At the Tokyo Game Show last week, we met with Need For Speed Undercover Project Manager Darin Perfonic and talked a bit about his upcoming game, which releases November 18.
Joel: First off, thank you for taking the time to speak to us. So first things first, is this the first Need For Speed title you've worked on, or have you been involved with any of the previous editions?
Darin: I've been with EA for a few years now and I've helped develop both Need For Speed Pro Street and Need For Speed Carbon. With the Need For Speed franchise we have this system where we have two development teams which work on alternate releases, which means our development times are much longer than they used to be. I think the Black Box team have been working on Undercover for about two years now.
Joel: EA boss John Riccitiello recently went on record saying that ProStreet was only an 'OK game'. We can imagine you were under pressure to make a different type of game this time round. What new innovations have you managed to add to the series with that extra development time you mentioned?
Darin: Well, Pro Street was kinda made for racers, for racing game fans. We have tried to make Undercover go back to its roots, to take the series back where it started. We wanted it to be a more natural evolution of the original Need For Speed idea. We have got this new law system and the cops are returning from the older games. We are also focusing heavily on the storyline. We pioneered the idea of a narrative-based racing game with Underground and hopefully this is something else we have improved upon even more with Undercover.
Joel: Maggie Q is providing voice talent for the character Chase Linh in the game. Was Maggie given any creative license and what was it like working with her?
Darin: Unfortunately I never got to work personally with Maggie, but its great we managed to secure her for the game as it was really important for us to have a solid, believable storyline. The Black Box team are really great at making driving games, making videogames, but there's only one real expert when it comes to narrative and that's Hollywood. Because we wanted to make the story as immersive as we possibly could, we got Hollywood directors, Hollywood writers and of course Hollywood actors like Maggie so that Undercover would really feel as slick and professional as all the best Hollywood films do. Its key that we have that professionalism because we want people to be attached to the characters, not just to race when they don't know why they're racing. So we want the gameplay to be tied to the narrative. We had this vision from the start and Maggie has helped us in realizing that vision.
Joel: So could you give us a quick description of what the story might involve?
Darin: The player gets to take control of a police officer assigned to go undercover and infiltrate an international crime syndicate. The only contact with the police you get is through a federal agent called Chase Linh, who is played by Maggie Q. She is responsible for giving you all of your missions in the game. You have to win respect within the syndicate in order to infiltrate them further and progress through the game, so this means you get to do all kinds of missions.
Joel: We were going to ask actually, as just from playing the demo we can see that Undercover has retained some kind of sandbox element from Most Wanted and other previous editions. Will the game be Burnout Paradise style or like Most Wanted, or will it be something else altogether?
Darin: It's not really going to be like Burnout. As I was saying before, Undercover is really about the narrative. It's really cool because now we've got lots of new modes for the player to engage in. Maybe in one mission you will have to steal a car to please someone in the syndicate, perhaps in the next one you will have to cause a certain amount of damage to a police car, it's quite varied. It provides the player with new ways to enjoy the series and of course we still have the racing modes too. There's something for all types of gamers in there.
Joel: Has working in Vancouver influenced the game in any way?
Darin: People who live in the B.C area will notice one or two things here and there, like a junction or whatever we put in the game, but the actual city is not modelled on Vancouver.
Joel: So was Tri-City (the city the game is set in) inspired by anything in the real world or is it built entirely from scratch?
Darin: Tri-City is based on the South-East United States, so the Florida and Miami Keys areas. With things like the lighting and the terrain we tried to capture that part of the country, and I'd say it looks pretty similar.
Joel: We noticed that there is a 'cost to the state' feature and also the player can get arrested. What deterrent is in place to make people want to not get arrested?
Darin: I'm not exactly sure on all the specifics, but you will be penalized in some way. I think you lose a bit of money each time you are caught by the cops and there is a harsher punishment for getting caught three times.
Joel: We can see the Porsche you have on display. Does that mean there will be licensed Porsches and other brands in the game?
Darin: We have fully licensed Porsches and a load of other big makes like GM and Nissan. There are over 70 cars in the game. I can tell you that all the cars look awesome too. We chose to use the PlayStation 3 as our lead platform, which has been great to work with. The programmers are definitely starting to become familiar with the hardware now and I think it shows in the game.
Joel: And how will the iPhone or Wii versions differ?
Darin: Well those versions are being developed by a totally different team so I can't really tell you much about them. I think the Wii version will use the remote to steer and stuff. Oh, also you can change gears with the Wii controls, but I'm sorry, I can only talk to you properly about the PS3 and 360 versions of the game.
Joel: Any news on DLC yet?
Darin: Nothing I can say with 100% confidence
Joel: Okay, no problem. So when can we expect to see Undercover hitting store shelves?
Darin: It will be out on November the 18th in the US and on November the 21st in Europe
Joel: Great, We'll be looking forward to it. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us and good luck with the release.
Darin: Yes, thank you. Thanks a lot.