Not being much of a racing game fan, it usually takes quite a bit of fun and innovative game play to keep me interested in one title for long, let alone one series. Time and time again, EA has seen fit to nudge open my wallet for each successive iteration in its long running Need for Speed series, and for the most part, I've always been pleased with what I've been given.
Given that the new installment, EA Black Box's Need for Speed Carbon is approximately four months away, I thought it a good time to learn a bit more about the game and what it will prepare to offer racing enthusiasts this time around. I spoke with the game's producer, Kristian von Fersen, in order to find out how Carbon is gearing up.
Shack: It's been said that Carbon is a reinvention of the NFS franchise. How so? Please elaborate.
Kristian von Fersen: We’re always looking to be on the cutting edge of street racing culture and put a lot of time and effort into our research to try and identify new and compelling game modes that take their inspiration from what is happening in the real world. Fairly early on in our research it became obvious to us that there were 2 big things currently happening in the street racing scene that Need for Speed hadn’t yet tapped into and, if done correctly, would translate into a phenomenal game experience. Those two things are Canyon Racing and Crews.
In Need for Speed Carbon, players will have to build up a crew and challenge rival crews for control over the entire city and the surrounding canyons. The Canyons represent some of the most dangerous and illicit courses that you can imagine. Picture your car flying down a narrow two-lane road with a steep mountain wall rising up to the heavens on one side and a sheer drop down to the valley below on the other side. We’ve teamed up with some of the most extreme canyon racers to try and capture this experience and bring it to life in Carbon.
Much like Most Wanted was an evolution from Underground 2, Carbon will similarly be an evolution from Most Wanted. I think fans are going to have as much fun playing the game as we had making it!
Shack: What are canyon duels? Tell us all about them, please.
Kristian von Fersen: The Canyon Duel is a 2 stage race. The player's car is in the "follow" position during the 1st stage and his goal is to stay as close as possible to the lead car without going over the edge of the cliff. The closer you can stay to the bumper of the car in front of you, the more points you'll score during this run. If you successfully reach the finish line, you will end up with a total score.
During the 2nd stage, the player's car is in the "lead" position and you are trying to get to the bottom of the run as fast as possible while putting as much distance as you can between you and your opponent. Your goal is to defend the score you put up in the 1st stage against your rival when the roles are reversed. Passing the lead car and staying in front for a specified amount of time results in an immediate win for the car that made the pass. On the other hand, falling too far behind the lead car for a specified period of time will result in an immediate win for the lead car.
Shack: Lots of questions about the AI teammates! First, what types (as in, do they have a name/title?) assist in the street, and HOW do they assist? Second, what types assist in the garage, and how do they assist? And of course, thirdly, what types assist behind the scenes, and how do they help the player?
Kristian von Fersen: The crewmembers that you bring into your crew will benefit the player both in and, more importantly, out of the race. You will have a limited number of spots available in your crew and lots of people to choose from. Each crewmember is unique and will offer different advantages to the player if they choose to bring that person into their crew. They can help you in a race if you choose to bring them in and activate them and they will also play a major role outside of a race with regards to visual and performance customization as well as having influence over the way that you interact with the cops. The meta-game revolves around you and your crew going out and challenging rival crews for control over territory that they currently own both in the city and out on these crazy canyon courses. The best players will be able to actually dominate all of their rivals and control the entire world map! All of the different crew characters have distinct personalities and have driving styles which suit their specific skill and the type of car they drive. Choosing which crew member to bring into a race will really depend on a player’s driving style and the way they like to use their wingman to help them win races.
Shack: What sort of skills do the AI teammates have, and can they be upgraded over time?
Kristian von Fersen: Apart from the in-race skills of the Blocker, Scout and Drafter, each wingman will also have a secondary ability which will help the player in various areas of the game. Some of the skills will give you advantages in visual or performance customization; while others will help you manage your heat level when encountering cops. As the player progresses through the game, they will be able to add wingmen to their crew that will bring different skills to the table.
Shack: How does the player go about selecting their crew? Also, how do they earn crew members in the first place? Do they hire them, beat them in races...?
Kristian von Fersen: All of your crew management takes place in the Safehouse. Your crew is slowly built up as the player earns respect by winning races and defeating bosses. There are a few that will join up with you right off the bat and others will join you later on if you choose to hire them. It’s really up to you who to take with you and that totally depends on your playing style and what you think are the most important skills to take advantage of.
Shack: How many teammates can the player have during a single race?
Kristian von Fersen: The player can take one crew member with them during a race. They’ll be able to choose which one they’d like to take from their Safehouse at any time before entering into races.
