Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit Developer Interview

by on October 4, 2010

This past Thursday the good folks at EA invited the GodisaGeek team to their offices in Guildford to check out the soon to be released Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. As some of you might know the game is being developed by Criterion Games, a studio well known for the fantastic Burnout series. Taking that into account, we accepted the invite and headed off to Guildford.

Whilst at the studio, we got some hands-on time with the game itself (single player and multiplayer) and impressions are due to the hit the website soon, but today we bring you an interview with the games Creative Director and all round nice guy, Mr Craig Sullivan. A variety of questions were put to him and his answers were very interesting. Read on to find out what he had to say.

GodisaGeek: The majority of gamers associate the Need for Speed series with a certain type of racing game. Taking that into account, did you ever think of naming the game something totally different? Something related to the Burnout series perhaps?

Craig Sullivan: To be honest when we started out making the game we didn’t know it was going to be called Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, we just didn’t. We knew we were working on a Need for Speed game and it would say Need for Speed somewhere in the title, apart from that we were pretty much given free rein to do whatever we wanted to.

We looked back and thought what it means to us, what is Criterion’s take on Need for Speed? We kind of boiled it down to super exotic cars, epic drives, brilliant police chases and the ability to play as a cop. As I mentioned before, it’s the most requested feature from the Need for Speed audience – the ability to play as a cop. Then it was all about putting those features together into a game that is fully connected, something that brings you and your friends into the heart of the battle.

We got to the game before we got to the name. We realised we were making something that had a lot of cops in it and was really interesting to us, so we thought what can we call this? Is it Most Wanted? Is it Most Wanted 2? Is it Hot Pursuit? Eventually we thought this actually fits quite well with Hot Pursuit and went with it. Then we went back to look at what we had, changed it a bit and thought “right, let’s really go to town”, the games going to be called Hot Pursuit so let’s really make sure we do justice to the title.

We could’ve called it something else, but I think it’s a pretty good fit for the software that we have today.

Matt Webster (Producer) and Craig Sullivan (Creative Director)

GodisaGeek: The autolog feature looks and sounds very impressive. Where did the inspiration for this particular feature come from?

Craig Sullivan: From everywhere really! Everybody has an iPhone, I see you have one here! I’m sure you’ve got Facebook, Twitter and all that, right?

GodisaGeek: That would be correct, yes!

Craig Sullivan: Well, there you go! We live in a time where everybody is connected to everything all of the time. For instance, Facebook are doing that places stuff now so people can actually see where you are. You see stuff like, “he’s just gone home…he’s in the car…he’s gone to San Francisco…go round and rob his house”. (Laughter ensues)

We live in a world that is very different to how things were five years ago. We’re inspired by everything that we see and we realised that multiplayer games were very “of the second”. For example, unless me and you play against each other right now…we can’t play each other. What about when you go on holiday or if I’m playing games and you’re not. So, we thought how about we connect everybody together and we serve up these comparisons. For example, we tell you the last time I played, I beat your time/score and then when you start playing again, if you beat my time/score, we tell me. It builds this fantastic gameplay loop.

We allow you to post on the wall in the game, we allow you to take pictures in the game and share them with friends…in the game! We don’t rely on Facebook or Twitter to do all of this stuff and kind of spam everybody. It’s all kept nice and simple. We keep it all in the software and we make it fun.

A normal Seacrest County day!

GodisaGeek: Burnout Paradise featured some fantastic co-op based gameplay; will we see anything like that in Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit?

Craig Sullivan: I think all of our online gameplay is co-op oriented as you can set up eight player matches. You can play with one cop and seven racers, seven cops and one racer or four cops and four racers.

Now within that, based on the kind of person you are, you might be rolling with your fellow cops and think let’s play the team game and take all the racers down or you might think I’m going to screw over every other cop, bust the most racers and get the biggest bounty. Same thing might apply to you as a racer; you might think there are a load of cops chasing me, I could use my spike strip on them or that guy I know is quicker than me, I’m going to spike strip him and screw him over to win.

