Need For Speed: Rivals executive producer talks online multiplayer, PS4 vs Xbox One and Frostbite
Amid the madness of this year's E3 gaming expo in Los Angeles, Pocket-lint grabbed some downtime with Marcus Nilsson, head honcho of newly formed Ghost Games and executive producer on upcoming Need For Speed: Rivals.
Well, we say downtime. At a show as hectic as E3 there's no such thing. Interview space unavailable, instead we take a casual lean up against a wall in the upstairs press area on publisher EA's stand, as bass-heavy explosions from a Titanfall demonstration in the room below rumble away. It's a case of impromptu questions and Nilsson - probably best known for his senior producer role on Dice's Battlefield 3 - projects his voice above the bustle and we get down to business.
Do you feel there's a lot of pressure taking on Need For Speed?
"Absolutely. I always want to reach for the stars; I always want to make the best possible game. When I worked on Battlefield I was always working really closely with the community trying to make the best possible game for them. And I want NFS to feel that same way. I want to build something sustainable and this first game for Ghost is obviously very important to get right. Will everyone jump on it and love it? No. But the bigger audience that will play this game I think is going to see a game that doesn't feel like any other Need For Speed game. It's a different offering."
From the demo action that we've caught sight of, it's as if Rivals has jumped back to pick up on the best bits of previous titles such as Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit. Is Rivals going to be different and do you think the most recent Need For Speed titles didn't get the gameplay right?
"No, I wouldn't necessarily put it that way. I can put it this way: Hot Pursuit was a brilliant game. Then we had The Run which I think we took a creative risk on as a company and maybe didn't fully deliver on it in that sense. But then Most Wanted is a fantastic game I think. Even though there would be different ways of taking that to higher levels as well. What I'm trying to do with Ghost Games and Rivals is to learn from the past. Learn from what we actually know about our Need For Speed consumers, because we've been making Need For Speed games for such a long time and they are vocal, they know what they want. Slowly we're building towards what I think will be the epic package for Need For Speed."
What's the Frostbite 3 gaming engine like to work with?
How has it been tailored for a driving game?
"It wasn't, it was obviously the Battlefield 3 engine. But we've done a shit load of work to get it to be a proper driving engine. I think if you look at the game and play the game you'll see the results of that. Frostbite 3 is showing its muscle because we've tailored it into a driving engine now."
Can we say that Frostbite 3 will be to the next-generation what the Unreal Engine has been to the current generation?
"It's never going to be the Unreal Engine because we're never going to let anyone use it. It's EA's engine and EA is going to start developing that. Whatever the strategies for Frostbite 3 are I can't talk about. But I can tell you Frostbite 3, for us, is not only awesome in what it outputs on the screen, it's also how the developers back in Gothenburg can work with it. The iteration times are faster, the Frostbite team has that much more time - not working on the toolsets as they are on the output."
What's it like programming for next-gen?
"Just walking around here and trying to explain to a 'normal' person how you make a game and, you know, you can't. Of course it's complicated. However, having said that, the two new consoles are more similar in their architecture now. You can work with a more common code base this time around."
Will there be a big difference between PS4 and Xbox One in the future?
"My personal view: I don't think so. It's also too early to really tell."
Back to your game. As a car fan what's your highlight; that little something special that's in Rivals that you're most proud of?
"The biggest thing of the whole game: The AllDrive feature. Obviously coming from Battlefield and playing Need For Speed games I'm like, 'It's no wonder Need For Speed fans don't play online, because it's so troublesome to go online really - they're scared to go online.' In NFS Rivals you have one experience: you have one world you choose to have the experience in, you start playing the game in the UK, I start playing the game in Sweden and because we're friends we're put into the same world. And we don't even have to see each other - you could play your thing or turn off and I can carry on playing. But if we happen to be merging then I can start going after you, seamlessly going into a multiplayer experience."
How many people can play multiplayer?
"We haven't found the real numbers for what we can do. But it's not going to be a question about what the marketing people want - 'it must be a high number' - as this feature's not about high numbers, it's about finding the right level of people in that open world to make the gameplay and action be as epic as possible. It's going to be more about what most people can crowd together and play with - which is probably less than 10. Because you've go to remember this is obviously a game you play online with your friends, but you also have a lot of AI that's also there online. So the world is going to feel really filled with stuff to do."
Finally: When Rivals was shown off on stage at EA's press conference there was a third player using a tablet. What will we see of Xbox Smartglass, PS Vita and other kinds of integration and how will that work?
"What we showed on stage was just a hint and it's on the schedule to talk about that further along. For me it's a true next-generation feature. It can be delivered in a fun way - which is important, right? I'm not going to go after features that I think will just tick boxes for first parties. I'll do what's good for the game and good for the gamers and this tablet stuff - without saying too much - is very cool."
We sure are curious as to what it all means, but Nilsson's not giving away any more and our time is already up. A firm shake of hand and it's back to the show floor to sniff out some hands-on time with Rivals as well as plenty more morsels of gaming goodness.
Need For Speed: Rivals is due for release on 19 November for PC, Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, and at a later 2013 date for both Playstation 4 and Xbox One platforms.