Author Topic: Project CARS • GTSurgeons exclusive Slightly Mad Studios interview  (Read 11251 times)

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Offline sagitarius

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Evo i punog interviewa sa Ianom Bellom i Andyjem Tudorom.

Tiskana verzija koja je izasla u Rebootu je dosta skracena i prilagodjena manje "vozacki zahtjevnoj" publici, a uz dogovor sa ekipom iz casopisa objavljemo ovdje puni razgovor.

Naravno, sve je na engleskom, nadam se da necete zamjeriti sto nisam prevodio zid teksta :)

Hvala jos jednom Ivi na svoj pomoci oko ovog sjajnog razgovora.

Kao dodatni bonus ovdje objavljujemo i pune rendere Lotusa koja je Ivo kreirao za Reboot clanak, a koji nigdje drugdje jos nisu objavljeni online.

Hvala svima na komentarima i pozdrav!


The birth of new racing platform

originally published at May 2013 issue of Reboot Magazine, Croatia

article by - Croatian Driving Community

IAN BELL, studio owner and pCARS producer
With more then a decade of consecutive experience in gaming-industry and major projects he worked on, Ian Bell is in the lead of one of the most ambitious projects in driving simulation genre today

Project CARS is here to stay
Ian tells us about WMD project, challenges of next-gen and future of the genre

Almost two years after the start of the WMD project the first milestone of funding has successfully finished. What are your thoughts about it once you look back?

It seems like forever ago that we had this spark of a crazy idea; a way to re-invent how AAA games get greenlit and funded, and a player-centric way of developing them. Before launch there was a ton of fine tuning & preparation and an internal betting pool on how many people we might get within one month.
We all lost that bet since the response from the gaming community was immense. At one point there were more people signing up to WMD per minute than were signing up to Xbox Live!
So initially there was a learning curve with managing so many people - lots of questions we didn’t have the answers for, lots of things that needed a further tweak, but within a short timeframe things settled down and the work that was being done on the SMS side was getting valuable feedback from the WMD community and we instantly knew the system was working. Through a fair amount of media attention, collaborations with real drivers, manufacturers, track licensors, peripheral providers, and the impressive builds of the game we were putting out in addition to beautiful screenshots and trailers, we started to see more and more people have faith in what we were pioneering and the funding total started to rapidly increase.
Over time, the forum has been a place of intense debate, laughter, and creativity. Since it’s a workplace, it’s generally quite professional and self-policing but of course there have been ups and downs as in any company. But heading towards our Two Year Anniversary, the next-gen of consoles, and cool tech like the Oculus Rift, Project CARS is in a really strong position right now and it wouldn’t have been possible without the community so I think we can safely say it's been a success.

WMD project was launched in the same time when various other Kickstarter projects emerged. However, SMS made their own effort in focusing potential contributors and built a very dedicated community. How would you describe differences between WMD and Kickstarter initiatives?

It’s simple... Kickstarter only really supports the ‘traditional’ model of game development – you present a pitch for an idea, people donate, and then you work away it, and eventually release it. During that time, backers may be given some insight into how the game is going but don’t have that much more input into its direction.
With WMD though, not only do you get to talk to us on a day to day basis, but you can download regular builds of the game, give feedback, vote in polls on key decisions, plus you also get rewarded with real cash once the game is released based on its success and your contribution (since we basically treat you like a new member of staff).
So Kickstarter is more like a charity donation whereas WMD is more like a backstage pass.

You have announced how SMS and Project CARS project become a licensed PlayStation 4 developer. Originally, Project CARS was conceived (and funded through first phase of the funding) as a PC, PS3, Xbox and WiiU game. Is the announced next-gen development (I am aware Microsoft still does not allow talks about NextBox, but I presume you will be developing for NextBox too) a showcase of broadening of potential platforms or have the initial plans for releasing on this-gen platforms changed? Can we still expect a this-gen versions release?

Even though next-gen consoles are on the horizon, the number of people that own current-gen consoles is ridiculously huge so yes, Project CARS will definitely still be coming to PC, PS3, Xbox 360, and Wii U. More info on next-gen consoles as we can reveal it.

The new release date has been announced last week, prolonging the release to Q2 2014. Is the Q2 2014 new multi-platform release date or PC version will ship earlier?

