Interview: Craig Sullivan On Need For Speed: Rivals, AllDrive And Cops vs. Racers

Last week, we went hands on with Need for Speed: Rivals and followed this up by talking with Craig Sullivan, Creative Director on the game. Craig’s one of those guys who can probably just talk and talk about any topic under the sun, and so it turned out, as our interview ran for nearly 25 minutes!

So, at the end of last week, after we posted our preview of Rivals, we took to the interview and cut out some segments which we felt could easily stand on their own two feet.

Craig explained the evolution and shift that saw the majority of Criterion Games’ staff shift across into Ghost UK and work under the newly founded Ghost Games umbrella, as well as how this new team would be looking after the franchise going forward. We also broke off a piece explaining the main reason behind Rivals not making its way to PS Vita and Wii U.

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However, the bulk of the interview lies here, and there’s some great stuff as we move to talking about Rivals itself, and Craig tells us about the introduction of AllDrive and what drove some of the additions and decisions to create Rivals.


TSA: Alright, I think it’s about time to finally ask you about Rivals…

Craig Sullivan: You can ask whatever you want to, it’s fine.

TSA: OK, so what’s your favourite FIF… no, I’m joking. [laughs]

Craig: What’s my favourite FIFA game? [laughs]

TSA: So, the big talking point for this game is with AllDrive. How does it fit into the game? Do you see it as an extension of what you were doing with Autolog?

Craig: It weirdly did come about through Autolog.

We introduced Autolog in Hot Pursuit, and I remember doing a lot of press, saying we think this feature will change the way people are playing games. It did, with 60-70% of our audience going back and replaying events that they usually would have skipped through, thanks to the Autolog recommendations and that competition between them and their friends.

Most Wanted went to a more open world, and we had Autolog comparing jumps and billboards, and just doing a lot more. Actually, it was Patrick Söderlund – who essentially runs the games label at the moment – he was sitting down with the game and said that it was really cool to compete with your friends over a jump, but it would be cooler if you could do that when you’re both there at the same time.

It was obvious that we’d created almost two separate games, with the single player and multiplayer game, and we realised that not 100% of our audience is playing multiplayer, and not 100% single player. So that was an interesting conversation we got into, where we were saying that we think playing with friends is cool, but that in the single player game you’re only allowed to do that through Autolog, and in the multiplayer you’re playing a different gameplay experience.

So we wondered what a game would be like if it was single and multiplayer at the same time; if you could play through your single player progression in a multiplayer environment. That you could FreeDrive together and dip in and out of experiences, but that everything progressed you through your career.

We also knew we wanted to go back to Cop vs. Racer gameplay. We were surprised at how many people liked that, and how many people embraced that in Hot Pursuit. Our audience split from our telemetry was literally 50-50, and that was quite surprising. 50% played as Cops and 50% as Racers, and we didn’t think it was going to be that even.

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Craig: So it was different things slotting into place. Cops and Racers naturally existing together, being able to race and chase together, and the idea of multiplayer and single player being kind of the same thing, and it just seemed like a really good fit for us.

You can be playing through your career, come across someone else and be AllDriving with them. Then the choice of what you do next is literally up to you; you can start playing co-op with him through the entire progression, if you wanted. You can play six cops all together, start at the same point and play all the way through the game together. Everyone will share events, medals, points and everything.

Or what is more likely, and it’s what we’re seeing, is people coming together for a bit and separating, then coming back together and having very different experiences. That’s only going to expand when the game is out in the wild, and that’s when the game’s going to get really interesting for us. We’ve tried to design for the chaos.

TSA: Do you think it’s hooking into one of the major trends right now, where everyone seems to be trying to find a way to have people always connected to one another?

Craig: Yeah, I think it’s wanting that new experience. I don’t think game designers in general have run out of ideas, it’s just that the way the world is naturally heading to a place where everyone’s just a fingertip away. If you want to get in touch with your friends, you have so many different ways of doing that now and it almost becomes a bit strange when you go into a game that’s just single player.

Games, which should be the most innovative pieces of software, are actually somehow restricting themselves. It was a good and interesting moment when we latched onto this idea for AllDrive, quite early on. No idea’s completely unique, and there are other teams out there looking at this stuff, and particularly going into the next generation of consoles, where you know that the number of consoles that are going to have a network connection is going to be way higher, the audience is capable of embracing more multiplayer content.

I remember as we were going to E3, where we were going big on AllDrive, and we turned up and we presented it and saw at the same conference Titanfall, where they have their own take on it. Then there’s obviously The Crew, where they have their own take on it as well, and games like Driveclub where they have some kind of Autolog going on in there and interesting friends play.

So I do think it’s something that’s going to appear in more and more games going forward, because people are going to be used to these consoles which surface your friends in everything they do. If you look at Microsoft and Sony’s press conferences, where they really pushed friends and network a lot…

TSA: And TV!

Craig: We’re going a little bit softer into the TV side of gaming, but I think the friends stuff is absolutely going to be something that just becomes more of the norm, and this is our interpretation of that.

