EA gasses up Need for Speed Undercover

Publisher's popular street racer being tuned for later this year; EA CEO says "we were torturing" Vancouver studio with short dev cycle.

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EA's presence at the William Blair & Company Growth Stock Conference in Chicago has yielded more than a few sparkly gems of information concerning the publisher's upcoming lineup. One such bauble was a narrowed release window to Q1 2009 for BioWare's Dragon Age and Pandemic Studios' Saboteur. Another concerns the follow-up to 2006's Godfather, which will apparently feature a top-down strategy mode.

Yet one more gem concerns details of the next installment in the publisher's street-racing franchise Need for Speed. During a Q&A session with investors, EA CEO John Riccitiello said Need for Speed Undercover would roll out later this year.

Riccitiello, who in the past has expressed desire to vastly improve aggregate Metacritic scores across EA's board, first lamented the final outcome of last year's modestly received Need for Speed ProStreet. "I was pretty disappointed with Need for Speed last year," commented Riccitiello. "I thought it was OK game in terms of gameplay, if not good. But, who wanted ProStreet? It was this sort of made up, put numbers on the side of your car, and pretend to drive your Ferrari where, or your Porsche where?"

The outspoken CEO then laid out what EA plans to do to improve the Need for Speed franchise as its Vancouver studio gears up for Undercover. "This year, we are [making] Need for Speed Undercover, with a very strong mission structure along the lines of, I don't know if any of you saw movies like The Transporter," said Riccitiello, referring to the 2002 Corey Yeun-directed, Jason Statham-starring action film.

Expounding on how modeling a game after a low-rent film could ever be considered a good idea, Riccitiello said, "We resurrected the game when we brought out Most Wanted and then Undergound--the sort of chase and be chased, and the whole underground ethos of street racing at 3:00 in the morning...Now we're coming back with a strong narrative hook, and I feel really good about the title."

Riccitiello also noted that the Vancouver team developing the Need for Speed franchise has been both expanded and split into two. As an outcome of the move, Need for Speed titles will now be on a 24-month development cycle, as opposed to 12 months, since two independent teams will work on alternating installments.

"We were torturing a very talented group of people up in Vancouver, which makes it harder to be as innovative every year," commented Riccitiello. "I'm confident that Undercover is a much better game than ProStreet, and I expect that from this point forward that we'll do a lot better."

Riccitiello gave no indication of platforms or release dates for Undercover. However, previous installments have typically released mid-November on all relevant platforms.

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