Need for Speed is back, two years after the drive-cars-real-fast series' previous entry, Rivals. And that's not normal. Gamers had become used to seeing a new Need for Speed game every year, without fail, all the time, forever. It's been that way since 2002, with the only previous breaks since the series began in 1994 coming in 1995-96 and 2001. That said, now that I think about it, '95 and '96 saw the original The Need for Speed ported to PC and consoles from the 3DO, so really the franchise has had just the one year off before now, in 2001. We've had a near continuous 20-plus years of needing to speed(ing).
This year's Need for Speed is one of those reboots we've become accustomed to in gaming, from Tomb Raider to Mortal Kombat to Prince of Persia – no subtitle, no gimmicks, just driving, at night, with a car you can make bright pink and plaster dogs all over the sides of. I did that, because pink cars are cool and dogs are ace. It's got real people in the cutscenes, it takes cues from 2003's awesome Need for Speed: Underground, and it feels purer than any Need for Speed title witnessed in recent years.
Craig Sullivan is creative director at Ghost Games, the Gothenburg-based studio behind both this new instalment in the series and 2013's Need for Speed Rivals. I asked him some questions. Questions like these...
VICE: You've called this the "definitive" Need for Speed. Why?
Craig Sullivan: The fans were being very vocal, very clear in a positive, constructive way, saying, "You're making fun games, but we need more of a Need for Speed experience." They wanted heavy visual customisation and performance tuning, a narrative, and they wanted cops – though less annoying than they had been. They wanted an urban environment and they wanted cars that reflect cars that are actually attainable to them. It's not like we were ignoring them before, but we were maybe not addressing as much as we could have.
So, we decided the next game would have these things in it – and that ultimately led us to realising we were redefining and rebooting Need for Speed, in some cases for a new generation. Some playing now are too young to have played the original Need for Speed: Underground – which is starting to make me feel old – so we said the new game was going to have these features in it, and it was going to be called simply Need for Speed, because that's just what it should be.
But why the name? I mean, technically it's original, as the first game was called The Need for Speed, but come on...
It's not Need for Speed: Dark City, Need for Speed: Japanese Modification – it's Need for Speed. When you come to it, that's what it is. From now on, every Need for Speed game is going to have those core components in it – and that's why we think this is the definitive Need for Speed, certainly for this generation. It's redefining what it is.
'Need for Speed' launch trailer
You gave yourselves an extra year to make the game, which is strange for the series. How hard did you have to fight to get the extra time?
I could give you the corporate PR spin line and say, "Everyone was in agreement from day one," but the reality is that Need for Speed has come out every year for the past 20 years or so. It sells a large amount every time it comes out. As such, we had to convince the publishers (Electronic Arts) we needed to take some time out. They could see, looking back, that the games all sold well, that they had good reviews, so they wanted a bloody good reason.
We had to do it justice, to do what the fans were asking and to not just say, "The game has to come out this year. We know you've been asking for these five things, but we can only do one. You'll get one or two next year, then two or three the year after." Maybe people aren't going to stick with us for that amount of time. So we put our proposal together, we spoke to people high up in EA, and we explained that we would need a year out to do things properly.
So it's sort of like a Need for Speed platform – something you'll be able to build on in future?
The up side is the foundation we're building – it will hopefully put us in a better place going forward. Management agreed with it, it was a compelling argument, and that's where we're at. But it wasn't just a case of us saying, "We're thinking of taking a year off next year, do you mind?" That's not how it works. The ability for us to take a year out shows that EA wants to make a really good Need for Speed game and wants to give us the time to do it properly. I think it's pretty cool.
[It comes back to] the fact it's just called Need for Speed – it's just... setting it down. It's saying, "This is it, and these are the elements that you should expect." When the next game comes out, you should expect the same elements – they'll change, of course, but there'll be narrative and customisation. And cars, obviously.
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You've already mentioned Underground. Did planning for the current Need for Speed begin by sort of saying, "Let's make another Underground game"
When we're working on projects, having lots of meetings and notes and PowerPoint presentations, going through the green-light process inside EA, pitching and everything, the concept we pitched had in brackets, "we're going back to the Underground". It doesn't mean we wanted to make Underground 3 – the game we're making wouldn't have sat well on top of that, it would have potentially been too constricting for us – but we wanted to go back and cherry pick the cool feel of the Underground culture, as we look at it.
And seeing as the Fast and Furious films are more popular than they've ever been...
We watch all of the Fast and Furious movies – they're doing some crazy stuff with off-road, crazy action and all that. But they started out smaller, Vin Diesel and Paul Walker, driving on downtown streets with modified cars and small crowds, and lots of neon. But look at where they've got to – that should be the amount of scope that we have with Need for Speed in the future. You can take driving to cool places, and we'll see, but it's something everyone identifies with and there's a bunch of cool stuff we can do with it. We're just starting.
Speaking of going back to what was before, why the hell have you gone with full-motion-video sequences? Has someone at EA management demanded all games be like mid-'90s titles from the studio?
We looked back to 2012's Most Wanted and saw there was precedent for having live-action footage in the game, but at the same time we wanted to do something new and fresh and innovative with it. At that point we knew that we had a pretty cool engine in terms of Frostbite – it was good enough to the point that in certain circumstances we could show people a car in the game and they would think it was real. So we thought it would be cool to get that real-looking CG car and blend it with real-world objects, papering over the gaps and making everything seamless.
So we got these real people in, so we could see their actual skills in this place where you believe they're part of this CG world. We did a bunch of tests which came out really well, and we realised we could do a thing where, coupled with the car customisation, you could build a car that's essentially part of a scene with real actors. It hadn't really been done before – we don't have separate scenes of actors and a CG car, it's blended together. It's something that feels almost old school, but with a new feeling.
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Finally, there's been talk of "zero microtransactions" in Need for Speed, going forwards. Are you seriously saying there's nothing? No extra payments coming, at all?
You can never say never, as if we ended up doing DLC for this game for 10 years, I can't know what's happening in 10 years' time. All I can say is, honestly, hand on heart, is there are absolutely no plans to charge for content in this game. We're going to give you everything for free. I've seen the plans for what's going to happen over the next few weeks and months – there's nothing in there, by which I mean, we don't even have the ability to charge you in the game. There's no store to speak of.
Everything we're doing is focusing on listening to what the fans are asking for. They're certainly not saying to us, "Can you build a load of stuff and charge us for it?" They're not saying that, so we're not doing that. I know some people when we do press like this, they say, "Yeah, but I'm sure it'll all change in a week or two, or six months." It's not going to. The plan is that there are no transactions in this game. All of the content that we're going to give you – a pretty substantial amount in the future, starting pretty soon – is going to be free. That's what players deserve.
Need for Speed is out in Europe on November 5th for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, having come out today (November 3rd) in the US, with the PC version released in 2016.
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