THQ Gathering of Developers – MX vs ATV: Reflex


‘65% Complete’

That’s the message which was displayed at the lower left corner of the screen as we watched and then played through the latest of the MX franchise from THQ. Is this because 65% of the levels had been unlocked to give us the access we needed? This was my initial thought. But no, 65% of the code is done – that means that 35% of the code is not complete, I have to say right now, it’s the most fun I’ve had with a half finished product for ages!

Now let me be straight here. In some of the areas we played, there were tweaks to the systems which needed to be made and the THQ team were very open and honest about this – if you get stuck up against a tree on the ATV there’s no reverse yet and the terrain deformation means that you end up piling up a nice mound of earth behind you preventing the ‘roll back’ save for this situation. The THQ guys said, “Yeah, that’s an issue we’re going to have to fix for the ATV”. There were also some ‘zombie’ riders visible around the national MX track I was thrashing around; the THQ guys said, “Oh cool, that’s never happened before, we’ll need to have a look at that”.

Now, I’ve been to a few corporate events in various different industries and this is the first at which the ‘suits’ were happy and even keen to talk about the work which still needs to be done. 35%? That’s not even Alpha Release stage and already I’m sold on the product! Let me tell you why.

As the game was loading up, I thought it wasn’t and this is because of the nice loading lobby that THQ have put in here. Instead of a slowly rotating vehicle or ‘tips’ being shown as the game loads you are placed, with your vehicle of choice, in a little play area with jumps, whoops, berms and other cool stuff to noodle around and practice stuff on. I guarantee that most folks will, at some point, miss the ‘Loaded’ notification as they’ll be too busy perfecting a front flip off the short jump, that’s what I did! But then we get into the game itself and things really started to get interesting – even with the 65% complete reminder.

We’ve seen terrain deformation in a few games now – you know, blowing holes in the sides of hills with missiles and grenades, that sort of thing but I’ve never played with it in a racing game to this extent. As I thrashed around one of the national MX track the ruts, being generated by my fellow competitors and I were real. I mean really real – you can fall into them! I hit a rut the wrong way and BHAM, that front wheel wiped out and I was into the scenery! But the dirt kicked up doesn’t just disappear, it MOVED, for every rut we created there was a berm building up, and in the free-roaming zone for every sideways slew in the snow on an ATV there’s a drift left behind to lift a wheely over. I had quite a bit of fun with this. The limit is about 12 inches down in soft surfaces apparently, I’m pretty sure I got there.


One of the other things I liked and made use of is the ability to ‘save’ a dodgy landing or bad hit. THQ are calling this “Wreck recovery” but what it basically means is that your rider has weight and acts independently from the vehicle so you have the chance to save yourself from being spat off. A friendly green arrow indicates the direction you should push the right-stick to attempt a save, do it in time and you avoid a wreck.

But under it all (this is the science bit) is a new physics engine. You may remember the old “Press the ‘A’ button to pre-load ready for a jump” – yeah THAT’S realistic! Well no more, now there is real physics at work in the MX world. Hit a jump with your weight over the back of the bike and see it soar into the air; flick your weight and the handlebars to the right and watch a cool whip take place getting your wheels onto the ground as soon as possible to keep the speed going; push forward in mid-air and see as you bounce over the front of the bike when the suspension takes too much punishment. I really felt the difference that shifting the rider around made to the actions of the bike and my speed around the track. This is new in bike racing games and I like it – a lot!


I had the chance to have a chat with the Artistic Director for the project Ian Wood and this is how it went:

Ready Up: Firstly, I like what I’ve seen so far and I’m looking forward to getting my hands on in a few minutes. Now then, do you ride?

Ian: I don’t, well only bicycles and that doesn’t really count! But we do have a number of people on the team who do ride, including a couple who’ve competed at National level and they talk about the effects of ruts and blue line and wheel-swap and that kind of stuff. It was those guys who really pushed the ideas on rider control too. When they first started talking about it we we really not sure if it was going to work or if it was going to be too complicated, but I have to say that it feels really natural to control in the game and adds a huge amount to it.

