EA readying Need for Speed threesome

Q&A: Publisher trifurcating its street-racing franchise into trio of new properties: the MMOG NFS World Online, the Nintendo-only NFS: Nitro, and NFS: Shift for the PS3, 360, PSP, and PC.

Given the upheaval surrounding Black Box, many gamers have been pondering the fate of the Electronic Arts' subsidiary's signature series. Today, EA announced that one of the partially shuttered Canadian operation's franchises, Need for Speed, will continue to be developed.

Need for Speed: Shift

Indeed, not only will the street-racing series carry on, it will be expanded and split into three different franchises. The first, Need for Speed: Shift, is a hardcore racing simulation in the works for the PC, PSP, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3. It is being developed by Slightly Mad Studios, in collaboration with executive producer Michael Mann at Black Box and EA Games Europe senior vice president--and Digital Illusions CE cofounder--Patrick Soderlund. Slightly Mad Studios was founded earlier this month by former GT Legends developer Ian Bell.

The second NFS franchise to rise from Black Box's ashes is Need for Speed Nitro (working title), an arcade racer being crafted by the Boogie-makers at EA Montreal. Set for release exclusively on Nintendo's Wii and DS, the game will sport a "unique visual style" and, like Need for Speed Shift, will sport many real-world automotive licenses. Also like Shift, it will ship in North American this fall.

Finally, six years after EA shut down its first car-based massively multiplayer game, Motor City Online, the publisher is backing the auto MMOG genre out of the garage again. Jointly developed by Black Box and EA Shanghai, Need for Speed World Online is a PC-only, free-to-play game set to launch in Asia this coming summer. A North American release is scheduled for "winter 2009," which could potentially mean an early 2010 release.

With NFS being challenged for racing gamers' dollars by Microsoft's Forza Motorsport, Take-Two's Midnight Club, and EA's own Burnout series, why did the publisher decide to mix up its winning formula so drastically? Keith Munro, Electronic Arts' vice president of marketing, laid down some informational rubber with GameSpot in an exclusive interview.

GS: Need for Speed Undercover performed below expectations, selling less than 940,000 units in the US according to NPD. That's about half the 2.1 million units ProStreet sold since 2007, one third Need for Speed Carbon's nearly 3.1 million units, and just a fraction of Need for Speed Most Wanted's 3.9 million units and Need for Speed Underground 2's 4.5 million units. What makes EA think it can turn it around?

Keith Munro: We need to compare apples to apples over a similar time frame, and in fact, globally Need for Speed Undercover sales are comparable to ProStreet on a week-to-date basis. That's pretty impressive, especially given the economic environment and the heavy competition we saw last fall. As we move forward with the franchise, we are confident that the new brand strategy around three specific genres will keep the game fresh and players entertained. As the market leader in the racing category, we are talking with gamers on a regular basis.

For years, we've understood that even though our flagship action-driving games, such as Undercover, Carbon, and Most Wanted, have tremendous appeal, there are still lots of other players who craved something different. Our new Need for Speed development strategy has us building different racing experiences for different players, reflecting their needs and wants from this category. This is really about putting consumers first and continuing to provide the best racing experiences for them on all platforms.

GS: Will the three series be annual franchises like NFS is currently?

KM: We're listening to players and will deliver the games on a schedule that makes the most sense for the franchise. Currently, players demand a new Need for Speed property in the market each year.

GS: Will EA be expanding or shrinking the NFS development team as a result of these changes? If the former, which studios will be expanding, and will they be getting staff from other EA studios which are being streamlined?

KM: We are expanding, and this means growth in studios that are new to Need for Speed. We are focusing on creating quality experiences across multiple racing genres; as such, we are using studios to develop games suited to their specific strengths. Need for Speed Shift is an authentic simulation racer, and is being built in the UK by a collaborative team.

EA Montreal has a strong track record in developing for Nintendo platforms. This team is bringing a new visual style to the game, as well as a distinctly "Need for Speed" take on racing as they evolve the arcade-racing genre.