In Burnout we had the freeburn challenges, as you say, and we had this idea of “co-opetition”, where you work together, but at the end of the day you want to be better than the other guy. We have that same feeling in this game. Do you choose to work as a team or do you choose to go solo? The game doesn’t dictate what you have to do to be successful; we just leave it up to you and what kind of person you are.

GodisaGeek: Looking from the outside it might seem as if it easier to be a cop rather than a racer. To people who you say that, how would ease their fears? Are there any particular measures you have put in place to ensure the gameplay is balanced?

Craig Sullivan: I think a lot of people haven’t seen what being a racer has to offer and what weapons you have at your disposal. However, to be honest, this was actually a weird thing for us and something we won’t truly find out until the game has been released. The skill sets are actually quite different, the obvious similarity is that you’re driving a car, but when I’m driving as a racer I’m looking to win a race or trying to avoid cops. As a cop, I’m solely focused on taking out a racer and hunting down my targets…I think they are very different experiences.

During the course of development we do a lot of playtesting, where we invite groups of people who have never played the game to come and test it out. Honestly, the split has been straight down the middle. 50% prefer playing as a cop and 50% prefer playing as a racer. We think the difficulty is the same on both sides and that is honestly what we have been seeing. Some people are obviously going to prefer one side over the other, but hopefully people like both. If we achieve that then we have done our jobs well.

Road blocks? Where we're going, we don't need road blocks!

GodisaGeek: How many cars will feature in Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit?

LOTS! (Craig laughs) We haven’t really confirmed a car list yet. Actually, one of the producers said that there were more than 65 cars in the game. That doesn’t mean the number is 66…I would say there are significantly more than 65 cars in the game.

GodisaGeek: It has already been stated that Seacrest County will feature over 100 miles of open road; do you have any plans on further expanding that? With a new area or city perhaps?

Craig Sullivan: There are no immediate plans as of today, but who knows what we are going to do in the future. With Burnout Paradise we did a year of downloadable content called the “year of paradise”. We tried out a load of different things and they were pretty much all successful, so I would be very surprised if we didn’t do something similar with Hot Pursuit. However, we can’t go into the details at the moment.

GodisaGeek: As a follow up to that, are there any plans for DLC? If so, when can fans expect to see this new content and what will it include?

Craig Sullivan: There are plenty of plans; we’ve always got plans for anything we do. We’ve talked about it and I think there is an expectation out there. Like I said though, we just can’t confirm anything at the moment. What do you think?

GodisaGeek: Yes? (Laughter ensues)

We would all join the police if they drove cars like this!

GodisaGeek: Apart from Burnout and Need for Speed, what racing game (arcade or simulation) do you most admire or enjoy playing?

Craig Sullivan: We play everything because we have to keep up to date with all the titles that are out there, so we can have an opinion on them. For example, we played Blur, Split/Second and Forza 3. Personally, I’m really looking forward to Gran Turismo 5 and it will be a day one purchase.

We play a lot of racing games here and we also play some really obscure titles too. Some of the stuff we’re inspired by has nothing to do with racing. As for games we’re playing at the moment, we’re still chipping away at Forza 3.

The cool thing about working in the games industry is that you also get a lot of those games for free! Basically, we play everything! Every driving/racing game you could think of, we play it.

GodisaGeek: Final dreaded question (Craig laughs in anticipation), are you looking at adding in any Move or Kinect support to Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit via a patch maybe? If not, do you think any of your future titles will support these devices?

Craig Sullivan: We can’t confirm anything, but Criterion has always been a company that is interested in new technology. For example, we had camera support in Burnout Paradise on both consoles and we have it in Hot Pursuit too.

Are we interested and excited by these new devices? Yes. Will we be doing something with them in the future? I would be very surprised if we didn’t!

Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is currently set to be released in North America on November 16th and in Europe on November 19th. Don’t forget to check out our hands-on impressions which are due to hit the website at the end of the week.