Keeping the cars on the track and the race flowing is what it's all about, and that means, among other things, creating feuds between human and AI opponents as the races progress. Bugbear are working hard to create drivers that react as dynamically as the environment, bearing grudges and seeking revenge for your manoeuvre that forced them into the splintered mess of the fence back on the third lap. They're not obsessed with aggression however: despite the carnage, FlatOut is about reaching that finishing line and these guys will be going all out for victory while still being prone to those inevitable driver errors.
"AI drivers will make mistakes," Alanenpaa tells us, "making them appear more realistic, more human. When an AI car is leading you and you can see him ahead, there's nothing like seeing him take a bump too fast and crash into the fences." We can see the attraction.
It's in the single-player career mode that you'll line up alongside your AI adversaries. The early prototype of this mode was story-driven, with a full third-person view allowing players to leave their cars and walk around the racing venues, wander into the garage to tinker around and even interact with other drivers in a virtual bar. These ideas were clearly a first attempt at adding some true innovation to the racing genre, but they were soon tossed aside once it became clear that FlatOut's potential lay elsewhere.
"In the beginning we were toying with other aspects of a racing game," admits Jarvilehto. "Once we had the engine up and running it became obvious that interactivity between environments was the thing we wanted to focus on doing really well, instead of doing many things fairly well. We looked at the innovations made in first-person shooters and considered the possibilities of blending two different genres. But in the end FlatOut is a racing title and we decided not to include a story-driven plot."
Storylines may have been shelved then but the vision of drivers scrambling around the tracks clearly stayed with Bugbear. It seems certain that this concept will be resurrected, at least for FlatOut's mini-game modes. More than just idle distractions, these will allow players to dip in and win cash to fund component and car upgrades for the career mode. The team aren't revealing exactly how these will pan out but they are already indicating that ragdoll physics will play a part.
"We're experimenting with ideas right now but suffice to say mini-games allow us to go nuts with the physics and add some truly innovative stuff. If you think about stunt tracks and then you add ragdoll drivers, you can get the idea behind the way we are heading." 'Out through the windshield' would seem to be a safe bet. Certainly one long-jump style mini-game will have you playing crash-test dummy, striving to fly the longest possible distance from your vehicle on impact.
All good, clean, tasteless fun, but it's surely during the violence of a proper race that such body-through-windshield effects will come into their own. It's not clear as yet how these will be implemented mid-race, although you can rule out any Carmageddon-like carnage, with Bugbear seemingly keen to get drivers back behind the wheel and back into the race. "We want to keep the players racing," Alanenpaa confirms, "but what we do want to achieve with the ragdoll is that initial 'Oh my God' feeling that we think will be pretty powerful."
Flattening drivers flung from their cars is sure to be on the agenda when it comes to the game's multi-player modes, however, another item currently still on Bugbear's 'to do' list. Again they remain tight-lipped on the details, although we did get to sample Instant Race Mode with eight players, and other modes playable across a LAN or internet are planned.
As we've previously suggested, a last-man-standing demolition derby mode, played out on a variety of purpose-built tracks, seems inevitable. Bugbear will come clean on this soon enough, but for a game that blends destruction and speed so seamlessly that particular brand of rednecked mayhem is surely an opportunity too good to pass up. FlatOut might not be roadworthy quite yet, but it's already clear that this will be anything but just another racing game.
There is no confirmed release date for Flatout