As the curtain is pulled back to reveal the full glory of Need for Speed SHIFT I spoke with Jesse Abney, game team producer and former Need for Speed star, about the new game. Before I met I took a look at all the questions people have emailed me and picked some of the most popular themes for our chat.

I started by asking Jesse how long the development teams have been working on the game but before he answered this he wanted to talk a little about the main development team Slightly Mad Studios: “They (SMS) are a team who live and breathe driving and cars. This aspect to their personality makes the collaboration that much simpler to manage. They have taken the initiative to build next-gen tech, work with Patrick (Soderland, DICE Co-founder) on unique design elements, and put their passion to play in the creation of this experience.

“The hard core simulation pedigree of Slightly Mad, with more than 25 alumni from the GTR franchise team, in collaboration with Patrick, whose semi-professional racing experience helps deliver an all new Driver Experience to the simulation category. This teamed alongside the presentation and design capabilities of Black Box studio to deliver a new and original design to the Need for Speed legacy.” When I asked Jesse about DICE’s involvement he was quick to remind me about their history of creating such games such as Rallisport Challenge 1 and 2.

SMS have already been working on the game for more than two years, creating a new engine from the ground-up to take full advantage of the high-end tech available on the PS3, 360 and, particularly, PC. The team has been designing the game for most of the past year, researching the racing genre and identifying key design attributes and requirements to shape the gameplay and ensure the technology is there to support it.

When the game was first announced, people emailed me with their thoughts and one of the most regular themes was people thought the game looked like Codemaster’s GRID. I asked Jesse what the team thought to this: “SHIFT is aimed squarely at the race simulation sub-genre but it’s not intended to be a sterile or grinding simulation game. It’s an authentic race experience that keys into the Driver Experience; emulating a true driver’s experience is how we are differentiating ourselves. For example; how does it sound to be behind the wheel of a high performance race car on the starting grid? What does the simulation of G-force look like? How does it feel to misjudge a corner and slam into a wall at 150 or seeing the AI cars making the same mistakes, locking up breaks, blocking competitors or overtaking? These true-to-life aspects of racing are at the heart of the driver experience.”

Speaking of the gaming experience; I noted that Need for Speed has always been a classic arcade racer and wondered why the switch to simulation style gameplay was made this year? “We’ve got a very committed fan base whose interests span not only arcade but also simulation and online racing. We’re now working to service each core group’s interest by tailoring gameplay design more specifically to those styles. Rather than produce an arcade game that doesn’t appeal to experienced racing gamers, SHIFT will provide a fun, but much more challenging, authentic race experience. Nitro will further provide an arcade experience by focusing on the Wii and NFS World Online will give the PC gamers an innovative and fresh online action experience.”

After a few laps of SHIFT we discussed how they’re planning to make the game feel as realistic as possible without taking the fun out of the game: “An authentic race experience is not only realized in the audio and visual effects, but also in the interaction with the AI racers throughout a race. The personalities and actions of every car change throughout every event; cars have rivals, they drive with intent. We want the emotion of an event to begin at the starting grid and be experienced with every battle for position like a gladiator fighting through the field. Our approach to the career design further immerses the player into this experience – having to master each machine and being rewarded for thrilling 8-9th place finishes, as much as the career rewards podium finishes. This aspect is the antithesis to the typical grind experience of simulation racing games.”

Perhaps the most popular addition to the series is the return of the in-car view. Jesse took me through some of the cars to show me the incredible care and attention that’s gone into the artwork and explained how the in-car view works: “Each interior has been modeled to the highest standard possible. When you’re playing with the cockpit view you can move the driver’s head to look out of the window, get a better view in the mirrors or just watch yourself changing gear. We’re also really pleased to be able to bring back the replay camera and post-race presentation mode.”

Speaking of the artwork I asked about some of the rumours that the first SHIFT screenshot was in fact a render but Jesse confirmed it was definitely a screenshot; just like all the shots you’re seeing here: “All images are taken straight from the game without alteration.”

With the emphasis strongly being placed on realism where does this leave customisation – both visual and performance tuning? “Vehicle customisation is a principle tenet of the Need for Speed franchise. SHIFT further connects the player in the driver experience through not only visual but performance-based tuning. Visual customization, both inside the vehicle and out, is available to further pull the player into the individual aspects of the experience. Performance-based modifications to the body will be tunable, as will performance packages and individual parts.”

A lot of the emails I received were asking about the track-based nature of the game and there were questions about the range of tracks people will be able to play in the new game; luckily Jesse was able to offer some more information about the courses: “SHIFT will not only include renowned Formula 1 courses from around the world but also fictional locations such as the London course you see in the screenshot. By doing so we’re able to take creative liberties and offer players a lot of variety in a track layout and create challenging game modes based upon these designs.

I did ask Jesse if he could reveal more about the range of cars available to play in the game but he wasn’t giving too much away: “Licensed cars are another key tenet of the Need for Speed franchise and since SHIFT is rooted in professional racing you can expect a wide range of racing cars. While we won’t go into detail yet, SHIFT car types and liveries are more closely based on reality but there are some franchise firsts and surprises in the works.

Our time ran out and Jesse had to leave for another meeting. Before he left though I was able to ask him one more question, I wanted to know what is his favourite part of the game so far: “The challenge to master each vehicle; tame and bring it under control, to fight through each race, in a battle for every position on the track. Even when I’m ranking ninth in a field of ten the fight to the finish line is very fun. This aspect alone has swayed me from arcade racing fan towards the very fun and rewarding authentic race experience!” Well put and thanks for taking the time to sit down with me today.

So what do you think to Jesse’s answers? Got any more questions you’d like us to ask him or the guys at SMS? Email me at Andrew@needforspeed.com (story Link)

This entry was posted on Mar 9, 2009 at 2:51 AM and is filed under , , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .

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