We are currently looking at Q2 2014 for a multi-platform release but as we always say, that decision can change and will be discussed with the WMD community as time progresses.

Slightly Mad Studios are focused on driving genre from its beginnings. There is common misconception how driving genre is on its decline, but never in history were there was so many driving titles selling multi-million numbers, and especially so many PC-focused driving simulations in development. When you look back, what are the most significant milestones you see that genre has reached in last decade?

Around the Millennium the racing spectrum as we see it today only had the two extremes – the ‘racers’ like Daytona USA and Crazy Taxi that were popular in the arcades and on home consoles and the ‘realistic games’ like GP Legends, Gran Turismo, and GTR.
Over time, that racing spectrum has filled out considerably with big franchises emerging like Forza, NFS, Midnight Club, Colin McRae and an increase as you say in the choice of PC sims like iRacing and rFactor.
On the console side there’s no doubt that GT and Forza caught the public eye when graphics got to the point of near-photo realism, and on the PC side real drivers taking part in sim tournaments and laser-scanned tracks have given an additional level of credibility and authenticity to the genre and contributed to the popularity of sim racing leagues that we see today.
As we head into the next-gen, we’re in a world of multi-monitor and virtual reality displays, photo-real graphics, powerful computations allowing soft body collisions and advanced physics simulations, and more ways to play connected than ever before so the future is bright for the racing genre!

As someone who was heavily focused on PC development in the beginning, what do you think about the console development/publishing environment you became part of? Are you excited with potential of next-gen platforms and tightening the technological gap to PC?

Consoles are great because they’re static – you only have what’s in the box to work with. So just like in the past, developers really dig deep to achieve the very best possible within those constraints. The PC on the other hand is an ever-evolving machine and will therefore always deliver the fastest framerates and sharpest graphics. So although we continue to be devoted to the home consoles and push what they are capable of it’s nice to see that they are getting closer to modern PC specs and technically share more similarities. That’s going to mean less sacrifices are made for the console experience and development across platforms is more seamless.

How are you managing licensing the content for Project CARS? Can we expect to see all tracks and cars of current alpha-build being available in the finished game or will the licensing ask for additional funding?

Licensing is included in the current funding. Which tracks and cars are released in the core title versus further content though will continue to be a discussion item as development continues.

What do you think of the current migration to the free-to-play model and about the heavy offset to DLC and micro-transactions, especially notable in the driving genre? Do you find it a necessity or do you think it actually hurts perception and long-term popularity of particular games?

Free-to-play is obviously a very viable business model and some games have become extremely lucrative through smart implementation of micro-transactions being part of the original game design (as opposed to wedged in at the last minute). We originally envisioned Project CARS being free-to-play when we first launched but decided on a traditional 'core' retail product with further content after discussion with the WMD community.
If micro-transactions/IAPs gate the experience too harshly then yes they can be perceived as 'stingey' and make it look like the creators are trying to extract as much money out of your pocket as possible. In the past we've had micro-transactions in our Need For Speed SHIFT and Walking Dead titles and generally treat them as 'time savers'. We live in a world where people have far more choice over how they are entertained - TV, cable, Tivo, Netflix, Facebook, Vita, 3DS, iPhone, Kindle so your attention span is constantly being diverted by these modern devices. There's a demand from players therefore to have a way to advance at an accelerated rate or get that endgame content immediately and these abilities are therefore provided at reasonable rates that are purely optional and never conflict with a 'standard progression'. When you start making them a 'requirement' is when you see public outcry.
As for DLC, gone are the days of 'fire and forget' - releasing a game and moving on to the next. Nowadays, DLC is a fundamental part of extending the lifecycle of your game, reducing the temptation for trade-ins or rentals, and extending income beyond the initial purchase. For Project CARS we are thinking along the lines of modern MMOs with the core title being the 'base' and expansions then providing players with a continual stream of new content and options that keep both their own experience alive and the game fresh and contemporary for a long time to come. We're in it for the long haul.

Project CARS is one of the projects that officially announced support for the Oculus Rift technology. Can you tell us a bit more about that venture?

