Kai Mensing from Audi shared his insights on how real-life cars are implemented into video games. The long process has changed a lot throughout the past two decades of racing games.
Photo credit: Audi, Sony
Have you ever wondered how video game developers manage to make their in-game cars seem so realistic? From design to sounds to handling, it seems like the speedsters get magically teleported into the digital world one-to-one.
Our interview guest Kai Mensing knows the secret to the magic behind implementing cars into racing games. He has worked in videogame integration and product placement for the renowned German car manufacturer Audi for over 20 years.
Kai talked us through the process of integrating cars into games, the challenges and changes over the years and the development of the special Audi e-tron Vision Gran Turismo.
OverTake: Hello Kai, nice to meet you. First off, can you tell us how the process of integrating cars into games starts?
It usually works both ways: Developers approach us with new games or game ideas and on the other side we look for games where we feel a good fit for an Audi integration.
3-6 months of work for one car
OverTake: Could you talk us through what happens after you made the agreement with the publisher until the car is finally in the game?
First of all, the developer needs a lot of data to be able to replicate the real cars virtually. This data contains, for example, Computer Aided Design (CAD) with texture files, technical specifications, photos and occasionally even sound files. Sometimes even all of this is not enough or not all data might exist (e.g. for historical or race cars). Then the developer sends a team to Audi to photoshoot the cars, scan them with a laser or record their sound. One time we even shipped the front and rear lights of the Audi R8 to a developer. Once the car has been built digitally, we need to check the 3D-model for accuracy and provide feedback if the car is approved or changes need to be applied. In addition, logo files and technical data within the game get transmitted for approval. The whole process takes – depending on the game and device – usually about 3-6 months.
OverTake: What are the main challenges on your part when integrating cars into games?
The most challenging part is getting data for historic, race or concept cars. For those cars usually not a lot of material exists and therefore we have to do a lot of “on site” data capture.
From a few pixels to 8k masterpieces with intricate details
OverTake: With the development of technology, integrating cars into games must have changed drastically. What are the most remarkable changes you’ve noticed?
I have integrated cars in videogames since 2000, therefore over 20 years. In the beginning we discussed with the developers if the “pixel” shape roughly resembled the real car and we usually only had exterior models. Now we discuss 4K (or even 8K) 3D-models of the cars and look at the stitching on the steering wheels or the structure on brake discs. The amount of detail has increased drastically, for the gamer naturally resulting in stunning experiences.
OverTake: What’s the first game that you worked on? Is there any game partnership that was especially exciting for you personally?
It is such a long time ago, but I believe it was Gran Turismo 3 for PlayStation 2. Over the years the scope of games grew larger and we had some game partnerships that went beyond racing. In 2009 we had for example a design competition to build a futuristic Audi with the game SPORE as well as launching a full Audi virtual space in PlayStation Home. In regards to racing games we had the first “Cover Car” partnership with Forza Motorsport 3, setting a benchmark for the industry. In addition, we had a competition with Gameloft in 2011 where gamers globally could win a real Audi A3 Sportback by playing Asphalt Audi RS 3. And then naturally the “Audi e-tron Vision Gran Turismo” in 2018.
Keeping iconic Audi cars alive through video games
OverTake: The Audi e-tron Vision Gran Turismo was conceptualized in Gran Turismo before you built the model in the real world. Could you imagine using this process more often in the future? What was the feedback for this unique car?
Actually we developed both at the same time, the virtual car for the game as well as the real full-electric race car. But for various reasons the process took a very long time. We started with the Vision Gran Turismo Kick-Off in 2013 and finally launched the model in 2018. The feedback to this car was very positive and it was one of the first showcases how a fully electric Audi e-tron could excite drivers and passengers on real and virtual race tracks around the world.
OverTake: How important is the topic of gaming for Audi?
We realized very early that gaming and especially racing games are a great tool to reach brand fans as well as gamers that might have not been so familiar with Audi or Audi models so far. Depending on the model we can keep iconic Audi cars alive and showcase new or even concept models to a large global audience.
OverTake: How will the relationship between the games industry and the car industry develop in the next years?
The relationship has been very close for over two decades and working together with some development partners over such a long timeframe has established a very good understanding of each other. This makes the process to integrate cars in videogames much more seamless and the mutual trust helps to achieve quicker turnaround times during the development.
Which Audi cars do you love driving in video games? Tell us on Twitter at @OverTake_gg or in the comments below!