Q: Ghost Games is a Frankenstein's monster of talent.
James Mouat: We’ve definitely tried to assemble the best of the best for what we do, and we have people that have worked on a lot of different racing titles as well as people like me who come from a background that isn’t driving. I was lucky to be asked to join this team for exactly that reason. I don’t have an expertise in driving, but a lot of my designers are huge gearheads, and I can rely on that knowledge. I bring a very core gameplay and game theory background to it.
Q: What sorts of things did you bring personally?
Mouat: It comes down to core game theory, and you’ll see it played out especially in Rivals as you play as a racer. One of the big things we did there was build a scoring mechanic. The racers have a high-risk high-reward scoring system where the longer you stay out and the more you do, you’re gonna earn points for that, and you’re gonna grow a multiplier to earn more points. So it’s valuable to stay out and earn points. But until you take those points back and safely park in your hideout, they’re not yours to keep. If a racer comes along and wrecks your car, or if a cop comes along and busts you, or if you wreck your car yourself, you lose your points. If you get greedy, you’re gonna get a real slap on the wrist if someone comes along and takes you down.
We want that sense of mechanical fun to motivate people on that side, but we knew that a lot of players that play this are also fairly casual, so we developed the cop experience as the counterpoint to it, to allow you to get out there and casually roam the world and explore it without that sense of, “Oh my god at any point someone could jump on me and give me a hard time”. As a cop you are the boss and can choose when to jump in on things and have a casual amount of fun – especially if you team up with others and play in a team style the racers don’t offer (where it’s you versus the world).
We want to develop a game that’s fun and happens to have cars and not the other way around.
Q: The Frostbite Engine known for its destructive capabilities. Will we see any of that stuff in Rivals?
Mouat: It’s been a real treat working with Frostbite because it gives us such a strong technical base. But also because it’s part of the internal EA repertoire and Gothenburg [home of Ghost Games] is right across from Stockholm [home of Frostbite developer DICE] – only a few hours train ride away. So if we have problems, we can get those guys to come over and help and work with us directly. That alone has been a huge boost. But also the fact that they’re already developing tech for Battlefield that we can look at and see if there’s a way to apply that. Yes, destruction is one of them. We’ve littered the world with things you can destroy from the obvious stuff – signposts and lights – to fences and even the odd water tower or barn doors you can go crashing through. That’s what Frostbite delivers.
Q: What’s this AllDrive business?
Mouat: AllDrive is a very big new idea kinda like how Autolog came along a few years ago and people didn’t know what to make of it. I’m certain that will be the case here and with it what we’re trying to do is destroy the line between single and multiplayer. Normally, you’re making a very conscious choice to engage with one style of gameplay or the other. What we’re doing is literally taking that away. You don’t have a choice at the start screen, you simply drop into the game and you load into the world. The game is going to look and see, “Do I have any friends online? Is there open games of people of my skill level?” We’ll load you into that world.
You play a very singleplayer-oriented gameplay where you have goals, a career, and a narrative to follow. But in a world where others are doing the same thing at all different points in that progression, and you’re gonna overlap. So I could be doing a race and you could be doing a race and our two races could collide and it’s chaos.
Or you might happen to be a cop chasing a random racer and come across my race and decide, “Oooh, those five racers are worth more than this guy”, and turn my race into a pursuit instead. All these things are unscripted and emergent, so there’s lots of gameplay that springs up.
It does still allow you to control that experience because some people – and I’m kind of one of them – are a bit of a hermit when it comes to the way they play online. So you can tune AllDrive down to how little or much you wanna play online. One of the other subtle but really big innovations is that we have AI players populate the world at all times – even when there are other human players online. Up until now there has been a separation where if you play online you only play people, and offline is AI only. We’ve been able to mix the two together.
I’m really excited to see how people react to AllDrive being that its much a new idea. It’s a big game-changer that’s gonna catch people by surprise. I wanna see what people do with it.
Q: How does a race turn into a pursuit?
Mouat: We’ve tried to simplify this process and allow a lot of different game modes and styles to stack up on top of each other. If I’m racing along and all of a sudden you show up behind me as a cop with your lights on, I’m still in the race but I’m also now in a pursuit. So I still have the objective up on my HUD saying I’m in third position and I can still continue to race. But [as a cop] if you have your lights on, any nearby racers become targets if you chase them for a few seconds and keep them within range. So it’s gonna automatically flag me and anyone nearby in that race as new targets for you to chase. It stacks up very smoothly and allows those game modes to continue. I can even challenge other racers while being pursued [by cops].
