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Classic Levels Deconstructed: Burnout 3: Takedown’s blistering Alpine track

As Criterion helps put the finishing touches to Star Wars Battlefront II, former creatives look back at one of the studio's legendary racers

The wide autobahn sweeps through a valley and heads up into the mountains, past snowy firs and rocks and towards the peak and then it heads back down, under a towering viaduct, through a modern city and back again, ready for another lap.

Burnout 3: Takedown‘s Alpine track is a blistering trip through the Bavarian Alps, a thrilling ascent and descent along a road built for speed. It’s a track of wild winter crags and old castles and also high-tech bridges and highway toll booths, and huge corners that beg to be drifted through.

It was created by just one artist, Chris Walley, at developer Criterion Games. Released in 2004 for PlayStation 2, it was made at a time when just one person could build every aspect of a track, from the texture of the road surface to all the sights that zip past.

How a woman going into labour inspired the track

And it was inspired by a taxi journey director of design Alex Ward took to Munich’s airport while promoting Burnout 2. Just after setting off, the driver took a call and learned his wife was in labour. “I said, ‘But I need to get to the airport!’ And he said, ‘If I drive really really fast, could you put your seatbelt on? This is going to be a hot diesel drive.’ He floored it.”

When they arrived at the terminal, the driver refused payment and wheel-span away. It was enough to make Ward, who co-runs Danger Zone developer Three Fields Entertainment, really want Burnout 3 to have an autobahn.

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Burnout has always been about speed, and your attention during a race is almost entirely fixed on the vanishing point so you can react to oncoming traffic and turns. And Burnout 3 was the fastest in the series so far. The first car you have access to is faster than Burnout 2’s speediest rides, and by the end of the game you’re driving Formula One-style racers.

 

Indiana Jones and Cinderella inspired the track side details

Tracks had, therefore, to get across their sense of place very quickly, whether the Californian forests or a Hong Kong cityscape. “In my track there’s a bunch of stuff that you associate with alpine locations,” says Walley, who now runs his own studio, Escapist Games. For example, the familiar-looking mountain in the bend just after the toll booths is based on the Paramount logo. “Everyone’s quite familiar with that mountain at the beginning of Indiana Jones, so that’s the reference I used,” he says.

It’s not the only use of an icon on the track: its castle is based on Disney’s Cinderella Castle, which in turn is partly based on Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria. “It’s completely peripheral because generally you are just playing the game and trying not to crash. But you’re surrounded by these themes and you’re soaking it up subconsciously.”

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The visual tricks that emphasised Burnout’s need for speed

But while Burnout is fast, getting the sense of its speed across was still a challenge. That’s because the roads are twice as wide as they should be.

“The tracks are built around how the cars slide,” says Ward. “A bad racing game is one where you bounce around the walls all the time, so we had to get the sliding right and once you’ve got a handle on that you can make nice tracks. They have to be really wide, much wider than real life. You can’t dance through the traffic or light up the boost and chain it. You need a lot of space.”

“But when you make things twice as big, suddenly you lose the speed, so we had to make the cars twice as fast,” says Walley.

That wasn’t the only fix. The roadsides are also thick with detail – lampposts, trees, billboards and buildings – so they flash by, and the team also made the camera wide-angled. This has the effect of increasing the sense of movement in your peripheral vision while making things in the centre of the view appear smaller and rush towards you faster. And when you boost, the view gets even wider. “Boosting doesn’t add that much speed, only 10% or something, but it doesn’t feel like it, it feels like you’re going another 50 per cent faster,” says Walley, busting your understanding of the whole game.

And then there’s its buttery-smoothness. Burnout 3 runs at 60 frames a second (at least on NTSC TVs). “The arcade racing games did it, and we were one of the only teams stupid enough to do it on PS2,” says Ward. “The only others were Namco’s Tekken team. Why is that? Because it’s really technically challenging.”

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To achieve this target while also presenting long and exciting tracks that would look better than its competition, particularly Need for Speed, Criterion had to push the PS2 to its limits. It developed techniques that would draw the bare minimum for any frame and that would stream the geometry of the track from the DVD as you drive around the track to make best use of the console’s memory.

 

Burnout 3: Takedown’s legacy

At the same time, Burnout 3 was Criterion’s first game for Electronic Arts, and they wanted to impress. “We wanted to prove to EA that we were one of the best PS2 teams on the planet,” says Ward. In turn, EA expected the very best from the studio, always pushing for more: crashes with more sparks. The push worked: just before Burnout 3’s release, EA bought the studio.

It’s still easy to see why EA liked Burnout 3: Takedown. It’s as exciting to play now as it was then, with its formula of long and dynamic tracks, iconic scenery and wide turns leading to thrilling racing. And Alpine is still where it all comes together: the mountains, a city and the long autobahn sweeping through them.

Read more in the Classic Levels Deconstructed series

24 Comments
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At least bring Burnout 3 to PS4 via PS2 classic!

1.1

Second, third and fourth this!

1.2

fifth, sixth and seventh this!

