By Dana Jongewaard 01/17/2007 Originally appeared in OPM Issue #109 Criterion Games is aiming for the world with Burnout 5, starting with your PlayStation 3. The company is taking its love of speed, explosions, and fire to the next generation in order to create some of the craziest and most beautiful crashes in gaming. After all, as one of the team members put it: "A f***ed-up car is a beautiful thing."
"If you couldn't make a great game on the PlayStation 2, you can't make a good game on the PlayStation 3," says Alex Ward, the director of game design for Burnout 5.
We're sitting in a conference room at Criterion's offices in Guildford, England, a suburb southwest of London. Criterion, which spun off from a research group at the European division of Canon (the Japanese electronics giant known mostly for its cameras) back in 1993, put out its first game back in 1996. It wasn't until 2001 that the company released a game on Sony hardware (the PS2 hoverboard title Airblade). And it wasn't until 2004 and the release of Burnout 3 (which earned OPM's Game of the Year title) that people really sat up and took notice.
While the previous Burnouts have all built on the technology of their predecessors, Burnout 5 is going back to page one. "For us, this is a total reset from one generation to the other," says Ward. "One of our goals is to be truly 'next generation,' and that means starting from the ground up."
One reason for that mind-set: This is Criterion's first time around with the new system, and the team doesn't want to make incorrect assumptions about its capabilities. Alex Fry, the game's technical director, explains: "The first thing you have to do when you get new hardware is learn it. Beating it into submission doesn't make sense; you have to work with it." By the team's estimate, just one of the machine's seven synergistic processing elements (SPEs) has more power in it than the entire emotion engine of the PS2.
But learning the technology is only part of the reason. "We know the audience is expecting a leap, and we don't want to disappoint our audience," Ward says. "If, the first time you see the cars wreck [in Burnout 5], you don't think, 'That's why I bought the PlayStation 3; the next gen is here,'--if you think, 'Eh, it's a little better,' or 'It did that last time,'--then we haven't gotten there. So that's why the first thing we have to nail is the crashing."
One of the places the audio team is looking for inspiration is C'etait un rendez-vous, a 1976 short film by French director Claude Lelouch. The eight-minute movie is a single cut of a person driving through the streets of Paris at speeds of up to 125 mph (according to Lelouch), running red lights and swerving around other traffic. While the car used to make the film was a 6.9L Mercedes-Benz, the audio is actually from a Ferrari 275GTB; the sound from an engine capable of higher revving actually increases the overall sense of speed in the film. Check it out for yourself at http://www.axe-net.be/rdv/.
CRASH INTO ME
Everyone marveled at the amazing results that Criterion's software got from the PS2, but it took some tough decisions to get there. If the team wanted to spend more of the computing power on graphics, they'd have to pull back in another area, such as audio. If they wanted to keep that sense of speed, the number of objects running physics might need to be dialed down. But not anymore. Thanks to the Cell processor, they're now able to truly get graphics, physics, and audio to work together as a team to create some of the most mind-blowing videogame effects ever seen. Executive producer Matt Webster explains: "Cell has lifted limitations, and those are the two areas that win--audio and physics. And, in particular, our own brand of how we use those."
Click the image above to check out all Burnout 5 screens!
Having physics in a game means that objects respond to contact with the environment as they would in the real world; doing that takes a lot of computing power. On the PS2, the car being driven might have been operating according to the laws of physics, but the other cars flying off to the side were simply running scripted responses, which meant that they were all behaving the same way. With the PS3, that's finally changed. "Now we don't ever have to walk the line on what's running physics and what's not," says producer Hamish Young. "It all is."
The physics will have a lot more parts to work with as well. Whereas cars in Burnout Revenge were composed of 12 different parts, cars in Burnout 5 will now have 80 different pieces that can get blown off in a collision.
Several members of the development team, clad in their freshly delivered Burnout 5 shirts. From left, Steve Uphill, art director; Paul Glancy, lead game designer; Nick Laviers, audio director; Alex Ward, director of game design; Yuta Nakamura, senior car modeler; Kiana Mohseni, online producer; Matt Webster, executive producer; Lewis James, sound designer; Hamish Young, producer; Gavin Rouse, programmer; John Twigg, lead audio engineer; and Emily Newton-Dunn, producer. But merely copying reality isn't what Criterion wants to do. "We see a lot of teams trying for 'real physics'--which we translate into 'boring physics,'" Young continues. "But where we differ from them is that they try [to] get it accurate, whereas we're not trying to get it accurate--we're trying to get it believable and spectacular."
That's why now you'll see much more spectacular crashes. Roofs can be shorn off, and you'll be able to see cars get torn completely in half. Young beams, "A takedown's going to be so much more rewarding-- if you take a guy down and he hits a cross-traffic truck and blows into pieces, it's such a bigger moment than when it hits a car and bounces off."
Ward adds: "Real physics don't make for great gameplay all the time. If we want to blow the car up, we'll blow the car up. Like when they blew up the Death Star--there's no fire in space."
Adding to the experience will be audio, which is taking a huge leap on the new hardware. Webster explains, "Audio was shortchanged on the last generation, but the PS3 has lifted the restrictions. They had 32 voices on the PS2; on the PS3, they're getting 1,000. On the PS2, they had a couple of megabytes of RAM; now, they're getting 10 times that much."
Nick Laviers, the game's audio director, explains the goal of his team. "When you make sound for a film, you're always looking for that special sound that describes that moment," he says. "It's not just going to tell you that a car smashed into a wall; it's also going to tell you, 'Bloody hell--no one could possibly ever have survived that!' You don't see human beings in Burnout--it's all about cars--so we're going to use the audio to give a human aspect to it."
GET THE KEYS AND GO
The car selection in Burnout 5 is getting away from the racer-heavy roster of Burnout Revenge and is adding some of the fun vehicles from Burnout 3. "It's a cross section of everything we've loved in all our games," says Ward. "In some cases, we couldn't work out why they should be in the new game, but we also couldn't work out why they shouldn't be in the new game."