The launch of Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit is just around the corner, and so to celebrate we caught up with the game’s senior producer Matt Webster to give us the lowdown on what he thinks goes in to making a great racing game and discuss what the future has in store for Hot Pursuit.
So, you’re on the home straight now. Are you all set for release?
Yeah! We’re in certification now, but… oh God. [laughs]
Criterion has experimented with other genres before, but the studio’s known predominantly as being racing experts. Where do you think the team’s strengths lie when it comes to racing games in particular?
I think our principles are strong – and I think this would apply to any game we do – but we favour the player at every possible opportunity, and that starts with getting your hands on the pad, be able to drive a car and have fun very quickly. Have simple gameplay mechanics, because complexity is not innovation, and I think that’s a common mistake. Give me the action quickly – that’s the arcade heritage, let’s not forget that – make it look good, make it sound good, give me a lot of action, make it fun, make it simple and make it connected.
I think any game we do would be built alongside those principles irrespective of what the actual core premise is. It just so happens that we’ve got an awful lot of experience in four wheels on tarmac. Two wheels too, actually – I forgot about that. And a plane [laughs]. Anyway, the principles remain the same.
That sets a level of expectation, because when we got to do Need For Speed it was ‘what would your take on it be’, and those are the conversations we have in the office anyway. When we’re playing a game we think, ‘oh, they should have done that’, or ‘that’s really cool, how can we get that to work in something else’. We play a lot of games, we talk about games, and we love building them alongside those simple sets of rules.
What makes Hot Pursuit different to Criterion’s previous racing games?
With Burnout it’s real easy because we can make it entirely our own. But Need For Speed means a lot of things to a lot of different people, and we’ve grown up with it. Throughout our careers there’s always been a Need For Speed title. I’ve been here for twenty years and I have vivid memories of the very first one, so you can’t help but be influenced by it.
And principally it’s real cars and we can’t discount how much that means. It’s really exciting and we threw ourselves in. There’s some fabulous stuff that we tried to eek out and to include some information about the cars, but to do it in a fun way with the names of the events and stuff like that.
Yeah, exactly. Otherwise it’s just geometry and it means nothing. Having a limited set of vehicles was deliberate otherwise they’d all blend into one another. There’s a feeling of difference and people will gravitate to the ones that they like, or that they dream about or know naturally that they can drive and have fun with.
Was Burnout Paradise’s Cops & Robbers DLC used as a starting point for Hot Pursuit?
No, that was a real simple DLC add-on. This time we had to think about how to make a career out of that. It sounds like a subtle difference but it’s incredibly important; one races and one chases; you’re still driving a car fast but the goal is very different.
So how do we take that in a slightly different area with different experiences, and then when you bring them together what do you do? For example, in Hot Pursuit you have Time Trials as a Racer and Rapid Responses as a Cop. The Cop doesn’t earn nitrous in oncoming and if he touches the sides and damages the car he gets a time penalty. It’s radically different – I fear the Rapid Responses.
With very simple mechanics, even though the experience is fundamentally the same – race against the clock – the player’s experience is dramatically different. We want to derive a reaction from people, a smile or a wince. Those have still got to be your guiding lights.
Come back tomorrow for the second part of our exclusive interview with Matt.