I’ve been to some swanky venues and have taken part in some extravagant PR events in my time here at SCEE, so it’s refreshing when a publisher keeps things simple. That’s exactly what EA did last week when it invited me and a few other bloggers and journalists to their Guildford offices with an undemanding itinerary: fizzy drinks, pizza and Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit.
In-between drifting at 200MPH, taking down street racers with spike strips and crashing sports cars that I’ll never afford, I grabbed an interview with the game’s creative director, Craig Sullivan.
Why is Criterion making a Need for Speed game all of a sudden?
While we were making the last Burnout game, in every interview we would be asked: “so when are you guys going to make a Need for Speed game?” I’ve been a big fan of the series since the original in 1994; in fact, I’d say that game is the reason I decided to get into the games industry.
We’d reached a point where Criterion [Games] had built up a pretty decent reputation for making fun driving games and we basically asked if we could make a Need for Speed game, which surprised some of the senior guys at EA. We were clear that it was going to be a Criterion take on a Need for Speed game, not a replica of Undercover or Most Wanted.
The Need for Speed series has gone through several different styles; where does Hot Pursuit fit into the picture?
I’ve obviously played them all, as has everyone in the office, and there are standout moments in each. For example, SHIFT has great audio; Most Wanted was the first to make me truly feel the scale of a full police force hunting me down, with spike strips and road blocks; and the original Hot Pursuit has beautiful locations and exotic cars.
We cherry-picked from what we like but from every idea that we took, we worked out how that should work in a Criterion game. We have road blocks, but the player is able to call them in whenever they like and they have gaps in them. Same with the spike strips – I don’t know where I got the idea but I wanted to drop the spike strips out of the back of my car as I was drifting around corners, creating a moving obstacle for people to deal with.
If you had a simulation like Gran Turismo at one end of a continuum and an arcade racer, like Burnout Paradise, at the other, where would Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit be?
The core tenet for us, making this game, is that it needs to be fun. It’s by the people that made Burnout but it isn’t Burnout, and the cars drive more realistically – we have the most advanced ‘real car’ simulator Criterion has ever produced. You can still drift at 200MPH, but everything else underneath is really new.
It’s hard to say… I’d put us slightly further towards Gran Turismo, in terms of realism, than Burnout, but to counter that, we have things like spike strips and EMPs. Of course, another huge difference is that Burnout featured fake cars but this time we have real vehicles and we treat them with as much respect as we can, when we’re not ramming them into cop cars.
It seems like only a few years ago that the idea of destroying licensed vehicles in a game was a big no-no. Is it just a change in climate or have you had to jump through many hoops to include that?
That’s something we were wary of from the outset. Cars come together all of the time in the kinds of games that we make and it’s not very satisfying if they bounce off each other and remain pristine. So with the damage, we decided to see how far we could push it. We approached the manufacturers and told them that we were going to treat their cars with the upmost respect and they were all quite receptive.
I think that they themselves have realised that there is this desire to crash cars in racing games. There are certain things we can’t do, such as have wheels coming off or the cars exploding – anything that makes them appear dangerous to drive – but apart from that we haven’t had too many problems.
You seem to have been very open in terms of giving interviews and revealing details about the game relatively early on. Have we seen everything already?
You’re playing the full version of the game here today, pretty much, but you haven’t seen everything Seacrest County has to offer in terms of locations, weather and the day/night cycles that we have. Not everyone has seen all of the online modes that we have. Not everyone has seen the Autolog fully functional and working with their friends list. And not everyone has got to drive all of the cars; there have been a few leaks from people guessing but I think there are still going to be some fun in that area.