The Let's Play Archive

Need for Speed: Most Wanted

by Olive Branch

Part 11: Interview with a Goon Game Developer on Need For Speed

When the LP was just starting out, I was contacted by a goon game developer who worked on the Need for Speed franchise, but not necessarily on Most Wanted, and who could speak with Most Wanted developers to answer questions.

This game developer wished to remain anonymous, but graced me with the chance to glance in the world of making Need For Speed. Here are the questions I asked them, and the answers they gave. Thank you, anonymous goon developer, for this opportunity and for your answers!

1) How do the game developers settle on a list of cars to represent, and what kind of licensing issues take place?
The licensing issues are resolved before the game is even made by the big money guys. Late developments might mean a new car gets included later (the Corvette and McLaren in Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit 2 are examples of this) but for the most part it's settled early.

2) What kind of research and other licensing goes into developing a Need For Speed game?
Literally, tonnes. We had cars in the game that weren't licensed (don't remember which, unfortunately) but an important aspect is that not all licenses occur equally. For example we could have license on engine pitches and so on, but not the interior dashboards or actual car design. I recall that the Corvette in Hot Pursuit 2 had a 'generic' dashboard until nearly the end of development because the license hadn't been freed up for using the dash. Licensing is broken up into these factors:
- Engine noise and pitch (Porsche were bitches about this);
- Dashboard and interior;
- Car appearance/model/design;
- And actual name of manufacturer (use of their logos, badges, and so on).
I don't know the specifics, but a very, very large portion of the development cost for these games would include the license fees.

3) Most Wanted repurposed a lot of technology from Need For Speed: Underground 1 and 2. What was repurposed? What was new?
A lot of this would be invisible to the end user, but obviously the render engines were re-made each time. What wasn't re-made was the AI routines and 'best line' racing times. The way it would work is someone (me, in this case) would race the 'best' result. The AI engine would then in turn be either very close to that result, or incrementally add time to it depending on difficulty. So 'easy' mode would be the best line +x seconds. There were other factors, like cornering ability, top speed, and so on, but you get the idea.

4) Why would 'underground' races require start lines, finish lines, and giant neon track arrows?
Honda. Honda was paranoid about being linked to dangerous underground racing, so if we wanted to use the license the race had to appear sanctioned in some way, and start lines, big flashy arrows, and closed streets were the result.

5) What was the reasoning behind rubberbanding for the AI?
This is tough; the real reason is that the technology doesn't exist to make a realistically responsive racer. Euan Forrester was the AI guy at the time at Black Box, check his stuff out. He's contributed to books and articles about racing AI. I will say after several conversations with him while testing is that he (and by inclusion, the rest of the field on AI racing) consider most racing games to be imperfect in this respect. Rubberbanding exists simply because there is no better way to do it with the technology available.

6) Why are the cops such jerks, and why don't they fire weapons and guns at street racers?
I feel like I could write a novel on this. In the end it was a combination of many factors, but the two most important were the inadequecies of racing AI mentioned above, and 'excitement' factor.

7) What was competition between EA teams for multi-platform titles like?
It was crazy. Black Box was always a separate entity to EA as a whole; the culture and everything contributed to that. Black Box felt EA was too regimented and unimaginative, and EA felt the opposite obviously. Having played all versions of NFS:HP2 though, it was clear EA was not up to snuff. The Gamecube and PC versions frankly sucked, they were entirely different games. This was clear in many ways, the way cops acted, the integration of money into gameplay, and even things like framerate. The PC team was more focused on the current Bond game (Agent Under Fire?) and were just ad hoc'ing technology from that in NFS:HP2.

8) What were the details behind the real estate deal that caused EA to ruin the team? Why did this buyout take place?
Black Box had this great office space in one of the prime downtown Vancouver locations. EA had never been downtown, at all. They were restricted to the suburbs (Burnaby). Some of the more cynical people I've talked to have advanced the theory that the Black Box purchase was because EA executives wanted to have downtown offices instead of being stuck at the luxurious but out-of-the-way Burnaby campus. All I know is that less than a month after the purchase, Don Mattrick (then CEO of EA Canada) and hangers-on were in the downtown office.

9) After the success of Most Wanted and Carbon, EA Black Box was put on a "death march" to release one NFS game a year. The result was a series of, and let's not mince the words, bad games. Why did this policy continue to take place after the first few flops?
I was out of the picture when most of this occurred, but I would guess the same reasons as everywhere else; make more money for shareholders. I know that even in the NFS:HP2 days senior producers would mention that we had to finish before that quarter's earning conference call.

10) To what would you attribute the recent, shaky resurgence of the NFS franchise?
Because the brand sells. At the time, a 'million' seller was a home run for the company (this has obviously changed recently), but even a mediocre NFS would move about a million units. Hell, Mario Strikers moved close to a million before EA bought Black Box, and this was the gold standard of the time. When you multiply that by platforms, punching out a known seller that would move close to a million units on each game system seems a no brainer. It's sad though, because a lot of these guys were worked to the bone after the EA purchase to put out a game a year.

11) The NFS franchise has a pattern of releasing games with old mechanics in cycles (e.g. every third game released had pursuits). What's the reasoning behind that?
I don't really have input into this as I wasn't involved in decisions this highly. My guess is that it ties into the yearly release cycle mentioned in the previous question, but on a larger scale.

And that marks the end of the mini-interview I had with our anonymous game developer. Thanks once again, friend goon, for your time and this opportunity.