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TSA: You touched on this briefly, but going back to Cops and Racers and the career-based progression through the game: where do you feel Rivals sits between Hot Pursuit and Most Wanted?

Craig: The thing we have to bear in mind is that the immediate comparison that everybody in the press does, which players do a bit less so, is think how it’s better than the one that they played last year, but also, weirdly, ask how is it the same?

With Hot Pursuit, a lot of people played that and had a lot fun with it. A lot of people also bought and played Most Wanted, and if we want to continue that quality, there are things that will have to be the same. The handling should be pick up and play – in the same way those games were – you kind of expect Autolog to be in there; you expect to be able to do races, Interceptor events and to chase people.

It was up to us to look at those games, and take this cool position of being able to look at what people liked. It wasn’t necessarily what reviewers pulled out, even though we payed a lot of attention to that, but we’re lucky enough to have the telemetry of what people play a lot of. The numbers don’t lie to you!

We knew that in Hot Pursuit, in the example I already used, 50% played as Cops and 50% as Racers. If the numbers were that 90% played as a Racer and 10% Cop, we probably wouldn’t have done Cop gameplay. We knew that the most popular game mode in Hot Pursuit was actually Pursuit, where you have pursuit tech active, and people used pursuit tech an awful lot, with the spike strip being the most popular.

Then we knew that people loved the collectable gameplay in Most Wanted, and that they did way more of that gameplay than they did of the actual single player progression. They just liked tooling around, finding cars and doing the smash gates and jumps. So we knew we had to have open world collectable gameplay in there, which we didn’t have in Hot Pursuit.

So you can cherry pick things and say there are certain things we need to bring back, but we also need to bring new innovations and reasons to play, and that’s how we got to AllDrive.

In the same way that Autolog was in those two games and is now in Rivals, I expect AllDrive to be in future Need for Speed games. Like when FIFA, Call of Duty or Battlefield comes out, there are certain things that you expect for consistency and quality, but you expect innovation too, so that’s the way I look at it.

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TSA: Finally, with the second screen functionality on phones, tablets and through web browsers, what kind of new gameplay are you bringing to this side of the game?

Craig: What did you see of it in there?

TSA: I saw an explanation of how you’ve got the big map of the world with live racers on it, and how you can interfere with other players.

Craig: Well, I don’t think we’re using the term “interfere”, so much!

So that app is another extension of the game. Everybody has a phone or a tablet, and they’re usually close at hand, and we thought it’d be cool if you could… “interfere”…

TSA: [laughs] Interact, maybe?

Craig: Interact! We actually thought it would be cool if you could either help or hinder someone in the game. So the same way that the game is about choices between Cops and Racers, where you’re helping or hindering someone, we have a game you can play on a seperate screen called Overwatch.

That’s a mini-game in and of itself, and I can Overwatch you when you’re playing and, depending on my mood and how well our interview has gone, I can choose to either help or hinder.

If you’re playing as a racer, I can call in police roadblocks and helicopters to chase after you just by pressing on the map, or I can help by filling up your nitrous or repairing your vehicle. I can also access way more detailed stats and do comparisons, but ultimately it’s about that interaction while I’m away from the game, that rewards me and you at the same time.

It’s based on choice, and I score points either way, whether I’m helping or hindering, but those points come out to me in Overwatch, and the next time I’m playing they unlock content in the game. I think that as a racer, there’s a Maserati in the game that you can only unlock by playing Overwatch.

We wanted to have that two-way dialogue and conversation. It’s another way to play, and you can do it while you’re away from the game, or while you’re sat next to someone on the sofa.


Our thanks to Craig for taking the time to sit and talk to us about Need for Speed: Rivals. The game is out on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC on 19th November, with launch day releases for both Xbox One and PlayStation 4

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8 Comments

  1. Adding this to “part one” of the interview, as such, it’s been one of the best interviews I’ve read on TSA in a while, fella. Thank you for this.

    • Yep, best in a long while.
      Will have to remember there’s a Maserati that can only be unlocked by playing Overwatch.

    • Agreed, they both seem to have been having fun with the interview and it made for an enjoyable read.
      I’m still not convinced this game is what i’m looking for but the dearth of any alternatives during the launch period may prove me wrong.. and just now i realised i probably will be buying it, dammit :P

      • Thanks guys, but of course, most of the credit sits with Craig, who was really just happy to sit and talk about pretty much anything… at length!

  2. Great interview. I didnt really know if i wanted this, but as DriveClub is now delayed then i think i will get this to fill in my racing need.

  3. With watch dogs and drive club delayed I’m in need of another game. I’m torn between this and assassins Creed. Both look great

  4. He seemed like a nice guy and very forward in his answers. I love Hot Pursuit as well, maybe more so than Most Wanted, so let’s see if this one hits the spot!

  5. I do love it when TSA gets to interview big devs one-on-one. :) Remember Craig back from the Burnout CrashTV video podcasts Criterion did. Seemed like a great guy.

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