Good morning! Here are some excerpts from an interview we did in early October with Criterion producer Hamish Young for Need for Speed Most Wanted.
Eric Layman (Digital Chumps): You guys have to serve two different masters. There's the Need for Speed fan and there are people who expect another edition of Burnout Paradise from Criterion. Is there a struggle to adhere to some of Need for Speed's inherent systems, or do you just go with what you guys want to do, and push that forward?
Hamish Young (Criterion): It's definitely more the latter. We have a feel for what we want to do with the game. You've gotten to play quite a bit, and in a strange way this is the most Need for Speed game we've ever made. You've got the upgrades, the variety of cars, the big open-world chases - there are a lot of elements here which are very Need for Speed in some respects. It's an open structure and Burnout Paradise was the first time we did an open world, there are learnings that we got out of that that we applied to this game.
The fact is that Need for Speed itself is such a broad church, it's actually got a lot of diverse titles, from Porsche Unleashed to Pro Street to Shift. You've also got Underground, the original Most Wanted, High Stakes - there's a lot of different takes on what Need for Speed means. When we did Hot Pursuit we wanted to go back to the roots of exotic cars, epic drives, cop chases - we wanted to get back to the core of that old school, 3DO-kind of Need for Speed. This time around we've gotten to take it down its own path a little bit.
We called the game Most Wanted, but it isn't Most Wanted 2, it's its own thing. The reason why we wanted to call it Most Wanted was because we love the idea of being the most wanted amongst your friends. The original Most Wanted was the first time big, open-world car chases with cops being done. Underground did that with cops in it, and Underground 2 was the first time Black Box had done open world. Most Wanted was a combination of open world with cops from Hot Pursuit. For us it's kind of similar; it's open world and its cops from Hot Pursuit. There is an analogy there, but our take on it is just very different from that game. It's much more friend-centered, it's much more open, it's not about a linear story...
Eric: It's more modern!
Hamish: Yes, it's more modern, it's more direct, and you can get into all the content quicker. From that perspective it's a different game from either the original Most Wanted or Burnout Paradise. It is its own thing and we hope that people have a lot of fun with it. We've got a lot of amazing cars in the game, and I think a lot of Need for Speed fans will be very happy with the car selection. For the first time Criterion has done upgrades with the cars and it does change the gameplay of how you play the cars.
Eric: That was my next question, actually. The process of customizing cars, how you iterated on the concept of upgrades, and what you eventually got to.
Hamish: We've done a lot of work on handling in this game. The underlying handling has really been revamped a lot. There's a kind of underlying realism to the game. Hopefully it grounds the cars while still making them fun to drive. What that grounding does is naturally you can do things like change the gear ratios of the car and that naturally changes acceleration and the top speed. We have the light weight chassis verses the reinforced chassis changing the weight to the car, and that essentially changes the dynamics of the car. We wanted to retain as much of the essence of the dynamics of the car as possible while still making it easy to drive in a more arcade sense.
It was actually really complicated to try and get things that were the right balance. If you notice most of the mods you can go one way or the other, so either go longer gears or shorter gears, you either go reinforced chassis or lightweight. You're making a choice to go one way or the other and those different directions represent slightly different play styles. Obviously the short gears give you better acceleration but higher top speed, longer gears gives you higher top speed but slightly worse acceleration. Lightweight chassis gives you better acceleration, it makes your car lighter, but you can be more easily taken down by aggressive cops. The other way around with the reinforced chassis, it's hard to take down but it's a little bit heavier…If you take an Ariel Atom, it's really fragile and lightweight...
Eric: I got smashed in that thing!
Hamish: Maybe you put a reinforced chassis on it, you give away a little bit of weight, but you make it stronger. Or you could go the other way and make a super lightweight crazy thing. Each car comes with its own compromises which add to the real depth of the game. I think that that's something we're really proud of; we've managed to get some real depth in an arcade game that is still accessible. There's some real depth in there.
Eric: Regarding the single player and the AI routines, I don't know how much you can speak to this but when I turned a blind corner there always seemed to be a cop car coming at me...
Hamish: We've got a line of sight system. If you're around the corner, you can start losing the cops. For a second or two they can just kind of guess where you are because you're just going around the corner, but as soon as you start breaking line of sight for any longer than that, they don't know exactly where you are and they start going to patrol patterns. What happens is you may have a cop on the other side of you who’s gone into a patrol pattern, and they'll actually try and go to the point where they last saw you and then do a patrol pattern from there. You can lose a line of sight from the cops and start breaking away from them.
If you keep on going and hide out somewhere, they're going to have difficulty finding you. Eventually the search radius will expand and they will gradually come after you. We had this idea that, rather than, "I always go to the same spot and always lose the cops in exactly the same way every time," we wanted the cops to be able to go everywhere so you didn't have just one way to lose the cops. On the other hand we also didn't want it to be like, "well, once you got out of the way you just park up," and that was it. There's a certain tension of the cops always being around the corner and if you turn your engine off they can't see you as easily.
