Need For Speed – Interview

As most of you will no doubt already know, we are only a week or so away from the release of Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit with Criterion taking over the role of developer to bring us an entirely new slant on the Need For Speed franchise, including their built in take on social networking – the Autolog.  When you’re designing a new driving experience, who better to be at the helm than a developer with a vested interest in real world racing.  We were lucky enough to talk to Senior Vice President of EA Games Europe,  Patrick Söderlund, who has himself been racing cars for over six years now after he was given a race driver licensing course as a gift by his wife. One converted BMW Z3 later, Patrick was hooked and has been racing ever since… but today we’re here to talk about virtual racing… Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit!

How did the whole thing of Criterion first being passed the need for speed torch come around? Were they sitting around after finishing Burnout Paradise and decided they wanted to work on it or were they asked?

I’ll be honest with you, they were working on something else at the time and we started looking at how to resurrect and bring the quality back to Need for Speed. We had Shift in development so we had a game for last year but when we looked at what we had for this year we couldn’t see the signs that we wanted to see from that so we ended up killing what we had in development and talking to Criterion. We said “You guys can do this, are you up for the challenge?” they said “Yeah we can do it” and at the time Alex and Fiona and the team at Criterion said “We want to build this… here is what we would like to build”, and we said “Yeah go for it”. It was obviously an important move for the brand and for the franchise because we knew what we would get with Criterion.

Can you speak about the project they were working on before it was cancelled?

No, it was very very early it was more or less a game that we had in pre production; an idea that they were working on and then this came up. It wasn’t that they were deep into something and we had to kill it, it was more “Let’s put that on ice for a little bit and do this instead” and they really wanted to do that.

Seacrest County, game world wise, is a big area… sort of four to five times the size of what Burnout Paradise was; when starting the development of something like that you obviously start with a big blank canvas. What was one of the first things to exist within the game world?

Oh OK interesting, what I saw the first time I had seen the world was what they showed me and that was a hand drawn map of what… well it wasn’t called Seacrest County it was called something else, I can’t remember what. They wanted to build a world that had the type of epic drives that you get from something like  Paradise, not necessarily a tight urban city but somewhere that had these long roads where you can take these fast cars out and really enjoy them, that was the intent. They also wanted to create a world that had a significant variation, they told me that we would have a huge world with different eco systems; there’s a Californian coastline with palm trees, there’s the snowy kind of ski resort area up in the hills, there’s the desert area and the rocky mountain area and a kind of pine tree forest area so there’s a lot of variation inside the world. The first thing we saw was just a map of just road stretches with names on like; forest here, California coastline here, and then when I went into the game the first thing I had was flat ground with a bit of undulation and then roads. So the roads were the first thing that they did and they did that from a gameplay perspective… so let’s build something that plays well and then dress the world around that.

Is there anything that was in the game at one point in development that didn’t make the final cut because it just didn’t fit the style of the game?

Yes well that goes with any type of game development, you can talk to any developer in the world and they’ll say that we had this idea for the following things and it just didn’t work.  As an example, one of the first things we saw in multiplayer was an event where you would go from point A to point B and the end goal was to race around a flag and the flag went up.

Super Mario style?

Yeah well they quickly realised that it wasn’t the best of ideas and they just tossed that out, which is an example of the things that come up. Those kind of ideas we realise quickly that they are not working and what comes out of it is “Well that didn’t work but we found this thing to be cool” and they can build around that and take it further. The Criterion guys are really intuitive, they do things really quickly – they toss a bunch of things at it and ask is this fun? Well no, it wasn’t but we learned the following things and that’s a pilot to the next idea that we have, and the test that it’s a very iterative process that they use. Maybe more so than some other developers that I’ve worked with.

All the cars in Hot Pursuit are all licensed cars, is it an easy process to work with licensed cars? You must have to keep the manufacturers of the cars happy, or is it easier to make the cars up like in the Burnout series?