In the original Need For Speed SHIFT we came up with a number of stylistic solutions and technical features in order to finally nail a great cockpit view experience that hadn't really been seen in games before. In real life there are a number of visual and physical cues present that allow you to perceive spatial awareness and the sensation of speed but sat on a couch with a controller on your hand you have none of those. Hence why we did things like let you look around the cockpit with the right analog stick, why the HUD moved in 3D space as you accelerated and broke, and why the depth of field changed at high speed to make your eyes focus on the horizon point. Basically, we wanted to really make it seem like you were sat in that cockpit and looking through a driver's eyes.
With the Oculus Rift, that sensation is taken to the next level with the player able to physically move their head in order to look around the interior of the car… look down at your feet on the pedals, look behind you out of the rear window, lean in to a corner, or glance right as another car overtakes. The immersion is astounding!
So yes, we have the devkits, and hope to have something for you all to experience soon.

With 12 months remaining until release, what is the main feature(s) you see for Project CARS as being different than its competitors, once it lands on the market? On PC we will have Assetto Corsa, rFactor2, iRacing, Game Stock Cars... on consoles there will be Gran Turismo and Forza series. What will Project CARS deliver to distinct itself among other titles?

There's a number of things… firstly Project CARS is beautiful. All the images and trailers you've seen are created by actual gamers. So they haven't been rendered or passed via a marketing department for touching up. That's why it's the most beautiful racing game out there right now.
On the Wii U, there's an opportunity there for us to 'be the Forza' on that platform. The Wii U is a great machine and the gamepad holds lots of possibilities so it's really exciting to bring a title like Project CARS to that platform and let Nintendo fans finally get their hands on a realistic car game.
On PC, there are lots of sim racing games and it's been nice to see fans of them all coming to WMD and getting behind us so much. Right now it's quite fragmented as you say so we hope to win over a lot of those guys and convince them that we have something really cool. The only way we can do that though is by having a cool game and there are definitely a few cards in our deck that are either best in class (graphics, physics, variety of options, number of track locations, number of motorsports represented) or innovations (freeform career mode, co-op, pit stops, dynamic time of day, weather etc..) that make us both market leaders and distinct from the competition.
Because the game is being developed alongside the community we're adding new requested items and squashing bugs constantly so already the quality level and amount of content in the game is very high and will continue to increase and be polished as development continues.

Will the Project CARS remain a final title for the project? Or do you still reconsider some other potential names for the finished game?

Ha, there's a discussion thread about this already. Originally it was just a codename but it's gotten so much traction nowadays, so many Google hits etc.. that we may actually end up with it! :-)

Copyright REBOOT MAGAZINE & 2013
Please be kind to quote the full source if publishing elsewhere, thank you in advance

Offline sagitarius

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PART 2/2

ANDY TUDOR, pCARS game director
He was working on Need For Speed: Shift series and Ferrari Racing Legends and he gladly admits how working on pCARS is his greatest project in life

Our tyre model is world's cutting edge
Andy tells us about technical challenges of game development and specifics of the driving-simulation genre

We are great fans of SMS work (from times of the first GTR game), and despite interventions EA did for Shift games and challenges you've sustained for Ferrari Racing Legends, SMS clearly has a great track record for producing great driving games. Can you tell us your subjective perspective about other projects you successfully directed and participated in prior to Project CARS?

Every game we make we aim to do a) things that are better than the competition and b) things that haven't been seen before. So in the SHIFT series we introduced MMO-style XP, COD-style visuals to collisions/impacts, and Star-based side quests to do whilst racing. We also transitioned the traditional 'heartland' NFS players from the underground scene to the legitimate world of circuit racing. Both games were well-received and the NFS franchise got a much-needed reboot that continues to this day with Most Wanted.
With Ferrari Racing Legends we approached it as an anthology for Ferrari lovers - it had (nearly) every car from the first production vehicle to the latest which had never been done before and it mimicked the legacy of the Ferrari brand through three eras we identified as being the stories that your grandfather told, those that your dad told, and the contemporary age. You put it aptly when you say the word 'challenge' though since development of this title was, let's say, 'not as smooth as it could have been' and ultimately this was reflected in a lukewarm critical reception and sales.
But still, as with everything you do in life, you learn and that influences the next thing you do as you continue to strive for perfection.

Project CARS is aimed to be a community-driven racing game that will deliver as much  simulation as possible to as many players as possible. How do you plan to bridge the gap among casual and hard-core players? Is it probably the main concern within the genre since its inception?

