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Long read: The beauty and drama of video games and their clouds

"It's a little bit hard to work out without knowing the altitude of that dragon..."

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Need for Speed World

Warning: following content is NFSW.

My first thought, as I start to jab happily at the cursor keys, is that it feels a little like the glory days of Midtown Madness - albeit with more people and buffing. Such idle nostalgic conjecture, however, throws few dice with Need for Speed World's creators - a dual-attack squad from Canada and Singapore tasked with creating Need For Speed in its very purest form. Their mission is to distil the essence of the franchise, cherry-pick their audience's favourite modes and maps, and then expand them into a free-to-play PC MMO they hope will be as unstoppable as a Toyota on the school run.

NFSW's lobby is a vast open city where servers full of petrol-heads can race around willy nilly, conversing while reversing into oncoming traffic. You can badger police cars until they chase you through the winding streets of the conjoined cities of Rockport and Silverton, or leap into instanced races with other players through said (strangely road-centric) conglomerations.

If these tracks are familiar to you, it's for a reason - if you've played NFS Carbon or Most Wanted you've thundered over them before. EA is essentially asset-stripping everything from the NFS back catalogue and either placing it within the game at launch, or prepping it for premium add-on packs that will be released every three months or so. In the same way that Battlefield Heroes and Battlefield 1943 repurposed fondly remembered material lurking on a dusty shelf, tracks, cars and game modes are getting a hefty dose of Mr Sheen. If it's ever had the NFS moniker slapped on it then it could well appear.

There are also great efforts being put into creating a game that matches the ambience of the franchise - a value given a somewhat ethereal quality when you're chatting with the developers. "We're going for that classic Need For Speed," explains producer John Doyle. "We're pretty much going back to what made Underground popular: stiff cars, tap-tap controls and great speed.

"Then from Most Wanted, which was one of our top titles, we've brought in a little bit of drift physics - making the cars slightly floatier and driftier. Then there's the cops that are in there for the full immersion, which were always popular. As for ProStreet, well, we're looking at what parts of the world to bring in from that game - and what modes made it good. We're basically taking bits from every NFS that we know are popular and blending them into a larger arena. It really is a classic Need For Speed."

First and foremost though, NFSW is an MMO - meaning that stats will grind behind your ongoing car shenanigans. In each race, or indeed solo endeavour, you'll earn Rep (cool-speak for XP) and whenever you level you'll be able to unlock power-ups from various skill-trees.

You can then purchase stocks of each one-use-only power-up to take into the fray by spending in-game cash, also earned by racing. There are different arrangements of power-ups to slot into numbers 1-4 on your keyboard for convenient in-race discharge, and if you save up enough cash you'll be able to splash out on a nicer, faster car to boot - although if you think a few go-faster stripes and a Hello Kitty face on your bonnet are all that's needed then you can do that in your 'Safehouse' menu screens for free.