-up at both Japanese and European launch. We've many months of development left on our game, but there's obviously still lots to do before European launch! Looking at the near-finished Japanese titles is certainly an inspiration!

We have an internal demo deadline looming now, which should get us to a set stage in development by the 29th of this month. ECTS provided a brief respite for the team, but it's back to work in earnest now. For example, we're starting to get engine optimisations in place to take advantage of the later development kits, and to get some of the early 'driving' effects in.

The artists are all concentrating on a set goal, which is hard to describe without giving too much of the game away (I hear you say 'darn it'!) The texturing is proving to be the most time-consuming task for all the artists, as we're trying to get a high level of detail in both modelling and texturing terms.

So it's busy, busy, busy for now!
Well, it's been a while, I know, but we're at one of those 'middle' stages of development where everything is busy busy behind the scenes, but no real exciting breakthroughs get made. The last couple of weeks have been really hectic, getting a demo ready for a Sega internal meeting. It's always difficult to put demos together when the game is in 'mid-flow' as some things aren't ready, and the programmers often need to hack temporary code in to make things work for the demo. However, it all came together well, and we hope Sega will be pleased with it.

A cool event since the last update was the Argonaut 'Red Dog' Team came up to play (!) a couple of weeks ago. It was really good to swap notes with another 1.5 party developer - it looks like Argonaut go about development the same way as us! The Artists all compared how things were being done, and the changes you have to make when working for a new and unknown platform. Evidently, we'd both had to explore similar avenues in the early stages.... which is reassuring to know! The Programmers got to swap Dreamcast coding tips, which was useful too.

After a useful day, we headed off to the local Est!Est!Est! Italian Restaurant, which provided the usual fantastic food. The Bizarre guys all settled down to the task of getting Jez and the guys as drunk as we could!!! This involved huge amounts of Italian wine and Grappa, an Italian liqueur, which is probably the best thing ever to give you a stonking hangover next day. Of course, we all talked about serious Dreamcast development issues all evening, honest!

When the restaurant finally got round to scraping us off the tables, we headed off to the Codemaster's 'Music' Launch Party in Liverpool city centre. The guys at Jester Interactive (the ones who came up with the idea and developed the game) were brilliant, and gave us VIP entry tickets for us and the Argonaut troop! The party had some brilliant DJ's, firedancers on 6 foot stilts (actually dancing!!), and free beer - always a popular addition!

The party was a real success, we all had fun playing 'Music' (give it a go, you'll love it!), drinking beer, dancing and saying hi to loads of game developers from the NW UK. Honourable drunken mentions go to Studio 33 (still standing but not quite coherent!), 'Game' Liverpool (definitely wobbling, and very late for work next day!), Philip Morris (a beer and a big grin), Curly Monsters (far too sober when we saw them!), Jenny??? (Martyn's only Wiz 'n' Liz fan!!!), and of course Codemasters and Jester Interactive (whose musician had to leave to stop his house exploding due to a gas leak!)

Happily for some, I'm not going to mention anything about plans for strip clubs, Walter's Pec's, or anyone getting really drunk (as we all went to bed with a cup of cocoa at 10pm, following the shining example that Nick always sets). OK?

Well, sorry it's not been the most informative of update regarding the game, but as we're still only mid-development, there is nothing really exciting to report. The cities are gradually getting modelled (a long and detailed process!), the game's gradually being coded, and when there's more concrete progress that we can talk about in detail, we'll let you know!
Well, an update! What an extrordinary move! Yes, it's been a while, but we have had Christmas in the middle...

So what's been happening on Metropolis then? It's actually beginning to come together nicely.......and it really is starting to feel like a game, rather than a pre-alpha. For those who aren't all that au fait with gaming technology, a pre-alpha is like a very very early version of a game, showing an idea of where it's going, but far off the real thing.

We've been hard at work on all aspects of the game, and I suppose it's a good idea to give a quick run-down of what's been going on, continuing, of course, with the Sega policy of not giving any details at all for now! (Sorry, guys!!)

Artwork - the final research is rolling in, and Brian (the Producer) has been off on a little visit to get some more information for one of the artists. There's now so much in the way of research materials that the artists are working hidden away behind piles of boxes! Lee, who has been doing a lot of the texture work, is going to start to learn the complexities of SoftImage, the 3D modelling package we're using for Metropolis, so watch out for him losing even more of his hair than before!

Programming - there's been a little shuffling of tasks to make sure that we can get it all done in time. It's getting to look more and more of a game, with little gameplay touches being added every day, and special effects going in too. The front end isn't properly attached yet, which means it has problems going to the toilet!

Last week was the week of the big telly. We have to demo the game to some Sega VIPs next week, and showing it on a little 15" monitor or a 14" portable TV wasn't really showing it at its full potential. So we went out and got a HUGE 29" TV, which really makes it look cool! Matt (the Lead Coder) has it weighing down his desk and giving him eyestrain at the moment!

And now, the serious news from the Metropolis office - the mystery of 'THE FERTILITY CHAIR'!!!

It all started about 9 months ago, when one of the Senior Artists on the team announced that he was expecting a baby. (OK, his girlfriend was, we're not miracle workers!) This was quickly followed by one of the Programmers. Shortly after, someone from the Furballs team announced the same thing..... ahh, we thought, it's not just the Metropolis team! But now there's another Senior Artist who's expecting and we've worked it out!

