UC ::: Interview with Bill Harrison

Behind the Wheel of Need for Speed Undercover


EA fills us in on the latest installment in its seminal racing franchise


September 17, 2008 — EA is once again returning to the track this year with Need for Speed Undercover. Shipping this November, the game boasts some very impressive cinematic work and is both a departure and return to form for the franchise. To find out what it's all about, we fired off a number of questions to Bill Harrison, executive producer on the game. Here's what he had to tell us:


IGN: What's new in Need for Speed Undercover?


Bill Harrison: Need for Speed Undercover is all about the thrill of the chase. Undercover is the ultimate fusion of stellar next generation gameplay and an engaging story with every component embodying the excitement and energy of the chase. Without a doubt, Need for Speed Undercover is a complete action driving experience.

This year, you play a rookie cop recruited to infiltrate organized gangs, accomplishing objectives to become a known wheelman. It's from this position on the inside that you work to gain the gangs' confidence and take down the operation.

Plus, we're very excited that cops and free-roaming environments are back – we know it's something fans missed in ProStreet and we're happy to bring them back.


IGN: Is the game going to be based on pre-set tracks, like ProStreet for instance, or will Undercover feature more of an open-world take on racing like we saw in Most Wanted?


Bill Harrison: Open world is definitely back. This spiritual successor to Most Wanted features a free-roaming environment with three distinct cities connected by an enormous highway system. In total, players will take out opponents and evade cops as they race along over 80 miles of roads including an enormous highway system that sets the stage for heart-pounding highway battles. These high-speed, high-stake chase sequences will push players to the limit as they fight off cops and opponents while whipping through traffic at 150 miles per hour.


IGN: The Need for Speed franchise seems to shift gears constantly with major changes in the overall design. Why is this, and what's the reason for always changing things up? Do you ever worry that you will alienate fans of a previous year's title, or is it always a forward-looking process to try something new?


Bill Harrison: There are a number of stories we can tell in the Need for Speed universe. This year, we're building a true next generation action driving game that features: innovative gameplay with our Heroic Driving Engine and all-new Highway Battle mode; an engaging cinematic story with top-tier acting and directing talent; and an expansive and varied world for gamers to explore and race.


IGN: How do the police work this time out?


Bill Harrison: We're very excited about the cops in Undercover. The whole team put a tremendous amount of effort in developing an all new and improved AI mechanics engine that ensures this year's cops are extremely aggressive and intelligent. In fact, their AI is a component of the Heroic Driving Engine – a logic control layer that allows them to use the same driving controls that the player has at his disposal.

We have also refined the heat system so that it escalates based on a player's behavior. Essentially, you're going to see cops that are focused on taking you out fast and by any means necessary.


IGN: What we've seen of the cutscenes from the game look very impressive from a cinematic standpoint, almost like a standalone film. What can you tell us about the production of these clips?


Bill Harrison: Videogames offer a complete entertainment experience with the ability to engage a player through interactive storytelling. Our FMV shoot was the biggest shoot in Need for Speed history. We made a significant investment in storytelling this year. The use of live action sets, Hollywood talent, like Maggie Q and Christina Milian, and Hollywood production techniques really helped us create one of this holiday's most complete entertainment experiences.


IGN: Will there be any way for the player to be able to queue them up and watch the cutscenes as one long film? Or better yet, are there any plans to release a special edition with all the clips edited into a single movie?


Bill Harrison: Probably not. Need for Speed Undercover is a complete interactive entertainment experience with the cutscenes supported by the gameplay. Without a doubt the best way to experience Undercover is to play it.


IGN: What can you tell us about Maggie Q's involvement in the game?


Bill Harrison: We wanted Need for Speed Undercover to be like playing an action movie and for us to accomplish this we engaged the experts in Hollywood. We filmed on live sets in LA, our director is from the TV show 24 and we engaged actors like Maggie Q. Maggie is an incredible acting talent who helped us deliver an unparalleled level of storytelling.


IGN: What sort of licensed cars will we see this time out?


Bill Harrison: We haven't announced the full car list but we will have over 55 licensed cars in the game representing some of the world's top manufacturers like BMW, Porsche and Audi to name just a few.


IGN: What can you tell us about the customization features in Undercover?


Bill Harrison: Customization is a staple of the Need for Speed franchise. In Undercover, players will be able to customize their rides to create cars that reflect a gamer's individual look and driving style. Need for Speed has always been at the cutting edge of car culture and the cars in our game are going to reflect the look of contemporary car designs with stylings like matte paint finishes and black-on-black [paint schemes].

Our deep performance tuning enables the player to dynamically adjust a vehicle's performance to exploit every aspect of our Heroic Driving Engine.


IGN: How about the damage modeling? Will it have an effect on how you drive?


Bill Harrison: Need for Speed Undercover features real time procedural damage but we've removed the impact it has on performance. We want the player to focus on driving our cars, and their modifications, at the limit of their capabilities, not managing wobbly tires or a 15% engine torque penalty.


IGN: Speaking of driving, have you shifted the focus towards arcade or simulation-based racing more than we've seen in previous installments?


Bill Harrison: As in previous Need for Speed titles, Undercover is a contemporary take on the driving style that Need for Speed itself defined – the heart-pounding action driving between simulation and arcade. We want players to feel like they're playing a big-budget action movie. Our heroic driving engine will let players push the cars to the limit as they evade cops and takedown opponents by pulling off high-performance moves at 150 miles per hour.


IGN: Lastly, what's in store for online play?


Bill Harrison: In addition to the classic sprint and circuit race modes, Need for Speed Undercover features an all new exclusive multiplayer mode, Cops N' Robbers. This visceral team-based mode supports up to eight players and pits two teams of four players against each other. Robbers must pick up the money and take it to the drop-off point while the cops attempt to prevent the drop-off. Each game consists of two rounds giving the players the chance to play as the Cops and as the Robbers.

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