Black Box is still playing a large role in the development of Need for Speed Shift and Need for Speed World Online. Also, we wanted to give the team at Black Box an extended development window so that their next Need for Speed action game could really blow the doors off the category.

NFS SHIFT
GS: Shift development is being overseen by EA Games SVP Europe Patrick Soderlund and EA Black Box's Michael Mann--where is it being developed?

KM: Shift is being developed in the UK by a collaborative team including Slightly Mad Studios, senior vice president Patrick Soderlund from EA Games Europe, and exec producer Mike Mann from Black Box. Slightly Mad Studios includes developers that worked on highly acclaimed PC simulation racing titles GT Legends and GTR 2.

GS: You say the game is "built by racers for racers." Does that mean this game will be EA's Gran Turismo or Forza?

KM: There are a couple of levels to this. First, we have a number of people working on Shift that have real racing and motorsport backgrounds. We'll get into more details on this later, but as an example, Patrick Soderlund is a driver and part of the racing team that recently competed in the 4th edition of the Toyo Tires 24H Dubai 2009, the first major race event of the year. His team ranked 5th in this high-profile race. He is very passionate about and committed to bringing the on-the-track experience to players around the world.

Second, regarding other games in the sim racing genre. We see Shift joining the ranks of the world's top simulation racing games with authentic cars and tracks, but it definitely offers its own signature look and feel. Shift represents the true driver's experience. Traditional simulation driving games tend to focus on replicating a car's performance, Shift moves beyond that by combining a player's unique driving style with accurately modeled cars to really drive home what it feels like to be behind the wheel.

We're also bringing the built-by-racers authenticity via core technology. Need for Speed is renowned for capturing speed and a unique style of racing. Shift continues that through an all-new sophisticated visual interface. For example, there is a three-dimensional HUD that mimics driver head movement, inertia, and G-forces. The depth of field also adjusts based on the speed of the car; so when the car is traveling at high speeds, the perspective will shift to the distance, putting the car/cockpit out of focus.

Need for Speed Nitro

And we're bringing a brand-new perspective to the action with a cockpit view. This view highlights the authenticity and lavish detail on the vehicles and provides a more realistic and immersive vantage point of the action. This "first-person mode" also comes with a free-look camera on the right thumbstick so the player can really appreciate their surroundings and also get the lowdown on their on-track competition.

GS: Will it take any cues from the new Burnout series, in terms of crashes and damage?

KM: There will be crashes and damage, yes. A realistic simulation racing experience should include the consequences involved when things go bad on the road, so incorporating realistic damage is definitely a critical aspect of this game. There will be a slight impact on your car's performance, but the real consequence for collisions will not be the damage to the car but rather our all-new crash dynamic. This crash dynamic will disorientate the player similar to a real-life impact, but it will not hinder the experience, and it is represented in an exciting manner.

GS: Will the game be open-world or more event-based like Pro Street?

KM: Shift is about competition rather than exploration, featuring a mix of street and track locations. We have some of the world's most recognizable tracks designed to appeal to the most hardcore driving enthusiast. We're not disclosing the complete track list right now, but we have over 15 immersive real-world locations including a London street course and the world-famous Brands Hatch circuit.

GS: What kind of race events will the game feature?

KM: We're not revealing all the race modes and details at this time, but I can say that every maneuver a player performs on the track is a reflection of their driving skill and style--precise, stylish, or aggressive. The evolution of these skills will determine how a player navigates through the game.

GS: Any new car licenses we should know about?

KM: We are not discussing specific licenses, yet but the car list currently represents numerous decades and car styles. Players will be tasked to select cars that are suited to the race event and their overall driving style. We have definitely created a car list that will appeal to everyone. It spans the spectrum of performance vehicles from domestics, exotics, imports, muscle, and everything else in between.

GS: I noticed the game is coming to the PSP--has the platform been successful for the NFS series?

