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

Posted Wed, Jul 14, 2010 by jeffprime

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.


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