Need for Speed Shift: Huge Interview
We put our expert racing man Alan Boiston against Need for Speed producer and EA veteran Jesse Abney, for this detailed, revealing look into the game and the series' future.
The Need for Speed is a long-term stable of EA's core franchises. Testament to the creative drive of the developer is that it continues to push the series into new directions. Earlier this year EA surprised the gaming community yet again with the announcement of Need for Speed Shift, taking the franchise away from its current arcade formula and moving back towards its origins on the Panasonic 3DO system, offering a more realistic racing experience.
We were recently given an opportunity to view new code of the game, being developed by Slightly Mad Studios - best known for their work on the PC GTR titles. We also had time to sit down with its producer, Jesse Abney, about his background and the development of Need For Speed Shift at its current stage of pre-alpha development, and future direction for the seires.
Kikizo: Hi Jesse, let's learn a bit about your development background, where have you come from and what previous developments you've been involved with?
Jesse: Well I started at EA in 1995 coming in at an entry level position on Need for Speed 3DO, which was the first game I worked on. I wasn't really involved in the development at that point - I started off in customer support as a QA Tester, so I was the one that played the game and checked the manual and made sure all of the marks were correct and made sure all of the button mappings were appropriate, while making alterations to the manual and then supporting it on the phone. So I was a member of customer support and went on to a 14-year career at EA at this point. I've always been involved in NFS from the periphery; I managed our next-gen platform launches for the PS2 which was the first time we did a collaborative development with all the dev teams around the world. We've since worked on the 360, Wii, Xbox and DS, PSP and PS3, which was the last one I did and after 10 years at technology development within EA (again working on every NFS title in that capacity). I joined the Need For Speed team last year on Undercover, and I worked on design and development of the user interface (UI) and audio systems.
Kikizo: So its like coming home, I mean you've seen it go through the arcade years, the Fast and the Furious inspired years, now we're back to a realistic racing experience!
Jesse: Absolutely! I mean we've made an announcement recently that the NFS franchise would diversify and really start to cater to the interests of our fan base more specifically, while increasing the benchmark quality. That announcement was that we would focus arcade racing on arcade platforms, focus simulation racing on next-gen platforms and we would focus action, open-world racing this year online with World Online. So while there will be another open-world, action and cops based NFS game, it will be very specific to that sub genre. When you have a triple-A franchise and the subgenre has pinballed back and forth every year, you have interests from people who have been with us for those 14 years, who are now simulation fans or who are now arcade fans, and they are very ardent one way or another. So we realised we weren't doing a service to any of them very well by producing a game that tried to hit on all of those points each and every year. And so enter Shift, and really a shift in business model, and a shift in philosophy, and shift in technology. Slightly Mad Studios' all new racing engine is built on multi-core architecture for simulation physics, much improved AI systems and certainly speed.
Kikizo: What's this new engine called, and whose is it?
Jesse: Ah... you know, this or that... the guys at Slightly Mad, really it's their engine, they're an external developer and they had a beautiful technology for racing, and they're credited with many members of the GTR and GTR2 franchise. So they have enthusiasm for automotive racing that has produced hardcore racing games for the PC platforms over the years. So when they took two years to develop an all new engine on the PC and we saw it, what we did was introduce Patrick Soderland to the idea of being more involved in our racing franchise. Patrick Soderland is a professional race car driver our DICE GM and European Vice President of our European studios, and his professional race car background has given him a unique perspective on what a lot of racing games are missing. And that perspective was a driver perspective, really a lot of games are about collecting cars and getting licences and going to tracks around the world and having the perfect race. However that's really not was a race car driver experiences moment by moment in a race, it was the gladiatorial battle that occurs at each position in a race, even if you're in last place in Shift you're battling the AI for that last place position. You're having the thrill of that, conveyed through our first person driving perspective.
Kikizo: We've heard this was actually going to be a GTR game released by EA as a GTR game, and then EA felt NFS needed to go into a different direction so it suddenly became a NFS game? Was it developed originally as a different game? Or has that always been the idea?
Jesse: Well you know, having Slightly Mad Studios on our side and seeing what their tech could do, it certainly just became a really easy win for us, seeing that they had a simulation racing engine, an enthusiasm for that kind of racing... at the time I believe they were working on a Ferrari game which is an interesting footnote for you to clarify [Editor's Note - that being the Ferrari game produced by Blimey! Games, purchased by Slightly Mad Studios in January 2009]. But what we also found was a better home with the tech platform for this version of NFS, and what Patrick Soderland found was a creative design outlet for taking his experiences as a race car driver, and hitting home in very unique feature set that was not being conveyed in a simulation sub-genre.