Not really, no. With Project CARS we're going back to our roots. We were on that route anyways with the SHIFT series - gradually transitioning the players towards that ultimate simulation and we're delivering on those goals with Project CARS which is squarely aimed at the simulation crowd. HOWEVER, we've taken our previous titles into account here as well and are providing all the hooks and sliders and options and functionality to dial the experience to any kind of gamer - both hardcore and casual. We call this Player Tailoring and therefore with a few changes in the options menu you can change everything from the camera shake to the position of the seat to the type of lens flare, or the level of realism in the handling model, any assists you might need, or the AI of the opposing drivers. Ultimately we'll provide presets for these allowing you to mimic your favorite game. By providing a kind of 'sandbox freedom' in this respect you make the game more accessible and inclusive.

What are the main challenges of developing and directing a unique project as CARS? You work with outsourced artists, you have to manage community wishes, SMS internal plans and timeframes. How does the direction of Project CARS differ from other projects you've worked on previously?

The biggest difference is simply that we can talk directly to the people that are playing the game and have a conversation with them about their wants/needs/desires/thoughts which ultimately gives justification and relevance for every single thing we put in the game. This is a vastly different mentality to how things usually are which is thinking of a good idea, spending two years implementing that idea and then crossing your fingers and hoping that players like that idea. With the WMD platform that feedback time is instantaneous from the moment it's put into the game so you can very quickly improve/tweak/drop that feature and ultimately get to a high quality level and more relevant product sooner rather than later.

The current state of Project CARS gives an ongoing impression how Project CARS will successfully fill the gap all racing-games lovers experienced when Codemasters decided to kill the TOCA franchise. On top of that, Project CARS will deliver stunning day/nigh changes effects, variable weather, damage, multi-car driving fields... everything that represents racing in the real world. Can the announced hardware-specs of next-gen consoles fill the ultimate demand of 60fps without sacrificing the IQ, fidelity and effects of development-spec PC hardware? Also, what will be the challenges of developing versions for current-gen consoles?

The short answer is that next-gen consoles look to aid us technically in a number of ways and alleviate the pressure of squeezing round pegs into square holes, but for current-gen consoles it's the same as every other game we've worked on and every game other people are working on - it all comes down to memory, framerate, and graphically what the hardware is capable of.

It is known how many driving games today are still using a fundamental ISI-engine developed more then decade ago. Project CARS is scheduled to introduce a complete new engine with movement to beta-phase. Can you elaborate on challenges of creating a physics-engine today compared to 10 years ago?

I’d say the biggest challenges for a physics engine today are still the limits of the hardware and the number of available cores.
The more powerful the hardware, the more things we can simulate more accurately and faster which gets us closer to real life. Our tire model is substantially more accurate and complex than it was 10 years ago and is at the cutting edge of any simulation in the world including those used by, for example, F1 teams. We also run our internal vehicle dynamics at a blistering frequency meaning we get more info from the suspension and track surface than ever before. This then gets fed back to the player through force feedback, both aurally and visually.
Ten years ago, CPUs had only a single core which was obviously a lot simpler to code. Today though we could be running physics simultaneously on 8 cores and spreading the load between them whilst also ensuring it runs independently of other systems such as render or networking. Using bridges and interfaces it can then communicate with other systems without blocking other processing threads. This of course makes the complexity magnitudes greater than it was ten years ago.

Personally, I find the FFB wheel support SMS created for Ferrari Racing Legends as one of the best on curent-gen of consoles. Vast development of FFB wheel market has certainly improved the driving genre towards mimicking the real-world as much as possible. What are the specific challenges of developing a FFB support? Why can only a handful of games create an environment where controller players are not in advantage over wheel players? Will Project CARS successfully bridge that gap?

