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Midlife Gamer Interviews Criterion Games.

November 29th, 2010 by

Has Xero’s review of Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit (Link here:) left you hungry for more? Well get strapped in and put the windscreen heaters to blow as we have a sit down with Richard Parr from Criterion Games. In this rare and exclusive interview we really get to know whats going on behind the scenes, namely the fancy range of biscuits available!

Firstly we’d like to thank you for this rare glimpse inside arguably one of England’s finest developers. Every new member of the Midlife Gamer community has to pronounce their favourite biscuit and beverage. So, during the development of Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, what biscuit and beverage would you say has had the most influence on you?

I think it’s safe to say that, rather boringly, tea and coffee are the beverages that fuel development the most.  On the biscuit front, though, I can go into a bit more detail, as we actually ran an official internal survey to determine that very question.  Here are the results in full:

Best in Class

Plain – Hob Nob x4 (Best Everyday Award)

Chocolate – tied between Chocolate Digestive x6 (Best Submersible Award) and Maryland Cookie x6

Foreign – Choco Leibnitz x7

Sandwich – Viennese Sandwich x8

Home Made – The Takedown (made by Jez)

Special Awards

Pepito and Blueberry Puff – Best Couple Award (a holiday romance)

Party Ring – Most Nostalgic Award

Fig Rolls – No Thanks Award

Overall Biscuit

Viennese Sandwich – Official Biscuit of Criterion Games

Criterion has such a rich back-catalogue of novel game mechanics such as Takedowns, dynamic online challenges and in particular the roaming “Freeburn” online aspect of Burnout: Paradise. These mechanics have become an integral part of the game experience, transcending a traditional racing game. What existing or new innovative mechanics have you brought to Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit?

In terms of second-to-second mechanics, Hot Pursuit builds on some of our classics (Takedowns) and adds what we think are some pretty cool weapon mechanics to go alongside them that we think really add to the experience both online and offline.  Outside of that, clearly Autolog is the biggest innovation in the game, delivering “asynchronous” gameplay that serves up specific challenges based on what your friends have been playing and keeps you coming back for more when your friend beats your time.

What’s the most awesome game mechanic you’ve had to leave out of a Burnout game and why?

I can’t think of anything that was genuinely awesome that we’ve left out of any of our games – we’ve had ideas that we thought would be great and that didn’t turn out that way, and that’s the reason they were left out, but we’ve never implemented something, thought it was great and then had to get rid of it.

The detailed crashes and collisions of your games have always been a fan favourite. How do you firstly detect and then implement each grisly impact on the fly with no impairment on playing? Also, were there any issues with the manufacturers of real cars and how you can gleefully rip them apart?

The detection is just something built into our physics engine – it’s not too hard to tell that a collision has or is about to happen.  The tricky part is making sure the results are fun and exciting and not detracting from the gameplay, and that’s just down to a ton of iteration – trying things again and again, balancing timings and AI and adding the occasional “magical” force to the physics to spice things up or keep things controllable.

We did initially wonder how far we could go with real cars, but the manufacturers were all great and as long as we treated their beautiful creations with respect they understood what we were trying to achieve and were generally very happy.

What was it like to finally work with real life cars rather than anonymous generic designs? Have the NFS models been lifted directly from the manufacturer’s data?

I’m not sure our car designers would agree that the Burnout cars are anonymous and generic. That said, the real cars in NFS:HP certainly are awesome, we love every one of them, and a few of us have been lucky enough to experience them in real life.  In general we had access to the manufacturer’s CAD data for the cars, and we took that as the starting point for modelling the versions you see in the game.  None of them really had CAD data for the cop versions, though, so we still got to use a bit of imagination!

There’s a current trend for applying HD polish to older titles (e.g. God of War from PS2 being remastered for PS3). Is this something that has been considered for any of the Burnout back catalogue?

It’s something we’ve mentioned in passing once or twice, but we’re basically busy enough with our new ideas so we’ve never done any real work in that direction.

We don't need to exchange insurance details. I'm sure that'll buff out.

Talk us through the process behind putting together the soundtrack for your games. As developers do you have any influence over the track choices?

Yes, we work with a group from EA who suggest tracks and sort out all of the licensing issues but we have a lot of input.

On a more sombre note, one of the Midlife Gamer community was lucky enough to call Rabin Ezra a friend. He never really “talked shop” about rendering curved surfaces when indulging in his hobby of role-playing games. Adam Billyard the then CTO of Criterion once wrote that he recalled Rabin setting up a very early Nintendo GameCube development kit (codename Dolphin), one of the very first in the country. He never lived it down that it promptly went up in smoke because he’d forgotten to switch it from 240V to 110V! What was it like in those early days at Cannon / Criterion? And how do you best remember Mr. Ezra?

I count myself extremely lucky to have known Rabin since my undergraduate days at university, when he was doing his PhD, and he was actually responsible for me joining Criterion 11 years ago.  Rabin was one of the very first employees Criterion had, and was responsible for a lot of the RenderWare technology, and he also helped us a lot while we were developing the early Burnout games.  He had an uncanny ability to understand hardware at the deepest level and apply that to making our games as good as they could be.  I’ll always remember Rabin for the great company he was (quite often over a pint or two of real ale), for his excellent taste in hats, and for everything he taught me over the years.

