Need for Speed Payback Lead Designer Riley Cooper Talks Direction, Inspiration

Hardcore Gamer was recently invited to Electronic Arts Studios in Redwood City, California to spend some time for the upcoming Need for Speed Payback. After a few hours of time with the game, we were able to speak directly with the Lead Designer for the game, Riley Cooper. We asked him a few questions regarding the franchise going forward, what to expect from Payback and some deep-hearted questions regarding his favorite Need for Speed title. Payback will release on November 10 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Windows PC.

[Hardcore Gamer] What Makes Need For Speed Payback the quintessential version of Need for Speed?

[Riley Cooper] For us, we really do want to bring in all the things that make Need For Speed great. Obviously, only in ways that play nice together. We think there is a lot in Need For Speed’s past that play nice together. Action-blockbusters and action, throughout while introducing RPG elements, which we haven’t really had before and the biggest world we’ve ever had before. Those are probably the big ones.

How many total cars and newly introduced models will we see in Need For Speed Payback?

I’m not sure universe-wise. In 2015, we had around 50 cars and now we have significantly more.


What elements went into making this the largest open-world Need For Speed?

We knew we wanted to do something bigger than ’15. We knew we wanted to have more gameplay variety. I guess those were the two biggest drivers. We knew we wanted to have really distinct areas. So we have our city, desert and canyons.

Are there any thoughts for doing a specific off-road Need For Speed or rally-inspired game?

We haven’t talked about that but we’re really happy with the off-road aspect. So far, people who have played it have had a really great time, also the people making the game. It’s definitely going to be a part of what we do going forward. I really like it.

The plot features three characters. Can you go into detail on what differentiates them?

So the three characters have three distinct driving styles, which is embodied in the cars they drive and the events they compete in. Mac is a little bit more about style and more humorous such as his response to situations. He drifts and does off-roading so things like big air. Jess is all about getting the job done as she is the runner and is focused on getting away from cops. Finally, Tyler, our racer, he does drag racing and road racing events and is pretty to-the-point in the dialogue, as well.


What was the main influence and direction of the plot?

We take influence from a lot of different directions so it isn’t just one thing. What’s a story that can encompass the gameplay experiences we know we want to provide and support the car progression we have. Which generally means getting faster as the game goes on. It’s really about looking at that and what story can pull players through that while drawing inspiration from everywhere.

This will be the 23rd Need For Speed game released. What does that mean to EA?

Wow. You know, obviously EA believes in Need for Speed. Otherwise we wouldn’t be here talking to you. It’s one of the longest running franchises in games.

What was your favorite Need For Speed?

The easy answer is Payback. I played a little bit of Shift back in the day and also Rivals. But, Payback does honestly have what I want in a driving game. It has a driving model that allows me to take in a broader experience and not just fully focused on velocity management. I like having a narrative and characters with me when I’m doing things. They dynamically comment on what I’m doing, essentially. I like RPGs and progression, so it is a sincere answer that Payback is my favorite.


What innovations does Need For Speed Payback have that will define the series going forward?

We talked about a few of them. I think the off-road will be a big part of the experience going forward. Cops have always been around but we took a big jump this time. They’re doing things that I haven’t experienced in other games with cops. Their ability to catch up to you in an open-world environment and position themselves around you and keep up while performing maneuvers against you. It’s new because we haven’t done it before and it will build going forward. I’ll go with these two. We are definitely committed to having the CG characters we introduced in the story. We think it’s a big part of pulling a larger audience through a driving game such as players that might not normally play a driving game.

Payback introduces Derelicts, which allow for car restoration. Can you go into a bit more detail on how this works?

Derelicts are awesome. There’s two parts to them for me. One is taking them from nothing and turning them into supercars. That’s a common car-builder’s fantasy. The other is the gameplay. In Payback, you’re going at around 200 MPH and in the search for Derelicts, you have to slow down and use your car in a more technical stunt to get to the parts. It delivers on a unique gameplay experience and delivers that car-building fantasy that we haven’t before.


With Need For Speed 2015, there was an online requirement. Will Payback have this?

No, that’s one of the things that fans made very clear to us they didn’t want us doing. You can play completely offline in Payback. Some features, like Autolog and Multiplayer, do require to be online.

Speaking of multiplayer, what kind of experience can we expect in Payback?

There’s Autolog for asynchronous competition and Speedlists like we had in ’15. The Speedlists will have more features and the main one is a medley of that. You can vote for which route you want to do next between racing and off-road. We do have a ranked mode, but we want to create a more casual experience. For instance, if you are losing events you will get more votes of where you want to race next.

Will you encounter other players during a single player campaign like in ’15?

No, your single player is your single player. There will be no crossing paths with other players unless you are specifically in multiplayer.

For more insight into Need for Speed Payback, be sure to check out our hands-on preview.