RU: Have you seen anyone do anything in the game through testing that you were not expecting and hadn’t planned for?

Ian: There have been a few things which the new physics engine and rider conrols have allowed players to do. For example the whole 360 back-flip just came out of the way it worked, the idea that you put your weight over the back and it just works. It’s been tuned since then but the basics just happened, it’s the same with the front flip too. Throughout the life of the previous systems we were adding new code in to allow things to happen, the nice thing about this release is that things can happen simply because they can, not because we’ve coded them in. Wreck recovery for example was suprising easy to do, when you have the tools to hand it becomes very easy to use them to do things like wreck recovery. We got the input from the riders and then simply asked the engine to do the work with the weight, position and G’s in play, really quite simple to include.

RU: So of all of the vehicles in the game, what’s the most challenging?

Ian: Hmm, they’re all pretty good but I personally like the MX. I mean there’s the 250 2-stroke and 4-stroke machines and then there’s the 400 4-strokes, the big bad boys. But I like the feel and the additional elements you get with the rider control on the MX machines. But were going to have some big bad 4 wheelers too – 600 BHP machines for some serious off-road action.


RU: So you’ve obviously been involved in this project, but when you’re not ‘at work’ what’s your genre of game and game of choice?

Ian: Oh, it’s racing games, absolutely. I’ve always wanted to make a racing game and although I love the realistic ones the opportunity to do something like this which is much more artistic with all of the nature and everything, rather than having to re-produce vehicles to exacting details and behaviours, has been a dream come true for me. And as for what game, believe it or not when I go home after working on this to do some testing, I actually end up playing it more than looking at it, especially when there’s something new in there I didn’t know about like the other day we put some new cameras in, that was another two hours gone right there!

RU: Now let’s think about after this is finished, what’s next for you out there?

Ian: Well, we are going to be continuing to develop the elements we’ve created for this game. The physics engine, the terrain deformation all of that stuff is going to be developed and added too. But we’re also going to be working with our community. We’ve had a strong community going back to Motorcross Madness and we want to continue that with the online pieces – ranking systems and matched racing and things like track creators and really cool things like that.

I was the last to leave the room. I really wanted to keep playing, to get to know the track, to get more in tune with the rider control, to perfect my approach to the Freestyle jumps and to do a back-flip with no-hander lander. I was impressed.

65% Complete it may be… 100% on my ‘must buy’ list it is.







4 responses to “THQ Gathering of Developers – MX vs ATV: Reflex”

  1. Mark avatar

    Great preview John, sounds rad

  2. Denis avatar

    “You may remember the old “Press the ‘A’ button to pre-load ready for a jump” – yeah THAT’S realistic! Well no more, now there is real physics at work in the MX world. Hit a jump with your weight over the back of the bike and see it soar into the air…”

    Have you played PURE, from Disney? If you haven’t, trust me, you sound like you’d enjoy it! I picked it up after playing the demo on X-Box Live and loved it! The physics engine is awesome, the graphics are crisp and clean, unlike your ATV or rider!! At the start of every race, you look all new and shiny, fresh from the shower. After the first lap, there is a nice thick layer of dirt on everything, in a surprisingly realistic fashion.

    I love the tricks system, and the variety of race types (race, sprint, trick), though it does fall down on the variety of tracks. The ATV building mechanic was awesome, and a bunch of my friends have built ATVs on my game, some ending up better than the ones I built myself!

    Check it out. I know I’ll definitely be checking out Relflex after reading this article. Thanks.

  3. Denis avatar

    D’oh! I forgot to point out what triggered me to comment, based on the bit of the article I quoted. PURE has the same pre-load system- hold back on the left stick just as you get to the top of a jump, then flick forwards as you leave the apex to get some serious airtime! Awesome.

  4. Razgate avatar

    John’s complete lack of caring about percentages and fractions now has me holding him in a higher regard.
    65%, right, let’s work this out into a fraction……hmmm……Feck it! HALF! that’s exactly what I’d do.
    I’m actually gonna have to play this one now. 😀

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