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Need for Speed: Creative Director on taking the series back to basics

OPINION: Games Editor Sam Loveridge chats to Ghost Games’ Creative Director Craig Sullivan on taking the series back to basics, introducing live-action cutscenes and a more gender-neutral Need for Speed.
With the Need for Speed reboot about to hit our new-gen consoles, TrustedReviews got to speak to developer Ghost Games about taking the series back to its core.
For the first time in 20 years or so, the series is concentrating on scaling back all the trimmings found in more recent Need for Speed games and focusing on that which originally made it great.
Need for Speed Rivals
But for a lot of fans, there’s a lot riding on this Need for Speed reboot, and it’s something Ghost Games is very aware of.
“It’s a big responsibility. It’s something that we don’t take lightly,” explained Sullivan.
“And, you know, games cost a lot of money and it’s two years out of our lives, it’s between 200 – 300 people. You want to know when you get to the end of it, we get good reviews, we get people having fun with the game and ultimately we have a load of the fans thinking we’ve done a good job.”
“Need for Speed has been around for 20 years, and it’s sold over 130/140 million copies. And that means a lot of people have a lot of memories and a lot of relationships with different Need for Speed games.”
And the Need for Speed community has been extremely vocal of late, particularly after the launch of Need for Speed: Rivals back in November 2013 as one of the launch titles for the Xbox One and PS4.

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Need for Speed
Although Sullivan reassures me that it was a “very successful videogame” in terms of sales and revenue, it was the game that really made fans lose its faith in the Need for Speed series.
“Rivals was a good game; it was a good Need for Speed game. But it wasn’t Need for Speed enough, I think, for what the fans were asking for.”
But thankfully Ghost Games already knew where it was headed next even before Rivals was launched and it was back to a more authentic Need for Speed game.
“We knew during that game where we were going to go next. We knew that we were going to go much deeper on narrative, on visual customisation and performance tuning. We knew we were going to go to an urban environment, to probably opt for dusk until dawn gameplay.
Rivals was bright sunny day, playing at midday, blasting through the winding open roads highly influenced by California hillside and seaside driving.”

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Need for Speed
So instead of falling into the trap of releasing a Need for Speed game in 2014 as it was expected to, Ghost Games took an extra year out to make the reboot the game it thought it should be.
“We knew rather than taking small steps towards that pure Need for Speed experience, we wanted to stop and take a big step in one go. But, that takes time, money and effort. So, rather than putting out a game the following year, we said ‘well we can make a big jump, but it’ll take two years’.
But, we think this is more of a Need for Speed game than Rivals was.”
Ghost Games still wants to make its mark on the reboot though, and to do that it’s adding in live-action cutscenes. The decision behind that is again an attempt to get back to the original Need for Speed experience.
“It was from looking at the history of Need for Speed and us wanting to do something the fans would react to, but in a way that we could be proud of in terms of bringing something new to the table.

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Need for Speed Rivals
We looked very early on at bringing back narrative and the default go-to solution is to do a load of motion-capture and a load of computer generated characters. That’s in a lot of games at the moment, and it’s really successful in a lot of games, but around that time we realised that we wanted to use real people.
We have the five icons in the game, and although we didn’t know exactly then who they were going to be, we wanted to capture the emotion that they could bring with their presence on the screen, just by looking at you. There’s something about seeing a real person that’s quite powerful.
We’re doing a story about car culture and these icons, and about aspiring to have their capabilities.”

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Need for Speed
The game has changed a lot since it was originally announced, with Ghost Games tweaking and adjusting according to fan feedback, particularly from the beta.
“Games are so big and some complex now, with so many moving parts. There are so many things where we can make a very small change to a game that takes us 10 minutes, but that potentially screws up an entire experience.

Those are very simple things to change easily and quickly in the game, but what we do during development is we do things like betas. We have people play and get them to say whether it’s too little or too much, whether we should tweak this or tweak that.
And we have to listen to them. It’s cool that we live in a modern age where we have that dialogue with people.
Ultimately, that’s the best form of research. If something is 20 years old, it should be really good, because you’ve had 20 years to learn from your mistakes and make something really cool. It’s not like we’re making a brand new game.”

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Need for Speed Rivals
But if this is taking Need for Speed back to the beginning again, what’s next for the series?
“Need for Speed needs to be aware of who’s going out there and spending money on our games and who wants to play with what in the game.
It was predominantly teenage boys a long time ago. But over the past few years, it’s now grown slightly older. Our core fanbase is between 16 and around 26, but I think up to 40 per cent of people who play now are female – because we’re making slightly less testosterone-fuelled/meathead/girls in bikinis-style games.
Our audience has changed a lot, I would say if you look at where it was 15 or even 10 years ago and where it is today. It changes, and it changes for the better. We have a much broader audience, which means better feedback, ultimately meaning we make a better game.”

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need for speed
And hopefully this will be recognised further in future games, as the protagonist still feels like a very male personality, even though it doesn’t talk and isn’t seen.
“At the moment, that is solely down to the realities of making a video game. If it was up to me, or actually everybody on the team, we would have two different versions of the story, where you got to choose your character or make your own character.
There’s a load of cool stuff I want to do in the future and we want to do in terms of exploring having different people and personas. So this is just the start.”
Need for Speed is out on November 3 on PC, PS4 and Xbox One. 

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