Remember when when we posted that Criterion Games would be overseeing Need for Speed for the foreseeable future? Well, it turns out they've now been overruled by Sweedish studio EA Ghost.
It's no secret that Need for Speed has been through something of an identity crisis over the years, veering into different directions as different developers kept yanking the wheel. It's something that EA Ghost, who are currently co-developing Need for Speed: Rivals with Criterion Games fully acknowledge.
Speaking to Videogamer at Gamescom, EA Ghost's Studio Head Marcus Nilsson believes that Need for Speed "needs continuity", and that EA is "now thinking about the brand as Ghost owns it".
"It cannot go from black to white between Black Box and Criterion, and that's why we're now thinking about the brand as Ghost owns it," he said. "We're going to build it, we're going to build it on Frostbite 3, [and] people will see something they are familiar with every time we release the game. And I think that is the core basis of building a brand; that people know what to expect."
He also said that Need for Speed "loses credibility" as a brand when it fails to be consistent. "I think we now have the work of re-establishing that credibility with building the brand. You know, it's still a really strong brand, absolutely. We just need to make sure people know what to expect when they get it, and Rivals is absolutely the first step toward that.
"Need For Speed is not going to go away, right? It's not the final or last step of that. But what you see in Rivals, a lot of those things will carry on going forward and myself and Rivals will be involved in shaping that."
And just to clarify, when asked if Need for Speed will follow a Call of Duty-style developer cycle switching between EA Ghost and Criterion, Nilsson simply stated "No, you're not going to see that."
As much as I love and respect Criterion Games for their work on Need for Speed, particularly for pulling it out of the ditch Black Box had driven it into over the years, I feel that this is the right decision for the series. EA Ghost seem to understand what fans want from a Need for Speed game – Rivals appears to take all the good parts from Hot Pursuit's tactical pursuits, Most Wanted's open world freedom and Underground's cosmetic customisation.
Speaking of Underground, EA Ghost are also open to developing a sequel if there is enough demand:"If people would come to me and say, you know… make Underground 3 with Frostbite 3 with exactly the same features and you'll go back and sell 15 million copies, then yes, I would build that game. I would. But it's not that simple."
When asked why they think there has been so much demand for a Need for Speed: Underground sequel, Nilsson believes that nostolgia and the affiliation with car culture and the ongoing Fast and Furious series are to blame. "I think it's nostalgic," he continues. "I think there are elements in Underground which are very good. What you see with Rivals is, in some sense, a merge between what you like in the Criterion games – the physics, the camera work, the car – but looking back and flirting with the past with the narrative, with the personalisation.
"And yes, Rivals is not the over-the-top customisation and neon colours under the car, but maybe the reason partly is because that is out of hype anyway, because [of] Fast & The Furious in early 2000. But bottom line, I think it's a core pillar of Need For Speed to have [customisation] and we're going to go there."
"You will always have people who have different opinions. My job ultimately is to understand those feelings and build a game that I think is the best possible. I see the Underground comments, trust me, and it's not like we don't regard them."
When asked if Criterion will shift developer duties Call of Duty style, Nilsson confirmed that this won't be a possibility: “no, you're not going to see that,” he said. “There's a small part of Criterion working on something else. Criterion is absolutely helping us out a lot on this game and would we make something next year or whenever we do it, it's going to be something that is ultimately driven from Ghost."
With Criterion's license with Need for Speed now revoked, it makes you wonder what their next project will be. I certainly wouldn't say no to a next generation Burnout title, or they could abandon the racing genre altogether if previous rumours are anything to go by.