We're big fans of Need For Speed: Most Wanted (NFS:MW) here at Pocket Gamer, bestowing a mighty Silver Award upon the Vita version when we reviewed it earlier this week.
To find out more about its development, we sat down with Criterion senior producer Rob O'Farrell the other day.
O'Farrell proceeded to tell us about the major differences between the Vita edition of NFS:MW and the home console version; some of the design choices the Criterion team made while developing the handheld version; and the challenges that came with producing the system's first open-world racer.
Read on for the inside scoop.
Pocket Gamer: Need For Speed: Most Wanted is out now - can you tell us a little bit about the game?
Rob O'Farrell: NFS:MW is a car game - packed with great cars - where we let you, the player, decide how to play. We've developed a connected open-world game, for we wanted to break away from convention by letting you drive any car you want. Literally, if you can find it, you can drive it.
With that in mind, you can race, chase, explore the world of Fairhaven, as you look to become the Most Wanted. To that end, you have to earn speed points and take on the Most Wanted cars and your friends.
We really wanted to develop a game that puts your friends at the heart of competition. We've managed to do so through the implementation of Autolog, Most Wanted List, and Multiplayer.
Throughout the NFS:MW world, there are Speedwalls where you can set fastest times, fastest speed records, and longest distance records by smashing through billboards. The coolest thing about the billboards is that you can plaster your face all over your friends' worlds by setting the longest distance.
We've gone for a four-player online experience that isn't just about racing - it's more about having fun with friends, driving to "meet-up points", larking about, taking on challenges, and discovering the world together in different cars.
How does the Vita version differ from its home console counterpart?
In a lot of way, the differences are down to the reduced spec of the Vita compared to the PS3. When we started development, we had one goal and that was to deliver an open-world game that made the player feel as if he was playing the PS3 version in his hand.
Of course, when we started developing the Vita version, we thought the device was going to be pretty close to the PS3 in spec, which we discovered not to be the case. Though aiming high at the start gave us a much better chance of delivering a great game.
In achieving this goal, we've actually delivered the same feature set in the Vita edition as we have in the versions on the other platforms. We have, however, had to make some subtle reductions in the Vita version to make sure we delivered great handling on the system and consistent framerate.
So, you'll notice that the Vita version has fewer cars in some races than in other versions of the game, but to compensate we made sure we balanced the races to keep you challenged.
There have been a lot questions on the net regarding traffic recently and, yes, we made some reductions on that front for framerate reasons. In the Vita version, though, we made the call to reduce traffic for gameplay reasons.
Our cars are fast. I mean, they feel fast, look fast, and on a small screen this can prove a challenge if you have too much traffic on the road. So, we reduced the traffic to make sure the player didn't get frustrated crashing into traffic without having time to react.
Why have you decided to go with the sticks as the preferred method of control, and are you a fan of touchscreen-controlled racers in general?
The sticks are suited to racing games, especially considering we are using the shoulder buttons to make NFS:MW feel more natural to drive. I don't believe in forcing a control method to work just because a machine is capable of something, for it just leads to a bad experience for the player. That doesn't mean touchscreen-controlled racing doesn't work, mind, for we offer that very control method in the iOS and Android versions. And it works.
We did look at using the Vita's rear touchscreen in game for changing the car camera, but this soon became the most annoying feature in the game. You'll be amazed how many times you touch the back of the Vita without realising it. As you'd imagine, this component quickly got taken out.
We looked at Easy Drive, too, but realised we were breaking our own rules regarding just changing something for the machine's sake. Which is why Easy Drive is mapped to the D-pad and is a really fluid menu system. It makes choosing a car or a race so easy.
Multi-person games on Vita have yet to find much of a foothold. Why do you think this is, and what is Need for Speed: Most Wanted doing to change this?
Being a handheld, the Vita is perceived by some as much more of a single-player console due to the fact there are times when you are not connected (travelling in the car, on the bus, plane, etc.). But, that isn't a reason to disregard multiplayer.
The great thing about how we designed NFS:MW is that we made sure our challenges and milestones worked for two players or 12 players online. So, the fact we have four-player online means the game has been designed to be fun with two or four players.
We've already mentioned Autolog, Speedwalls, and the Most Wanted list, which all provide forms of multiplayer competition with your friends. We did recognise, though, that you won't always be connected, so we have cached the Most Wanted list, Speedwalls, and Autolog recommendations. That means that even when you are offline, you'll feel connected to your friends and carry on going up the Most Wanted list.
Of course, when you do go back online, your buddies might have being doing the same and you'll have to see who is still the Most Wanted - it all adds to the excitement.
There have been a lot of comparisons made between Need for Speed: Most Wanted and your 'other' driving series, Burnout. Do you take those comparisons as a compliment, or is the Shiny Red Car name a bit of a burden when working on Need for Speed?
A compliment, of course!
Burnout is our heritage, and Paradise taught us so much about our consumers and what they loved to do online. We could bring so much of that knowledge and insight into Need for Speed.
We find it a privilege to develop this franchise and really take it forward, especially now we've delivered an open-world experience that is fully connected.
Need For Speed: Most Wanted for the Vita is out now. You can read our full review of the game here.