Need for Speed: Undercover Interview
Australia, September 30, 2008 - Need for Speed: Undercover represents a pretty big departure from last year's Pro Street. Think Most Wanted-style gameplay and a story that sees you taking on the role of an undercover cop trying to break a number of criminal syndicates. In fact, this is the most narrative-heavy Need for Speed title yet, and EA has gone all out to give the cutscenes and story an action movie flavor, and a professional, slick veneer. We sat down with Producer John Doyle to chat a little more about this aspect of the game.
IGN AU: How did this emphasis on narrative for Undercover come about?
John Doyle: One of the things we certainly learned from Pro Street was how much everyone enjoyed the story in some of the other games. We knew lots of people liked it, but the strength of that reaction was pretty interesting. We were already planning to go back to the narrative-based approach – this game was well into planning before Pro Street was even really into production. So we knew we wanted to create that Most Wanted successor and what we wanted to do was to deliver on the story in a way we hadn't done before, so we decided to go with a live action story, rather than the filming that we'd done before where we'd done the rendering to make the characters feel like they were in the game. In this case we just went straight to live action for the cutscenes and spent about three weeks in Hollywood shooting Maggie Q and quite a cast of actors . . .
We're trying to deliver the feeling that you're the hero of an action movie, and that all the things you're doing – all the races, all the driver jobs you're doing, the missions you're running, are all advancing a cause. So what you're doing is trying to get into the confidence of these crime lords, these syndicates that are dominating the city, and be able to find out who they are, who's behind them, who the big bosses are and then participate in taking them down without blowing your cover.
IGN AU: So how does taking down a crime boss actually come down to racing?
John Doyle: . . . we don't want to expose too much... we want the story to unfold as you're playing it, there's a lot of twists and turns and excitement and I think the way you're going to see it exposed, the way you're going to take the bosses down should feel different.
IGN AU: In terms of the story, what kind of tone are you going for? Are we talking Transporter-style high adrenaline, not too much brainpower required, just a lot of fun?
John Doyle: Yeah, we're definitely not looking to tell the story of Schindler's List here. This should feel like a summer blockbuster action film, so we want those highway sequences to evoke Matrix Reloaded or Bad Boys 2 – I think Transporter is a good analogy to use too. We want to tell a cool action movie. You're this undercover cop, you can't trust anybody, you never really know who the bad guys are, and we want to use the way that you're going to play in the game as a way to unfold that story . . .
One of the things that really sets us apart from some of the other racing games out there are – well, there's a couple of things. One is the cultural connection; we try and figure out what's going on in the real world and reflect that. And the other is that there's usually some kind of narrative that ties it together, there's a reason for you to be doing what you're doing beyond just racing. Maybe for some of the really hardcore that doesn't matter as much – they'll just skip past all that stuff and just get into the racing, but we certainly found that for the broader group of people that pick this game up, that narrative is really important.
IGN AU: Carbon's narrative felt quite peripheral to me – is Undercover's going to be more dominant?
John Doyle: This narrative is definitely more of a central theme in this game, which is why we went to all the expense and effort of chasing down the really high quality talent and doing the work. I'm not saying all Need for Speed games are going to be this in the future, but this was something we thought we were ready to do, we were able to pull it off.
IGN AU: So it's an action blockbuster. You're going for slick as opposed to hammy?
John Doyle: So, we were intentionally campy with Carbon and Most Wanted's stories. They were definitely on the campy side, and the narrative wasn't as central to the core gameplay. For this one we hope what we're going to deliver is that blockbuster, we're hoping you're surprised by the twists in the story. At no point does the narrative overshadow the gameplay; we're not expecting you to sit down and watch this like a movie. You are the central pivotal player... we set out to create a game where there's a story that ties the reason that you're in these epic cop pursuits or you're doing these driver missions beyond just wanting to go fast.
IGN AU: And how is the high adrenaline action movie feel reflected in the handling model? It's designed to be accessible?
John Doyle: We wanted to make it feel like you could pick this thing up and do these crazy things with the car that you normally never could do. Underneath we're running quite a sophisticated physics simulation for what's going on.
IGN AU: Are we talking big jumps or stunts or anything along those lines?
John Doyle: I think you'll see with the damage that it's possible to some pretty crazy things - you can tumble your car. We've tried to keep it out of the realm of the Burnouts and the truly arcade racers so you're not going to be busting through billboards and flying through the air. You certainly will see the Pursuit Breakers, where you can get away from the cops by knocking down things in the world. You'll be able to do crazy things with the car that you'd see in a normal, reality-based action movie. We didn't want to go beyond that.
I don't want a big car, particularly. I have no need for acreage, and I don't like the fuel bills. But I don't want a small one because they're all like supermarket own-brand cola: weedy imitations of the real thing - Jeremy Clarkson
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