Here at Game Rant, Need for Speed Hot Pursuit is quickly becoming one of our most anticipated titles. Developed by Criterion Games, the company that made the 2008 hit Burnout: Paradise, Need for Speed Hot Pursuit looks to be a return-to-form for a series that, just two years ago, was fading into mediocrity.
We were fortunate enough to catch up with Patrick Söderlund, Senior Vice President of EA Games Europe, to discuss the reasons behind the decision to give the reigns to Criterion, why he believes people will want to buy Hot Pursuit, and where the Need for Speed series is headed next.
Game Rant: Hi there, Patrick. If you wouldn’t mind, what exactly do you do at EA?
Patrick Söderlund: “As Senior Vice President, I’m responsible for all the FPS and Driving games inside EA. What does that mean? Well, it means that I work with DICE for ‘Battlefield,’ ‘Mirror’s Edge,’ and those kinds of products. EA LA — The ‘Medal of Honor’ game, Criterion for driving, Black Box, the ‘Need for Speed’ developer… Those are pretty much the developers that we have under the umbrella.”
GR: Who was it that decided Criterion should develop this Need for Speed?
PS: “Actually, it was my boss, Frank Gibeau, who had the idea. He’s the guy who runs the whole games label for EA, and he said we should talk [with Criterion]. And then, actually, it came from Criterion. They asked to do ‘Need for Speed.’”
GR: Criterion are obviously well-known for the Burnout series, a well-loved arcade racer, so why was it decided that they should also work on Need for Speed?
PS: “I’ll be honest with you. If you look at the ‘Need for Speed’ games up until ‘Shift,’ we had a situation where the team in Vancouver had to build a game every 9-10 months. Now, they’re a really good developer, but they were really struggling with that time schedule. No developer in the world could make a quality game in 8-10 months, it’s just not possible. I think it was, for lack of a better word, mismanaged, from a management perspective — I’ll be honest and just admit that.”
“When we came in, and I started to look at what we needed to do, it was obvious that it was better for us to have a couple of developers working on ‘Need for Speed,’ just like Activision have with ‘Call of Duty,’ or the way other game companies have with major brands. ‘Need for Speed’ is a major brand for us, and we decided the best thing would be to have the driving teams inside the company work on this, and do an every-other-year thing, or so that they get two full production years. That’s how Criterion came into the mix.”
GR: Does that mean that one year will have the ‘Arcadey’ Hot Pursuit-esque title, whereas next year will see a return to realism with Shift 2?
PS: “Not necessarily. The way I look at it is this: we want to have a big game every year at Christmas. Obviously, the action-oriented titles will reach a broader audience and do better for us, so the way I look at it is… we have an ‘action’ segment which you hopefully will see every year around Christmas, sometime. *Laughs* And then, whenever there’s a good time in the market, and whenever we have something that we’re proud of, we’ll be releasing another segment, which is the more authentic motor sport segment , within our kind-of ‘Shift’ brand. That’s the intent.”
GR: As we know, DICE worked on Hot Pursuit‘s environments; when did that decision come about, and why? What was wrong with Criterion’s environments that meant DICE had to step in?
PS: “There was nothing wrong with their environments at all; it was just that the world they were building was so big. Then, they actually asked for help. ‘We don’t think that we can build a world that’s four times as big as Paradise in this time-frame.’ It just so happened that, at that time, we had a little bit of availability at DICE, and so we decided ‘OK, let’s put them on this.’ Criterion agreed it was a good idea, they’ve had a good relationship between the studios in the past, you know, they respect each other, play their games, and there’s been some minor collaborations in the past, so it was an easy match.”
“I think the most important thing, when you have two high-quality developers working together, for it to work, they need to have mutual respect. They need to have that respect, to say ‘Ok, we trust you to do this.’ This was a case where that was so obvious, where the Criterion team had a full trust in the DICE team to do what they were doing, and vice versa.”
GR: Final question, then: if people are following Criterion from Burnout to Need for Speed, what aspect of this game will make the game player stick to the NFS franchise long after Criterion goes back to making to either BLACK or whatever they make next? Why will the player say ‘I want to keep playing Need for Speed?’
PS: “Well, this is obviously Criterion’s ‘take’ on ‘Need for Speed’. It’s back to the roots of what made ‘Need for Speed’ big, back in the day, when [the original] ‘Hot Pursuit’ was one of the bigger products that we made. When you play this game, you’ll see a lot of elements that were apparent in the old ‘Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit’ titles, and you’ll also recognize some things from ‘Burnout,’ even though this isn’t a ‘Burnout’ game, this is truly Criterion’s version of ‘Need for Speed.’ Obviously, while it has a little bit of inspiration from ‘Burnout,’ and various bits that you recognize, there’s a lot of new things as well.”
“So that’s this year’s version. Obviously, what we’re going to do in the future years, we’re going to show you at a little bit later point, but I think we have a strategy and a plan that will make players come back. I’m not sure that the best thing for consumers is to get the same offering every year, and I think it’s actually good with a little bit of mix. It’s like ‘Ok, this year we’re going to be serving you this dish, and next year you’ll be eating the Criterion dish, and the following year you’ll be eating another dish.’ I think that, to get that variety, is good for the consumer. What we need to make sure, as a games creator and as a game publisher, is that whatever we do, and whatever we come out with in the market, that it is of a high standard. Then we can come in, get really good reviews, and the consumer can see that we really care about the brand, and care about what they play. The minute we lose that, why bother buying a game from us?”
GR: I couldn’t agree more. Thanks for your time Patrick.
Watch out for our final hands-on preview of Need for Speed Hot Pursuit, coming later today! In the meantime, why not take a look at what we thought of the currently available demo?
Need for Speed Hot Pursuit will be racing its way onto Xbox 360, PS3, PC and Wii on November 16, 2010.