The yellow Mercedes SLS speeds down a road that winds its way through Scottish mountains. The sun is always shining above the clouds, but here in Scotland, the world is bathed in a brown haze. Overhead, the clouds begin to move.
Drizzle starts to appear on the Mercedes' hood, streaking its way toward the driver's seat. The skies darken. The roads get slicker. Within a minute, the dozen or so cars in DriveClub are battling not just each other but the elements in the downpour.
As the coupe banks into a turn, the game stops. Art director Alex Perkins, who's been behind the wheel, enters a special mode that frees the camera from the cab and lets it fly free through the world. He uses the opportunity to show just how detailed DriveClub's weather system is. Puddles are forming in the high grass off the road. The rocks that line the course are slick. Every taillight reflects in the asphalt, and tires eject a stream of mist above the roadway, just as they would in the real world.
Weather is coming to DriveClub, and at E3 2014 we got to see the earliest incarnation of developer Evolution Studios' new feature. It's so early, in fact, that it only exists on game director Paul Rustchynsky's laptop, which is running a PlayStation 4 development kit playing his personal build of the game.
"This is a quite early version of it," Rustchynsky said. "We're sort of balancing everything, so you can expect in a few months' time, when we're really got to grips with the new technology it's going to look even better."
Evolution unveiled DriveClub at the PS4's debut event in February 2013. Evolution's Matt Southern described a racing game that distinguished itself from its competitors by connecting its players. Though it has single-player elements, its foundation is in its name: DriveClub is about forming a coalition of drivers and taking on challenges. According to Rustchynsky, the weather technology is yet another way that players can connect by customizing challenges.
"We want people to be playing these tracks over and over again," he said. "So as much believability as you can hone into these tracks, the better. We want people to be playing this for years, be posting, be sending challenges and letting everything go viral a much as possible."
During the demo, Evolution also took the Mercedes to the snowy mountains of Norway, cranked up the weather and began covering the track in snow. The roads get slicker, the cars start sliding. But unlike rain, which is inconvenient, snow can be dangerous. It's hard to see where they're going as the snowstorm progresses. When they turn the snow off, the roads start drying. It is, as designed, a simulation, not window dressing.
"It's about getting these subtle details that fool the human eye, continuously," he said. "Driving really fast in these conditions should make it hard. It's an emotional experience, as well as a visceral one."
In DriveClub, Evolution's social racer, weather — which will launch as a free update "shortly after" the game's Oct. 7 release date — is also about getting better and creating your own advantages.
"It's one of these things that really ties heavily into the challenge system," he said. "You really want to think about it. If you want to be mean to all your friends, learn tracks in dry, then set it to full wet, nighttime races and see how well they can do against you."