When Need for Speed Underground peeled onto the market in 2003, it brought online play to the series for the first time with the PC and PlayStation 2 versions. The online component was expanded to the Xbox version with the game's best-selling sequel, Need for Speed Underground 2. Need for Speed Most Wanted, due next month, will bring online play to another platform: the Xbox 360. The publisher has also now concretely confirmed that the game's PSP cousin, Need for Speed Most Wanted 5-1-0, will sport a two-player online mode.
However, while Most Wanted will burn rubber in new online territory, one console will see its Internet-enabled component permanently parked. Today, EA revealed to GameSpot that the PS2 version of the forthcoming street racer will not support online play. While the announcement is sure to disappoint Sony loyalists, it is sure to please Microsoft, which has seen its relationship with EA flourish ever since the mammoth publisher got on board Xbox Live in summer 2004.
But was the decision to forgo an online mode for the PS2 Most Wanted a technical one or a business one? What exactly was the thinking behind the decision? Larry LaPierre, senior producer at EA Canada, took time out of his hectic schedule--Most Wanted is a 360 launch game, after all--to tell GameSpot why the PS2 version's online play never left the garage.
GameSpot: So what was the biggest decision behind forgoing the online component to the PlayStation 2 version of NFSMW?
Larry LaPierre: Our end goal is to create a fun and exciting gameplay experience for gamers. From the initial stages of development, there are many features on the drawing board that we want to put in the game in an ideal situation. We have to ask ourselves for every feature in the game, "Will it meet our high standard of quality, and how will it affect the overall experience of the game?"
In this case, we made a conscious decision to ship the PS2 game without online gameplay, because we were not able to meet that highest standard of quality we had hoped for in this online feature. We have a great game in development that we're really proud of, and I'm sure we won't disappoint our Need for Speed fans.
GS: Were there any problems you encountered with the PS2 versions of NFS Underground and NFSU2 that led you to abandon the OL component in NFSMW?
LL: No, I think at the time that we shipped those games, the online gameplay was very solid for the Underground titles. Going in to the development of Need for Speed Most Wanted, we were really ambitious with the online features for the PS2. In the end, we were not able to meet our high expectations for the online components, but as I mentioned before, we have a great racing game that won’t disappoint gamers.
GS: Why ship the game this year, then, and not wait until everything is perfect?
LL: We have a really fun racing game that we can deliver this year. We've been developing the game for a number of years and really focused on providing a new and unique racing experience for gamers.
Gran Turismo shipped without online gameplay, and it still ended up being an amazing racing game. We look at every aspect of the game to make sure it lives up to our standards. We want the overall gameplay experience to speak for itself. We did not want to compromise that and include a feature that didn't live up to par to the other modes in the game.
GS: Do you consider Xbox Live a better online system than the one offered by the PS2?
LL: No, I think both console systems have a great online community and great online gameplay. It was our decision, from a software standpoint, to pull the online gameplay from the PS2. Our decision was not based on the hardware.
GS: Does this deal herald any kind of exclusivity deal for NFS only to be on Microsoft consoles and the PC?
LL: No, we'll also have two-player online gameplay on the PSP version as well.
GS: Have you seen any of Sony’s online plans for the PlayStation 3? Are there any plans to implement OL in the first NFS game for the PlayStation 3?
LL: Our focus right now is on Need for Speed Most Wanted. We have not announced another game in the Need for Speed series.
GS: How will the Xbox and Xbox 360 versions of NFSMW differ? Will owners of the 360 versions be able to play owners of the Xbox version?
LL: The core Need for Speed Most Wanted online experience will be very similar between platforms. If there was a feature that we were implementing on next gen, the current-gen team took it upon themselves to find a way to make it work for current gen. However, the two versions are not compatible online, as the content is not exactly the same between the two. Next-gen can obviously handle a much greater amount of detail in the worlds and traffic. It became unrealistic to have them share the same track experience without degrading the next-gen experience, which we felt was inappropriate.