KM: We have had excellent results on the PSP with Need For Speed, and with the continued global growth of that platform, we have high expectations for Shift PSP.

NFS NITRO

GS: What Wii expertise from the Boogie series will the EAM team be bringing to Nitro, in terms of motion-based Wii Remote control?

KM: The EA Montreal team has learned a ton from developing Boogie and SSX Blur regarding the Wiimote. They will be applying this expertise to ensure that Need for Speed Nitro takes full advantage of the controller in an organic manner that doesn't feel forced. We will be offering a number of control schemes to ensure that gamers of all types can use the Wiimote to their liking while racing through Nitro.

GS: The release says that arcade racing fans "will be exhilarated by [NFS Nitro's] deep and challenging gameplay." What exactly does that mean? Will there be an all-play option and a deeper mode? If so, will that work like EA Sports' All Play?

KM: What that means is that we want to ensure that Nitro is a game that stands up to the tenets of the Need for Speed brand and offers gameplay depth and a variety of modes. We do not want to fall into the trap of creating a "Need for Speed Lite." Instead we are building a game that core Nintendo gamers and casual players alike can enjoy, that's easy to get into but more difficult to master.

GS: Now that NFS Wii games will no longer be versions of the PS3/360 console game, how much will they differ from the main franchise? Will they feature any of the hardcore racing elements of Shift?

KM: Nitro and Shift will be very distinctive offerings. For each, we are taking full advantage of the platform's capabilities and unique qualities, and also crafting experiences that reflect these platforms' varied consumers. At their core, one is an authentic simulation, and the other is an arcade racer, and from there we've let the teams get creative in this expression. But both games will offer challenge, depth, and high replayability.

NFS World Online

GS: The announcement said that the game will have a "fresh and unique visual style." Will said style be like the NASCAR Kart Racing series announced in December?

KM: The EAM team is taking a unique look at Nitro's visual style and tone, and it will be quite differentiated from the NASCAR game. It will feel very Need for Speed, but in a more mischievous, Nintendo way. We'll be revealing more, including imagery, soon!

GS: Will this game be part of the Freestyle label?

KM: Need for Speed Nitro will be in EA's Games Label.

GS: Will the game be set in an all-new locale or return to a previous NFS location?

KM: The setting for Nitro will be all-new and will also push the creative vision for Need for Speed environments to new levels.

NFS WORLD ONLINE
GS: Given EA's history with Motor City Online (2001-2003), why did it feel like it should return to the massively multiplayer racing genre?

KM: Need for Speed World Online is more about exploration into the free-to-play model that is growing at a fast pace, rather than a straight-up MMO persistent world such as Motor City Online.

GS: What lessons from Motor City Online's failure is EA bringing to the new game?

KM: From a game perspective, the largest difference is that where Motor City Online featured American classics and muscle from the '30s to the '70s, Need for Speed World Online is steeped in modern car culture, featuring many of the vehicles familiar to our fans from the past few years. But the business model and player interaction is also very different--unfortunately, I can't discuss details on these aspects yet.

GS: Why is this launching in Asia first?

KM: Asia has proven itself as a rich market for online-only games. Once Need for Speed World Online has been successfully deployed in Asia, we will expand the game's reach by offering the service to PC gamers around the world.

GS: Will this game use licensed vehicles?

KM: Yes, that is core to Need for Speed. In fact, Need for Speed World Online will give fans the most licensed cars, parts, and game modes ever in Need for Speed's history.

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Discussion

482 comments
Evz0rz
Evz0rz

Strange, the last two MMO's that EA has released (this and APB) haven't been too great from what I heard, yet EA announces that each are doing great...hmmm

Xz310
Xz310

wow stupid theyre not featuring classic muscles in NFS world? they should at leased make it a download for people who want it because maybe some of us like old cars.

mmb43
mmb43

Hows it going on NFS World Online? Is there a set date on when the game will be deployed in the U.S. And is there a site to go to to read more about it? Like can you rebuild the motors like in Motor City Online? Can not wait to play it!!

