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An interview with Criterion’s Matt Webster



Matt Webster talks with our roving reporter Diane about hot new features, hot cars and of course Criterion’s Need for Speed Hot Pursuit.
Need for Speed Hot Pursuit

Matt Webster talks with our roving reporter Diane about hot new features, hot cars and of course Criterion’s Need for Speed Hot Pursuit.

What is the size of the play area?
Matt: Put simply it’s around 4 x Bigger than Burnout Paradise, for cars to be able to usefully reach 260 miles an hour. So well over 100 miles of tarmac road & 30-40% more off-road & shortcut areas, we've opened a lot of that space up for race & chase as you are playing online versus human cops, at night time you can just turn your lights off and hide behind a bush, something that isn't really achievable with AI, when you include elevation changes its a chunk of room so for anyone familiar with Burnout it's about 4 times larger.

How does  the new "autolog" work & will it allow friends to drop in and out of games?
Matt: It's kind of more important than just drop in and outs, that's pretty straight forward, we all know it’s hard enough to get a few people down the pub together let alone get online at the same time, so autolog’s main purpose is to facilitate "a-synchronous play", so I can play against you even if I we're not online at the same time because both our performances are being sent to the server, crossing in the post, if you like, it's really important because direct online play can be a really scary place.

I'm a seasoned online gamer and it's not always a welcoming or pleasant place in many games, we know we can do that, so you get to play online 8 player races, but it's the other part we think is more important because friends can compete against each other even when they’re not online at the same time, and what facilitates that is that the system is always listening for things that are going on the network and when it gets new info it’s doing hundreds of thousands of comparisons, and then sending you personalised info back, so if I beat your time it will tell you "Matt just beat your time on this event" and "you're now 3 seconds behind", "he used this car",etc,  and if I've caused a change to what we call a "speed wall", a friends leader board, by going up the ranking in that event, pushing friends down, it will send them all personalised recommendations based on my performance and similarly when they play it will effect everyone else in their network, so it really is joining up this comparison play and doing it so players don't have to think about it.

Computers are really good at automatically comparing numbers so it's very smart system and it's all there to encourage social competition amongst friends. So for example my ranking on a particular FPS is something like 11,807,000 which is totally meaningless, but knowing I'm second in a speed wall and knowing I've got you two seconds ahead of me, there’s nothing stronger, nothing better than beating a mate, so rather than a meaningless number, knowing how close your friends are to you and how many times they've done something, or how far you are from them is really, really powerful.

How many heat levels are there and what does the highest heat level have to offer?
Matt: Ok, that's from a bit earlier in development, we're not really calling that "heat" anymore, we might use it to describe how difficult an event is, but in terms of the gameplay progression there's a number of different ranks on both the Cop & Racer sides, I can play as a Cop or Racer, it's not an either or choice, and I earn bounty for everything I do, whether I play online or offline it's the same progression system, bounty fills my bounty bar, as it were, and drives my ranking and as I rank up I unlock more cars & capabilities, we're not really talking about specific numbers of ranks, but as we get closer to launch we'll start unveiling what some of them might be so people can start getting used to it.

How many players can join for multiplayer racing?
Matt: 8, so we can have 8 player races or if you're in cop vs. racer type events you can have 4 v 4, 7 v 1, 1 v 7, or any other variation of that number, we found that anything more than 8 is perhaps too chaotic, but 8 is a really good number, it's great for close racing, and we always have really cool close races but for the other events that involve cars vs. cars it can all get a bit too chaotic, so 8 is a great number for us.

