Shift 2: Unleashed

Developer: Slightly Mad Studios
International Publisher: Electronic Arts
Official Website: English
Russian Website: Русский
Genres: Racing / Cars
Platforms: PC, X360, PS3
MultiPlayer: Internet
Release Date: 29.03.2011 (US), 31.03.2011 (EU), 01.04.2011 (UK)
Russian Release: 31.03.2011
PEGI Rating: 3+
System Requirements: Core 2 Duo 2.0, 2 GB RAM, 512 MB 3D Card, 7 GB HDD
Our Score:

Shift 2: Unleashed. Interview with Jesse Abney, Electronic Arts

As one of the first EA Worldwide Studio members, Jesse Abney founded the role of Manager of Technology Development, while working on over than 20 EA titles. As a Producer on Need for Speed, Jesse Abney plays a key role in the design and development on Shift 2: Unleashed. During our Interview with Jesse, he fully convinced us that the sequel introduces some very notable improvements to the line-up. The game is released for PC, Xbox 360 and PS3 on the 29th of March in North America and a few days later for the rest of the world.

- Hello! Please, introduce yourself to our readers.

Jesse Abney (Electronic Arts)- Hi! My name is Jesse Abney, and I’m the Producer on Need for Speed.

- Give us some background about your career in the video game industry.

- Well, I’ve been working at EA since 1995. These were the times of the first Need for Speed game (1994). I worked on a lot of titles at EA Worldwide Studio. I managed all of their next-gen platform launches since PlayStation 2 (2000) appeared. In that capacity, I helped every development team to speed up to this platform with their next-gen products.

When PlayStation 3 was released (2006), there were no other next-gen platforms planned at that time, so I joined the Need for Speed team as a Producer. For the last 4 years, I’ve been working with the Need for Speed franchise in a number of different capacities ranging from design and technology development to management of production, marketing events and PR.

- Have you visited Russia for the first time?

- Yes, it is my first time in Moscow. It is a big city. It took me an hour go get to my hotel from an airport, and it took me one more hour to travel from my hotel to a local office. There is a lot of traffic. I’ve seen some nice cars, a lot of snow, and it is rather cold outside. I’m from Vancouver, Canada, though it doesn’t seem to be much colder than home.

- You might be familiar with the snow then…

- Absolutely. We love the snow! It creates no problems. In Moscow I’ve seen roads being cleared at 5 a.m. in the morning. People were shoveling sidewalks and doing everything that a proper city has to do to deal with the snow.

- What places of Moscow did you enjoy seeing?

- Red Square, which is, obviously, the heart of the city. Then St. Basil’s Cathedral looks very cool. I’ve seen a lot of it from inside of cabs. More of that architectural design and culture interests me as well.

Shift 2: UnleashedShift 2: Unleashed

Feel the competitive heat on any race track

- Has the latest tour tour for Shift 2: Unleashed been an international one?

- We’ve got a large team, and a lot of people help to carry the load. For Need for Speed Hot Pursuit (2010) and Shift 2 we traveled along some territories in Europe: Czech Republic, Germany, Poland, Sweden and the UK to name a few. At Sweden, for example, we have staff, who manages press activities there. Our developers live all around the globe as a pretty active group of people, and they participated in press events promoting the sequel in their regions, including Australia, Canada in North America or even South Africa.

- Do you consider journalists’ reception vary from one country to another?

- I can tell you that Russia has very enthusiastic simulation driving fans. That has been very exciting. I remember with Need for Speed: Undercover (2008) we’ve had a lot of meetings with Russian journalists and they liked the idea of a story-driven action in the game. There are some big fans in Germany or Poland, but they follow a very critical approach to design. It is very rewarding to talk to people, who actually played and got an opinion of the game. I think, we get more lessons out of people, who participates actively and are very big critics including ourselves. In Russia, Germany and Poland we have seen the true passion for racing games.

- Need for Speed franchise has become a powerful international brand.

- Yes. It includes many various designs like arcade, action and authentic racing. We really think about everyone’s interests. Hot Pursuit and Shift 2: Unleashed, for example, were very different racing experiences. Need for Speed is all about a lifestyle of automotive culture. Through our SpeedHunters.com website we feed that culture by showing events and photographs of many countries around the world and their efforts in Motorsports. That is a very important aspect for the Need for Speed brand to participate in the Motorsports culture and to help it come through our lifestyle brand.

- How long has the latest game in the series been developed?

Jesse Abney (Electronic Arts)Shift 2 has been developed since the original Need for Speed: Shift (2009) game was released. It is an ongoing project, and the guys at Slightly Mad Studios have taken a serious approach to understanding, what we can build upon each and every year, refine and improve in many directions like with the career, the camera, visual effects, the damage model and the lighting system. These are just a few of the key progression areas. For example, vehicle customization and tuning had made huge progress since the first Shift. I think, players will really love getting into the physics of building, tuning their cars and taking them to intensive racing.

- Have you analyzed the feedback coming for Need for Speed: Shift?