Kris024
Kris024

Where is the bloody PS2 version of NFS Shift? At least they made a PSP version of it. But the graphics for Nitro look real cartoony like NASCAR Kart Racing for the Wii. What is EA doing.

VXLbeast
VXLbeast

Wow, I hope the Wii version doesn't have cartoony graphics, that could be horrible! Online car game? Interesting.

hotrider12
hotrider12

I agree with both of you lord_sesshy and poseidion hot pursuit 2 with ps3 graphics and most wanted ,carbon and undercover was mighty lame. hope EA will bring back hp2 on ps3.. it need it badly.

poseidion
poseidion

Most Wanted, Carbon and Undercover were lame attempts to achieve the Hot Pursuit 2 success. Looks like we'll never see again games like Hot Pursuit 2, Underground & Undeground 2, at least for consoles.

Lord_Sesshy
Lord_Sesshy

Hot Pursuit 2 with PS3 graphics.....the best game ever along side GT5.

Lord_Sesshy
Lord_Sesshy

I still play Hot Pursuit 2 today, it's the best. And I agree, they need to make a 3rd.

hotrider12
hotrider12

vids I seen "world online" looks like hotpursuit damn wish it was for ps3 instead PC only

hotrider12
hotrider12

NFS dont need free roaming, cops yes. that was the purpose of making NFS the thrill of escaping from cops. not play like your in your neighborhood free roaming around looking for chicks LOL

Vimanesba
Vimanesba

Well, shift looks interesting, but I'm gonna miss NFS free roam, cops, and customizations (and the Hummer from NFSU2! lol)

Magnator
Magnator

Hey EA, bring us NFS Hot Pursuit 3 please!!! -.-

m1lk4
m1lk4

lol, i think most wanted is better than hot pursuit 2,whatever.i think world online will be a sh*t. i believe in nfs shift

army2067
army2067

agreed hotrider12 i want to hear more about nfs world online

hotrider12
hotrider12

hotpursuit 2 was the last good one.

mariokart64fan
mariokart64fan

nfsu 3? heck no then go play prostreet thats nfs u 3- no cops nothing at all to do , nitro looks awsomer !!!!!!! and sounds awsomer too gotta love the ps1 entries hot pursuit 2 isnt to shabby either, that was the last good nfs game made,

catach
catach

1st game from a "new" developer???? EA must be crazy to handle their franchise like this... is like saying: "take this crap and do something good, we don't know what to do!"... what a pitty..

mmb_43
mmb_43

I'm looking forward to seeing more on Need for Speed World Online. MCO was the best racing game ever . not 1 racing game came close to it. i would like to be a tester like on MCO

MyBordomLingers
MyBordomLingers

I would play Shift. From what they say it seems awesome!!!!

purpah-krayonzz
purpah-krayonzz

nope. No, no, no. Not happening. Give us NFSU3 or give us... nothing. Don't kill us, though. That would suck.

hotrider12
hotrider12

@ feniks9174 glad u have not bought or played undercover. waist of money and time. bought it and got my money back.

Feniks9174
Feniks9174

I'm completely willing to give at least one of these new games an honest chance, but it sounds like the NFS name is moving further and further from what I'm looking for in a racing game. I still haven't played Undercover, but it doesn't look like any of these games will bring me back either . . .

scbrother
scbrother

I hope Nitro and online will be good, and i hope the wii game wont just be motion control steering.

hotrider12
hotrider12

Im more interested in the 4th game hope its a new hotpursuit

hotrider12
hotrider12

just read on here in "new releases" this game coming out june 28th 09???? instead of nov.??? wow thats a new one.

tonyhawksP8
tonyhawksP8

EA have not learned from their mistakes and sending NFS 3 ways won't solve the problem. Maybe they should play Most Wanted and UnderGround 2 to get a feel of what a successful game is.