It's the Fertility chair! Somewhere in the Metropolis office is a chair which is causing this. Sit too long on the chair and you'll be next in line! The programmer from Furballs had obviously gone in to get some advice from the Metropolis programmers and sat too long on that very chair! So now the sweepstake is on - who is going to be next? Watch this space..........

Interesting fact: Our spies inform us that No Cliche have had the same effect on their Dreamcast team. Could they have a fertility chair there too? Perhaps there is more to this mystery, involving prolonged exposure to Dreamcast Development kits? Only time will tell.......!!!

More news on the chair and other totally irrelevant wafflings next week...................
Sadly, there are no further updates after 29th January 1999, so perhaps we'll never know just what happened with the Bizarre Creations fertility chair. Metropolis Street Racer shipped on 3rd November 2000 so there was plenty of time for more shenanigans but it doesn't appear to have been recorded. What is recorded however, are some oddities found within the MSR code, listed on the 'Top 10 things' page:

1. void ChainSmokeLikeKeith( CHAIN_ENTRY *Cl, long Cnt);
3. // Check for Turtilification...
4. sprintf(TString," Crash Tinkle Tinkle, Broken glass and maimed people... HA HA HA HA !!!");
5. // OK, here's something Jonathan and I guessed at... // ...Fucking hell it worked!
6. // Meat and bones calc...
8. // Build bounding box vertices FELCH
9. // Bollox spray all over the screen
10. long FuckFlag=0;

There are plenty of other odd entries on the Bizarre Creations website, including a reference to an April Fools where people were invited to design characters for a new game called 'Grow Your Own Vegetables,' and elsewhere there are galleries of sleeping staff members and an article about the best kebab shops in Liverpool. Sadly, the images have long since been lost to the digital ether, but the descriptions remain.

Going back to the development diary, I did manage to have a quick chat with Nick Wiswell who worked at Bizarre Creations during this period. He mainly worked on the audio, and predominantly on Fur Fighters before taking the helm on the Project Gotham series; but he was pretty confident that this diary was compiled by Bizarre Creations' commercial director Sarah Chudley. There are a few other details Nick clarified:

"The Wiz n Liz fan "Jenny" was actually my wife Dee - Sarah got the name totally wrong! Dee emailed Sarah to correct her and she was invited to the studio as she worked across the street as a games tester for Sony Computer Entertainment Europe. I tagged along as it was my day off, got talking to Martyn and Sarah [Chudley - the directors of Bizarre Creations] about my passion for games and wanting to join the industry, and within a week I started working there."
- Nick Wiswell

Thanks to Nick for shedding some more light on the identity of the development diaries' author. If you're anything like me and find even the most random aspect of the Dreamcast to be totally fascinating, then I have no doubt you'll have found this article to be a very interesting trip down memory lane. As someone with more than a passing interest in preserving the past (and digital preservation in general), I thought it was worth dragging this development diary out of the ether and presenting it here for a new audience to enjoy.

As stated above, Metropolis Street Racer is one of my favourite games - not just for the Dreamcast but for any console. To have a little glimpse into the studio behind the game is very revealing and shows the personalities of the fine folk who worked tirelessly (no pun intended) to produce one of the Dreamcast's most iconic titles.

It appears there was a further update that I somehow missed (huge thanks to MSR Blog for pointing this out!). Here you go:

Well, the project was finally mastered, passed Sega approval, and sent off to manufacture, and so we all slept for a week. Then when more bugs got reported, we mastered it again a couple of times, and then slept again. And, considering the hours of sleep we lost at the end of the project, we really should sleep some more!

Then it was holiday time. And that's where it's at now, really - people are either still asleep, or on holiday! Or recovering from getting married. Or counting their bruises from the drinking sessions. MSR is finally out there, on the shelves (albeit with a few early hiccups). The US version is also finished, and the Japanese one well underway too....

We enjoyed making it (well, some of the time!) and we hope that you'll enjoy playing it too!

The MSR team

Further Reading
We've featured MSR here at the Junkyard on multiple occasions in the past, so if you'd like to read more about this game, feel free to check out the links below:

The Bugs of MSR
MSR shipped with a number of minor bugs. Read about them here, and the lengths that Sega Europe went to to recall the game.

MSR Playable Alpha Discovered
A reader of the Junkyard called James bought a bunch of GDs and discovered a very early preview version of MSR in with them. Naturally, we wanted to investigate and share some images. We also uploaded a video of the early version here, and it turned out to feature music tracks performed by Richard Jacques himself!

Metropolis Street Racer Promo Photos Found
Our good friend Blue Swirl acquired the original MSR promo photos taken by former Sega Europe art director Ross McLeish. He shared them with us here.

Metropolis Public Transport Racer
Bit of an old one this, but when we found out about the buses, taxis and...lawnmowers you can unlock in MSR, we had to share the news!

A Tale of Two Cities
We decided to compare the architecture and general graphical quality of Metropolis Street Racer on Dreamcast, and Project Gotham Racing on Xbox.

Interview with Bizarre Creations
Not hosted here at The Dreamcast Junkyard, but there's in interesting interview with Bit Parade here that goes into a bit more detail about the other (later) games Bizarre Creations worked on.

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