Back at E3, Tamer Asfahani cornered Patrick Soderlund, the senior vice president of EA Games and the head of DICE, and questioned him about just what’s going to make Need for Speed Shift special. Our interview is in video format below, but right below that is a text transcript of the entire thing.

How does it feel to be doing Need for Speed Shift?

It feels great. I mean it’s good to be involved in kind of a strategy shift in Need for Speed, where we’ve moved away from forcing the same team to try and crank out a a game every year, and we now have multiple development teams working under the same brand. I think that’s paying off, because you can see the increase in quality in this, versus what we shipped last year.

So what’s different about this? We know that it’s more about simulation, we’ve seen the head stuff, we know that there’s a different game for the DS, we know that there’s Nitro for the Wii, but the focus really is on the hardcore gamer.

That’s obviously the kind of crown jewel for this year, the main game. I think if you look at what we wanted to do with Shift – I race cars myself, relatively professionally, and we just sat down and… I haven’t seen a game yet that gives me the same emotion and feeling as I get when I race a car. I played Gran Turismo, I played all those games for years, and as good as they are, [there’s not that]  same adrenaline rush you’re feeling, and I just thought that’s an opportunity for us to make something different in this space.

How do you go about doing something like that, though? Because you mentioned GT, and it’s a huge game. There’s Forza out there as well – there’s a whole host of games that have tried to crack that and make it that definitive racing game. But some of them end up being more of a simulation, some end up being more arcadey… there’s no real balance to be struck.

I think that’s right, and that’s obviously something we’re working on and fighting with still. It’s hard to get that balance to make it a real simulation versus something more arcadey. My take on this is that it’s all about the perception of what reality is. After all, this is a videogame – this isn’t reality. So to me it’s more about a feeling than the need to be accurate. I think that approach helps us to do shift.

It’s the driver that’s important as well, because you don’t get in a car without knowing your vehicle, knowing what it’s capable of, and what you can do with it. And a lot of feedback from the driver needs to be put back into the teams, so presumably it’s the same on racing as it is with developing a videogame.

You’re right. The first thing, when I started explaining to the development team what my vision was, they didn’t get it – they were like, “What do you mean?” And so I said okay, this isn’t working. So we rented a race track, I brought my whole race team there, and I just put them in the car together with me and afterwards they’re like “Okay, we get what you want, we understand.” That’s the only way for them to understand what I’m after, and that really helped. So we’ve actually, continuously through the development of this, we’ve done stuff like that. We’ve put them in race cars so they can remember how it feels and what we’re after and that really helped us get to this. And then the development took that to heart, and they’ve done a fantastic job of portraying that in the game. To be honest, that’s what I think.

Whose idea was it, with the head shakes? Let’s be honest here.

To be very honest, that was my idea.
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And why? Is that something that you got from other games that you just knew that if – and this is a big word developers are using, is immersion. Was that one of the reasons, because you really wanted to give the player a feeling?

We sat down and said “What sums up a great driving experience? What are we after?” So the first thing the Slightly Mad guys did was render a cockpit view, and they had that already, so that was a huge win for us. I don’t think we could’ve done it without that. Then we started playing with different camera angles, like, when you brake, you see the head tilting forward. It was the Slightly Mad guys idea to blur the cockpit at high speeds, and I think it was because the feedback I gave them was “At high speeds, it’s hard for me to focus on the road,” and they’re like, “Okay, what if we blur the cockpit out?” That proved to be a very, very effective way, and I think it’s really cool, too.

It’s different depth of field. When you’re driving you’re never looking dead in front, you’re looking way ahead, or you’re looking at your instruments to see what it is you’re doing; if you’re in the right speed, if you’re going to be entering the corners. So that must’ve been a relief not to have everything so sharp.

Yeah, and we took that to heart. It’s all about perception. It doesn’t need to feel real, it needs to look kind of like what it feels like. That’s what we were after.

It’s a beautiful looking game, we know it looks gorgeous, but is there anything in there you wish you could’ve done, or made a little bit better, or spent a bit more time with? And let’s not give the EA guys a bit of fluff, let’s be honest here. What is it that you want to see more of?

There’s a ton of things that we want to do, and hopefully we can do them for the next version, but one thing – I would have liked to have more cars than what we have. We have about 100 cars approximately, but I’m a car nut, so that I like. Even though we have a very good, deep multiplayer in the game, I would’ve liked to do a little more in the social network aspect – “What’s happening out today in society?” That’s something I work with in my other job, which is managing the DICE studio in Sweden. They’re totally into that, they’re deep into that with the Battlefield games, and that’s something that I think we’re either going to do after launch or in the next version of Shift.

Just so that the audience know who you are, just explain who you are. Just so that people get an idea of what you’ve done and how important and how realistic this is, give them a bit of your World Touring Car championship history.

Well, what I do is I race cars in the Porscha Carerra Cup in Scandinavia, which is a sprint-based racing series, where all the drivers have the same cars. So I do that, that’s about ten races a year, and then I also do a lot of long-distance racing – endurance. So I do the 24-hour Le Mans, the 24-hour Dubai, the 24-hour Nürburgring, all that kind of stuff.

And all that stuff’s in the game?

Some of it is, yes.

And how do you think it compares to the real life?

To be honest, nothing can compare to real life, but I think that again, we’ve made a very, very good effort to show the people who don’t know how it is to race a car, what it feels like. So I’m really proud of what the developers have managed to do – they do all the work, to be honest.

Paul Younger
Founder and Editor of PC Invasion. Founder of the world's first gaming cafe and Veteran PC gamer of over 22 years.

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