Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown demo “old version”, optimisation a priority

Thomas Harrison-Lord
In a potentially dicey situation, Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown’s Game Director explains why it released a demo ahead of release and the expected differences between it and the finished product.
Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown demo “old version”, optimisation a priority

Following a lengthy gestation period – announced in 2020 and eight years in development to this point – the third Test Drive Unlimited game, Solar Crown, has a long-awaited release date.

Surprisingly, ahead of the September launch, a limited-time PC demo is available. Not a closed test, or even a beta with a sign-up process. Those with the right hardware can simply download the free vertical slice – that significantly restricts car choice, progression and environment size – and enjoy an early version of KT Racing’s most ambitious project yet.

Not only does it aim to recreate Hong Kong Island on a 1:1 scale, Solar Crown will be the French outfit’s first massively multiplayer online game. It also comes with a weight of expectation from a loyal fanbase larged than a Sébastien Loeb comeback. It has been 13 years since Eden Games and Atari’s last series instalment.

With potential players keen to sample the open-world driving game, the bold decision was taken, along with publisher Nacon, to release a taster three months before completion.

Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown car dealer, Italian

According to Game Director Guillaume Guinet, this has been a risk worth taking.

“We worked on this demo because we want to show you how we [have] progressed on the game,” he tells Traxion from developer Kylotonn’s Lyon outpost.

“People wanted to play Test Drive, and on another side, we wanted to try some things with the servers to see how it works, because it’s really important to help with the balancing.

“When you see players online, it’s not like what we see when we play in the office of around 120 team members. Here we cannot see an MMO game truly working, so the demo has shown us how it really works.”

Among the Traxion team, our general sentiment is that of significant potential that has not yet been realised. We can see the lure of the hypercars, wanting to create a bond with our vehicles and being part of dynamic online races.

But, some of us experience technical frailties, in particular during inclement weather, have mixed feelings about the handling dynamics and are unconvinced about the server’s stability.

Need for Speed Unbound and The Crew Motorfest were both announced, released and post-launch supported in between Solar Crown’s initial reveal and what will be its 12th September 2024 birth.

Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown demo map

Three months is a split second in video game development land, which begs the question; how representative of the finished product is the Solar Crown demo?

“We are not gonna add more features [to the final game],” explains Guinet.

“Fundamentally, this is how the game is working. You have the whole experience for the game, apart from the live elements, Solar Crown competition, the best cars and we locked the best places.”

“But, [the demo] is an old version, a really old version. To release the demo, [we had to] take a branch in development and work on it, [while] the other part of the team is working on the rest of the game.

“Optimisation is a big thing now, and it will be better. There is also a handling problem for certain cars and the balancing of certain things that are going to be fixed alongside some bugs we have seen.

“Yesterday I just doubled the price of the cars,” he chuckles. “We are in the last run because the demo brings something to us and we want to balance again perfectly.”

Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown Solar Hotel

Discord communities, social media, YouTube and Reddit have been ablaze with critical and (some, at least) constructive feedback. When handled incorrectly, a public test ahead of release can backfire.

It’s all very well listening and stating that the team is taking onboard pointers. In this instance, the claims will be tested sooner rather than later. Fail to deliver, and a title’s reputation could be irrevocably damaged.

“We are looking at every single line of what people think, this is important to us,” explains the KT Racing veteran, whose CV includes work on prior World Rally Championship platforms.

“I’m looking every day at what is going on in the demo and on the Discord to see what people want, what people think.

“There are some problems, sure, but some of these are items we have already worked on […] so these are fixed, and others are part of the roadmap and currently being worked on.”

“I think there are always people that don’t like and people that do like, but I think most find what we bring from the last Test Drive. I think they feel the DNA.

“Now we have to balance, and do some optimisation, but we are on it.”

You can now watch the full developer interview, which covers why the game is an MMO on our YouTube channel or embedded below.

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