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Criterion Games Interview

Posted by Matthew Hewson On Friday 5 October 2012Comments Off

In my recent travels to Sydney, I managed to get some hands on time with a little upcoming racing title called Need for Speed: Most Wanted. This game is being developed by the team at Criterion, the racing gurus behind such high speed hits as the Burnout franchise and Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. While playing the game was a blast, another highlight of the day was talking to Leanne Loombe, producer on the game and getting to ask her just a few questions about what we can expect to see in Most Wanted.

Most Wanted has been compared to another Criterion game, Burnout Paradise, by many people so I asked Loombe what made this a Need for Speed game as opposed to a Burnout game. “Obviously it’s got the racing and the open world and that is just in Criterion’s DNA to make an open world game with the racing, chasing and exploring. Every game we make is a reflection of who we are at the time. Burnout was Burnout, Hot Pursuit was Hot Pursuit and now Most Wanted is its own beast. It brings all of the best things from each game we have made and I think both fans of Burnout and Need for Speed are going to love it and that’s the most important thing for us” said Loombe.

I wanted to know a bit more about the confines of working within a longstanding franchise so I asked Loombe if there were any pros or cons in working with such an esteemed label. She was quick to claim that it was a situation with some great benefits and almost no negatives. “We had free reign as to what we wanted to do next I don’t think there are any cons at all. We have been able to use the brand to bring licenced cars to the game and make a great open world driving game.”

Without doubt one of the greatest things about the previous Criterion developed NFS game (Hot Pursuit) was the introduction of Autolog. This was the time tracking component that told us how our friends were doing and allowed a real sense of social interaction. This system was so successful that it has gone on to feature in several other titles, including extreme sports game SSX. I asked Loombe what they had in store for Autolog version 2. “We really wanted to take it to the next level. In Hot Pursuit it was really revolutionary, a kind of multiplayer that didn’t need everyone to be playing at once. The only problem was it only compared one thing and that was your race time so we wanted it to be integral to the whole game. The best way to do that is we made it so it compares everything you do. It is constantly bringing in your friends’ times, your friends’ jumps and your friends’ progress. Everything is wrapped into the Autolog system and it really drives the social feel we wanted for the game. We are trying to make a truly connected gameplay experience.”

Most Wanted is breaking with racing game tradition in a big way. No longer will cars have to be unlocked. All cars, bar the 10 most wanted, will be available to the player from the start. They simply have to be found within the game world. I asked Loombe about the logic behind this massive change in the way we play. “When we started developing, it was a very conventional racing game. As we were playing through, we asked the question: why do I have to spend all this time to get to the good cars? Why can’t I just drive the Bugatti Veyron? We wanted players to just be able to play they want to play. That is really important for us, giving people that unique experience, the ability to play how they want to play. We feel that the only reason cars are locked in racing games is because 20 years of tradition says they should be and you just have to grind through to get to the car you want to drive. For us, the player can drive the 911 or the Lambo straight away. If players only have 20 minutes to play, they should be able to drive their favourite car rather than having to play for X amount of hours to get to it. With people’s busy lives, they may only get 20 minutes to play and we want to cater for that.”

Further to this, I questioned whether there would still be enough to pull players through the game, the proverbial “carrot on a stick”. Loombe was confident that there was still plenty of incentive. “We still have the single player progression, where the 10 most wanted cars are locked and they are highly desirable, so the players I am sure will want to hunt them down. Along with this there are many other collectables and events which will keep people coming back for more.”

As my time was coming to a close, I managed to sneak in one last question, just for my sake. Crash Mode, the super event from the Burnout games has been MIA since Burnout Revenge and I just had to ask Loombe what were our chances of seeing it return to our screens in a NFS game? Her response was vague but gave me some hope. “We love Crash Mode and we can’t say what is going to happen in the future but it is something that we really love and, well, we’ll see.”

That marked the end of my time with Loombe. If you read my hands-on article you would know I was pretty impressed by what I was shown and it really looked to be the product of a talented and enthusiastic group who clearly love the game they are creating. This only bodes well for the final product when it reaches the racing fan masses.

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