Need for Speed Rivals launches alongside the new next-gen systems later this month, as well as coming to current-gen and PC. We talked to the game’s Creative Director, Craig Sullivan, about the pressure to deliver a game for launch, being the only racer on PS4, and resolutions.
CS: So it’s 1080p on both PS4 and Xbox One
Is that native?
CS: erm, I’m not a super-tech guy, so, I don’t know, I would say yes, but if someone finds out afterwards that it isn’t, or if someone disagrees with me, then take his word over mine. I’m just a director. But yeah, 1080p on both.
What are your thoughts on the 1080p controversy?
CS: It’s different for us right? Because we’re in the industry. We scrutinise the consoles and these new games so much. I think that the reality is, that 90% of our audience, if they came in and we showed Need for Speed Rivals running on an Xbox One and a PS4, they wouldn’t really be able to tell the difference. I don’t think a large portion of people would.
Now I can’t speak for other games, because obviously the consoles are not out yet, and I don’t know how other games are fairing in terms of direct side-by-side comparisons, but for us, we just made sure that the game was as good as it possibly could be on all five platforms. Yes there will probably be some games where there will be a big disparity between them, but I don’t think there is on our game, hopefully you’d agree with me from seeing them. We’ll just have to wait and see I think, you’re always going to get this, kind of, I would say war, but it’s probably too strong a word. You’re always going to get people supporting PlayStation or Xbox. I remember when it was Nintendo vs Sony and all this stuff when new consoles come out. I don’t think that will ever go away, it kind of quietens down after a bit, but people will make up their own opinions off of the games that are out over the next few weeks.
Personally, I’m going to buy both of them, because I’m lucky that I can do that, and each machine offers different games. They’ll come in different resolutions, but I’d rather concentrate on the gameplay behind why these games are next-gen rather than just visuals again. Visuals are also going to be good and a step-up anyway so I’m going to be more interested in what’s the experience that stands behind that.
You mention that gameplay is key, and that there won’t be massive differences between PS4 and Xbox One in relation to your game, but in a previous interview with us you said there were subtle differences between the two versions. What will these be if not resolution?
CS: I mean the machines just render in slightly different ways. If you look really closely, even if you tried to make them perfectly, exactly identical, you can’t because they’re on different systems. You know, Frostbite 3 works slightly differently on Xbox One than it does on PlayStation 4, and, they just look slightly different. There’s no one thing that’s lacking on either, they just render in a very slightly different way.
The thing is, when people talk about this stuff, the fact is everybody has different TVs for a start, so even if we both have an Xbox One and I come round to your house and play any game, you come round to my house and play a game, our TVs are going to make them look different anyway. I think it’s something that people like to talk about a lot, but as I said I’m more interested in the gameplay and what that offers on both systems.
You’ve talked a lot about the blend between single- and multiplayer in the build-up to launch, and striking a balance between what people love in both Hot Pursuit and Most Wanted, where did you feel that balanced lied in Rivals?
CS: I think we were really lucky to be in a position where we had two very different games to look at and compare and contrast. We’ve always been very vocal about the fact that we have telemetry that ships on our game. So essentially we get the numbers back from what people actually play, so you know the numbers don’t lie. If something’s really popular, we have the numbers coming back to us. So we know that in Hot Pursuit, 50% of our audience played as a cop and 50% as a racer. We thought it would be very different, but actually it was surprising that it was so similar. So we thought, ‘ok, people like to play as cops’ so it’s something we need to do again, but by then we were already into Most Wanted and the cop-racer gameplay didn’t fit so well with Most Wanted. You can’t be Most Wanted if you’re a cop and we were already down that road of being most wanted. So that was one thing we knew we wanted to explore with the next game.
In Hot Pursuit, if you go back and look at it, there’s not real open-world gameplay in terms of collectibles, the events are pretty much chevronned off, there’s little open-world play, the interceptors are and some online play is. So we knew we wanted to do collectibles, and obviously we did a lot of collectibles, and some very good ones, in Most Wanted we really embraced open-world freedom in that game. So we took that. Autolog compared everything in Most Wanted, we took that as well.
Hot Pursuit was designed for super-high speed driving, 150-250mph+, and actually you could drive for longer in that game without crashing than in Most Wanted. Most Wanted was played between 50-150mph, and it was downtown and there was lots of traffic and lots of right-angled turns, so if you had both games running next to each other, people would drive for longer and faster in Hot Pursuit than in Most Wanted without crashing. Even though crashing is kind of fun, if you throw in the fact that one of us is a cop and one of us is a racer, the road network itself needs to be slightly easier to navigate at speed to be able to chase and be fair. So we took more of a road layout like in Hot Pursuit than in Most Wanted.
