Need for Speed Rivals: Building On Criterion's Heritage
Destroying the line between single-player, co-op and multiplayer?
It’s been an exciting week to be a video game revhead, with Gran Turismo 6, Forza Motorsport 5 and now Need for Speed Rivals all being announced within the last seven days or so.
Based on the west coast of Sweden, Ghost Games (formerly EA Gothenburg) has some work to do to follow Criterion’s well-received work on both 2010’s Hot Pursuit and 2012’s Most Wanted – but the studio is getting all the help it needs from the House that Burnout Built.
“We put together a new team to try to find some new energy and get some new thinking into it,” explains DICE and Battlefield veteran Marcus Nilsson, now heading up Ghost Games. “But Rivals is very much a product between Criterion and Ghost, which means that a lot of the details, a lot of the thinking, about how you create a racing game are going to be there.”
Rivals is very much a product between Criterion and Ghost.
“When you start a new studio and you have Criterion as your sister studio, you’d be pretty foolish if you don’t take all the best parts and the thinking from those people.
“The first people we hired to Ghost were low level physics programmers because, as you know, how the car feels is where it starts and ends. If the car is not really awesome to drive, don’t bother doing the rest. The heritage here from Criterion is hugely helpful. In my opinion, Criterion has the best arcade handling cars, and especially the best cameras connected to those cars.”
But when it comes to what differentiates Rivals from the last pair of Criterion cops ’n racers games, Nilsson describes Rivals’ new AllDrive feature.
“We bring a feature called AllDrive, which is fundamentally a way for us to destroy the line between single-player, co-op and multiplayer,” he says.
“You can be in Australia, you boot it up, you’re playing the game alone, you’re going through the single-player progression, playing through the premise, and then I join the game. We’re friends, you and me, so I’ll automatically be put into your world. I can still be playing my single-player progression, through my premise, but at any time – obviously, we’re in same world – our worlds can meet.
[T]he idea with this is that you seamlessly, through player action, go from a single-player experience to [a multiplayer one.]
“I can be a cop, you’re a racer; you’re in a race, I’m in a pursuit. If we happen to be on the same road, I can start going after you. There’s obviously point bonuses and stuff involved in that, in the details, but the idea with this is that you seamlessly, through player action, go from a single-player experience to [a multiplayer one.]”
There’s been a real migration to connectivity in racing games; it’s been a long generation and there was quite a bit of discussion about where racing games could go during these final few years and beyond. Is something like AllDrive the next logical step?
“I’m obviously from Battlefield, worked on most of the Battlefield games, the last one being Battlefield 3, and, as you know, that has a real multiplayer focus,” says Nilsson. “It has a really connected focus with the Battlelog stuff and those are obviously things that I bring with me.”
“Need for Speed, traditionally, is played by people that play through the single-player part; they play alone. This game is going to be as rewarding, or even more rewarding, as the previous Need for Speed if you’re playing through alone, but with the layer of playing with others I believe we can take it to a Need for Speed experience they’ve never experienced before.”
Nilsson feels it’s a natural step. There are no lobbies with AllDrive.
“Rather I show up in your world and the game is presenting new options for us to play the game rather than playing it alone,” he says.
Like many games arriving at the end of the year, Need for Speed Rivals is straddling two generations. AllDrive will feature across both current gen and next gen versions but, regarding the latter, what specifically does all this extra power allow Ghost Games to do that wasn’t possible before? Nilsson explains.
“Next generation to me is much more about a mindset; how you think about games,” he says. “How you think about games being connected. How you think about games being convenient.”
“Visuals is going to be the starting point; triple A games will look fantastic. You can do that with all that with this extra power, especially power focused on getting great stuff on screen. But I think we need to pick where we do it.
I’m talking about a world that feels a lot more alive, with things moving, using weather and really create a world that, quite honestly, could not be delivered on current gen.
“I think from a visual standpoint we will be able to make worlds that are far more alive than before; the sterile look of racing games is probably something of the past. I’m not talking about having pedestrians in Need for Speed games; I’m talking about a world that feels a lot more alive, with things moving, using weather and really create a world that, quite honestly, could not be delivered on current gen.
“It also comes back to feel. With extra CPU power you can actually have a lot more surfaces that the car can react to – not something that we’re going to go ‘sim’ on for that matter, but it is something that we now can differentiate a little bit more.
“But as I said, this is about a mindset; it’s about how you play games differently and how we can get you, in a smart way, to stay connected to the game – whether you’re inside a game or outside a game. Even getting into your game once you’re back; there’s a big extension to Autolog that I’m not going to talk about today but that is definitely a big part of what is making Need for Speed next generation this time around. How it’s evolved from simply a sofa experience with the controller in your hand to something bigger.”
From a development standpoint, Nilsson describes the step from this generation to the next has been similarly tough, but the challenges haven’t been the same.
“Thinking back to the old transition, we certainly had a lot of problems,” he says. “Xbox and PlayStation were not similar at that point in time. What we’re finding now is that both architectures are more alike.”
“But it was more complicated this time around, I think. It’s more than just a box. It’s about layers, it’s about clouds. It’s about data being transferred and matchmaked, not locally in your room but somewhere else.
“The technology is easier to work with; there are better tools, absolutely. Obviously we have Frostbite 3 engine which has gone through a few iterations now and truly, truly is powerful and really next gen ready.
“It is hard. Probably as hard as last time, but it’s just that the problems are a little different.”
Probably just a Top Gun fan, said no cop, ever.
On the topic of this year’s schedule of heavy-hitting first-party racing juggernauts, however, Nilsson is positive.
“I know for a fact that in transition years, racing games are important,” he says. “They were used last generation to show off the graphical fidelity of what the boxes could do, similar to now.”
“I think more racing games is good. I think that we can benefit from having more racing games. I think we need great racing games. We need innovation in racing games. And it cannot only be about details of car seats and seams and similar features; they need to be about gameplay. We need to change the enjoyment of playing games alone and together with others.”
I've always been a huge NFS fan, so I can't wait to see how this one works.