It’s fantastic that the Ferrari Racing Legends FFB proved so popular. The actual FFB code for FRL was pretty concise; nothing too elaborate, we just take the forces emitted from the steering rack, apply a little 'magic', and a bit of damping so we don't destroy wheels and send the numbers to the API.
About controller players, yeah it's a balancing act - as developers we absolutely have to provide a playable experience on gamepads, particularly on a cross-platform title such as FRL so there's the definitely need to filter the pad inputs so that the cars are not only drivable but enjoyable. Some games can take that filtering and driver aid logic a bit too far and it becomes an easier experience, perhaps less rewarding as a result though. The wheel of course is the natural input device for a racing game and fast FFB combined with a rapid framerate can really give immediate feedback.  There are always aliens though that can take any device and drive fast with it - back in the 90's I actually used a CH Flightstick for all my driving games and I'd be quicker than most wheel users! Believe it or not I still have that joystick but thankfully I made the transition to wheels and, well, it's vital to develop games for as wide a variety of wheels as we can lay our hands on.
That all said, we're tremendously excited about the brand new tire physics and FFB in Project CARS. It's incredible... we have dynamic flat spots, tread wear, tread temperatures, deformation, aquaplaning all naturally falling out of the maths with no pre-baked effects. It's still mid-development but the end result will be awesome!

The past few years have brought a crazy development within the racing genre where cars have become more important then tracks. Today we have games with hundreds of cars and only a few dozen usable tracks. What do you think about that development? Would you agree that variety of tracks and actual quantity (and quality) of courses in driving games is in fact more important then having 700 cars?

In our experience and this seems to be the same for the competition, players only really drive a small portion of the provided cars in the game… the first one they buy, their dream car, one to get through each tier that the game may have (eg.. D, C, B, A licenses), a car they saw on Top Gear, a car they used to have a poster on their wall as a child, the car they currently own. So around 10 out of 700. So there's an argument to be said "Why bother putting so many cars in the game then?" but that's really only half the story since people like variety. Both Forza and GT act as kind of encyclopedias for cars and therefore include multiple minor variations of the same car not just because it's cost-effective to do so but also so the player can drive the very specific version of that car that they're after. So we appreciate this, but don't necessarily want to go down that road ourselves. For us when we choose the car list we take into consideration what's hot right now, what's cutting-edge (eg.. electric cars), what's iconic (maybe from a movie), what's been on Top Gear recently, the classics, what people in the US love compared to what Japanese fans love, what our target audience are driving in real life right now etc.. In Project CARS therefore we're not just concentrating on road cars like Forza/GT nor one specific motorsports discipline like F1 2013, we have open wheel cars, track day cars, stock cars, supercars, Formula cars, classics, hatchbacks, touring cars, prototypes, bikes. Okay, maybe not that last one, but literally something in there that will appeal to modern racing fans.
Given this number of 10 cars therefore and the fact that people have loyalty to certain manufacturers or love for specific sub-sets of cars, tracks therefore take an increased importance in the player's minds. This is no different to Call Of Duty therefore… you love playing as a CQB shotgun soldier, maybe switching to another loadout with an SMG or something but you know what you like and you know what you're good at. So it then becomes all about learning the maps like the back of your hand, exploring every crevice and perfecting your run through the level. You're more likely to eagerly await a new map pack therefore than a new weapon pack since you know what you like and you're sticking with it.
There's an argument therefore that the same can be said for racing games. If you love muscle cars then you're gonna stick with them and therefore any new vehicle DLC packs released will have a varying degree of interest for you, whereas a track pack is a guaranteed new gameplay experience for you to invest time in to master.
So it's an interesting debate and there's an equally valid opposing argument but ultimately it's my dream to one day have a game where you can look at a map of the world and have a race circuit listed on every continent. We're doing quite well with that currently on Project CARS but there are still some spots left in South America and South Africa ;-)

From your opinion as a director and industry veteran, what is the main reason behind loosing so many great studios within driving genre in last 5 years? We lost Studio Liverpool, Bizarre Creations and last week the Eden Studios - all mainly UK studios. Has the world become too harsh for true driving games?

The one thing I'd say where racing games differ to other genres is that affirmation doesn't come in a driving game until the end of the race. Ie.. you only get told whether you're a winner after five minutes. In Call Of Duty I can jump into an game mid-progress, get a headshot and feel awesome whereas I have to wait a little longer to get a similar feeling in a racing game (ie.. setting a new best lap time or overtaking that guy in front). So in that world I described earlier where our attention span is constantly distracted by other media there's the potential that racing games aren't seen as 'instantly rewarding' as other genres. This of course is nonsense - I love racing games because they make my palms sweatier than any other genre. When I pip someone across the finishing line it's like landing a 10x combo in StreetFighter and my grip on the controller is tight, and the feeling of beating a friend's lap time by a hundredth of a second is as exhilarating as any headshot.
So you could argue that it's tough to be a racing game in today's market, yes, in so far that you have to have something unique, something

There is one unique feature that no other driving game has ever explored except Gran Turismo series - long-term consequences of actual ownership the vehicle. What do you think about that aspect of game-design?

