Vroom! Need for Speed World – A Q&A with Senior Producer John Doyle

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With the impending launch of Need for Speed World coming closer, Ten Ton Hammer wanted to get some insight into the game. To that end, we found John Doyle, Senior Producer, in his massive garage building cars that aren’t exactly street legal. After some minor keying of a Porsche, John Doyle agreed to talk to us.

Ten Ton Hammer: Can you tell us a little bit about Need for Speed World? How does it differ from the other games in the Need for Speed franchise?

John Doyle: What we’ve tried to do with Need for Speed World is to build a PC only game from the ground up and incorporating things that people have really enjoyed from the previous games like Most Wanted and Carbon and combining those into what we call a light MMO. It’s a game that allows you to get together with your friends in what is a massive, open, gigantic, and larger than we’ve ever done world and do what you love to do with fast cars.

TTH: The world of Need for Speed is different from the worlds that most of Ten Ton Hammer readers are used to. They’re used to giant flying dragons and a typical MMOG world. What elements of an MMOG are there to suck in these people?

John Doyle: It’s certainly massively multiplayer online; it us one giant world with everybody in the world on the same server. They’re roaming around this world. There’s your massively right there. There’s an RPG element in the game as that you’re leveling up, deciding on which skills you want to invest in. Do you want to be great in dealing with the cops and being faster in the pursuit or being better at leveling with your teammates? Those are all things that you can do that give more of an RPG element into the game. So that’s how we describe it as a light MMO which puts all your friends and the entire world together into one place, and you’re developing yourself as a persona of a driver and also as a stable of cars you have.

I’m an old school MMOG guy from the MUD days, and while it’s not a game with orcs, dragons, and end-game raiding, but one thing that it does share with MMOGs is that it will continue to grow and evolve.

need for speed world picture

TTH: What kind of content is in the game for a player to level himself? What can you do in the game?

John Doyle: Certainly, Need for Speed World is about racing and acquiring fast cars and making them look unique. You can race against AI or against other players in a PvP manner or you can do private matches where it is just you and your friends. In the open world, you can smash into a cop, which will immediately lead to a pursuit, which instances you off and you begin running from the cops, which is one way of leveling in the game. Finally, and we’ve seen this in the beta process, is that players can use the open world in their own way. We’ve seen some amazing videos and movies created. We’ve seen incredible screenshots where hundreds of players have gathered in a procession through the city. We’ve taken a look at all of that and we’ve introduced a new mode in the latest beta where people can pose in certain areas and we give them camera controls so they can take pictures any way they want. This is the sort of thing that we’re investing in. The big thing for us is that we built a pretty solid framework. We know people love to play and that they love to play with the cops, and it’s more straightforward for us to get more and more content into what we think the players want to see next.

TTH: So we have racing against AI and other players as well as pursuits with the cops, what other types of matches are available in the game?

John Doyle: I hope that I’m answering your question right. You can race against people based upon your level, using a traditional ranking system, or you can do something with your friends where you’re racing together. We have sprint races as well as circuit races that unlock in a progression. We also break them up by the types of cars that you’re driving, and then you have the pursuit. That’s the base game that we call the base loop of the game, the core game that the Need for Speed people are used to. What we’ll be doing beyond that is releasing additional modes, and even more exciting, but we can’t go into detail as that we’re still working on it, is allowing people to build their game onto our game. For us, that’s the most exciting thing, but it’s a bummer that I can’t really tell you about it.

TTH: The world itself in this game is just one big open world, correct? It’s not a bunch of tiny instanced things. What kind of challenges does that pose from a design standpoint?

