Andy Tudor: ”I got bored of making games that looked good but played like shit”
- Updated: March 28, 2011
Last week I interviewed Andy Tudor, the design lead on Need for Speed: Shift 2 Unleashed. Tudor has worked in the games industry for over a decade, cutting his teeth at Sony Computer Entertainment Europe before moving to Slightly Mad Studios in 2007 to work on the Need for Speed franchise.
I talked to Andy about NFS: Shift 2 Unleashed, his love of muscle cars, development team track days and working with Criterion Games (creators of Burnout and NFS: Hot Pursuit).
Do you get any rubber-banding of the opponent cars in NFS: Shift 2 Unleashed that you find in racing games like MotorStorm and Mario Kart?
Andy Tudor: No, absolutely not because we feel people spot that immediately and feel cheated by it. In other games there are always two guys at the front who you can never pass until lap 3, when all of a sudden they seem to drop off and then you catch them. You know it’s very obvious when that happens and people are aware of that stuff now. We prefer to give you a challenge and then if you are that guy in front who is leading by a mile then after 5-6 races then you’ll start to see that the distance between you and the guys trailing you decrease and eventually they’ll overtake you. We prefer to be a bit more pragmatic about that approach, as it feels a bit arcady to have rubber-banding constantly pulling the pack back together.
What features are you most proud of in NFS: Shift 2 Unleashed?
AT: Overall, I’m most impressed that we basically continued to innovate in this space, in a genre that most people feel is quite sterile and dry. Individually, there are things like tuning that I’m most proud of because tuning has been around for years and it is quite dry and boring. It’s just moving sliders left and right isn’t it?
To be honest, I’m a gamer and I’ve been playing games for years and years and I’m not sure that exactly all those sliders mean. So going into NFS: Shift and NFS: Shift 2, it’s a case of educating people as to what that stuff is because otherwise the people that are playing your game are just going to go into their next game and not know what those sliders in that game mean either.
So when we looked at tuning we wanted to make sure we gave the hardcore guys what they wanted but also made it attractive, usable and user friendly in a way that my 14-year old nephew could use. In NFS: Shift we had simple and advanced tuning which you could toggle in-between. This time we’ve kind of gone more towards the advanced tuning because people wanted a more authentic and deeper tuning experience.
But when we started to head down that road we quickly realised… when you’re moving the sliders around, then you press save, then you choose the track and then your car, load up the track and try to distinguish something that is almost imperceptible. People won’t use that feature. So we said if we are going to do tuning then we are going to let you tune on track for example: move slider, press pause and see if you can tell the difference. But then we have like hundreds of track locations and so that [tuning] list gets very un-manageable very, very quickly.
So we looked at things like Rock Band which filter their songs by very different categories like nightmare, thrashers or easy going. Then we looked at our track locations and we were able to identify similar tracks. Things like ovals or drift tracks are similar in terms of the amount of corners and their severity. In the city tracks there are lots of straights followed by right angles. So we were able to identify track groups.
When you come to tune your car you can either save it to an individual track or to these track groups. This makes it a very usable feature because you’re changing a slider and seeing the response. The feedback time of that is very, very quick so instantly you’ve made that feature more usable than in a previous game and therefore you might actually learn and get a bit more knowledge on the subject. That’s going to advance the knowledge in the audience and that’s going to eventually advance the sim racing genre forward.
How closely have you worked with Criterion Games [developers of NFS: Hot Pursuit]?
AT: During the concept phase of NFS: Shift 2 Unleashed we came up with idea of a driver network. Imagine this – a crazy idea where we connect all the drives together via a social network and you could share times and photos and things like that. And we looked at each other, us and the Criterion guys, and we realised that we are making the same feature here and ours [Criterion] is called Autolog that’s all.
So then we went through a period of time where we compared our features and you guys [Criterion] are obviously coming out first so you lead the way and then we will come up behind with support. We’ll bring features that we are pioneering here, so it’ll be like Autolog 2.0 when we come out. So very early that was just a happenstance that great minds think alike. We’re not competitive with each other. We’re both eager for success and eager to make our games the best that they are in our particular genres in terms of action/arcade and kind of sim/racing. We are not directly competing with each other and in lots of ways we are trying to move the franchise, the Need For Speed family, forward.
There are things in NFS: Shift 2 Unleashed which reward you for playing NFS: Hot Pursuit for example. In just the same way that there were things in NFS: Hot Pursuit for playing the demo [of Hot Pursuit] for example. What we want to do is make sure that the fans that have been playing these games for years finally get the rewards that their due and they are not done on a game by game basis. You’ve played NFS: Carbon, you’ve played NFS: Underground, you’ve played NFS: Undercover so we’re going to reward you for that. Because at the end of the day it’s the Need for Speed family, we’re not talking about individual games that come out year by year by year. Potentially there are 3 games per year at the moment, so we want to make sure that you get rewarded regardless of which one you play.
Do you have a favourite in-game car and have you driven it in real life?
