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 emphasizes 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 realized 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.