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Need for Speed SHIFT – A Look Under the Hood



Need for Speed SHIFT is the next title coming from the Need for Speed franchise from Electronic Arts. Taking a left turn from past titles which had more of a Hollywood style approach to gaming, we sat down with Executive Producer Michael Mann from the EA Black Box studio to look under the hood to get a glimpse of what makes this game hum.

EA: Tell us about Need for Speed (NEED FOR SPEED) SHIFT and what makes this game a departure from previous Need for Speed titles?

Michael Mann:
Need for Speed SHIFT is no departure, rather a sign of dedication to the simulation sub-genre. Instead of producing a title a year that attempts to satisfy all racing fans' interests (arcade, action and open world, simulation and track based), we're focusing our design intent specifically in one area at a time We are re-creating an authentic race experience that highlights a true driver's experience exemplified with Slightly Mad Studios all-new next-gen engine and solid pedigree in world class racing sims.

EA: That's an interesting approach and one I know fans are excited about. Need for Speed over the last few years has really reached new levels in cinematic storytelling.  Is this something we can expect for this game as well? Or will we see a "shift" in game progression?

MM: Need for Speed SHIFT doesn't follow the traditional narrative arc that an open world action racing game has used to move players through a story. We won't go into detail yet,  Need for SpeedShift has an innovative progression that embraces and leverages driver skills and driver progression through raw and visceral elements of track based racing to deliver a new fun experience.

EA: One of the new gameplay elements for Need for Speed SHIFT is the cockpit view.  Tell us a little about this viewpoint and how it affects the gaming experience.

MM: The visual aspects of being behind the wheel are very important to "the true driver's experience". Slightly Mad Studios have modeled each make and manufacturers' interior, with functional dashboard display; the driver's arms, feet, and head animate to show movement from wheel to gear shift, clutch and gas.  Slightly Mad Studios has also used their creative magic to communicate the feeling of actually driving the most powerful and beautiful cars in the world.

Your head is affected by G-forces when cornering, as well as when braking or accelerating, helping to impart some of the sensation of actually being there. A depth of field effect shifts the driver's focus forward to the road when your speed picks up and there are other, more subtle inclusions, such as the driver's grip on the steering wheel changing and detailed animations within the cockpit view.

EA: That sounds incredible. A lot of Need for Speed fans have wanted this feature for awhile.  Let's talk about locations in the game. What can you tell us about the various tracks and courses in the game?

MM: Need for Speed SHIFT will be based on both world-renowned GP track, as well as a few fictional areas that provide us creative liberty. While we aren't talking about numbers, or all locations yet, we've shown a few examples of Brands Hatch in multiple layouts, and the SMS take on a London street course, which is a lot of fun to drive while taking in the hallmarks of central London.

EA: Sounds good and definitely looking forward to more information on locations as the kimono opens. One of the big draws in Need for Speed games are the cars.  Because of the type of game Need for Speed SHIFT is, are you taking a different approach for the car list this time around?

MMNeed for Speed SHIFT is rooted in professional racing. While we won't go into detail yet, car types and liveries are more closely based on what is seen in professional race and drift circuits than in fiction. Licensed cars are a tenet of the Need for Speed franchise. Our teams are not only participating in contemporary car culture, but help to establish it, by giving players an outlet for creative construction and customization of their vehicles, both interior and exterior. That is a first and there are definitely surprises in the works.

EA: Ooh! Everyone loves a surprise. ProStreet was one of the first games in the franchise to really embrace damage and then again with last year's Need for Speed Undercover. Will there be damage again in Need for Speed SHIFT?  If so, how does this tie into the cockpit view?

MM: ProStreet was the first Need for Speed title to break down the walls, and provide a more immersive experience with licensed vehicle damage. This aspect of design is critical in an authentic race; damage limits performance, broken windshields diminish vision, hoods flying up after collision occludes completely magnifying the intensity of the racing in this view.      

EA: This sounds pretty immersive and intense.  What can gamers expect from their first Need for Speed SHIFT experience? Would you say it is the ultimate racing experience?

MM: Need for Speed SHIFT is aimed squarely at the race simulation sub-genre, but it is not intended to be a sterile or grinding simulation game. It's an authenticate race experience that keys into the true driver; experience; this is how we are differentiating ourselves.

How does it sound to be behind the wheel of a high performance race car in the starting grid? What does the simulation of G-force look like? How does it feel to misjudge a corner and slam into a wall at 150 mph? What are the AI cars doing with the same vein of emotion running through them; making mistakes, locking up breaks, piling up, and blocking to prevent overtaking?

These true-to-life aspects of racing are the heart of the driver's experience and exemplified in Need for Speed SHIFT.

EA: Then get me my driver's license and point me to the starting line. Thanks for your time, Michael.  Be sure to check out the official game site for Need for Speed SHIFT for more information about the game.

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