John Doyle: It’s a huge world from Need for Speed standards. We took the world of Carbon and Most Wanted and kind of glued them together and built some new chunks of world to connect them. That was a technical challenge in that our system wasn’t designed for a world that big, so there was a lot of work on the pipeline side to make sure it looked sharp. Technically, we had a challenge because you have a ton of people. We made a decision not to shard the world off, but to build just one giant world where everybody could be in the same lobby. There aren’t a lot of rendering engines that will show that many cars in the same spot at the same time, so we made some choices on which cards to draw around you and we default generally to your friends. We allow you to choose which channel you want to go to or to a private channel, and anybody who’s in the same channel as you, their car you will see. If there’s nobody in your channel, then we choose cars around you. But for the big channel, it’s how do we draw the cars? Do we allow collisions in the open world? We decided not to, so players drive through each other. Of course, as soon as you start an event, collisions turn back on. There were several challenging things, especially for a game engine that wasn’t originally designed to be online.

TTH: So, that process of taking something that wasn’t designed to be online and moving that online, has that been the most difficult part or is there an even more challenging aspect?

John Doyle: I don’t know anybody associated with an online game, and I’ve been involved in a couple, who doesn’t say as the launch date approaches, “Man, there’s so much not yet done with this game!” We’re no exception. There’s stuff everyday that we wish was done already. The biggest technical challenge was that we originally targeted this game at China and trying to get an online game that’s working well in the network environment in China. That’s not trivial. We decided to launch first in North America and Europe, which is a little bit easier of an environment. We’ve spent a year and a half getting the game to run in China, which is a low spec environment. It even runs well on Netbooks, which is something that we wanted to do, namely, making a game that will run on a number of platforms so you didn’t need a dedicated gaming machine.

TTH: What is the revenue model for this game?

John Doyle: Certainly, as you’re talking about revenue models, you can picture me rubbing my hands together evilly in the background. (laughs) This game is designed with a free-to-play component. Our intention is to get our game into people’s hands, especially those who haven’t played them before. Right now, we have limited progression to level 10 out of 50 levels. Once you reach level 10, you can’t level any more, but you can continue to play the game forever for free. If you want to progress beyond level 10, we’ll require you to purchase a Starter Pack. In that Starter Pack, we give you an unlocked car, a bunch of power-ups in the game, and we give you the same amount that you spent on the Starter Pack in in-game virtual currency, which we call SpeedBoosts. You use SpeedBoosts to rent cars that you haven’t unlocked yet, get more power-ups, and various other things. We made sure that the revenue model didn’t get in the way of the gameplay. We’re not using it to provide performance parts or guarantee that you have the fastest car on the block. Essentially, the game is free to play. If you want to go beyond level 10, you have to purchase a Starter Pack and, at your discretion, you can choose to spend more money later.

TTH: Are there certain areas or perks that you can’t access if you’re level 10 forever?

John Doyle: Nope. The whole world is open to you at all times. There are races that unlock by level, so if you’re level 10 and you can’t get a tier 3 car because you are unable to unlock that car, then there’s no need to unlock a race with those requirements. Otherwise, the entire world is open to you, the pursuits are open to you, and all the events up to level 10 are open to you to play with.

need for speed world picture

TTH: You mentioned power-ups. When people think of power-ups, they think of bananas that you throw at other cars and turtle shells and things like that. What are the power-ups in this game and how do they work?

John Doyle: I think power-ups are bit of a strategic element, but they’re certainly more of an arcade style than you found in the Need for Speed Shift. They are an arcade element to the game that hopefully doesn’t feel like turtle shells; otherwise we screwed up the design a little bit. They allow you to do certain things. For example, a power-up called Traffic Magnet, which is loved or hated depending upon which part of our community you talk to, which allows you, if you’re losing the race, to call the traffic that’s ahead of the winner to converge on him and cause him trouble, which is really cool if you’re not the guy in first place and somewhat frustrating if you are. This is why we have other power-ups to allow you to get through things like that such as Juggernaught, which increases your mass and knocks cars out of your way and is great for breaking through a cop roadblock. What we’ve done with the power-ups is to provide a bit of an arcade mechanic that we haven’t seen in the last few Need for Speed games, but which we think provides for a lot of fun and also provides a bit of a strategic element to determine how I want to try to win this race. Do I want to try it completely clean or do I want to use a Nitrous? Do I need to use the Slingshot power if I’m in third place or worse to get some extra speed and try to catch up to the leader? The real intent is to keep the races fun, full of action, and close.

