INTERVIEW NFS The Run

Published on June 6th, 2011

GamerZines: For the first time in Need For Speed’s history you’re introducing out-of-car sequences and a playable character to The Run. What were the reasons behind that?

Jason DeLong, Executive Producer, Need For Speed: The Run: We’ve tried to tell stories in the past with Need For Speed but testing and conversations have revealed that it’s hard to feel connected to the character when we assume that we’re the character, because we’ll always have the actors looking into the camera and talking to you. At some point there’s a fourth wall that gets broken and you don’t really believe you’re that racer, whereas if you apply a believable character to that game, like a movie or a great game, you care for that character. In Drake’s Fortune you care for what happens to Nathan Drake; you’re not him but you’re playing that character. So the introduction of a character was a way for us to tell a story in a way we haven’t been able to before.

GZ: The out-of-car sequences we’ve seen today seem to be based around Quick Time Events. Are all of the out-of-car scenes based around QTEs?

Steve Anthony, Out-Of-Car Lead Producer, Need For Speed: The Run: Essentially, yes. That’s kind of a bad word for us, we don’t want to be referred to as Quick Times. We’re trying to make them a bit more than that to make them our own.

GZ: How do you do that? What makes them different to the way other games have presented QTEs in the past?

SA: We’re trying to present them in a unique way. If you play quick time events from other games the gameplay trees are very straightforward and similar. That’s what we’ve been working on a lot; how do we offer more choice to the player and bring more opportunity for gameplay within them? And then it’s creating unique moments. The gameplay may be similar but can we put you in a moment where you’ve never been before in Need For Speed? It didn’t start off as us needing quick time events, but how we keep you in the fiction and in the gameplay so you’re not just watching the story. That’s what’s most important for us.

GZ: Did you consider giving the player direct control over the character?

SA: We did. It was an investment thing for us and whether it was the right target for our game. We’re a racing game first and foremost and we did a lot of market research on that. People who buy Need For Speed want to drive cars the majority of time. They like being out of the car and having a break in the action, but do they want it 50% of the time? No, not yet. Maybe they’ll get to that stage at some point and maybe we’ll have to look at it a little closer. But moving to Frostbite was a big investment and we had to bring the driving engine over. To then put a full locomotion system in there because we couldn’t use the Battlefield one, that’s a lot of work to take on. Part of it’s just how much you can do with the time left.

GZ: How do these sequences affect Autolog? Competing for a fast lap time is typically skill-based, whereas something like a QTE sequence isn’t necessarily.

SA: Autolog is all about best times against your friends in driving, so Autolog is strictly for driving sections. For that particular level (E3 demo) the rooftop section wouldn’t count, but the moment you get into the cop car to the sequence where you hit the gate, that would be your Autolog time.

GZ: What’s the story behind The Run? Who is Jack running from?

SA: We can’t really go into details. We’re not going to go into the full fiction right now. One is we just shot the script about a month and a half ago so it’s still coming together for us even. And the second one is, we probably won’t reveal the whole story before the game ships anyway. We’ll give you little bits over the summer, but part of the journey itself is the story that drives you there. We can’t really say anything other than it’s a coast-to-coast race and there’s a motivation for why you’re in the race.

GZ: The Run’s emphasis is on action, with some spectacular set pieces and a blockbuster story tying the narrative. Black Box created the driving sections for the PS2 James Bond games. Has the team wanted to do an action racer like this for a long time?

JD: Yeah, for a lot of us it’s in our DNA. You talk about the team that makes up Black Box and we come from all over EA, and within a company as big as this you filter through different projects. I’ve been here for 14 years and have seen and done a lot of things. But several people on the team actually come from the Bond franchise, that’s where I started in the production world, working on the James Bond franchise and these big action driving moments. So for me as soon as we started thinking about the concept for what this could be it was peas in a pod. But just to be clear, though. We’re conscious of our roots, it is a Need For Speed game first and foremost and it’s about the race. Obviously what we’re showing at E3 wants to show how we’re differentiating in Need For Speed, but we’re not Split/Second, it’s not about just action and things blowing up everywhere. Some of that narrative and driving moments punctuate the danger you’re under in this cross-country race, but it is a racing game first and foremost.

GZ: There’s a copy of Uncharted 2 sitting on your desk. Is that for research?

SA: It is, actually. We’ve looked at lots of different games. Uncharted was more of a cinematic focus for us because they do such a good job with their presentation. So it’s more for the pacing. If you play and study Uncharted, you’ll notice that you’ll play gameplay for 10-15 seconds, then there’s a non-interactive sequence for up to 10 seconds. There’ll be a beautiful camera shot, and if you actually go back and break down the gameplay it’s very interesting what they do because there’s limited gameplay and then really long camera shots. There’s no interactive nature at all, just a beauty shot. So we studied how much is too much of that and how much is not enough; we didn’t linger on long shots like they did. We’re Need For Speed, we want the pace to be a little bit faster. That being said, close-up shots of the character, we want to take aspects of that and take sequences where I’m not interacting with the controller and just having a beautiful shot of the world or the action. But we looked at everything: God of War, Uncharted, GTA, we did quite broad exploration.

