Electronic Arts announced Thursday that rally car superstar Ken Block is now serving as an advisor for its "Need for Speed" street racing games. The X Games RallyCross driver will also appear in "Need for Speed: Rivals" to mark the 20th edition of the bestselling video game franchise. Block is set to release "Gymkhana 6," the latest installment in his viral video stunt driving series, on November 11 -- just prior to the video game's November 19, release date -- and says elements from the game will be featured in his video.
We talked to Block to learn more about the upcoming video game, the topsy-turvy year he's had at X Games and the rest of the Global Rallycross Championship season and his participation in Rally America and the World Rally Championship.
XGames.com: The seemingly impossible driving in your "Gymkhana" videos is often compared to something you'd see in video games. Do you play a lot of racing games when you're not behind the wheel of an actual car?
Ken Block: Oh yeah. I've been playing car racing video games since Sega Rally Championships came out in 1994. So for me to be able to work with a cool studio on a game like this is really a dream come true. This one's a lot of fun because you can try to outrun the cops or even be a cop, trying to chase down other drivers.
How did you get involved with this game?
One of the cool things for me with "Need For Speed" is there's a very similar ethos of having fun with cars, and that's what really drew me to this partnership. That's something that sets me apart from all the other race car drivers: I like to take my car outside of the race scenario and have fun with it. That's a lot of what this game is about, taking unique cars and playing with them in a big immersive world, and we've been talking about long-term plans for the coming years since they make a new version of the game every year. I really love the premise of the game because it gives you a world with all sorts of different driving situations and you have all sorts of supercars to enjoy ripping around with.
I know this year the X Games, Global RallyCross and even your own Gymkhana GRID event at X Games didn't really go the way you'd planned. What's on your mind as you get ready to drop this next "Gymkhana" video?
This year I've had some good success and I've had some struggles racing, so I'm looking forward to getting another Gymkhana video out since those are always so much fun. I raced one WRC event this year and I got 7th overall which actually is my best finish and not bad for no testing and only doing one event this year. For the GRC I've qualified highest on average out of anyone else in the championship series and I've won more heats than anyone, but I just keep getting taken out in the first corner of the main event or having bad luck, like the last event where I got a puncture. It is what it is: that's racing.
I had better luck on the Rally America series: I won three straight events and was in the hunt for the championship. So it's been a bit of an up and down year, but I'm really proud of the way I've driven.
I know you always keep the details of your Gymkhana videos pretty close to the vest, but is there anything you can tease about the new video to give us an idea of what to expect?
I'll tell you that it's quite different than Gymkhana 5. I kind of screwed myself with that last one because it's so good I don't know if I can ever go back to a city [like San Francisco] again and outdo what I did there. So Gymkhana 6 and 7 were both thought of in the lines of, "how do we go do something different?" Gymkhana 6 is getting back to the roots of some of what we've done as well as some nods to the video game. It's really fun and I'm really proud of it. It's going to be a fun one to put out.
Is it true that you've been working on Gymkhana 7 at the same time?
We've been doing all the creative for Gymkhana 7 along with Gymkana 6. But Gymkhana 7 won't come out until the middle of next year. We have to work kind of far ahead now because these are big expensive concepts and productions. The driving for me is the easy part. It's actually conceptualizing everything, building everything out and getting the budget for it and getting all the production done. That's the hardest part.
What was your reaction to the global X Games events getting cancelled? That had been a massive platform for Global RallyCross in 2013.
I was really disappointed but I kind of saw it coming. They took on a project that was just too huge, trying to take something that's been done well in the States and bring it to Brazil and two cities in Europe. So I'm disappointed but also very understanding and very appreciative of how much work it took to do what they were doing. It was fun while it lasted.
Do you think there's a future for your Gymkhana GRiD gauntlet concept in the U.S. after its debut at X Games Los Angeles this year, or will it continue to be primarily a European series?
We're working on a bunch of different ideas for that. I really enjoyed the event in L.A., even though I personally didn't do very well. Overall it was a huge success. I love doing those competitions and we're going to continue to push on every front. Right now we're trying to work out a location to do it for X Games Austin in 2014 and make it even better.