TTH: Is there a story to this game, something that a player can get lost in besides the cool cars and the racing?

John Doyle: We didn’t take the story that we used in Most Wanted, Undercover, or Carbon and bring them into this game. What we were thinking was to allow the users to create their own stories. I know that that sounds fairly tripe, but we provide the tools to do that. One of the things that we’ll be doing later this summer, and I can’t talk too much about this because we’re not ready to show it, is to provide ways for users to create their own story, share it with their friends, and use our engine as a medium to tell that story.

TTH: It’s been said that you guys have aimed this as a social community-building game. What kind of tools do you offer to allow players to build the community? Can you answer that or is that along the lines of the previous question?

John Doyle: The tech is built and it’s really cool. The way we want to start using that tech is by getting together with some of the more active members of our community and giving them a first shot at using the tools that we have to build some really cool social features. Now, we start with some already in the game. For instance, if you connect to Facebook from Need for Speed World, any of your friends on Facebook that are on Need for Speed World are already added to your friends list. You have a newsfeed in the game that allows you to know what your friends are doing. You can look at their status and check a leader board that you share with your friends and see their stats for races or pursuits. That’s all kind of the basic stuff, but the more advanced stuff that really builds some cool social features that they can share, such as competitions or a story, that stuff will debut later in the summer.

TTH: Speaking of community, there have been a lot of special events. Can you tell us about these? I believe the latest one was chicken runs?

John Doyle: We’ve run a lot of events. One of the ways to keep people playing the game and getting excited about the game is to run things that we can give prizes for, be they bragging rights or something more permanent. We’re continually working with our community management team. Chicken Run was a kind of test run, a technical test. We wanted to see if we could take a race in the world and change it up a bit. There’s a pursuit breaker, one of those things that you can knock down and it’ll block the road in the game, which we made look like a giant chicken bucket. Chicken Run happens to be the name of our fictional chicken store in the game, so we themed the whole race around that chicken restaurant. We did that to see if we could, which would open up things like holiday events and to make the world more reflect those events. We’ll continue to run these events and hopefully you’ll see things that aren’t as cheesy as Chicken Run.

TTH: You talked about how there’s a chicken restaurant in the game. Does that mean that you can get out of your car and have an experience besides just racing?

John Doyle: Now you’re making me feel bad, because you don’t get out of your car in this game. We haven’t done an animation system yet, but we’ve talked about it a great deal. It’s something that we can do, but we initially wanted to focus on getting that core racing and pursuit feeling right in a massively multiplayer way. There’s a lot of stuff that we intend to add going forward. Getting out of your car and getting chicken isn’t on the priority list.

TTH: Without a doubt, the biggest draw to this game is customization of cars. Can you tell us about it? Basically, your car is your avatar, so what can you do to your car?

John Doyle: I’m glad you brought this up as that we think that this is one of the more important things in any racing game, and certainly in any RPG, you want to look unique. Our customization is the way you can do that. What you can do right now is a few things. You can paint parts of your car in different colors, and we have a ton of different paint finishers and colors that you can use. Probably the more exciting thing is to put vinyls on the car. We have a bunch of premade vinyls you can put on the car, and you can put them on in layers, scale them, skew them, and rotate them. People have already used that system to make some really amazing pieces of art, which is something that our art team gets a big kick out of. We’ve seen the community do some amazing stuff. The UI is built from the ground up for the PC so you can do all this work with a click of a mouse, which is something that we haven’t been able to do in the last few console Need for Speed games. It can also support a really staggering number of layers. We’re testing the layer numbers with the number of players in terms of bandwidth, but the theoretical limit for this system is about a million layers.

TTH: How many pre-created templates, or vinyls, do you have so far in the game?

John Doyle: We have a couple hundred in the game right now. Because you can skew, scale, and layer these things on top of another, you can take anything that we have and make essentially anything you want. More vinyls will be coming in the future.

need for speed world picture

TTH: Since you’re adding more vinyls later, then basically the only limitations to what you want to do is in your mind?

