Earlier this month, we popped over to San Francisco to play some games with Electronic Arts. Amongst the lovely chaps we happened to meet up with was one Alex Ward of UK-based Criterion. He does live just down the road from us, of course, but for some reason we wound up nattering to him thousands of miles away in California. It's a tough life. Fortunately for you though, we weren't so drowned in leisure that we couldn't manhandle the conversation away from what we were meant to be doing there - discussing EA-published title Burnout 3 - long enough to sneak in some discussion of Burnout on the PSP, mysterious first-person shooter Black, and what Criterion plans to get up to in the future. What follows is a few excerpts from our chat with Alex, and do be sure to check back tomorrow for the rest of the transcript. Or EA will probably hurt us...
On Burnout PSP
Eurogamer: Burnout PSP is an interesting side issue...
Alex Ward: Can you imagine playing this in your hand, sitting on the train, nine players wi-fi. It'll just be brilliant. We absolutely want to... I know the early stuff at E3 was very clearly demonstration, throwaway demos, but I'm confident we can absolutely make the best handheld racing game ever. It can really look great.
Eurogamer: At what stage are you going to be showing that off?
Alex Ward: We haven't really started yet. We got a version running [on PSP], an early version of Burnout 3, and then we shelved work on it and concentrated on Burnout 3 because we had to see the machine. It's one of those things where it comes down to the quality of the screen. And when we got to E3 and we saw the screen was when we knew we could do it, because Burnout is a very fast 3D game. No one's seen... on GBA or anything there's not been any fast 3D racing stuff. There's been top-down, 2D. So if you can't see the other cars racing towards you, we're screwed, so should the design just be the Crash mode, should it be racing, but now...
Eurogamer: Can you talk about your shooter?
Alex Ward: I can talk very little about it, yeah [smiles]. Depends, what do you want to ask?
Eurogamer: What can you say about it is the easiest way I suppose?
Alex Ward: Ever since we signed Burnout 1 we wanted to do an FPS. I'm a big fan of console FPS. We're setting out to make a console shooter on PS2 and Xbox. And on PS2 our competition is Medal of Honor, Red Faction and Killzone. And can we make a game that's as good if not better than those games? Absolutely.
Eurogamer: Presumably your technology should be good enough to make it look fantastic?
Alex Ward: Well a lot of our R&D, our technology demos, are often based around shooting. But we've got some ideas - that scene is dominated by the PC and there's a split between console and stuff. We want to make a shooter just like Burnout that changes the way that genre is perceived.
Eurogamer: Do for the FPS what Burnout did for racing?
Alex Ward: Absolutely right. Burnout with guns. Because with GT4 coming out, for the first time people have given them a tough time and complained that you can't wreck the cars. And I think if we'd never made Burnout... Well they would always say that, but now they definitely want to say it.
Eurogamer: Do you have any idea when you are likely to ship Black?
Alex Ward: We were originally tracking for next year so we'll probably say end of 2005, early 2006.
On The Future
Eurogamer: Can you ever conceive of making a racing simulation?
Alex Ward: No. Not right now. When we set out and Criterion Games was sort of reformed and regrouped in 2000, we said right, we're going to make hit games on the consoles, on PS2 and Xbox. We said, right, what are we going to do? RPG? No. You're never going to beat Final Fantasy. We're willing to let that one go. Sports? Well, football? I mean, dream on. Every UK developer at one time has probably had a football game in development. And they can't, they're not going to do it. Can they beat EA and Konami? No. Fighting? Ever met a Western team? I think Argonaut were the last people to try it [possibly he means Argo satellite Just Add Monsters, who developed Kung Fu Chaos for Xbox]. A Western team make a fighting game? No way. It's ridiculous. So we said, right, what are the two big genres? Well, racing and sports, then after that shooting. So we're not going to do sports any time soon, but we love racing, and we love shooting. So that's the strategy for the group...
Eurogamer: And are you working on next-gen stuff?
Alex Ward: Not at the moment.
Eurogamer: Why's that?
Alex Ward: Busy finishing Burnout. There's too much stuff to look at here and now without worrying what's coming in the future. Although we keep informed with those guys and we kind of know some of the stuff that's coming down the line...
Eurogamer: It's looming though. It's not far off now really is it?
Alex Ward: You tell me [smiles].
Eurogamer: Well we're looking at probably Xbox 2 launching at the end of next year in the US, maybe...
Alex Ward: Yeah. Maybe we'll do something for that, I don't know. At the moment though, we're not. We're following the development and we know what's going on, but following Burnout 3 the next thing we'll get to work on really is PSP.
Eurogamer: Do you think the learning curve between generations will be as steep as before or maybe even steeper?
Alex Ward: Depends on the team really. Depends on the team. If you didn't make a good PS2 game, you're not going to make a good PS3 game. And if you're rubbish on Xbox now, then go home, because there's no excuse for anybody to be rubbish on the Xbox really is there?
Join us again tomorrow when we tackle Burnout 3, breaking America, and the connection between Criterion and Namco.