Oh for sure its ten times easier to make the cars up, because they can look as you want and you can do whatever you want with them because they are fictional cars. It obviously important that we have licensed cars; it’s something that a lot of the people that buy racing games, me included, are after. I want to be able to enjoy a Lamborghini Gallardo or a Bugatti Veyron whether it’s a police car or something and we have had a brilliant time talking to the manufacturers; they have really allowed us to crash the cars and put damage on the cars, and they’ve been very forthcoming when it comes to those types of things, which was a surprise to me. It hasn’t been easy, but I would say it has been a lot easier than I anticipated.

There’s a piece of text on the menu screen that says “in association with DICE” which isn’t as big as the big flashy criterion logo, what input did DICE have on the game?

So what DICE did, well first off Criterion built the whole game but what the DICE team did was build the world, so the whole world was built at DICE because the Criterion guys just couldn’t do it. Well they could do it they just didn’t have the time. So every single art piece included in the world, including the mountains and the roads and everything, they were made at DICE, the placement of all the trees and the houses and everything, that was what DICE did. There was about thirty people that worked on it from DICE.

Earlier at the start of the day you spoke about moving away from the problems of the Most Wanted era of the franchise where customisation and tuning and things like that played an integral part of the game, was it an easy decision to make to move away and abandon that?

Yes, because I think that I tend to look at games in an holistic perspective and that this makes sense as a complete package and what Alex and Fiona from the Criterion team presented to me felt like a very complete package. They felt that customising the cars wouldn’t add anything to this particular game because we will give them fantastic cars already and there’s so many of them with the racers side and the cops side plus there are the nitros and the weapons that each side can use so they felt like the customisation was an unnecessary part of the game so it was actually never an issue to abandon to be honest.

Going back over all the coverage and trailers since the reveal at E3 from a gamers point of view, I’ve always thought the Autolog looks too good to be true but, having played it today and going from the limited access to it on the demo, I can see it does work like how you said.  It’s essentially a social network in the same way that Twitter and Facebook are; is it an easy thing to create your own social network?

No, (laughs) no it isn’t and, frankly, I was extremely intrigued by the idea of Autolog but at the same time I was like, “How are they going to pull this off?” Because there are so many things with a huge database, the comparison engine. What’s so powerful with Autolog is the asynchronous gameplay, the kind of friends aspect of it where you and I are friends and I set a good time on something whether I’m playing single player or multiplayer – that comparison engine is still feeding me with information. There’s really a social aspect to it where I get to kind of hang around with my friends inside the game world which is so cool.

We’d been through many different iterations of what Autolog is and what it ended up becoming before we came to this point, but the idea was there from the start. They had the idea about the social network, we had the name and everything, and it was designed, but then it’s fine tuning it… and iterating this thing is not fun. It might be too complicated, people don’t get it or it doesn’t serve a purpose and now I think we have a good clean suite of parts in Autolog that really make sense and it’s something that we’ll bring forward into future Need For Speed games; we are going to continue with Autolog  – it’s a fantastic idea created by Criterion and something we’ll see in all Need For Speed games going forward.

I did notice a space on the Need For Speed website for where Autolog will sit, what sort of features can we expect to see on there?

I expect that it will have the basic functionality that Autolog has and then, as we go and progress in this particular game and also in other future Need For Speed games, we’ll see Autolog become bigger with added features, that’s the intent. We have a special team that the Criterion guys are a big part of that spans across the Need For Speed franchise that are planning out the Autologging for the future, and they are the special work group that work on it.

As a developer, how do you feel about the pre-owned games market and is access to the Autolog going to work the same as access to the Cerberus network from Mass Effect 2, and in other games like Battlefield, with the online pass?

