Bethesda pushes the Wii tech envelope

Archer MacLean's "Wheelspin" - said to push the tech envelope of Nintendo's Wii
Archer MacLean's "Wheelspin" - said to push the tech envelope of Nintendo's Wii

Bethesda announced its latest game release this week, with legendary Britsoft developer Archer MacLean being brought on board to oversee the development of WheelSpin for the Nintendo Wii – described as "a futuristic and fun car racing game."

Before even seeing an early build of the game, it is clear that this is going to be a Wii project to keep an eye on over the coming months, purely because of the publishing and development talent involved.

Not to mention the fact that Archer is claiming on the press release for the game it will push Nintendo's hardware "further than any other Wii racing game to date" with visuals that "rush past smoothly at 60 FPS in widescreen 480P mode."

TechRadar managed to catch up with Archer this week to ask him a little more about WheelSpin.

WheelSpin 1

TechRadar: So what was the objective of this new project with Bethesda?

Archer MacLean: We set out to make an ultra fast and challenging racing game that pushed everything to the limit - the graphical capabilities of the Wii; the directness of the Wii remote; and the players ability to 'hang on' at speeds of up to 400mph, around some fairly surreal tracks.

Throughout the speed range, the full physics system for each type of car had to be instantly controllable to a fine degree, allowing players to pull off decent drifts, skids, jumps and precision manoeuvring. This all meant it had to look good at a consistent 60 FPS on a decent 50" plasma running in 16:9 aspect and at 480P / progressive scan.

WheelSpin 2

TR: And you have nearly nailed it?

AM: We achieved it! The combination of the frame rate and Wii remote control is very addictive once you get up to speed.

The resulting renderer and physics system is also scalable to other platforms, but is optimised for the Wii from the bottom up. And it shows when you see it all moving, as static shots don't do it justice.

Wheelspin 3

TR: Don't Wii racing games suffer from problems of lag?

AM: What's different about Wheelspin is that not only did we manage to get this frame rate, but we did it with vehicles that feel like they are driving on track surfaces and with variable terrain (ice, tarmac, sand etc) and with almost instant steering system linked to the Wii Remote, with the least lag of any other driving game out there.

[Of course] that's assuming players have plugged their Wii directly into a TV and are not running it through an AV processor, with its hidden 0.5second delay causing all manner of problems with laggy controls!

Wheelspin 4

TR: So what else is in store, other than super-fast and smooth futuristic racing?

AM: Wheelspin features upgradeable vehicles linked to a full physics system with hundreds of variables catering for basics like axel wheelbase, 2 or 4 wheel drive, individual tyre pressures, front/rear weight distribution, and onto more unusual things like variable diff torque splits, spring/damper rates, and wing surface down-force effects.

The upgrades are grouped up to allow a number of stepped effects on speed, rate of acceleration and grip. These are depicted graphically and do have incremental effects on the cars abilities allowing you to get improve your lap times and therefore ultimate game ranking.

TR: Sounds a bit hardcore.

AM: Depending on the type of player, some will want to experiment with hundreds of combinations of car upgrades, whereas others might just want to win cash to buy some of the 60 or so skins which are purely cosmetic.

The renderer is, for a Wii game, fairly heavy duty. Besides all the features of any respectable renderer like bump mapping, radial blur, and 5 pass texture and lighting pipeline, we managed to get it to build dynamic environment mapping, lighting, and shadow casting and other subtle effects.

And we needed a particle system capable of handing a decent number of explosions and weapons effects. Players wont necessarily notice all this in isolation, but they would if it wasn't present... therefore breaking the illusion of speed and handling.


Archer MacLean's Wheelspin is out on Nintendo Wii later this autumn, head over to for more info.

Adam Hartley