We’re a month away from the release of NFS Unbound, a game that has had a lot of ink flowing since its announcement and its gameplay trailers. Developed entirely by the studio Criterion Games, creators of the Burnout series in particular, this vintage Need For Speed 2022 really stands out for its very pronounced artistic touch, a mix of realistic graphics and cel-shaded. Some love it, others like it much less, but one thing is for sure, the game leaves no one indifferent. We had the chance to chat with Kieran Crimmins, Creative Director for the game, to ask him all our questions about the new features expected in this opus. Gameplay, physics, crashing, DA and customization, we even discussed the future of the Burnout license with him.
JEUXACTU: Since Need For Speed Most Wanted in 2012, Criterion hadn’t worked on a real new NFS, not counting the Rivals you co-developed with Ghost Games and the Hot Pursuit remake, why did you wait so long?
Kieran Criminals: Just FYI, I’ve been working hard on NFS Rivals. It was really a big big project. Otherwise, we actually worked on several different projects. We worked on two Star Wars Battlefronts and in particular all the vehicle design and development. We also did a lot of stuff for the Battlefield series. We did a mission in virtual reality and among all that, we did… I can’t even remember, there were a lot of games, a lot! But we also supported the Need For Speed series. Even though we weren’t the main studio, we helped Ghost Games a lot every time. But since Ghost Games has its own studio… Actually, we’re the same studio you know… They’re just across the street. I can literally see them from my desk actually. And even though we weren’t the leading studio in games, it’s not as if we’ve been complacent, contrary to what one might think. And then we worked so hard on a ton of vehicles for other games in between. But yes, it’s time for us to return to the world of Need For Speed, which is a special and exciting time for us, as you can imagine.
Did you learn a lot just working on other projects, not just racing games, that you were able to reuse for this new Need For Speed?
Completely! As we have always been considered vehicle experts and have always been supporting many other games, to ensure that we provide the best possible virtual experience. But that means that this knowledge that we’ve got, and not just about physics in the simulation, or just how to calculate the best physics to integrate into Frostbite and that regardless of the game. But also how do we manage to translate that into a really fun and perfectly playable experience. We’ve always had this philosophy, that we should be able to feel the experience of the game through the controller. So every game we’ve worked on, you feel like you’re that hero inside the vehicle. You will feel like you have been driving this vehicle for millions of years and you are such an expert. But also with a lot of depth. There is a level of mastery that you are able to achieve in anything you undertake. So it’s not just you driving the game and it’s a one-of-a-kind experience. Everything has deep and interesting gameplay, it’s such an experience.
NFS Unbound stands out for its highly anticipated artistic touch, which combines realistic graphics and cel-shadows, how did this desire come about?
In fact, we were looking for a certain style of street art, just to get some inspiration. And we really wanted to stand out. We really wanted to do something that could be a step towards innovation, to do something that was interesting. Need for Speed is a bit of a series that shakes up codes and trends. So we wanted to amaze people not only with the gameplay, but also with a certain style in the art direction as well. And you can imagine our ideas, like this street art that is being painted and spread all over the world. And then we were playing the game, and we were like, how do we make these things even better in terms of representation? Can we improve the sensations? And then, it was quite clear, a bit like that actually. We just put it in the game, like that, and see if it worked. And then we started like that, we experimented with this thing, and we realized how much fun it was to see these big explosions and this incredible reaction through these highly stylized special effects and everything around it. And so it was with the characters. We had a lot more excitement with this choice for the characters that we did, and it also reinforced the urban side and the street racing aesthetic that we tried to lean towards. So it was like it was one of those pivotal moments where at first, you think, is this going to work? And then once you try it, you’re like, Oh, it totally works. Not only that it really enhances the kind of atmosphere you’re looking for in the game.
Since the first trailer there has been a lot of feedback on the game’s art direction, were you aware during development that people would either love it or hate it?
There have been so many Need For Speed since the beginning, so many different versions: pure simulation, street racing, pursuit, track racing. And everyone has their favorite NFS, I imagine. And everyone gets their idea for the series through their favorite episodes. So we didn’t really think about it. We didn’t think about whether people would like it or hate it. We just tried to make the best possible game, the most inspiring and interesting Need for Speed, with the time we were given. So the driving effects that we can add to the cars, they are fully customizable. Which means you can change the style however you want.
I get the impression that you’ve gone back to a simpler, less open gameplay than before? Is the open world over for Need for Speed?
No way. It is a completely open world game. There is a main linear story that ties it all together, but yes, it’s an open world game and it’s possible to play through it in its entirety. But on top of that is a new single-player campaign, with a structure that allows you, and I understand the question, to see the game more quietly. In fact, what the game allows is for each race, as well as your choices, to be more focused. Therefore, you will need to be more strategic about how to take risks in this particular race or event. Because time is limited, since the road is a limited resource and you have to pay to access it. And the whole point of the campaign is to get people into beautiful street racing, because this art direction is also about giving players a street racing experience. So we want them to bet the maximum amount of money, lose it, bet on your ability, walk away from it, meet you, show off their car and they bet on the rival your And this structure is completely new. It’s never been done before. But the feeling that comes out is that you will feel like playing a street racing game is amazing.
Almost everything has been tried with Need For Speed, how will this episode be different from others in terms of gameplay?
If you’re talking about the campaign structure, or anything revolving around that, the single player campaign has a whole new structure. It’s much more tactical in its approach, with a risk and reward system that we’ve never worked in a Need For Speed before. The series had already tried the experiment very briefly and it was a success, but in relation to the system of risks and rewards, we completely reinvented the mechanics. So like I said, every decision you make has a choice, a risk, and a reward associated with every upgrade, the money you spend on upgrading the car, whether it’s a drift challenge, or a takeover mission, or a street race , or whatever, it all depends on how you tuned your car. And then each of these events gives you a “heat” level. And in every game session, be it day or night, the heat meter will increase. If it’s too high, then the cops will be too tough. So from there, we implemented new game modes, specifically the rookie-led Takeover event, which is a completely new game mode based on precision driving. I probably don’t have time to detail everything for you (interview is on time, editor’s note), but know that it’s very cool and very interesting, and it’s something we’ve never done before.
What about accidents, collisions? Pushed the boundaries of the genre? Did you learn from what you did with the Burnout license to come up with something new, for example?
So yes, there is a lot of crashing in the game. You will be able to do some amazing big crashes in the game, things that have never been experienced. It’s a Need For Speed game and I know some people don’t like wrecking cars, but personally I think it’s pretty cool and they’re weird too. So yes, absolutely, we can do it. And then, we completely revised the vehicle physics as well, with a more advanced definition, better quality, we can call it HD physics, and the physics calculation is also something completely new, never done before. And when we did the playtesting, the feedback from the players was amazing and they were telling us that they had never played a Need For Speed like this before, and it made a huge difference. And on top of that, we’ve implemented a more versatile version of assists for the physics system as well. As a result, it is possible to switch from classic steering to a more motion-oriented experience with more control. But if you want to turn all that off, play a little more like a real sim, or have fun with car pulls, that’s possible too. We can customize the cars to your liking.
Criterion Studio is assimilated with the Burnout license. Are we likely to see the license return one day? Or is it dead and buried?
Oh no, not at all! We would like to do a new Burnout. Finally, I want to specify that we are not in the process of creating one. We’re making this game right now (NFS Unbound, editor’s note). Actually, the list of games we’d like to make is pretty long, but among the ones we put at the top of that list is releasing a new Burnout. It’s a phenomenal game and it was great to make it. And many people are known to love Criterion for the Burnout franchise. But I repeat once again, we are not developing a new Burnout huh…