That in itself is not enough, the handling we re-did from scratch, because we’re on Frostbite 3. So we took the best high-speed handling from Hot Pursuit, the best low-speed handling from Most Wanted, put them together and made it better again. The collisions, we re-did all the work on. The pursuit tech is back but we kind of added more depth to it from Hot Pursuit.
We realised that even that in itself, some other games would ship with just that, but we wanted to push on and we wanted to do something that was a new experience. So we looked at the choice of how you play through the careers, we gave you the choice of assignments and Speedlists, we didn’t want it to just be purely linear, on both sides. But actually all those different ingredients were driven by the design goal to make a seamless single-player/multiplayer experience. We didn’t know what it was going to be called at the beginning, but it became AllDrive, and it was that feeling of, what is an experience Need for Speed players and driving genre players haven’t had before? And that was what was really interesting to use and kind of crystallised all this thinking for us. That’s what I think people will react to most in this game is that we’re having experiences, dipping into single player and multiplayer in ways that you never have before.
Having played the game, I felt the most exciting moments were those unscripted instances where I’m playing the game and a human player will become part of my game. But because you have AutoDrive and Autolog, there are a lot of things for players to be doing on their own, so I found myself doing things and unable to get involved in multiplayer events because I was already locked in a single-player mission. As you are pushing this blend of the two experiences, how are you giving players the freedom to choose what to prioritise and switch between missions on the fly?
CS: It actually all depends on what you’re currently doing. So we’ve purposefully designed the assignments on the cop side, and the speedlists on the racer side so there’s a big portion of them that can be, what we always call ‘distraction gameplay’. So you might have an assignment as a cop which is to hit someone with a spike strip. Now it doesn’t say ‘hit a AI racer’ or even ‘Hit an AI cop’ it just says ‘hit someone with a spike strip’, or it might say ‘hit a racer with a spike strip’, now that could be a human or an AI.
There are AI roaming the world, there are obviously humans driving around, so it’s getting that balance of ‘can the game do what you expect it to?’. So if you’re a racer and I’m a racer, and we’re driving together, surely we can drive up to an event start and play together right? You’d expect that to happen, so we had to put that in. And once you put that in, you go down the line of ‘ok if I start an event, but it’s completely free-form, other people can join as well, then we can’t use cutscenes, we can’t pick you up and teleport you around, so you have to come up with this fluid system of being able to pull up and drive away.
That led us to a really interesting place of, say for example on the cop side of the game, if I’m playing a Hot Pursuit, the Hot Pursuit it about shutting down the racers as quickly as possible. So if you get five cops playing a Hot Pursuit, they should all share the medal and reward for how quickly they shut down the race, because obviously you do it way quicker with six people than you would with one.
We’re currently playing with six players in our lobby, is that the maximum number of human players that can exist in the world at one time?
CS: yeah. We get asked this question a lot. We could have done more, but the fact is that we actually had more players running early on in development, we had less players running as well. Six players is the sweet spot for us so that you can mix and match any mixture of, if you’re playing as a cop and there’s five human racers in the world [or vice versa] then the game still balances itself out nicely. If we had done 20, 30, 40 players, then it just degrades into this just big demolition derby where everybody is just choking up all the roads. You’ve got the AI drivers driving around as well, you’ve got Pursuit Tech flying all over the place and the game just gets really bogged down and it becomes a fight.
We chose six players because it can still flow smoothly through the game. That coupled with the AI means we had a really nice handle on exactly what’s happening in the game, and you should never find it unfairly hemming you in, regardless of the balance of numbers. We talked about this a lot, but there’s a reason why there are eleven players on a football pitch. When you have 50 kids playing football in school, all kids are chasing the ball at the same time, and it’s not football any more. Six players is definitely the sweet spot for us.
I was also trying to spot alternate routes playing the game, as in most Wanted there were a ton of different paths players could take, and you’ve already noted that there will be less of that in Rivals. But there must be some to make it fair for racers to escape cops, so how have you struck that balance?
