Need For Speed: Most Wanted Interview with Matt Webster
It’s not very often Criterion Games talk to anybody so when offered the chance we jumped at it. They are responsible for some of the most exciting driving games of the last ten years – they came up with the idea of Autolog, which most games now have in some form or another and they have a real racing game pedigree behind them. They’re now taking another swing at a Need For Speed game and giving Most Wanted the Criterion Games treatment. We had a chat with Matt Webster about friends, connectivity, the city and more.
Our set up is to go and look at what you get inspired by. Hot Pursuit was our take on the previous Hot Pursuit – the game went back to its roots because Need For Speed for us was exotic cars, epic drives and cops! When you look at this really rich history the one that really stands out (and always stood out) was Most Wanted because the premise is really powerful; its as relevant now as it was then in terms of being most wanted. For us it’s about being most wanted amongst your friends – this is our take on what that really means. I think people are smart enough to understand this isn’t a sequel because it is us doing it.
Do you think that makes it that little bit harder because it is you guys doing it? There are a lot of racing studios out there but arguably there are you guys, Codemasters and Turn 10. You all make racing games, although they are all different styles, but you’re all considered at the top of your game and have a racing pedigree if you like. Does that not put the pressure on to get it right, just because it’s you guys doing it?
Yeah there is… you can become suffocated by it though and just carry on doing the same thing, which is one thing that we would never do.
The thing is we don’t feel a lot of external pressure, but we do put a lot of internal pressure on ourselves. We want to make something new, something we’ve not made before. We want to obviously make it as exciting and as fun as possible – we really want to take it as social and as friends-orientated as possible. Burnout Revenge was probably the start of that, so from our perspective the pressure for us isn’t ‘how do we for fill some external thing’, it’s ‘how do we actually build the best possible game that we can?’
We’ve always said that every game is a reflection of who we are at the time and the studio’s values; fun, accessible, engaging and a socially connected experience. Irrespective of what we’re making those principles remain true. The pressure to live up to the reputation is hard-wired. We wanted to shake up a lot of the conventions of racing games, like unlocking cars by winning races – it’s a bold decision but one that we feel is absolutely right and what open world games should be about.
Autolog’s something that has, to a degree, defined the tail end of this generation to a point where almost every game now has it built in, in some form, be it other EA titles with Battlelog or versions put together by other studios that have taken that idea and ran with it. Did you ever think Autolog would have that effect on the industry?
After we built it we said that everyone needs this – I can imagine this in every game. The thing is we don’t feel that anybody has actually fully embraced what it actually is, because there is an integral part to it. The very bold cast-iron centre point that you cant move from is that it has to be about friends. Many get crippled by saying “what if I don’t have any friends” – what they they should be doing is working harder at giving the player some friends, but what they do is blow it out and by doing that they destroy that core. Being in the top ten in the world is only relevant to ten people – my Call of Duty rank is 9,300,000 or something… it’s meaningless. However, if I’m beating my mate it means everything. That’s the point about Autolog; continually tracking what you do, comparing it automatically against your friends and then telling people about the results of those comparisons.
“Being in the top ten in the world is only relevant to ten people”
This is Autolog 2 – it’s an evolution of it and I just wish that if people were to copy it they would copy it a little more purely. The uses for Autolog have evolved too – players have alot of things they can be doing in Most Wanted, so how do they choose? We can use it to say “Hey! This is what Matt did – try and beat that”. It’s like a specials board in a restaurant. If you go to a restaurant and there is a huge menu you can’t decide – it’s the paradox of choice, the specials board is saying ‘hey, this is really good’. Autolog 2 is welded into the game and is much more graphic; you can see who has jumped the furthest on a billboard because it’ll have their face on it. It’s a really powerful thing… I’m driving around the city and I’m seeing my friend’s face – that’s what we think a social game is. It’s not spamming your Facebook – feed there isn’t anything social about that! An odd side-effect is that in an open world it’s a great guiding mechanism.
Taking Autolog away from the consoles, are you guys upping the game for Autolog outside of the living room?
We’ve added something called Cloud Complete – everything you do in the game earns you speed points (SP) and Cloud Compete aggregates all of that together to one Most Wanted list. What that means is I could be moving up my console Most Wanted list by playing the iOS version or by playing the game on the Vita, so I can be truly ranking up away from my sofa and bringing the devices into the same world.
Kind of cross platform?
Yeah kind of… you know outside of the industry it’s expected. It’s like saying I can’t call Gem because she’s got a Blackberry and I have an iPhone – it’s just bizarre, however that’s the world we live in. There are other ways that we can facilitate that competition or just create a new one.
It would be the main progression throughout the single player and the progression through the multiplayer. So online you can be unlocking stuff offline and vice versa, same if you have the iPad version. Being highly connected is where everything needs to go.
On the multiplayer side you’ve brought back what was probably one of the best things you’ve ever done from Burnout Paradise, in the shape of the challenges. It had longevity to it of Halo length and people were still playing the game two years after – I still haven’t done them all…
We called it a “co-opetition” – you have to work together, but there can be a winner which is something we’ve amped up in this game even more. The challenges were the last thing that we added to Paradise and they were a total revelation. People want different experiences – games are way too serious these days… way too serious. All these shooters, all the guns and all this hardcore competition – where’s the fun gone? That will always be the centre for us, its about throwing cars together and having a competitive and a co-operative experience. The challenges that we have in Most Wanted will certainly evoke fond memories for those who know where they came from, but you’ll also realise how much we’ve improved.
With the city that you’ve created, obviously you’re going to use that to the full effect, be it online, single player etc but do think it is at all possible that you could take a lot of the mechanics of Hot Pursuit, like the chases and helicopters etc, and make them work in the same game?
Oh I don’t know, we hadn’t thought about it actually. I think talking about the world is a really interesting one – this is certainly the richest and most varied one we’ve ever done and being a veteran of Paradise you can believe me when I say there is way more to do in this game… way, way more. There’s open areas on top of and through buildings… way more to do. In terms of opening up cars too, it isn’t a treasure hunt – there are cars hidden in plain sight and this world is the best for playing, best looking and most diverse we’ve ever made. To think of using it a different way hasn’t even entered our mind.
Do you think it’ll get to a point where people start to just know their way around, like say with GTA 3 – is the city that iconic?
We always build worlds that are sufficiently memorable, which you can work your way around rather than having all the streets look the same. We’ve built the city in such away that it will be memorable.
It’s what you do in it though that makes it memorable – you cement those things in memory and I feel it’s influenced by everything we’ve ever done.