Exclusive: ‘Fatal Inertia EX’ Arrives Via PlayStation Network Next Month

“Fatal Inertia,” the futuristic racer once meant to be a PlayStation 3 launch title, will finally arrive at its original destination next month when Koei delivers “Fatal Inertia EX” exclusively via PlayStation Network, MTV Multiplayer can report.

“Fatal Inertia EX” will arrive on PSN in late May for $29.99. Koei does not intend to release the product at retail. By comparison, Sony launched “Warhawk” on PSN, which did have a retail component, at $39.99.

“After the launch of the Xbox 360 version, we had a unique situation that allowed us to reflect on what could be done with the PlayStation 3 version,” said lead producer Mike Bond in an e-mail interview with Multiplayer. “But having watched the growth of the PlayStation Network’s user base and the game’s multiplayer component, we felt the strength of this game would be in its online community.”

“Fatal Inertia EX” comes with a number of new features and gameplay tweaks, lessons learned from the Xbox 360 version’s launch last September.

But given that “Fatal Inertia” was initially a PS3 launch title, we had to get the back story. Bond was ready to talk.

“We’ve experienced quite a few growing pains over the last 3 years, as a team and as a studio,” said Bond. “Back in the summer of ’05, we were a very young, very small team assigned with the challenge of developing a next-generation game for a completely new platform.”

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Bond and his team at Koei Canada targeted the PS3 launch because the team had early access to development kits. Unfortunately, actual development didn’t progress as smoothly. Whether that’s related to using Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 3 toolset, we don’t know; Koei wouldn’t answer questions about their UE3 experience.

“Looking back on our development cycle, there were a few things that we could have done differently,” Bond continued. “Fortunately, KOEI had faith in our very passionate, dedicated and talented team. The sheer amount of knowledge and experience that we’ve accumulated really shows once you’ve had a chance to play ’Fatal Inertia EX.’ I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people.”

The Xbox 360 version managed an average GameRankings score of 60.7%, so there was room for Koei to make improvements. Their first takeaway: the game was too hard. “After developing and playing ’Fatal Inertia’ for so long, it became very easy to underestimate the difficulty for a beginning player,” Bond said. “Our goal was to make ’FI’ challenging, but many players found the level of difficulty to be much higher than anticipated.”

[click for high-res screen shot]

To that end, “Fatal Inertia EX” includes a training venue with eight new tracks — the Fatal Inertia Proving Grounds Facility — that should ease players into racing. Veterans also have an added challenge, though, with the new Master difficulty level.

“The Proving Grounds in Fatal Inertia EX are analogous to Edwards Air Force Base, the home of the test pilots and engineers who were the pioneers that laid the groundwork for modern fighter aircraft,” said Bond.

One of Bond’s original aspirations for “Fatal Inertia” was a new way of incorporating physics. This proved challenging to balance; you can’t rely on physics to act how you want it to. “There’s a constant struggle between having things behave in a physically correct way and having them behave in a way that makes the weapons easy to use, and more importantly, fun to use,” he said.

In the end, the team found they had to pull back some realism. “Since opponents are often traveling at very high speeds, relative to the player, and are quite far away, if we simply implemented the real laws of magnetism without additional logic, the player would end up shooting themselves half the time,” he said.

“Fatal Inertia EX” also supports the Dual Shock 3 and features Sixaxis tilt control. Look for it to arrive late next month.

Have a hot tip? Is there a topic that Multiplayer should be covering and isn’t? Maybe you know why it’s taken so long for “Fatal Inertia” to arrive. Drop me an e-mail.