Developer interview: Need for Speed: The Run

After Criterion’s great Hot Pursuit last year, Black Box is now back at the helm of the Need for Speed series. This year’s second NFS game – The Run, is aiming to be the most cinematic yet, with the player is now involved in a massive chase across the continental United States, complete with exotic cars, explosive set pieces, a variety of locations, and even on-foot segments. We quizzed executive producer Jason DeLong about what we can expect from the game.

Since you’re always on The Run, will you be restricted to the cars that the game hands you, or will you unlock cars over the course of the game and have the ability to pick from a variety of cars on a per-mission basis?

It’s actually a combination. There are specific story points where Jack is forced to change cars (although there will always be at least three cars to choose from at these moments), and there is also the ability to unlock more cars via other game modes which can be used in The Run as well.

Will the player have any control over the on-foot segments of the game besides the QTEs? What made you decide to go with interactive cut scenes?

The on-foot sequences are a combination of context-sensitive button presses and gestural controls. They evolved out of the desire to keep the player engaged in the story throughout the entirety of The Run; obviously we need to take an occasional break from the racing to update the player on story progress, but we wanted to ensure we were keeping the adrenaline and action up throughout the entire experience. Jack’s primary motivation is always to get back in the race, so taking time to have full 360-degree ‘exploratory’ control didn’t fit with the tone of the game. That said, we’re really proud of what we’ve accomplished with these sequences; they’re a small part of the overall Run experience – less than 10%, actually – but were important for us to provide the player with an alternative gameplay beat, force a game moment like a car switch, etc.

What are some of the locations that players will visit during the course of the game? Can we expect authentically recreated cities and iconic landmarks?

We haven’t given out the complete route of The Run yet, but we are visiting several iconic cities across the US, including Chicago which we unveiled at E3 this year. More so than the cities, though, the concept of a cross-country race is about the vast expanses of terrain between the cities. From the urban centres to the vast deserts, snowy mountaintops to rural farmlands – you’re going to experience it all in The Run.

As far as authentic recreations, we wanted to ensure we embodied the spirit of these locations – there obviously has to be a bit of alteration to ensure it functions appropriately for high-speed racing gameplay. What we did do was create locations that reflected the spirit and feel of each city. So people will certainly recognize places like Lower Wacker or Michigan Ave while racing through the streets of Chicago.

Will there be any open world elements within the game’s locations or is it a strictly linear affair?

The career mode of the game is linear, as our main goal with Need for Speed: The Run was to make players feel like they were to play a big-budget action movie. Part of that is the sense of speed while racing along at 200 mph, but also amping up the intensity by thrusting the player into scripted action moments both in and out of the car.

Have you built the driving engine from scratch or is it carried forward from Hot Pursuit or Black Box’s last NFS game, Undercover? Where on the arcade-to-simulation scale does the vehicle handling fall?

As we were developing the concept for NFS: The Run, we realized we needed an engine that could deliver a world-class experience on all fronts: visuals, characters and animations, physics, world destruction, audio, etc. With this in mind, we were able to partner with our friends at DICE to integrate truly next-gen racing into Frostbite 2, resulting in an incredibly powerful and well-rounded engine. As for our handling, it falls right in the middle. We want to ensure all players find the game immediately accessible, but we also want to give the more hardcore driving fans the ability to master each car’s unique specifications. Essentially, we want the cars to behave like you believe they would behave while still providing the opportunity to feel heroic.

Does the use of the Frostbite engine bring anything new to the table, besides the visuals? Would you be using the level of destruction afforded by Frostbite in any way that would affect the gameplay?

For The Run specifically, Frostbite 2 was essential in allowing us to provide the player with the gameplay experience we wanted to convey. For example, in wanting to tell a compelling Hollywood-style story, we knew we had to get incredibly detailed characters and performances into the game. We also wanted to ensure we put our hero in peril from time to time on his journey, so Frostbite allowed us to create intense action moments via incredible VFX, world destruction, etc. Finally, Frostbite 2 is an incredible tool for developers – it allows for extremely rapid content iteration, allowing us to put over 300 km of track in the game – more than three times seen in any previous Need for Speed title.

Will The Run include split-screen multi-player? Are there any online-multiplayer features that are unique to The Run?

We are focused on delivering the best looking and highest quality gameplay experience possible, which unfortunately is not possible with split screen mode. As far as multiplayer features, we’re not getting into specifics but suffice it to say racing fans will love our multiplayer. Of course, we still have Autolog, which has changed the way people play Need for Speed by allowing players to asynchronously compare and compete against their friends. In NFS: The Run, we’ve actually woven Autolog into the career mode of the game so that you’re comparing your time against your friends as you race across the country. It’s not just about beating someone’s time on a single race; it’s about being the first of your friends to New York City.

Need for Speed: The Run is scheduled for release on November 18, 2011. The Limited Edition will retail for Rs 2,999 on Xbox 360 and PS3 and Rs 1,499 on PC.

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