Eric: You can turn your engine off?
Hamish: Yeah, you just press L3 and turn the engine off and your cool down bar goes down quicker, but also the cops have a harder time following you. So what you do is you go into a warehouse, spin around and turn your engine off, and the cops just drive straight past you.
There's a bunch of depth in there as well about how those mechanisms work. To some extent we can either have a game about tutorials where we tell you everything or there's the element of people discovering that. It's always a balancing act. The first section of the game is quite scripted, we wanted to give you the basics of how to play the game, but from then on it's like you can try stuff out, and that's kind of the point.
The cops are thorough, but they're not cheating. They just have a fairly thorough patrol pattern. What you have to do is hideout, stop your engine, try and get the heat down and make a move to another location and try and do it there as well. Keep moving so the cops don't get you, especially as you get up to the higher heat levels.
Eric: It was terrifying when I saw a cop car spot me from a bridge and then drive off it to come and get me. Anyway, regarding multiplayer I noticed I started unlocking what I assumed to be better cars as I kept playing. Is going to create a gulf between older players and new players?
Hamish: We don't think so for a couple of reasons. There isn't a best car; there are ways of pushing cars in different directions. For an example, if you go on an event that's largely off-road, it doesn't matter if you've got the Gallardo that can do 270MPH, it's not going to do 270 off road, and there are other cars that are going to do a better job than that car. There's definitely a mix of strategies. When you start the game, yes, you're going to have less of a selection, but you're going to take time to learn the world and learn the cars and get better.
If you've got eight players online in a race, any one person could win. If it was all about just the only person that won, you've got seven pissed off people. The scoring mechanism is actually a little bit softer than that. You only get 500SP more for winning than coming in second, and you only get 300 more points for coming in second than third, and then 200 and so on. You're getting 2000+ points anyway, and the bigger lobbies will give you more score for winning. What it means is that just by playing, you're unlocking stuff. You don't have to win to unlock stuff, the Speed Points mean that if you're playing and having fun, even if you're having a battle for seventh or sixth, you're still earning a decent number of points to get more cars and unlock stuff.
As you invest in the car, those challenges that you can do to unlock the mods in the multiplayer, you can really spend the time to make that car the best car. You can dip very lightly across all the cars, or you can spend the time getting one car up to scratch. There are lots of things to do, it's not just race after race, we feel that the balance is a little bit more forgiving that it might be if it was just a track race and you were in a very fast car and I wasn't. I think that there's definitely a softer competition going on.
Eric: In Burnout Paradise, a lot of people, myself included, spent a lot of time on those ramps on the beach doing flips with the cars. Cars didn't seem to flip in Most Wanted. Is that a problem with licensed vehicles?
Hamish: It's more of a tonal issue. The manufactures are actually pretty open about doing stuff. Generally the main thing that manufactures don't want us to do is crash the safety cell. Basically they don't want their cars to appear like death traps. They've been cool with us doing stuff. I think that Burnout definitely has a more colorful tone to it, and we wanted to get a bit closer to the real cars. We felt that there is gameplay in doing barrel rolls and that kind of stuff, but it felt a little too far for this game
Eric: I was playing the Vita version earlier and I was told your Speed Points sync between the PlayStation 3 version and the Vita version.
Hamish: Yes. If you log in with the same PSN tag [it goes through] Origin. If you're playing on PS3 and you've got a couple hundred thousand Speed Points, when you go to the Vita and play online you'll have those Speed Points.
Eric: Is there like a sync button?
Hamish: No it connects automatically through Origin. What that means actually, because your online rank is linked to those points, you could essentially be ranking up away from your TV and then come back to your TV and get more cars. The productions are separate so mods, races, and the single player are separate...Imagine if you're playing single player and you've done a bunch of races, and then you went to the Vita version. If it had been like you had done those races, you couldn't get Speed Points from them. There's always this decision of, "how much do you sync the productions?" The most fun way would be to give you the speed points and not try to make the rest sync too hard between the two versions.
Eric: I think the cover art is really stylish, was that contracted elsewhere or was marketing behind it?
Hamish: We actually commissioned all sorts of pieces of art. Criterion is very hands-on in terms of the direction. We didn't do it in-house, but we did direct what we wanted. We spent a bunch of time amongst the marketing team and the development team talking about what could be visually arresting because a lot of covers kind of look like kind of the same, and we wanted something very different.
Thanks to Hamish Young for his time and EA for providing Digital Chumps with this opportunity. Need for Speed Most wanted releases in North American October 30th. Check back with us for a review then or check out my extensive preview here.