TGS 2013: Need for Speed: Rivals Interview - Marcus Nilsson Takes the Wheel
Written Tuesday, September 24, 2013 By John Robertson
EA Ghost is now the sole custodian of the Need for Speed franchise, with a whole bunch of Criterion staff moving over to the Swedish studio to spearhead the future of the series. The aim is to make Need for Speed something more "iterative" uniform and in line with gamers' expectations.
That's according to Producer Marcus Nilsson, who we sat down with to talk all things Need for Speed during the Tokyo Games Show, revealing more about Rivals' AllDrive stuff, the Frostbite 3 engine and much more.
Check out our interview below to find out more about the return of classic cops vs. racers action, as EA Ghost looks to bring Need for Speed back to the heights of Criterion's previous Need for Speed titles.
Need for Speed: Rivals seems like a mix between the cops and robbers angle of Hot Pursuit and the open-world of Most Wanted. Would that be a fair description?
Yeah, I think that's fair to say. When we started thinking about Need for Speed for the next-generation we wanted to take things pretty far, going so far as to build the new studio (EA Ghost) in Gothenburg. We also took the Frostbite 3 engine and made a racing game out of it, which is not an insignificant task by any means; trust me, the Battlefield Frostbite 3 and our Frostbite 3 are different.
When we started to think about what we wanted to do we looked a lot at what previous Need for Speeds have done and, for me, the most fun I've ever had with the series has always been either being chased or chasing someone: cops versus racers. It's an easy concept to communicate to consumers, like cowboys versus Indians, so it's natural for us to go that way.
As the series has been around for such a long time, a lot of players will have expectations about what a Need for Speed game is. Do you think that's an advantage or disadvantage when it comes to creating a new entry in the series?
I think it goes both ways, to be honest. In a franchise like this that has been running for a long time, has had some very uneven quality, and one that has been more successful in the past then it is right now... that really indicates that something needs to change. We need to change how we do business, really.
If you look at the setup now, this is obviously a strategic move with EA Ghost owning the Need for Speed brand. The Frostbite 3 engine is here to stay and we are going to approach Need for Speed in a more iterative way than we have done before. I think it's a weakness that we've gone from the Shift experience, to the Hot Pursuit experience, to The Run experience. People just don't know what to expect when they get it into their hands.
I think it can be a strength when people know what to expect, it can be a strength to have the same elements come back in a refined and better way.
So, you're saying the approach you're going for with Rivals will continue with future Need for Speed games?
I think a lot of elements will continue, just like how Autolog has been in Need for Speed since 2010. AllDrive - which destroys the line between single player, co-op and multiplayer - is a big feature for this game and it is here to stay. We've really put a lot of effort into AllDrive because we've seen within the studio just how much it can change how you play. AllDrive will absolutely be part of whatever we do in the future with Need for Speed.
Personalisation is also back with this game, because it makes sense to include it when you're playing in this open-world environment. I think us bringing personalisation back is indicative of where we want to be with this franchise; we want to go back to those roots in which your car is an object for you to use to express yourself.
How does the structure of playing as a cop or a racer work?
It's narrative driven, with there being a very distinct cop career and a distinct racer one. That narrative kind of plays out in the background and lets you know at all times what you should be doing. You can swap back and forth between those whenever you want to.
The narratives are linked in that you're seeing things from different angles, but there is a cop story and a racer story.
How does that story work with AllDrive in mind? Other players can just come in and play the same story?
Yeah. How do you design a game where you're playing single player but I've dropped into your game and we're playing in the same world? We've made it so that the story is more a background kind of thing and it doesn't get in the way of people joining each other's games and ruining the flow. Still, the progression is always there regardless of how you decide to approach things because there's so many things to do.
There could also be a case where you're stuck on a certain racer mission and I decide to join your game and help you complete it. When you're racing I could come in as a cop and start busting the AI racers to help you complete the mission and level up.
Clearly there's a huge online focus here. Is that how you want people to play at all times? Are people missing out if they don't play online?
It is absolutely how I would want people to play, because I think it improves the experience. However, the game is very capable in single-player. You can play through 20 ranks as a cop and 20 ranks as a racer, which then unlocks even more content - so there's an enormous amount to do by yourself if you want to do that.
I just think that AllDrive is a way of delivering the unexpected, with you never really knowing what is going to happen. There could be a scenario where you see me in a chase and you can decide whether to join in or not, or we could be in two different races that cross at an intersection and it causes a huge crash. Those things can't really happen if you're playing alone and without AllDrive.
How many people can be playing the same world at the same time?
For current-generation consoles you can have six players, on next-gen it will be either 10 or 12. We're not really looking to just put the maximum number of players in there, we're looking for the number that will provide the best experience.
Aside from the number of online players, are there any differences between the current and next-gen editions of Rivals?
The visuals are quite different. These new machines are really powerful, more powerful than we initially thought they were. Visually, they're equivalent to very high-end PCs. It's really cool to be able to have that kind of experience on a console.
With that power we can make the game come alive to a whole new level. We've got great particle effects, waves crashing in over the top of cars, all of the things racing games haven't had in the past.
You mention waves there, how else can the weather effect things?
Weather is a big force in Rivals. That's something that we genuinely couldn't do before and it impacts gameplay a lot. It's a fully dynamic weather system that changes throughout the game's day/night cycle. Areas of the world might be raining, in the mountains you might experience a snow storm and the deserts might throw a sandstorm at you.
It's great because you have distinct areas of the world and on top of that you have the weather system, which creates even more variety because you never know what kind of weather is going to occur. Literally, you could be driving through the forest and see the sun coming through the trees, then it starts raining a little before turning into a full storm with lots of rain and the wind bending the trees.
EA Ghost is a new studio, how experienced is the team with racing games?
I was the one in charge of setting it up and, believe it or not, my goal is to produce the best possible studio [laughs]. Most of the roles have been filled by people that I've handpicked. The studio is around 100 people now and I've interviewed almost every one of them.
A couple of the key signings are the creative director Chris Sullivan from Criterion and senior producer Jamie Keen who I worked with at DICE before he went on to do Far Cry 3. That Far Cry 3 open world is so impressive that I really wanted him to come onboard because of how important that kind of environment is going to be for Need for Speed going into the future.
Across the board, though, we have people formerly of Rockstar, Criterion, Turn 10, DICE. It's a sweet little pool of people.
Need for Speed: Rivals is out in November for Xbox 360 and Xbox One.