Burnout Dominator Nick Channon Interview
We talk to Senior Producer and EA veteran Nick Channon about the superlative new Burnout title.
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By Adam Doree
Everybody's favourite arcade console racing series, Burnout, is already well into next-gen territory, with Burnout Revenge turning heads on Xbox 360 last year and paving the way for an all-new, next-gen Burnout later this year on both PS3 and 360.
But before you reach for you Sixaxis or 360 controller, there's a good reason to dust down your PS2 and PSP, because Burnout Dominator is out on both platforms and the end of this week, and looks and plays sensationally on both formats.
As you can imagine, we had a few questions for the guys behind everything Burnout at this critical time of transition. Any excuse to take an advanced early look at the game recently, anyway. And Senior Producer for Criterion and Electronic Arts on the game, Nick Channon, was our man with the answers.
Kikizo: Thanks for your time to talk about Burnout Dominator. First, what's your background on the series?
Nick Channon: I came to Burnout two years ago, so I've been on the last couple of games, and I've been with Electronic Arts for fourteen years. I've been in the UK for about six years and I was at EA Canada before that on sports games.
Kikizo: Why is the timing right to revisit what has shaped the series to date for a new edition before Burnout 5?
Nick: I think what we really wanted to do was create a game that's about the 'essence' of Burnout, which is all about risk taking and risk-based dangerous driving, where the cool thing is avoiding the crash. With Revenge we created a game that was all about completely aggressive racing with Traffic Attack and stuff. When we go back a little bit to the skill of dangerous driving - weaving in and out of traffic, the near miss - it's always cool to watch people play Burnout and actually watch their reactions as they miss the traffic and just miss the cars. And we just felt that on PS2 and PSP, the time is now right, it's perfect to create a game that's really pushing the hardware. We wanted to make two versions of the games, that are perfect for those kinds of platforms, and with Dominator is the best thing for PS2 and PSP.
Kikizo: What is Dominator's role in the series from a technical showcase standpoint - how much further have you been able to take it?
Nick: I think the big thing with Burnout has always been that every year, we try and reinvent it. The jump from 2 to Takedown was huge, and then with Revenge, that was really pushing the hardware really hard. And similarly on PSP, if you've seen Legends, this game on PSP is really moving things forward and really feels like a next-gen PSP title.
Kikizo: So do you view it internally as your kind of swansong for the PS2 as a last generation Criterion work?
Nick: I think it's never say never! You look at PS2 and it's still doing very well, it's a great machine. Look at all the transitions, from PS1 to PS2 - PS1 was around for a long time. People still want great games. So we wouldn't say never. At the end of the day what we want to do is try and make the best game for the platform. We're getting too the point now where technically, we are pushing the machine technically hard, so there is not a lot more we can do visually, but yeah... never say never.
Kikizo: Obviously you've now taken out Traffic Checking and Crash Mode - how does this affect the overall game experience in this edition?
Nick: I think it changes it quite a bit in terms of making it feel like something fresh and new - it's about driving in traffic and avoiding traffic. Revenge as we said was about hitting it! So it makes it feel very different, it's weaving in and out, and it's the real long drifts. All the tracks are brand new and we've build the tracks with the modes in mind - so we've got big motorway sections and big sweeping drift corners. It feels very different to the previous games. We've also obviously brought back a mode from Burnout 2, which was the Burnout and Burnout Chaining. It felt like this was the right time - and we didn't want to just bring it back for the sake of it, we wanted to build the game around it, so you do your Burnouts, you drain the boost bar, and you can chain Burnouts together. That's become the crux of the new modes, so Challenges, Near Miss, Drift Challenges and the new Maniac mode, you score points on the relevance of dangerous driving and you get multipliers based on Burnouts. So it's a major part of the game.
Kikizo: Chaining Burnouts together, is this something solely for more advanced players or is it not that difficult in Dominator?
Nick: It's in every single mode - in the score-based, challenges and Maniac mode, that's how you get score multipliers, and in a race, it's how you stay ahead. You can keep ahead by keeping a chain going. In Road Rage, you need boost to help you do takedowns, so it's in all of the modes and so it's not just for experts. Part of the success of Burnout is that it's incredibly accessible. It's not a simulation, it's about having fun, it's an arcade racing game. The first event of the game teaches you the fundamentals of how to do it, from there everyone will quickly be chaining! When the bar's yellow you can use boost whenever you want, but you'll only burn it, you won't earn it. You want to wait for it to go blue, and then you can earn and burn at the same time.
Kikizo: Can you tell us about some of the locations you've been working on for Dominator?
Nick: Well obviously they're all based on different parts of the world as with all Burnout games, they're all brand new and built from the ground, and as I said, they're also build with the modes in mind. We wanted to really give a very varied feel, so there's quite a few rural locations. We've got Japanese rural, which we've never done before. We've got a West Coast America sort of costal feel, and then we've got urban, more Asian, and American cities and stuff like that. Very varied, and we've gone for a slightly different look with a bit more colour and more contract in the tracks themselves. You know, following Revenge is very hard - it's an amazing piece of software. That was pushing the machine hard. We're now pushing it even harder with a slightly different look and the feedback we've had is that it looks stunning. So we're really pleased with the way it's come out.
Kikizo: Can you say more about some of those new modes?
Nick: You've got Race, Road Rage, Eliminator, Burning Lap - they're all there as they've been in the past. Obviously we've carried forward the sort of time elements that were introduced in Revenge to Eliminator and Road Rage where you have to do a certain number of Takedowns to extend time, so again it's adding to the intensity. Burnouts and Burnout chaining adds a slightly different dimension, especially to races. You start to think, do I wait for it to blue so I can start chaining, or do I use boost now to catch up? So it gives it a more strategic element to the game as well.