It's great, yeah. I've been on record as saying Gran Turismo is more Pokemon than Pole Position (and I bet you'll use that as a headline ;-)) but it's true when considering the vast number of cars in that game, the motivation to grind for cash to 'collect them all', the 'showroom' presentation as if you'd just walked into the dealership, performing maintenance on it like feeding a Tamagotchi etc.., selling it on with a unique paint scheme, visual styling, and performance spec. It's a pleasurable experience that mirrors real-world culture so yes it's something that interests us greatly as vehicle owners ourselves.

Project CARS will be a multi-platform release aimed at both PC and console players. How do you intend to bridge the gap across the most notable difference of the genre among genres/public: actual career? While console players are used to having a career mode, PC players have a tradition of having everything unlocked to use instantly? what are other specific challenges of such cross-platform development regarding platform-specifics?

You’re right, people play in very different ways and this can be a distinction between casual players and the hardcore, PC players versus console, motorsports fans versus car lovers, solo players versus multiplayer.
That’s why this time around we’ve broken from two usual tropes in racing games – grinding for cash to unlock cars and the linear progression from zero to hero.
Instead we’re going with a sports franchise model which is freeform and endless. All the motorsports in the game are unlocked from the start (Karts, Touring, GT, Formula, Stock) and you pick and choose from any (or all) of three historic goals...
Either start at the bottom and work your way up to become a champion in a Tier 1 motorsport within a certain number of years like Lewis Hamilton, be someone like Michael Schumacher who dominated the same motorsport year after year, or be a legend like Mario Andretti or Travis Pastrana that excel in various motorsports.
Play that calendar of events either solo or co-op, earn accolades, and gain a reputation as a good driver to unlock further opportunities, invitations, and offers from other teams and manufacturers.
If career isn’t your thing then you can concentrate on multiplayer or weekly events, beating leaderboard times or ultimately creating your own online racing team to battle against others in leagues. Hopefully there’s something for everyone there regardless of play style.

Have you considered having multi-screen support for future console releases of Project CARS? Both greatest console franchises (GT and Forza) support multi-screen. Will Project CARS head that way too? Also, do you plan to support advanced PC features such as head-tracking (through Kinect/PSEye) or programming of the buttons (custom button assignment is something that 99% of driving games fail to deliver and many players would certainly welcome that feature, especially players that are using wheels)?

Multi-screen support - yes. Kinect/PSEye support - potentially but only as long as it actually improves the immersion rather than simply being a gimmick, customizable buttons - yes this is already in the game :-)

With the release planned for Q2 2014 Project CARS is now probably reaching the very zenith of its alpha-phase. When is the move to beta-planned and do you think development for the next-generation consoles will meet the announced Q2 2014 timeframe?

Beta only comes once we are feature complete. Right now there are still a number of things either currently in development or on the cards soon like Season Mode, Career, Pit Stops, and Race Weekend so once they’re implemented and have been tested thoroughly we can potentially declare Beta status. As ever though, that discussion will happen with the WMD community as would the release date for next-gen consoles.

Can you give us a fast overview of the final Project CARS experience once finished, as you see it? What will the players find one day when they start the Project CARS for the first time? How much will that game be different then the current build of Project CARS that is available to the community?

Firstly you’ll be asked to Player Tailor the experience as I mentioned before. This will set the game up to your play style and your level of competitiveness. A tutorial may then further evaluate this with a hot lap. After that it’s up to the player, they can totally ignore career and set up an online racing team if they want to dive head-first into multiplayer racing or they can play solo to build up their confidence and learn the tracks/cars, or they can head into career where they’ll join their first team and start on that path to earn rewards, unlock new opportunities, and claim whatever Historic Goal they were most motivated to achieve. The choice is yours!

Copyright REBOOT MAGAZINE & 2013
Please be kind to quote the full source if publishing elsewhere, thank you in advance