At what stage do publishers start inflicting deadlines about release dates? Do they specify from the start, so that ideas are curtailed from the off, or are developers given carte blanche to come up with whatever ideas they like?

That really depends on the publisher and the game.  We are part of EA so we’re closely involved in the publishing decisions for what we create, and we always go into a game knowing when we want to release it.  We work as hard as we can to deliver the best game we can in that time, and usually those deadlines are good as it makes everyone focus on the most important aspects of the game first.

Clearly the post launch support for Burnout Paradise was incredible. Was it your intention to provide that amount of post release content from an early stage?

Yes, we went in with the idea that we’d do a “Year of Paradise” and we were keen to see how far we could push things and deliver a game that changed over time and could be influenced by how people reacted to and played the game online.

Is DLC enforced; i.e. are developers required to make DLC from what, in the pre-internet days of the past, would be something included in the game at the point of release? And at what point do you decide to stop making DLC for a title?

We love DLC because it gives us a chance to offer more to the player, but it’s always content that we work on after shipping the main game.  We’re busy enough making the main game as good as it can be so we don’t have time to put extra stuff on there that some people wouldn’t see!

How difficult is it to code for multiple systems? Is it mostly done on one, with a port, or is everything done simultaneously by two specific sub-teams working on each under the auspices of the overall development team?

For Hot Pursuit we worked on all 3 platforms (PS3, Xbox 360 and PC) at the same time and we make technical decisions with that in mind and pick solutions that will work well across the board.  Some people on the team specialize to make sure that the specifics are covered – eg the PC has extra requirements for different resolutions, graphics cards, etc. – but in general we’re working on and testing all the platforms equally.

When making games and how early in the life cycle to they bring in QA testing to fix bugs as they occur?

We have a dedicated internal QA team who are with us from early on in development, and it ramps up as it gets closer to the end.  For NFS:HP we also put a lot of effort into automated testing, so as soon as anything was changed in the game our systems would fire up a bank of PS3’s, Xbox 360’s and PC’s and run through a host of online and offline tests to find out if anything had broken.

How do you feel about the extended life cycles of the PS3 and 360? Has it affected your long-term plans for game development by trying to implement more ideas on the current generation?

It’s always fun to get some cool new hardware to play with, but actually we’re appreciating the position we’re in right now – we think we have some great tech and we can’t wait to find out what we’ll be able to do with it on our next game.

Do you feel the size of the DVD for the Xbox 360 will start to limit what can be done with the platform because with the poor (but improving) broadband infrastructure making downloading massive games impractical? What are your thoughts on the future of distributable physical media.

I think we’ll have physical media for quite some time to come, but digital distribution will play an increasingly important role as typical bandwidth increases.  The size of DVD hasn’t been a problem for us so far, though, and I don’t see that changing any time soon.

On that note, Do you guys realise how much there is to download and install to get a new copy of Burnout Paradise online?! Apart from the physical amount of data to download, how do you try to get around the issue of fragmenting the user base by having some people with all the DLC and some with just the original game?

It’s a challenge, but the large download is precisely so we didn’t have to fragment everyone online.  We thought it was important for everyone to be able to be able to play together no matter what they had or had not bought, so everyone has the same data on their machines and if you’ve not bought, say, one of the car packs then you can still race against people who have without having to download the car data each time.

What are your opinions and techniques on how to stop piracy? Do you think incentivising a new purchase of a game with free DLC or physical goodies in the box is helping? How do you feel about Ubisoft’s method requiring a player is connected to their servers at all times?

I think offering extras free in the box can help, yes, and insisting that a player is always connected even for offline gameplay isn’t something we’re keen on, but I think the future will see companies putting more and more effort into the online aspects of their games as that content tends to be more secure, and hopefully gamers will simply get more and more value from having a paid for that experience.  The trend towards online and connected gameplay is happening anyway, though, regardless of the piracy issue.

And finally, when is the next Burnout game coming out? Go on, you can say, we won’t tell anyone. We promise.

I’d love to tell you, but I honestly have no idea.

We at Midlife Gamer extend our gratitude to Richard Parr and Criterion Games. Their new game Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit will be released for purchase on November 16th in North America and the 19th for Europe. Get those engines revving!

5 Responses to “Midlife Gamer Interviews Criterion Games.”
  1. avatar Martyn Hackett says:

    They took a biscuit survey?! :-D
    Now I love these guys even more.

  2. avatar Theboymatt says:

    Great company producing some of my all time favourite games! Seems like they are a good bunch- loving the biscuit survey, mentions of real ale etc.

    Viva criterion! gutted there’s no word on a new burnout or that there would be a HD release of past versions :/

  3. avatar Hugo Rune says:

    Oh Wow, just Wow, A freakin biscuit survey no less!

    That’s gotta be a scoop right there!

  4. What a read…
    “and run through a host of online and offline tests to find out if anything had broken.” – Gotta love regression testing :)

  5. avatar Yeti says:

    Great read!

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