AT: Funnily enough, it sounds like a loaded question doesn’t it? I’m a big fan of muscle cars and a year ago I bought a Ford Mustang. In the game, the car I always buy, whether its Midnight Club or Project Gotham is a Ford Mustang. There’s an entire muscle branch that you can play in the game but it’s not for everyone is it? Some people love their Japanese drift-tuned Mitsubishis and stuff, so you know they can go in there and play that kind of thing as well. In terms of being able to drive different cars, we have regular track days where we take the team out regardless of whether you’re a junior coder or the most senior manager.
As soon as you get inside a racing car and start driving around at high speed you’ll realise that what you watch on TV is nowhere near as exhilarating as doing it yourself. You therefore have a different perception on speed and the dangers of crashing than someone just telling you about that stuff. I’ve put in about 20 laps on the Nordschleife myself which is crazy and it’s the best track in the world, but it’s also the most dangerous. You’ll do lap after lap and you’ll see cars at the side of the road and bits of Armco that are absolutely fresh, pristinely bolted on because obviously someone just crashed there this weekend and they’ve had to replace that bit.
Was that in your own car?
AT: No, thank God! I’ve only crashed my car once and it wasn’t my fault. It’s a great place [Nordschleife] and that’s where we got the idea of drivers battling, as these cars on the side of the road were waiting to be picked up. They were kind of like corpses on a battlefield only you could see the skid marks and the marbles on the track. They were like the blood stains and bullet holes.
Were there any rock star moments for you during development? Exotic locations or fast cars?
AT: [Laughs] One of the team got to go to the Yas Marina circuit [Abu Dhabi Formula 1 Grand Prix track] and apparently that is amazing as there is a hotel that looks out over the track. They got to stay in that hotel with the circuit right there when you wake up. I wish I’d gone there but obviously Nordschleife is very, very high up there [for me].
There are a lot of tracks that we wanted to get in the game like Dubai, where the whole bloody place is exotic with its crazy islands and hotels and skyscrapers and stuff like that… particularly as it has the Dubai 24 hr race and it and it hasn’t been in NFS: Shift. Bathurst as well, which is a really twisty, tight, narrow kind of track, has a great yearly race there and has great big vistas as well, so we kind of wanted to get variation in there. Dubai is very different to Bathurst which is very different to London which is very different to Brands Hatch.
Has there been any feedback from the NFS community or the testers that has surprised you?
AT: We do very careful planning, obviously. If something comes as a surprise, then we’ve missed something then haven’t we! Some stuff gets written down on paper a year ago and then gets developed through the year and then we test it internally, we take it to focus group sessions, we let you guys [games journalists] play it, and each of those brings a new awareness of that particular feature or function in the game.
So things like going to E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) and seeing person, after person, after person just playing your game brings a new perspective on something that you thought was cool and people are actually not finding that cool at all. Or something that you know is cool but people aren’t picking it up quite right or playing it in a different way, or couldn’t even find that feature. So you have to go back and make sure that the communication of that feature is much better or that the thing glows or throbs to tell you where it is. So things like that are constantly surprising.
Do think that NFS: Shift 2 Unleashed been threatened by the recent announcement of Dragon Rally?
AT: Dragon Rally [Laughs] I’m afraid to say I’ve never heard of that. What is it though? It sounds good. Is it literally you running away from dragons? [I tell Andy about the recently announced Dragon Rally game and its possibly-slightly-less-than-true 2019 release date] Well maybe we can have a cross-over with Dragon Age then and we can actually have you flying/racing away or following a dragon in the next game in that case.
Do you have any advice for people who want to be a games designer?
AT: Make sure that you have got lots of energy drinks. [Laughs] When I was a kid and going into university there weren’t many opportunities. I went to university because I had an art background, I was always good at drawing, my Dad was always involved in electronics as a teacher and he used to bring home an Amiga or an Atari ST or a ZX 81. So I always knew that I wanted to do something in art and something with computers, something playing games.
I happened to have a natural talent for art so when I went to university I did computer animation because well, Jurassic Park and Toy Story were out at the cinema, so I wanted to do something that wowed me. But then while I was at university games like Metal Gear Solid and Final Fantasy came out with like massive, epic cinematics that were mind-blowing and as good in quality as Jurassic Park and Toy Story in my mind. That just got me back into games.
I actually joined the industry as a junior artist making environments and then gradually throughout my career I got bored of making games that looked good but played like shit. I wanted to take more of an interactive part of the decision making process of what was actually fun in the game as opposed to what looked good. So I naturally migrated over that way.
Nowadays there are specific game design courses out there. Personally, I think a portfolio is more important than a certain distinction or something like that. As an artist I’d like to see a portfolio of your work to flick through and see either everything that you are good at or one particular thing that you excel at.
As a game designer I’d like to play your level. It’s so easy now with the iOS, Mac App Store or Flash games or Facebook or the Unreal SDK. It’s quite easy for you to get hold of one of those and send me a level so I can play it, because then I can play it and see if you know what fun is. So that thing that I was always looking for, which was I wanted to make something that is fun as opposed to looking good, you’ve got an opportunity now to do it yourself.
Thanks for taking the time to talk to us Andy.