Shack: How are the teammates controlled? Does the player give them commands, or are they on "auto-pilot," or perhaps a combination of both?
Kristian von Fersen: Your wingman is controlled by giving them commands through a button press on the controller. We’ve tried to keep the system simple and intuitive so that it’s easy to do while still keeping your eyes on the road.
Shack: Can other racers (AI or human) have teammates as well?
Kristian von Fersen: Opponents in races will be made up primarily from the crew that owns the current track. They will race as a team and will be very recognizable with their crew colors and logos.
Shack: Tell us about territories: how many are there, and are there sub-areas in each territory; what exactly does having a territory do for the player (e.g., do you progress in the game, do certain territories have special shops, etc); who do you compete against to win a territory (or are there other ways to win turf besides racing); and do certain territories favor certain car types (if so, do I have to use that special car type on that territory, or can I use whatever car I wish)?
Kristian von Fersen: There are numerous territories in each area that the player will conquer with their crew. Each territory will obviously give the player more control of the map but it will also give them access to specific parts, cars and various other rewards. To take control of a territory, you have to take control of a majority of tracks in the area by beating the crew that controls the area. Certain territories will slightly favor a certain class of car and this is reflected in the major crew that holds the area of the city. Call it “home field advantage”. That being said, the player can stick with their preferred car class throughout the game and take control of the entire city.
Shack: Tell us about the 3 car class types: Exotics; Muscle; and Tuners. What makes each unique; what are pros and cons; etc.
Kristian von Fersen: We’ve really spent a lot of time this year differentiating the three car classes. So much so that we’ve based part of the game around this fact and allow the player to choose their allegiance right at the start and play through the career in one of three different flows according to which class they’ve picked. Each class will have certain strengths and weaknesses that the player must balance against their driving style or car preference. There is no single class that will be consistently at the top. Given the right driver, any of the 3 classes can be equally competitive.
Shack: What is Auto Sculpting? Tell us all about it! Also, what other methods besides Auto Sculpting are available to players who wish to customize their cars?
Kristian von Fersen: Autosculpt is truly a revolution of visual customization in racing games! Our Autosculpt system allows the player to take certain visual parts and actually pick a huge number of target areas and use slider bars to customize the part to their liking. This can be done with wheels, hoods, body kits, spoilers, and more. Without a doubt, this has greatly expanded the already huge amount of customization in previous Need for Speed titles and given the player an unprecedented level of control and personalization.
Apart from Autosculpt, players will find many of the same options available in previous games but improved in countless ways. I think fans will be very excited when they see what’s available.
Shack: Tell us about drift racing: a bit of the history behind it; why it was determined that NFS: Carbon should make use of it; how does it work in the game; all that.
Kristian von Fersen: Drift racing will be back bigger and better than ever in Carbon. We’ve spent a lot of time this year increasing the sense of speed in drift races and capturing the feel of balancing your car sideways as you finesse the steering to avoid hitting the wall. Fans of drift from Underground 2 as well as newcomers to the mode are going to be blown away. It’s totally addictive.
Shack: Why was drag racing cut from Carbon?
Kristian von Fersen: We are currently re-imagining what the Drag experience should evolve into and, much like Drift Racing last year, we felt it best to take the proper amount of time to get it right. Fans can expect to see Drag make again in future Need for Speed titles.…
Shack: What other special race types are planned for the game?
Kristian von Fersen: There are probably three key new areas that I think fans of the franchise will find very exciting. The first is our new mode, Canyon Duel, where you and an opponent are going head to head in the ultimate game of cat and mouse. The first run has you following the opponent’s car trying to stay as close as you can without going over the edge or slamming into the cliff face. The closer you are, the more points you accumulate. On the second run the roles are reversed and he is chasing you eating away at your score – make it down to the bottom in one piece with points left and you have proved your mettle. Second, our physics has been a big focus this time around. Last year we had feedback from fans of the franchise that they were looking for more differentiation between the car classes and we have certainly taken that direction this year. Fans will immediately feel a difference in the handling, acceleration and driving techniques the moment they drive any car from each of the different car classes – Tuner, Exotic and Muscle. Finally, the territory acquisition meta game experience will offer fans a whole new way to play through the game. Tied in closely to the story and building out your crew, racing for control of the city will make up the core experience of the game.
Shack: What can you tell us about online play?
Kristian von Fersen: Unfortunately I can’t comment in detail about our online plans for Need for Speed Carbon right now.
Need For Speed: Carbon is due out Q4 2006 for PlayStation 2, Xbox, GameCube, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii, Nintendo DS, PSP, Game Boy Advance, PC, and mobile.
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