John Doyle: That’s right. For those people who don’t want to spend a ton of time making the perfect car out of the primitives, the primitive shapes that we have in the game, we’ll provide a bunch of things that we think are pretty cool and we’ll just continue to roll those out. It’s something that artists love to do, and it’s not hard for us to take those and get those into the game. We’d like to find a way, and we’ll do some work on this over the summer, for the community, who do amazing stuff, to submit their vinyls for us to include in the game. The community has shown that they have an even greater capacity than we do in this category.

We recently did a contest in the community of who could create the best 3D model of a Porsche 959, and the winner’s submission will be included in the next content update. The community got to build one of the cars in the game and we’re going to extend that so that users can get their vinyls in the game. We’ll continue to have the community build cars, because there are some amazingly creative people who play this game and are passionate about it and have made some awesome content for the console Need for Speed games. We never really supported it, but they figured out how to make it work anyway and we’d love for them to take the passion and skill they have and bring the cars they want into our game as well. We’re going to try to make sure that it is easy to do.

Beyond that on the user-created content front, there are some things that we’ll be doing with the community on story and competition over the summer, like I mentioned before. We intend to make it easy for anyone to create their content and share it with their friends.

TTH: From a logistical point of view, how does that work in the example of the user-created content, such as the car design? Did you have to get approval from Porsche for that contest or did they give you some sort of broad license to do that sort of thing?

John Doyle: All of the cars that we use in the game are approved by the manufacturers, so they say, “Yeah that looks cool.” What we did in this case was we approached Porsche and said that we’d love to have the community build a car, and they were all for it. They were excited about it. In fact, after the contest, they told us that some of their people had actually entered the contest and they didn’t get chosen. Some of the folks who do this do it out of passion. For the contest, we tell them the file specs we need and then we render it and put it into the game.

The 3D modeling fansites that have built up over the years around Need for Speed served as an inspiration. We knew that we had to find a way to get their content into the game. It’s not always practical in a console game, but a PC dedicated game is easier to do.

TTH: We know that you guys are trying to finish up a lot of things before launch. What is the priority that you’re focusing on right now?

John Doyle: Right now, my priority is stability, making sure that the game can handle all the people showing up and that they all enjoy a good experience. That’s what the team is really focused on right now. At the same time, about half the team is focused on the next content release that we’ll be doing. We’ve been watching the beta, talking to people, sending out surveys, sitting in chats, and sitting in the forums, trying to figure out what people want to see next, and we’re building a lot of that content now. Over the summer, what we’ll be doing is opening up more of those social options, specially the user created content. That’s what we’ll be doing this summer and a good chunk of fall is getting that new content out, and then we’ll start looking at the next new piece of content or what do people want in the game now? It’s pretty fun to do these games because you get to talk to the people who play the games and they tell you what they want to see. Generally, what people have been telling us makes sense. It is up to us to figure out how fast to build it and get it out.

TTH: I’m glad that you mentioned stability. We were talking about this recently and about when a new MMOG comes out, if the first few weeks of playing it isn’t stable, it becomes a death blow to the game. MMOG players are a picky lot and they’ll bail on a game that isn’t stable right away. I’m glad that you guys are taking stability so seriously. Stability is the key.

John Doyle: Yes. The cliché we use here is that you get one shot at an online launch. It’s something that is very important to us. While it’s very complex, we know that consumers don’t care about how complex it is, they just want it to work. For us, it means that we have to put in a lot of effort to make sure that any errors are invisible to the user.

need for speed world picture

TTH: Just for clarity’s sake, can you give us the end of beta date and when we can expect the launch?

John Doyle: The beta that we’re running has just ended. We’re doing a head start for those people who pre-ordered the Starter Pack the week of July 20th, and the game will be open to everybody on July 27th. Chances are that before we go into the head start, we’ll communicate a stress test. We have some new hardware coming in, and we want to make sure that we can get a bunch of people on at once and see if we have any troubles to make sure that we get that stable launch.

