Electronic Arts Gives Need For Speed An Overhaul

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Electronic Arts has sold over 140 million Need for Speed games since the racing game made its debut in 1994. Althoug 2014 marked the franchise’s 20th Anniversary, there was no new game released. Instead, Ghost Games in Sweden sat back and thought about what this game meant to the development team and to the millions of driving fans. They decided to reboot the franchise and build a game with the Frostbite 3 engine and physically-based rendering technology.

The game is set in Ventura Bay, which is twice as large as the world of Need for Speed Rivals, and the gameplay takes place between dusk and dawn. Marcus Nilsson, executive producer for Need for Speed and founder of EA-owned Ghost Games, said the focus is on authentic urban car culture. The types of racing environments range from tight city racing to sweeping valley roads to industrial districts to police hotspots. And Nilsson promised there’s more to do in this world than ever before, including races, cop chases, and drifting all within a seamless open world experience.

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“We really think that the core components of a Need for Speed experience is going insanely fast — 120 miles per hour into corners sideways with style in a heavily modified car while being chased by cops together with friends,” said Nilsson. “We’ve built five different narrative stories where we basically teach you and reward you based upon the skill sets of that play style. One example of that is Speed, which is about maximum adrenaline and top speed achievements. Another is Outlaw, which is all about driving recklessly and going on cop chases and building up your reputation.”

Rounding out the five play narratives are: Style, which focuses on spinning, jumping, and dancing with a customized drifty car; Crew, which is all about playing with your friends in multiplayer, drifting, and racing; and Build, which targets perfection in the deepest customization in a Need for Speed game in over 10 years.

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“Build has very deep customization in terms of visual customization and performance tuning and car handling tuning,” said Nilsson. “We even have sound modifiers this time around. Build is all about putting your touches on the look, handling, and sound of your car and the way that you want other people to see you.”

Each of these story threads is connected to a real individual and run in parallel, so players can jump between them at any time. Each thread is led by a real world icon in car culture that’s known for this specialty in real life. The player aspires to drive like him, learn from him, and ultimately become the icon.

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A story will pull players through the game. There’s a plot to discover and it’s all about crazy driving in an open world filled to the brim with action gameplay. Nilsson added it’s all about gaining attention and collecting a reputation. The goal is to become an icon in each of these threads and become an ultimate icon.

Early gameplay for Need for Speed looks like it’s from a Hollywood movie; it’s that photorealistic. And the camera work is very gritty, with lots movement and unique angles.

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“The visuals are obviously pretty astounding,” said Nilsson. “Frostbite is an amazing game engine, especially now when we have full PBR support, which is physically-based rendering. In a simplified way, PBR is basically perfect light conditions. You build a model in a special way, put it into a PBR environment, and it mathematically gives you the right light. That’s why parts of what we’re making now are on the border of looking really real.”

The dusk to dawn racing sheds a different light on Ventura Bay, according to Nilsson. The game goes from getting darker to dark and then getting lighter again. This really comes down to the way Ghost Games portrays urban car culture, which happens at night. When the rest of the city goes to sleep, these racers come out.

While gamers didn’t get a new Need for Speed game last year, they did get a Hollywood movie starring Aaron Paul. But that film, which made over $203 million globally, didn’t directly inspire the new game.

“I think we get inspired from whatever we do, whether it’s watching a video on Facebook, or a movie or a TV series,” said Nilsson. “I couldn’t say what exactly what we would take from the Need for Speed movie or the Fast and Furious films. All I know is that the highly creative people we have find inspiration in whatever we look at.”

The days of passing around the Need for Speed franchise between developers seem to be over at EA. Ghost Games is in the driver’s seat of this franchise. And coming off the critically acclaimed Need for Speed Rivals, it’s interesting that EA gave this studio the time to take a pitstop and rethink the direction of the franchise for this new overhaul.