1.3

Will never happen, too much licensed music (and MAN was it garbage music in that soundtrack too). Burnout Paradise’s was so incredible and also included Burnout 1 and 2s music. ^_^

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Err no. Burnout 2 was the definitive Burnout game before Burnout Paradise. Even Burnout Revenge was better than 3 in every single way too. Every car you acquired in Revenge was slightly better than the last. In Takedown, they gave you 4 cars every few races that were practically identical which was just pointless. The crash mode was also silly with pretty much one x multiplier collectible being the win or lose deal breaker. The only thing about Revenge was the awful loading times.

Man, that dynamic soundtrack in Burnout 2 though that intensified when you Boosted. ^_^ I don’t see any reason that game couldn’t come as a PS2 to PS4 HD Classic. It doesn’t even have licensed music that would stop it from happening.

2.1

I agree. 2 was fantastic plus the circuit design was the best in the series.

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And you know what else? The REAL Criterion team also must have loved Burnout 2 the most because tracks from Burnout 2 like “Big Surf”, “Palm Bay” and Heartbreak Hills all make a comeback in Burnout Paradise City’s map. Not ONCE does the word “Alpine” show up anywhere, “iconic” as it is apparently. http://burnout.wikia.com/wiki/Locations_(Burnout_Paradise).

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“At the same time, Burnout 3 was Criterion’s first game for Electronic Arts, and they wanted to impress.” Oh and thanks for reminded us of another studio that is dead thanks to a big publisher.

Can we get a Blog post next to remind us about the creators of Destruction Derby and the original Driver being put to work on Just Dance games by Ubisoft lol???

Hopefully Three Fields Entertainment’s (some of the former Criterion members) „Danger Zone“-title was just a testrun, and they bring a full „Burnout“ successor sometime in the future.

You shouldn’t post an article like this without the announcement of a PS2 classic coming to PS4 soon.

Carnivius_Prime 31 August, 2017 @ 15:22
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Nice avatar. :)

Carnivius_Prime 31 August, 2017 @ 15:21
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Frickin’ love this game. But why an article about it unless you’re bringing it to PS4 in some form? Are ya? Cos I got monies I am waving about for it.

Carnivius_Prime 31 August, 2017 @ 15:25
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I actually find it quite frustrating that the makes of one of my fave ever game series are stuck working on a game of a film franchise I’ve lost all interest and excitement for years ago.

6.2

That’s what happens when EA kills a studio. It was all over for Criterion when the most important people left after they were screwed over by EA and Nintendo following the launch of Need for Speed Most Wanted for Wii U. Both publishers did NOTHING to promote it and the hard work they put into that version of the game.

Then in 2013 EA started moving most of the Criterion Team over to the NFS “Ghost” studio………………. and then laid off loads of people less than a year later.

It reminds me of a studio like Neversoft who were AMAZING at things other than the Tony Hawk series like Spiderman on PS1 and GUN on the late PS2 days and early 360. Then they were just forced to work on Guitar Hero until they fizzled out. I’d prefer a blog post on where are some of the key people now behind some of these amazing titles.

Thanks for the reminder, I absolutely LOVED this game. The speed, the graphics, the thrills, crash mode, the soundtrack… It was a perfect game at the time and more proof I need to dig my PS2 out and play some of the old classics. This and Mashed for starters. They don’t make them like that any more. I’d rather play this over Burnout Paradise any day of the week. That was good but Burnout 3 was mind-blowing. Starting up a race to hear one of your favourite songs kicking in would get my heart racing.

Definitely getting my PS2 set up again after reading this…

Carnivius_Prime 31 August, 2017 @ 17:09
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I loved Paradise too though. For different reasons. Mainly as an online social hangout to chill out with friends we could chat and drive about and do races and challenges and such. Good times.

To whom it may concern:

What us gamers would really, Really, REALLY love, would be an HD Burnout Collection for PS4. All signs on the internet say this is never going to happen but come on, you can do this for us, can’t you?! Don’t leave us hanging!

yes bring it on…bo3 is in my eyes one of the best arcade racers ever so i would love a remaster of it.

also Sony should bring back SOCOM!

idk why some companies just kill one of their best franchises.

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I wish remasters burnout 3 and 4 in HD in bundle . Be worth but please make it happen.

You just don’t get those great arcade racers anymore… Gran Turismo is an incredible technical achievement, but it’s all too sim heavy for my tastes… Power sliding round the city then racing off into the mountains… Beautiful.

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I was choosing the last smiley.

Why, even as a Burnout fan from the beginning? It is simple…

Sony, honestly, why do you [DELETED] with the feelings of the Burnout fans out there?

At least a PS2 classics on PS4 should have been a reason for this blog post.

I’m waiting for many years now to get a remake or simple port of Burnout, Burnout 2: Point of Impact, and/or Burnout 3. I don’t care about Revenge or Paradise. The open world in Burnout Paradise sucks.

I suggested the first 3 parts already on twitter when the fans were asked which games we would like to see on PS4.

And this tweet was supported by many others but nothing happened until now.

I can only hope for “Need for Speed Payback” because the guy responsible for the Takedowns in Burnout is creating the crashes. And you can see this.

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