Need For Speed Hot Pursuit comes with an online pass so, in order to access the online features, you need to purchase the game new or pay your way into it if you bought it used. It’s just a strategy that EA has, and I think it’s the right strategy for us. The used market is both good and bad to some extent, for us at least.  I won’t go to deep into that but I think that the solution that we have is fair and something that works, and the consumer accepts that to be honest, and that’s how I think we are going to continue doing it I think.

Patrick Söderlund and Edward Sandstrom take the podium at Zolde

Are there any plans to bring the Autolog to devices like the iPhone and android phones in app form? If so, can we expect to see it around the game’s launch?

Yes we are! Not sure when, but we are hoping. “We are working on it” is the official statement and we’ll get it out as quickly as we can.

Easy one to finish on, what’s your favourite car in the game?

My favourite car in the game has to be the… erm… I think it has to be the Bugatti Veyron cop car.  Yeah, well it’s such an insane idea right? That’s why I really like it.

The Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit demo is currently available on Xbox LIVE Marketplace worldwide and the PlayStationNetwork, with the full retail release ships on November 19th, 2010.  Start your engines…

Last five articles by Lee



  1. Adam Adam says:

    Yay Patrick!

    Yay Lee!

    What a lovely, friendly guy he must be :D

  2. Richie rich says:

    The demo (which may be out, I don’t know) will have to be AMAZING for me to fall for another NFS game. I did love Underground 2 though. Excellent game. A huge guilty pleasure.

  3. Kat says:

    I still haven’t played the demo, it’s been sat on my Xbox for a week. Might rectify that now.

    Cool interview Lee :)

  4. Samuel Samuel says:

    I’ve not bothered with Need for Speed in a very long time now, I think the last one I really got into and enjoyed was the PC version of Porsche Unleashed, which is bloody ancient now. I play a lot of racers, and Need for Speed just stopped being as good as the competition, so that was more or less that.

    I’ve played the demo for Hot Pursuit though on my 360, and I’m coming around to it. I’m seriously considering it, which is a big achievement for the franchise in and of itself in my view, though I do still have some reservations. Such as it feeling a lot like Burnout Paradise with licensed cars and a slightly better graphics engine. And the fact that Test Drive Unlimited 2 is coming out in a couple of months and looks like being a better bet in the long term as I loved the first one and the game looks superb.

    I guess I’m still more or less on the fence over this.

    Regardless, an excellent interview Lee, and massive kudos for getting to talk to Patrick Söderlund.

  5. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    The last Need For Speed I properly played was Most Wanted on the PSP, and I loved it. In fact, I would likely have completed it had it not been for the little controller stick thingy going a bit haywire and always veering to the left. It just made games such as NFS unplayable as you would end up constantly nudging the stick towards the right and it meant you couldn’t really concentrate on what was going on… you’d instead be watching the field of vision to watch for the signs of when it was pulling to the left and sometimes, trying to avoid vehicles or overtake others, it would just pull you straight into them. Not a flaw in the game, but on the PSP itself, and so I never got to complete it but DID get about 80% through it before giving up completely.

    I also tried Need For Speed: Shift on the 360 but just couldn’t get in to it at all, I just didn’t like the handling or the gameplay. Was a little tedious. Now Burnout… I love Burnout…. because it’s GOOD to crash, and the crashes are spectacular. It makes the game much more enjoyable when there are moments of “HOLY CRAP!!!” after slamming in to something and being thrown 30 ft in the air with bits flying off everywhere rather than just shunting to a stop. I think it’s the slowmo crashes that make Burnout for me, and the fact that you don’t need to have that uber realistic handling or, as Lee said in the preview piece, the arcade style driving of Blur.

    It’s rare that I’ll look forward to a driving game, especially a NFS driving game, but yeah… I’m looking forward to this one. It better live up to its own, and my internal, hype… or I’ll be crackin’ skulls! Enjoyed this a lot dood, nice one!

  6. Edward Edward says:

    An excellent first interview, Lee! You done good, lad. :D

    Nice to see he was so talkative and passionate about the game, too!

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