Creative Director Simon Woodroffe says the upcoming Wheelman has been changed to be more like Grand Theft Auto IV because people seem to really like that game.

Woodroffe said Wheelman was “quite different,” but when Grand Theft Auto IV was released it changed people’s expectations about open-world driving games. “Before GTA IV, open-world driving games generally had more accessible, more arcade-like, handling,” he told “Even the previous GTAs were like that. But GTA IV moved the bar towards realism – even super-realism, you know?”

Despite his misgivings, feedback from focus groups eventually led Woodroofe to implement changes in the game in response to the popularity of Grand Theft Auto. “At first I found it fairly frustrating, in comparison with Wheelman, but it was different enough to make us say, ‘Look, people obviously want a more realistic experience. They don’t want to be given things for free,'” he said. “They want to feel like the ultimate driving hero, but they don’t want to feel like they’re being given it for nothing – otherwise there’s no sense of accomplishment.”

“We started to get feedback from our focus testers, within weeks of GTA IV coming out, that the basic driving was dropping in popularity,” he continued. “It had gone from being the most highly rated element, to one of the lowest on the list. And I’m looking at this and thinking, ‘There’s only one reason for this. GTA IV has changed gamers’ expectations.'”

Since the GTA-inspired modifications were made, Woodroffe claimed, the response from testers is “right on the money in terms of what people expect from an open-world racer”. You have to keep your customers happy, I suppose, but it seems to me that the moment you start making changes to your game to make it more like someone else’s is the moment you admit that your game just wasn’t all that hot in the first place. On the other hand, the central character in Wheelman is a close-cropped European driving expert named Milo Burik, so maybe my concern about the integrity of the original vision is unwarranted, albeit for all the wrong reasons.

In any event, Wheelman comes out in February 2009 for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC. To learn more, check out

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