GZ: Black Box’s last Need For Speed game, NFS: Undercover, didn’t perform well with critics. What have you done since to ensure this year’s game doesn’t suffer the same fate?

SA: No one’s proud of Undercover, it was not a good game. It sold well, so at the same time I’ll say you don’t sell 13m units for nothing. But you know, this year the team is driven to quality. I think our challenge is an internal challenge. We’ve got Undercover obviously which we want to say isn’t the type of game we make, and we have a talented team. They don’t ship games less than 90; we’re shooting for a 90-plus game. We don’t really care whether or not the critics give it to us because of the baggage at Black Box. If we think we’ve delivered a 90 that’s all that matters. Consumers will tell us one way or the other. We want to win racing game of the show, that’s what we’re out for. We want to win game of the show. I mean whether that will happen I don’t know, but that’s what we’re going to push for. Since we started working on the concept for E3 in January that’s been our drive. That software is going to blow you away and I know the team can deliver the rest of the game at that quality bar too.

JD: You can’t question the passion that the team has to make a great game. When a game comes out and it’s poorly rated it kills everybody. The company had been put into a situation where we needed to put a Need For Speed game out every year, and when you look at the resources which the company had to do that Black Box was the studio which was put towards it. I think that the biggest thing we’ve learned as a company really is to allow time for quality. It’s one of the things that John Riccitiello said when he came on board, that we need to worry about quality. EA had so many titles, our SKU was over 70 in any given year, so our average Metacritic was probably okay, but we had some titles that didn’t do very well. So it was important to him that we do fewer titles and each one of those titles has to be super high quality. The way that our structure had been set up wasn’t conducive to that. By splitting off development and saying the next one is on Criterion’s shoulders, we had the time to invest in the technology and concept. I mean quality comes from iteration, being able to try something, throw it out and try something better. Having had the time to do that was a luxury for this team; we haven’t had that in the past. Now we’ve had two and a half years to focus on making this the biggest and best quality experience it can be. We’re not going to be happy if this comes out and is anything less than a 90.

GZ: Need For Speed games tend to differ dramatically each year. Do you think Need For Speed has struggled to find an identity with the consumer?

JD: I would actually argue the opposite. I think it’s that Need For Speed has become so big that it’s become a brand in of itself and the titles within that brand are definitely unique. So one is not a sequel of the next; if you did that Need For Speed 20 would be pretty dry, right? It’s important that NFS as a brand is represented and that what we deliver within that brand is a unique experience. One of the big things that we want to do putting our game out a year after Hot Pursuit – and Hot Pursuit was a very specific type of racing game, it was more of an arcade based game both in terms of the handling and structure, and it’s an amazing game. Whereas our game is a different racing experience completely so they’re complementary as opposed to one being a sequel to the other.

GZ: This is the first time we’ve seen Frostbite 2 running on a console setup. Why did you choose Frostbite 2 and how scalable has the engine been to consoles?

JD: Frostbite is scalable for consoles, no question. The decision that we made to go there was a business decision. The more that we streamline the technology that we use as a company the more we can help each other out. We don’t need to rewrite code year after year because we’re using a different engine, or (re-use assets), so the fact that we can streamline production allows us to iterate more quickly. And if we have a problem with something there’s a knowledge base within the company to help us solve our problems. We did a full investigation, we knew we had the luxury of time and we knew we were going to be able to reinvest in our technology however we wanted to do it. We looked at external and internal, what we’d done in the past, do we take a traditional Need For Speed engine, do we take Criterion’s engine, do we take Frostbite? And there was a huge audit of that done. But in the end, Frostbite provided us with a lot of the tools that we needed and wanted to tell the type of story and type of game that we wanted to do, from the destruction and the audio. The ability to iterate so much more quickly to provide an experience that is epic in scale, you know, we can’t do a story about a cross-country race and then have five tracks; it has to be huge. That tool allows us to do that.

GZ: Are you developing for Project Cafe?

JD: We don’t have any comment on that. We’re not announcing anything.

GZ: Considering how long the development cycle has been for The Run – you mentioned 2.5 years earlier – could this be the last Black Box Need For Speed we see leading on the current generation?

JD: I can’t really comment on that. We don’t know what the next generation is. I think technology continues to evolve but the current generation of consoles has been around for longer than any previous generation and people continue to do really innovative and cool things on it. We don’t know when the next generation’s coming so we just keep doing what we do.

GZ: This November’s line-up is looking stronger than any in recent years. Why should The Run be on people’s radar alongside games like Modern Warfare 3, Battlefield 3, Uncharted 3 and Skyrim etc.?

JD: Because it is probably the most innovative step that’s been taken in the Need For Speed universe in a long time. I think it’s going to surprise a lot of people in terms of its quality in story-telling, performance and gameplay, and for the first time in Need For Speed history people are going to be able to play an experience that they’ve never seen before. It’s going to be new and surprising and I think people are going to be very excited about it.

Need For Speed: The Run launches on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC and 3DS on November 18th 2011. You can check out our huge hands-on preview with the game in the next issue of P3Zine, available to download from June 16th.

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