Q: What are the differences between the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 versions of the game?
Mouat: It’s not our job to sell next-generation consoles. It’s our job to make our fans happy and make a great game regardless of the hardware you own. So we made the choice to build feature sets that we could push across to all consoles and then use the hardware on each console to make the game look as good as possible. That helped simplify our lives.
It’s funny though, AllDrive came when we were thinking “What is next-gen?” It came down to social play. So we started to think about how social play works and realised, “Well, that’s the next generation of game design and gameplay, but that doesn’t mean it’s not for a current gen console”. We were able to deliver that same feature set and experience regardless of the hardware you own.
Q: Was either next-gen console easier to develop for?
Mouat: The only real differences from one to the next is: on gen three (Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3) we’ve maximised as much as we can with the visuals, and on gen four (Xbox One, PlayStation 4) we had more to play with, so we could get the cars looking better: a lot more particles make the dynamic weather and other stuff feel even more impactful. We had no real issues because we worked top-down and made the game look as good as humanly possible and then trimmed it to fit the maximum amount each console could do.
Q: What do you think of the Steam Box?
Mouat: I love that Valve is releasing a hardware platform of their own. As a developer and as a consumer, we both benefit from having more competition in the market. I think it’s win-win.
Q: Are you targeting 1080p/60 frames a second?
Mouat: I’m not the guy to ask about the tech stuff – as game designer I’m concerned with gameplay. I’m almost certain I’ll tell you the wrong thing and my life will turn into hell.
Q: What is there in the way of Kinect and PlayStation Eye integration?
Mouat: Not a lot to be honest. We had a very finite amount of resources so we wanted to focus on delivering a really solid feel to the way the cars control and making sure the world was really good, the UI was as smooth as possible. So we’ve offered some voice commands, so if you wanna interact with your GPS and find the nearest hideout you can definitely do that. But we stayed away from any goofy stuff like doing your steering with your hands – that for me is an abhorrent idea for a racing game.
Q: Any second screen functionality?
Mouat: Something we have been showing off recently is what we call our Need for Speed network. You connect using anything that has an internet connection, and part of the network is Overwatch game mode. There you can see all your stats, but also the map and your friends driving around in-game. You can then spend Overwatch Points accrued in-game to either help or hinder their progress. I could log in on the bus or whatever, see someone about to beat my best time on a race, and call in a roadblock or a helicopter to try and slow them down. Or decide to help and fill up their NOS meter. You can also unlock a few special cars and skins.
Q: Rivals brings the Ferrari brand back.
Mouat: I’m super happy about that one. It’s a badge of honour for us, but I think it’s going to make the fans happy to be able to live that fantasy of driving some of these really amazing looking cars. It’s just one more little notch on our belt.
Q: What was the greatest challenge you faced in development?
Mouat: We knew what AllDrive’s fun was going to be, but because it’s never been before – it’s just in our heads – really tuning it out and making sure it matchmade in the right way and you could join into an event on the fly… that stuff was the biggest challenge because there was no right way to do it, because it’s never been done before. When you innovate on a new idea like that there’s a lot of reaching around and trying to find stuff like you’re in the dark.
We actually discovered a lot of fun features in that, like the idea that if you and I are both roaming as cops and I’m level five and you’re level 15 and we come across a hot pursuit event locked to levels 10 and above. I can join in because I’m with you. So the AllDrive feature – as tough as it was to implement – started to allow us to break down the barriers of playing with your friends and having fun.
Q: There has been at least one Need for Speed game every year since 2002. Will that schedule continue?
Mouat: It’s public knowledge that Ghost is in charge of the Need for Speed franchise. Future releases are still something we have to talk about, but I’m happy that we are in control of our destiny, and can erase some of the confusion that’s come with a lot of the previous games being wildly different year to year. We can make sure that you can expect certain types of gameplay to be present in all of them, and you know what you’re gonna get when you pick up that game. But you always know we’re gonna try and innovate within that and add in new ideas on top of it.
Need for Speed Rivals is coming to Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Windows PC on November 21, Xbox One on November 22, and PlayStation 4 on November 29.