CrazyMetalHead0
CrazyMetalHead0

What I'd love to play is a remake of Underground 2. Just take UG2 put today's graphics and some better damage physics[not just paint falling off] and maybe police as reserve option. Nothing more or less would I love to see in it. UG2 is at least for me the best NFS ever.

gandalf_storm
gandalf_storm

i`d scrap it now and not even bother to be honest, just look at the last three NFS game, carbon = oh dear, pro street = absolute trash, undercover = poor mans most wanted and way too easy. Prove me wrong EA but I doubt it will even be half as good as forza`s arcade mode.

btrex
btrex

There any guarantees this is another dive bomber in the making K3 cafe closed because of those 2 gigantic bombs you developed (NFSPS & NFSU). I got my own shop now and I aint gonna repeat those smae fatal mistakes

TheProdigyIV
TheProdigyIV

Oh and Underground 1 & 2 and Most Wanted was the best in the series.

hotrider12
hotrider12

from kutako.com EA have hit the big, red reset button on the Need For Speed franchise. As we heard, three new games are coming. No, wait. Seems there are four new games coming. Blackbox - despite recent layoffs - still have the manpower and the time to work on not just NFS: World Online, but a "future action title in the franchise". Action? Since Shift is going the simulation route, Nitro the Mario Kart one and World Online the...online market, could he mean a return to the get-your-cans-out-luv, bright pink Honda racer boy theme of the last few games? EA Games' Keith Munro, meanwhile, has said the sudden reboot of the series has nothing to do with recent financial woes, and more to do with EA's recent move towards "crafting different games for different audiences and their unique tastes in the driving category". YEAH RIGHT!! a FORUTH NFS??? YEAH RIGHT.. IF SO IT BETTER BE HOTPURSUIT 3

Bowen747x
Bowen747x

BRING BACK MOTOR CITY ONLINE!!!!! BRING BACK MOTOR CITY ONLINE!!!!! :) :) why did they shut that game down it was only out for like 2 years? my uncle and i were HUGE fans of the car BUILDING system, but... races were laggy, i cant wait to get more details on NFSworldOnline and lastly, anybody i know would agree with what xgalacticax wrote

hotrider12
hotrider12

bet you neither one of these 3 games will have a demo becuz they SUCK!!! and EA know it LMFAO

xgalacticax
xgalacticax

They should take a hint from the sales figures and return to Underground 2's style. The Underground games were my best....and from the sales figures..alot of people share that opinion.

amkalfus
amkalfus

hope they can revive the need for speed series!

icepickiii
icepickiii

Id rather have the developers of Forza make a game like NFS as well. I always wanted to take "real" cars that are tuned and modified realistically. Then include the physics of Forza and BAM, a game that would actually be fun and have lasting potential.

TT-Thanu
TT-Thanu

Thers not even 2 players on Undercover on the PS3 and XBOX 360 Version thats how bad it is...

TT-Thanu
TT-Thanu

NFS is getting crabier for every second the best ones for PS2: Underground series (1 and 2) PS3: NFS CARBON XBOX: NFS CARBON PSP: Underground Rivals

dortega120
dortega120

I wouldn't call the last couple NFS's awful. The gameplay were smooth the only problem was that they were derivative.

_Brennan_
_Brennan_

I remember the days when NFS used to be great. NFS: High Stakes and NFS III: Hot Pursuit on PS1, NFS: Hot Pursuit 2, NFS Underground 1 and 2 on PS2. Ah, those were the days....the NFS games these days are lame. NFS Undercover? ROFL That game was bad.....

KnuckleZ_V8
KnuckleZ_V8

and for those people who call gran turismo "realistic". Jeremy Clarkson proved it WASNT!

KnuckleZ_V8
KnuckleZ_V8

its about time that EA learned NFS is DEAD and has been dying ever sinse Underground 2, give up guys, save urself and your employees the time an effort, inconnux, i agree with you, 3 mediocre games where we used to get one, and they've got to the point now, where these games arnt even mediocre anymore, there just plain aweful

Inconnux
Inconnux

joy... 3 mediocre EA games where we use to get 1