And all of a sudden the simulation racing genre is pretty competitive. Turn 10's Forza Motorsport 3 was released last year, Polyphony Digital's Gran Turismo 5 launched last week, and next spring will see the game EA hopes will trump them both: Slightly Mad Studios' Shift 2: Unleashed.
But EA's ambitious expectation for the game is not headline-grabbing bravado. It's a desire born out of a frustration at Shift's "stamp collecting" rivals. Here, talking to Eurogamer, lead designer Andy Tudor reveals how Shift 2 will attempt to beat them all.
Eurogamer: When's it out?
Andy Tudor: Spring. Sorry to be vague, but it's spring at the moment.
Eurogamer: Define spring.
Andy Tudor: Bunny rabbits and... No, I'm not sure about the exact dates.
Eurogamer: How did it come about that you began work on this sequel?
Andy Tudor: We've got a long-term strategy that we want to make a competing, relevant sim game. Shift 1 was the first step towards that. If you look back over Need for Speed's history, maybe the early roots of that started in ProStreet, getting people who aren't used to circuits.
And then with Shift 1 we very deliberately said, 'We're on circuits now.' Shift 2 is an evolution of that, taking on the feedback from the community, feedback from critics, innovating in key areas and deliberately going after the sim category now the Need for Speed franchise is open to many types of game, like Hot Pursuit and World.
So we're very clearly going after the sim guys.
Eurogamer: Did EA wait to see how the first game performed before asking you to do another one, or did you get the green light before it released?
Andy Tudor: Like many games, many movies and TV shows, we always knew we wanted to do another one. We had so many ideas. We always knew we wanted to add more features and innovate in new areas. Towards the end of Shift 1 we were starting to think of Shift 2.
There certainly wasn't a, 'Let's see how the sales figures go and then push out a sequel,' because it's not that type of game. We clearly innovated in key areas in Shift 1 on the core experience of driving, making it visceral, making it fun and accessible, XP and precision versus aggression.
This time around we wanted to streamline, innovate and take that core experience to the next level.
Eurogamer: Eurogamer interviewed EA driving and shooting boss Patrick Solderlund recently, and he said his vision for the Shift series is for it to be the market leader in the authentic sim category and beat Gran Turismo and Forza at their own game. As the creator of Shift, how do you do that?
Andy Tudor: Those two games are on pedestals at the moment. When we're thinking about what we want to do in this game, it's not a numbers game. We're not going to add a thousand irrelevant cars. Both those games, to me, are almost like encyclopaedias. You've got a thousand cars, a thousand tracks, whatever, and basically the game is about earning cash to get another car, earning cash to get another car. It's like a grind. It's almost like stamp collecting.
That's not where the fun is. The fun is behind the wheel, feeling you're on the edge, pushing it to the limit, putting in the cars that are relevant and cool to drive, allowing you to completely customise those from factory to the works level we had in Shift 1, and giving you the chance to then play against your friends in a social way.
Taking Autolog, which is present in Hot Pursuit, to the next level, adding more features and making the core gameplay really fun as opposed to just adding five variations of the 1986 Toyota Corolla or something like that.
From what we've found, most people have 10-15 cars in their garage anyway. They have the first car they ever buy in career, they have a car they potentially own, a Ford Focus or a Golf or something like that, and then whatever game you talk about, whether it's got classes like Forza or licences like GT or tiers like Shift 1, people usually get a car from each tier or each category in the game. And then they get their dream car, the car they've always wanted, a Ferrari or a Lamborghini or a Porsche. That's seven right there.
Then, generally, people fill out the rest with cars they want to try out, like a Dodge Challenger, that they may not have access to. So people have 10-15 cars anyway. They certainly don't fill their garage up with every single car there is in the game – all 500 of them.
It's a different way of thinking, basically. We want to take those guys on. We want to make a more authentic experience. We've put in a new elite handling model and given you more access over deadzone, sensitivity, steering aids, break assists, all that kind of stuff, to allow you to dial in the experience you want.
We all come from different backgrounds. You may love muscle cars and might think Burnout is the best game in the world. I may like Japanese tuner cars, and may think Hot Pursuit is the best game in the world. We have very different views on racing, so we want to make sure everyone is able to get the experience they want from it.
Eurogamer: Slightly Mad Studios is an independent developer. I know Patrick has a vision of this series that extends far into the future. Are you happy to exclusively develop Shift now, or are you available to create other games?
Andy Tudor: I can't comment on that. It would be nice to... No I'm not going to comment on that. I certainly don't want that on tape!
Eurogamer: So if I asked you if Microsoft has been in touch about Project Gotham Racing, would you be able to comment?
Andy Tudor: Nope, certainly not. I'm not being a d***, but no we can't comment. I'll get a kicking if I talk about that stuff. So no, sorry.
Eurogamer: What was the main complaint by fans of the first game?
Andy Tudor: Shift 1 was the only Need for Speed game out that particular year. There was Nitro on the Wii, and World was in beta at that time. It was the only PC, 360, PS3 Need for Speed game that particular year.
Therefore, the whole game design, the whole ethos, was about that evolution towards getting people onto purely circuits and getting used to circuit racing, but then also making sure what we call the heartland guys, who are the diehard guys who love Need for Speed – they've bought every single one every single year, they all have very strong opinions about whether Undercover was the best game, or whether ProStreet was the best game, or whether Porsche Unleashed was the best game – making sure those guys are happy as well.
If you look back at the design for Shift 1, there are very specific things in there to appeal to both types of gamer. Precision versus aggression XP, for example. Precision drivers are the more sim guys. Aggressive drivers are the more action-orientated audience. That's common throughout the entire career.
Looking back, it did us well. It allowed us to keep a broad appeal and make sure all different types of people could play the game. But with Hot Pursuit out this year, the action section is already covered, so we can very definitely go after the sim guys. The feedback we were getting was, we'd like more abilities to change the handling model, and specific cars they wanted. Why is this famous track location not in the game? Things like that.
The whole ethos for Shift 2 is improving and streamlining. People thought stars were a great idea in Shift 1, but when you look at it, the total thing of stars and currency and XP and precision versus aggression, there were too many currencies in the game. So we're streamlining that kind of thing.
We're making the rivals more important. They were fictional in the first game. Now we've got all the team Need for Speed drivers as rivals in this game. The Need for Speed community has been around for years and years and years, and they're the most vocal racing fans out there.
And with the inclusion of SpeedHunters.com, which is a huge website that captures car culture and what's going on right now, we've got feedback from those guys as well, like what people really want to see. We're trying to add that's tuff into Shift 2 to make it a more authentic experience.
Andy Tudor is Shift 2 lead designer at Slightly Mad Studios.