MotoGP 22 is launched today on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S and Nintendo Switch. Italian developer Milestone has worked hard to introduce something new this year and – in addition to new hyper-realistic on-track gameplay features – that includes NINE mode, an interactive documentary that allows players to relive the legendary 2009 MotoGP season.
Ahead of the game’s release on April 21, GLHF had the chance to speak with NINE director Mark Neale, also known for Faster, faster and faster (with Ewan McGregor), The fastestand Hit the apex, co-produced with Brad Pitt. Neale gave insight into what makes video games unique, compared to more traditional documentaries, and detailed the more complex and particular aspects of his experience on MotoGP 22. Of course, as a MotoGP fan, he also briefly explained what it’s like to watch a Grand Prix without Valentino Rossi, now that he’s officially retired.
The idea of working on a documentary for and in a video game, how did it come about?
Mark Neale: Milestone contacted me in 2019 and we met at the Misano GP. It was the weekend of the esports finals, which took place in a special area of the paddock. I’ve seen video game players walking around dressed as MotoGP riders. The boundary between video games and reality then began to blur.
NINE was Michele Caletti’s concept. He and Matteo Pezzotti had a plan for the game before I started writing the script. We started working together at the end of 2020. At that time, it wasn’t clear what NINE would be, but we knew it was a solid idea. It was the best kind of project: great people to work with and one rule: make it good.
You’ve worked on many documentaries over the years, but NINE is poised to be a “one-of-a-kind experience,” blurring the lines between game and reality. Any difference from your previous experiences?
One of my favorite projects was U2ia video game for U2 that I designed in the 90s. It didn’t work because the technology was too primitive (but it would work now…).
What’s exciting is the ability to connect with the characters, whether they’re U2 riders or MotoGP riders, in a way that – although obviously not real – gives you a new and powerful experience of real events.
Is there anything specific that you wanted to make sure you achieved with NINE, also considering that you’re exploring a new medium?
If we’ve done our homework, you should feel closer to the pilot experience than when watching a movie or playing a conventional video game.
Of course, there is a limit to proximity with pilot experience. Valentino Rossi described a big crash as “like twenty people kicking you at the same time”. If you want more realism, you can always have friends mug you when you crash in the game.
This documentary being seen and experienced through a game, did that influence the way you conceived and worked on it?
Yes. The main thing was to think of the videos as periods of reduced adrenaline: the player takes a break after completing a challenge and before doing the next one. Videos should not be too aggressive. They need to create atmosphere, tell the story and build excitement as the next challenge approaches.
They should also function as stand-alone entertainment items, much like music videos. We spent a lot of time on the music, giving each video a strong musical character.
With live action sequences and gameplay sections so close together, is there anything you’ve tried and implemented with the awesome team at Milestone to ensure the transition between two goes as smoothly as possible? Do you think the results will appeal to MotoGP fans overall?
We kept the transitions as simple and quick as possible. Nothing to interrupt the flow from video to game and vice-versa. Milestone told us what to do and we did it. They are magicians. I think people will love it.
The fastestone of your documentaries, was mainly focused on Valentino Rossi. As someone who worked very closely with him and with his legacy, what is it like watching a MotoGP event without him, now that he is retired?
Has he retired? Really? I still have trouble believing it. I like to imagine he could get a Ducati wildcard, like Troy Bayliss at Valencia in 2006.
The world is upside down these days. Rossi’s career looks like a beautiful pre-COVID and pre-war dream. Look what we had. Look what he gave us. It was beautiful.
So, who was your favorite pilot of this season? Rossi, Pedrosa, Lorenzo, Stoner… we know it’s hard!
Is there anything you think MotoGP fans will only find here in a video game that they couldn’t see in a live event or documentary?
I think the pure novelty will attract people. The first time you do something new is always special – as long as the experience is good. Crossed fingers.
Whether it’s a unique shape or an established shape, who knows? It’s definitely different and it definitely gives you insights and experiences that you won’t get with other media.
Sports documentaries are often blamed for the way they try to make motorsport a spectacle, but it’s also true that this is what keeps people entertained. Do you feel like you’ve found the right balance between these two souls?
I started doing motorcycle movies because I’m a biker, not a racer, but I’ve been riding bikes all my life. As a biker, I care about how motorcycle racing is portrayed. Rule number one: stay realistic.
Motorcyclists know the essence of sport – freedom, thrills and risks. These are things you feel when you ride. There’s a much stronger kinship between bikers and motorcycle racers than between people who drive cars and Formula 1 racers. So while you’re trying to create something that will appeal to as many people as possible, you can never forget your primary audience: people who have motorcycling in their blood.
MotoGP is not Formula 1 on two wheels. It’s much more dangerous and much more exciting. On a good day, it’s exactly what your mother says it is: crazy. That’s why we love it.
Written by Paolo Sirio on behalf of GLHF.