Editor’s note: EA Sports’ new game studio in Morrisville, N.C. went “live” on Wednesday, so to speak, with the release of "NASCAR 09." The PlayStation 2 version of the game was developed in the Triangle. EA Sports unveiled the game at a recent event in Charlotte, which John Gaudiosi attended. Gaudiosi covers the video game industry for WRAL Local Tech Wire and writes a blog about gaming for WRAL.com.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — EA Sports used NASCAR’s recent racing stay in the Queen City to show drivers and fans an early look at the final version of at Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Whisky River bar. Jeff Gordon, the cover athlete and video mentor of the new game, was on hand to talk about his role in it. In addition to being an avid racecar driver since he was 4½, Gordon has been a gamer for years.
"From the beginning, it’d have to be Space Invaders, Asteroids and Defender," said Gordon. "I was always a big arcade guy, although I did have consoles at home, and when those games came to the home version, I was all about that, too. I had an Intellivision as a kid growing up, so I loved playing some of the football and sports games on there. Super Mario Bros. came along and revolutionized gaming."
These days, Gordon has PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 at his home and in his trailer. His favorite game, in addition to "NASCAR 09," is "Rock Band." He’s big into playing the drums after trying the guitar and discovering that it wasn’t his thing.
This marks the third time Gordon’s been on the cover of a NASCAR game, and that doesn’t include his early solo effort on PlayStation, the futuristic "Jeff Gordon XS Racing." But he’s happy to be involved in the new EA Sports game.
"This is really cool," said Gordon. "You want to be at the top of your sport in every way possible, whether it’s on the track or off the track, and this is certainly a symbol of what I’ve been able to accomplish in racing. This is the ultimate racing game out there, and it means a lot to me."
There were plenty of kiosks set up at the bar featuring the new, high-definition game, which was made in Morrisville at EA Sports’ newest studio. There were even some driving rigs complete with chairs, steering wheels and pedals for added realism.
"Whether you’re a racecar driver or just a gamer, you’re going to play this game and you’re going to be amazed at the surroundings and how realistic they are," said Gordon.
"The realism of the games … that’s really what I’ve been amazed by the last couple of years. When I’m playing the game and I’m at Talladega … I feel like I’m at Talladega."
For those NASCAR gearheads who enjoy tweaking their automobiles, "NASCAR 09" allows players to tune their cars in the garage.
"If I go into a corner and the car doesn’t turn, I will go into the setup, pretend I’m a crew chief, and I will do the same things that I would tell my crew chief to do," said Gordon. "Sometimes you’ve got to do a little bit more. Every track is different. If you go in there and put in more right rear spring in the car, it acts the same way it does if we have more right rear spring in our cars."
"NASCAR 09" also adds the ability for gamers to customize the look of their cars with the new Paint Booth feature. The online connectivity of Paint Booth allows players to download a car template from easports.com and import it into editing programs, such as Photoshop, giving users a multitude of design options.
They can then upload those images into the game and show off their dream machine on the track.
Gaming is very popular with NASCAR drivers.
"I know a lot of guys who play games," said Gordon. "We’re on the road a lot. We have our buses that travel to all of the different tracks. If my family can’t travel with me, I know what I’m doing. I’m getting my Xbox or PlayStation and playing all kinds of different games from NASCAR racing games to ‘Gran Turismo’ to ‘Splinter Cell’ or ‘Rainbow Six Vegas.’"
Some drivers actually use the videogames as part of their preparation for a real race. While Gordon hasn’t done that yet, he’s open to the opportunity.
"If I was going to go run the 24 Hours of Le Mans race, I would do it then," said Gordon. "If it was a track I’d never been to before, especially a road course, and I really couldn’t go see it or practice it in a racecar, then I’d definitely go do that. I think that’s the way gaming has been used for racecar drivers. The games are so real, the breaking points and reference points are so realistic, that if you’ve never been to a track, it’s a great way to get a head start."