TTH: Are there leader boards in this game? If so, how are they being done? People get really excited about being able to brag.

John Doyle: Yes, there’ll be a lot of bragging. The leader boards that we have in the game right now are focused on your friends, so when you look at your feed gadget in the game, which is the news, you’ll see a list of all of your friends and how they’ve done in a number of events such as racing, cop pursuits, length of pursuit, amount of money earned, etc. All those events are listed and are constantly being cycled through. Deeper leader boards are part of that community social stuff that we’ll be talking more about later on. What we’re trying to do is to allow players to build their own competitions and share them with friends,

TTH: Can you opt out of a friend’s leader board or are you forced into it? Let’s say that I totally suck and I don’t want people to know how much I suck. Is there a way to keep my suckitude secret?

John Doyle: No, right now your suckage and public shame will be public.

TTH: What is your favorite aspect of the game? What do you think that everybody will look forward to the most?

John Doyle: Right now, the racing is fantastic. With the power-ups system we have, it makes the races action packed, and the races are very close. I’ve been running a ton in the beta and I always seemed to be grouped against people of a similar level with similar cars and similar skills. All the races are coming down to the wire, so even if I finish fourth out of eight, it’s a ton of fun because it’s so close the whole race. I’m first, now I’m last, now I’m in the middle. It’s a blast. As long as we get that right, we have a great start for a Need for Speed MMO and we can continue to add to the top of that. If we don’t get the racing right, then I don’t know that we can call ourselves Need for Speed.

TTH: What is the actual racing feel like? Is it hyper-realistic? What is it like using your computer rather than using a controller?

John Doyle: Well, you can use a controller in that you can plug in any USB controller in and it will be supported. Some people race that way and some people race with a keyboard. I tend to use the keyboard even though I like console racing games as well. It feels good. It is pretty responsive. It is definitely not like Shift; it is not that hard core. What it is really is a lot like Carbon and Most Wanted. If you’re a Need for Speed fan and you enjoyed the feel of Carbon or Most Wanted, then this will feel pretty familiar to you. I think that we’ve done a pretty good job of tuning the way the controls feel on the keyboard and the controller, so you can pick which one you like best.

We are supporting a bunch of the USB wheel gaming devices right now. We’ll continue to add new ones as they come on the market. It just takes time to code them up to add into the game for us to fully support them. We know that the guys who really get into racing games use them, and we want to make sure that they can use them to enjoy the game.

TTH: Is there different views? Can you go from inside to above the car?

John Doyle: There are four total cameras in right now. You have behind the car, a closer behind the car, you have the view from the hood as if you’re looking through the windshield, and you have right at the bumper. I prefer the hood view when I race, but most people prefer the closer behind the car view.

TTH: What is your main goal with this game? How do you think this game will affect the market?

John Doyle: I think that we’re trying to do a couple of things. One of them is to build a persistent Need for Speed experience for the PC. That’s our primary goal. If we can deliver a quality product that plays good, is fun, and continue to support it with a lot of new content and community features, then we’ll be able to do that. We want to reach a lot of people who gaming PCs are getting out of their range. There’s a whole lot of PCs that have been sold to people who aren’t looking for the most cutting edge PC games that are out today. We want to be in the middle of that, reaching out to people who want to try out a new racing game and we want that game to be Need for Speed. That’s our big deal. We want to build an enduring, persistent experience for folks.

TTH: What kind of music is in the game?

John Doyle: Right now, all the music in the game is our internally composed stuff. We have some great music from past Need for Speed games and we have some great new stuff. We have some original stuff and some things that people have heard before. Again, as that this is an online game, we’ll be adding new music over time and we have plans to keep the music fresh.

TTH: What is the last thing that you want to say about your game?

John Doyle: The last thing that I want to see is that we have a pretty fun Need for Speed racing experience on the PC, and we love for everybody to come give it a try.
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