CS: I think you’re right in saying that the Most Wa\nted world was very dense, so you could pretty much drive everywhere. But sometimes that’s not a very good thing. Because sometimes you have so many choices, you become blinded by them. You end up crashing because you don’t know where to go. Coming back to what I was saying that if a human is chasing you, we have to balance it out by giving you not so many choices. If I’m chasing you through this building and the corridors split into 15 different routes, and I don’t see which one you go down, more than likely I’m going to fail. I’ve got a one in 15 chance, and that’s the kind of thing that would happen in Most Wanted, you had a lot of choices.
Whereas if it splits into two or three, then I’ve got a much higher chance of being able to track you through the road network. So yes we did look back at Hot Pursuit. The game is more dense than Hot Pursuit, there are way more shortcuts. We’ve hidden the shortcuts as well so they are not on the mini-map all the time so that’s more rewarding to players that have played the game a little bit.
You can actually hide in this game a lot better than you could in hot Pursuit. As long as you’re out of sight you can disappear off the map, both to the AI and other human players, and that’s a key part of being in the chase as well. The basic answer to your question is that we played an awful lot of Hot Pursuit and Most Wanted and having made both of those games, which took four years of my life, you get a good feel of what’s right and what’s wrong.
So I think we’ve struck a really good balance, it doesn’t seem to be overpowered on either side. I’ve seen a couple of hundred people play the game, both in the studio and at press events like this, nobody’s coming away saying ‘the cops are really overpowered!’, so we must have done a good thing to start with.
The game runs at 30 frames, but on next-gen do you think there’s potential to push it to 60?
CS: Well for us, I think for launching on both consoles, we’ve made sure that we can give the best experience we can. That doesn’t just mean framerate to us. Most Wanted was 30 as was Hot Pursuit, we think that people looking at Need for Speed, again can 90% of our audience notice the difference between 30 and 60, if it’s locked to a solid 30?
I had three different journalists today say ‘Xbox One looks amazing, 60 frames right?’ and I’ve had to say no, it’s 30. Doing things at 30 vs 60 means that you have more horsepower to go further on the graphics on the cars and on the weather effects, and on the expanse of the environment and it gives you a lot more options. So it’s a choice we made very early on, because this is a choice we had to make a year ago, we said let’s go in at a solid 30, let’s wait for the consoles to settle down, let’s go and push the visuals as far as we can. Let’s make it a rock-solid 30 so that nobody will really notice that the framerate’s moving around, and let’s bet on that.
I know that other games have bet on 60, you know Batllefield’s out and that’s 60, that game looks amazing as well, but you know there are always compromises to make. We think for Need for Speed, I think 30 is enough for us, where we go in the future is open up, because we will harness more of the power of these machines. They’re not even out yet, right?
Being a launch game brings a lot of pressure, and we’ve seen a few games had to push their release dates back from launch, did you feel added pressure having to make launch day?
CS: Yeah, there always is, right? This is the third Need for Speed game I’ve worked on, and you kind of know the shipping window for NFS. As soon as we announce it at E3, not many people have to ask us the release date because they know it’s round about November time. If that coincides with hardware launch as well, then you know you’ve gotta be there as close to the start or day one.
There’s a lot of pressure associated with that, and you know a lot of teams have failed to ship on time. So it’s an achievement in itself for every game that’s there, on or near launch. I take my hat off to any team that’s there at launch, because it’s a big deal. You’re working on something that’s ultimately not finished until your game is kind of finished really. It’s a lot of hard work. Having said that we knew we wanted to be there at launch, because I still have the feeling of going down and spending a lot of money and being like ‘OK, give me some shiny new games to play’ and I want to play all of them. And I think the line-up on both consoles is really good, I think we owe it to players to give them something good and fun and polished to play at launch.
It’s probably a nice boost to know that you’re the only racer on PS4 at launch after other racers were pushed back.
CS: I mean we were quite surprised, I mean obviously you’re referencing Driveclub not being there, and I played that game at E3, you don’t know whether a game’s going to be there or not, you don’t know how old a build is, but I wouldn’t say I was really surprised that that slipped, because big teams do, right?
I’m happy we got there, and as I said it’s just a testament to the guys, you’ve got 2-300 people working on this in four or five different countries. And even the guys at Xbox and PlayStation, they’ve helped us a lot to get this game to be out at launch. Am I happy that we’re there? Yes, would I have liked for other driving games to be there as well? I think it pushes us to be there, and I think you have a direct comparison. But we are always in competition with ourselves first and then whatever else is going to be out. I mean we thought way back that it was going to be Driveclub, Forza and The Crew around us at launch, and there’s only a few of those guys there. But as many games at launch is a good thing.