When we saw the lighting in the car and the weather systems our jaws were on the floor! We thought it was just amazing, how much work has gone into creating that system and is it going to define the new standard for racing games from now on?
Matt: That’s always our aim, part of our trade is to be perfectionists, and some people see that as quite insular, but we really strive to be the absolute best that we can be, Burnout Paradise was good, and we learnt a lot from it, especially after launch when we started adding things to it, but this time we're dealing with real cars, we learnt a lot from Burnout Paradise, actually that world was not particularly well designed for fast driving, it was quite impressive technically, but this is a brand new graphical engine for us, and we had to do that for particular reasons, firstly we wanted incredible looking exotic cars, so we had to spend an enormous amount of processing power to make those cars look good, it’s an image base lighting system, so the cars had an environment map which allowed them to look like they're reflecting the world around them, but our cars are actually being lit by the environment as well, so in the desert when you see the blue sky coming across a black car it just looks amazing or if the dirt or sand reflects against a white car it just looks perfect. So the cars had to look right, but for the environment itself we wanted to evoke the sort of visual cues that you see when manufactures shoot these cars, when they're in a beautiful place, whether it’s a mountain or a salt flat, or wherever, let's take all the kinds of places that they film car commercials at and create the greatest road network you've ever seen in your life built for cars that do between 150 & 260 mph, and compress it all into this space to give a ton of variety and make it look amazing, so it's a brand new engine for that Secondly we wanted to do wet weather and night time because there's nothing like police lights strobing off a cliff face at night and those are the things we wanted so it had to be brand new. Luckily we've got a bunch of very smart guys. Also, our art director is Henry LaBounta, the academy award nominated art director for ILM, for Minority Report, he's lit the world and he's also a total perfectionist, and then we've got the guys at DICE, so, we created the world, the road ribbons, how the network works together and then the guys at DICE created these incredible environments to map round that based on Henry's direction.

In terms of research, did you get to test any exotic cars out?
Matt: Well we've got a Lamborghini coming down next week after I badgered & badgered & badgered them to bring a car down! Alex was out for a while he took a Gallardo out in Vegas. Burnout's know as being very pick up and play, anyone should be able to have fun with the car and that's in Criterions DNA, but in this game we've got real cars for the first time so it was great fun to get to play with those, what a lot of people don't realise is that you need a really, really good physical simulation engine to put arcade handling on top of, so we got to plug in all these values we got from manufacturers, and we have a great physics simulation going on, we have over 40 values just for each tyre, there's actually a really fun story about the setup of the handling; For the McLaren SLR 722, which is supposed to do 227 miles per hour, when we put the numbers into the simulation it was always coming out at 204, and we were checking the numbers, double checking the numbers, but couldn't figure out what was going on, so we were looking for bugs in the system, which is obviously very complicated, and then we realised that the diameter of the wheels was 2mm out, so we increased that by 2mm and then 227mph! The reason that's important, is that we want people to have fun, to be able to slide a car at 155mph round a corner, with a big smile on their face, because that's how you think you should be able to drive a car, whereas in reality, if I took a Murcielago out, I'd probably stall it and then dink into something and then it would overheat, you know what I mean, so to enable that fantasy you have to do all the complicated stuff to make something simple and then weave your magic on top of it which is the fun part of dealing with real cars.

In terms of the Cops vs. Racers, do you have a particular side you go for?
Matt: It flips and changes, there’s certain people you don't expect but they're stone straight for the cops, it's the same as asking are you dark side or light side of the force? Are you going to be the cop of the racer? Some people get a kick out of being a cop, must be the authoritarian side coming out! Essentially they're two side of the same coin, a pursuit is just like a moving race, its just that the person in front is choosing the end point. As a cop you can call in road blocks, spikes, helicopters, blast them with EMPs, but as a racer you can use the spike strips against the cops too, so this very simple premise of race & chase, because of its simplicity, is very compelling, I think people will just decide; "Hey I'm in a cop kind of mood, it's a Thursday, it's cop Thursday".

You may not be able to answer this question, as its multiplayer, but have you considered a co-op mode where cops can use tactics to stop the racers?
Matt: Well, you can do that, players can choose to co-ordinate, it's something we'd encourage, so currently the game knows that if we're both cops and you hit a racer, but I then make an arrest, that you were involved, so you'll get an assist.

Ok, so what you're favourite car?
Matt: Well in the game, it changes, the Zonda F a $2million car, or the Lamborghini Reventon, of which there were only 20 made, it's designed after the stealth bomber, it even looks like a cross between a stealth bomber and a UFO, another one we're showing here is the Pagani Zonda Cinque, there's only 5 of those in the world, and they were made because 5 millionaires badgered Horatio Zonda to make the Zonda R, the race only version, into a road legal car, and so that’s also $2million!

Great, thank you, it's been great talking to you!
Matt: And you! Keep a look out for more info soon and enjoy the game!

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