Things We Don't Need To See, Such As Speed

I just finished racing a couple of laps of Disney's Split/Second racing game. Impressions to come. But first an observation about something I couldn't observe: the racing game's speedometer. It had none. And I didn't miss it.

Split/Second's designers, as we've noted in earlier previews, have worked to streamline the look of their racing game, cleansing the screen of needless displays of information that is irrelevant to our enjoyment of their game. Among the things we apparently don't need to know is how fast we're going. "Whether you're doing 160 or 180 or whatever, it doesn't matter," Jay Green from development studio Black Rock told me. Also not needed, according to Green, is a map of the track.

When I first heard them, I thought those were some poor design decisions, or at least odd ones. But after having raced in the game a couple of times, I'm mostly convinced they're good ones for this game.

Split/Second is a racing game that emphasises the player's ability to blow up everything around the track and sometimes the track itself, all with the intent of messing with the rival race cars ahead of you. The player gains the ability to cause the chaos by filling the "powerplay" meter, which Black Rock's designers decided to render as the semi-circle trailing the car in the screenshot above. The rear bumper also shows the player's position and the lap number.

When I raced, I realised Green was right about the lack of a need for speedometer. I didn't care how fast I was going, just whether I had enough powerplay juice to trigger some explosions around the track.

I missed the map a little more, but only when I was in first place and wanted to know how far behind me the other cars were. Flicking a control stick back for a rear view took care of most of that. But Green said that a map would be confusing because the tracks in Split/Second overlap, intertwine and can be changed on the fly if you render a big enough bit of chaos (like, say, causing a huge tanker ship next to a doc to tilt 45 degrees to its side and become a new, banked lane.

Late last year, EA's Brutal Legend got some knocks for presenting players with an open-world environment without giving them the now-customary mini-map in the corner. Gears of War, famously, ditched health bars, several years ago.

Split/Second will dare to give players a competitive arcade racing game without a speedometer. I discovered today that I could live without it, and now I'm wondering what else I don't need to see. What else clutters up our screens? What else could we do without?

Split/Second is slated for May release on the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.


    I saw a trailer for this on Gametrailers the other day, and have to say it does look kind of interesting. Sort of like an action movie where there's explosions everywhere and stuff falling down around you (like the mentioned tanker scene) - but for the entire length of the race.

    Could be worth a look...

    In RPGs, go without numbers above an enemy's head when hit. I would rather be just as in the dark as the characters themselves would be when it comes to a foe's health status. Much more exciting.

    Burnout paradise didn't have a speedo on the HUD either and it never caused a problem. Developers thinking outside the box when designing the UI is really showing some results. Dead Space also springs to mind.

    A speedometer is completely irrelevant in a racing game really, as you are going to be trying to go as fast as you can all the time, regardless of what arbitary 'speed' is displayed.

    A tachometer however, depending on the game/gearbox can be essential...

      I happen to disagree with you, DerangedStoat. I find that there are certain games (the Initial D series, Gran Turismo, Forza, etc.) where the speedometer is pretty required. Using Initial D as an example, if you tried to do a run of Akina (the games most well known and arguably most technical track) without a speedometer, you are probably going to fail miserably at every major corner. A variance of 5km can be the difference between making it through the corner fast and with a good line, and understeering into a pretty passionate kiss with a wall.

      However, there are of course other racers that don't really need it at all (Burnout, Mashed, Blur from the looks of things). But I find that there are certain racers that would be made much more difficult (read: frustrating) without it.

        Yeah, upon thinking about it does have a place (I was thinking needing to hit jumps at a certain speed to land them properly in an arcade racer for example)
        Granted I tend to play Sims the vast majority of the time, and once the car is set up well, I pay no attention to the speedo, because all driving/cornering is done using braking points and force feedback. Also it means that I race mostly circuits so you end up with a pretty good intuition for your speed through the corners after a few laps.

        I suppose I just use 'feel' for cornering rather than ever looking at the speedo to check my speed, but I can see your point.

    I have a love/hate relationship with speedometres in games. It's a great feeling to be maxing out at 120km/h at the start of a game, and then at the end of the game see yourself flying along at over 300km/h.
    But that brings up other issues. I don't know if this is some kind of horrible flaw in choosing kilometres over miles in any racing game that offers the choice, but the representation generally seems to be horribly inaccurate. Cars are often supposedly going at 50km/h when they're barely even moving, and 100km/h seems to be just barely over the speed limit.

    Speedometres have been great in games like Wipeout or Top Gear 3000, where your speed is in the thousands, giving up any pretense of realism, but in games where we can really see how inaccurate it is, it just detracts from the experience.

    Death Race then?
    This is looking up to be an awesome game. The new BURNOUT considering thats gone off the rails a little.

    The map thing shocked me, but i kinda get the idea. I guess or PERHAPS, the game is about the racers never having raced that map before and hence the need to blow things up to get ahead and win.

    Racing simulators need speedos. Arcade racers dont.

    But I hate the speedos that are big circles plastered in the corner of the screen.
    Just a number will do fine thanks.

    Id like a map though, with car positions.
    Having to use your rear view, in games like Burnout, too often result in crashes. You only have to take your eye off the road for an instant and you can crash.

    "But Green said that a map would be confusing because the tracks in Split/Second overlap, intertwine and can be changed on the fly if you render a big enough bit of chaos..."

    I.e. they couldn't be bothered/didn't have the resources to create maps that change as the tracks do.

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