- Probably, the loudest thing we’ve heard was about more diversity in career. So the new game now introduces a career which spans seven disciplines of Motorsports, and a car list of over than 120+ cars that support various areas. Those areas are representatives of the culture within the Motorsports branches. The characters of Team Need for Speed represent each of these branches. They are real-world participants, Drift, Time Attack and GT champions. All of them can be met by the player in Shift 2: Unleashed and competed against. The ultimate goal of each of the career branches is to own the track and the car of its real world champion.

- We really enjoyed drifting in the first game. Was this mode enhanced for the sequel?

- After assessing, what we had previously, in Shift 2 you will find a new introduction presented by Vaughn Gittin Jr., who is the 2010 Formula Drift Champion. He is now this career’s branch boss in the game. Vaughn Gittin Jr. will tell you about drifting in the Tutorial. When it is completed, you will unlock a completely open and free roam warehouse district with obstacles, inside and outside environments. A lot of things will help you to learn how to drift around 360 degrees and to drive around obstacles.

It is also a test track for creating and tuning your drift machines. So our investments into Drift mode in the sequel were much more emphasized on that in the career design and the approach to how the design treats building of the cars, which are very popular in that culture. You will be able to compete with these cars on the tracks all around the world.

- We’ve seen this famous Drift racer appearing in the sequel. Is it easy to collaborate with famous people from the real world for the developers?

- Yes. Team Need for Speed drivers have all worked with us on the track and in the game to enhance the presented driver’s battles experience. They were doing, what they can from the helmet, and there was a constant ongoing participation to test and iterate on the visual and physical design. They will all remember taking part in this process as well as in various track events all around the world with Team Need for Speed.

You will meet these Motorsports celebrities in the career, where they represent their specific disciplines. They will welcome you in, teach you, explain, what it is like to be a champion in different branches. Ultimately, you compete against them and beat them on the track.

- How do the in-game tracks differ from each other?

- There are over 120+ cars in Shift 2: Unleashed, as I mentioned earlier. 50 track locations with somewhere around 100 layouts or even more are included in the sequel. Probably, some of my favorite additions are Bathurst (Australia) or Dubai Autodrome (UAE). In the list of callbacks, I would note Shanghai, which is a fictional track. Street courses, in general, are great fun.

Jesse Abney (Electronic Arts)- Have you ever thought about making a fictional track for the game featuring Russian scenery?

- Certainly, I know that there are all sorts of locations in your country. We are always carefully considering on the next featured track layout to be added into the game.

- It wasn’t easy for newcomers to beat the AI during competitive racing in Need for Speed: Shift. How has the AI evolved since that time?

- Yeah, in the first Shift we introduced the adaptive AI system. It is based on easy, medium or hard thresholds, which changed difficulty, depending on how well you perform. Taking into account a series of events, it calculates how well you do and adequately matches the AI difficulty by percentage within a specified threshold to make the AI more challenging or easier to defeat. There is no rubber banding, and you always face an opponent with a similar level of skill to yours representing various personalities.

If you are colliding with them, they can chase you later on and collide with you as well. For the AI experience it looks like an intense driver’s battle played out. It is also very organic with the AI reacting to the events and held position during a race. You will see rivals wreck just as in Need for Speed: Shift. Now with the full damage model and racing day atmosphere you will notice the wreckage scattered around the track for the duration of the event.

The full damage model allows the car to come into a «wreck out of the race» state, and you will also encounter such things as broken axles. You will not be able to compete further if you get a very hard frontal collision in the simulation mode, so players, who prefer such rules, do really appreciate this.

- Will the handling be affected by damaged received as well?

- Absolutely! There is a full physics-based damage system in place, which can go up to even extreme whirlpools. The audio system supports that in multilayered collision effects. A badly damaged car will sound and look like it is really in such a condition. That’s an authentic racing attitude, which is at present in Shift 2: Unleashed.

- Is it possible to get a flat tire?

- Flat tires are more extreme. I mean, we not necessarily simulate tire punctures, since then we would have to simulate tire repairs. Though, there are aspects of that. Certainly, it could be a very degraded impact side of what simulates things like a tire’s puncture.

Jesse Abney (Electronic Arts)- How widely can the cars be tuned in Shift 2: Unleashed?

- In a lot of ways. There is every possible option for an engine’s customization is available in cars tuning. All of them can be tuned independently, and in time you will see more parts and more cars. In Need for Speed: Shift we defined, what could be modified, and in Shift 2 every available car is modifiable: from Volkswagen Mk1 to a GT3 race car. You can do complete engine swaps, suspension tuning to really help cars that are very popular in Drift to become BMW or GT style race cars.

- What is the learning curve like?

- Through the game’s HUD, we now produce fully graphics display of the physics simulation at play through the Cam Circle. The Cam Circle is a graphical representation of longitude and latitude play on the vehicle’s suspension. It is like a full contact pack. You can see heat on the tires based on their load. All the telemetry from the suspension system is also available, the center of mass as it is applied to suspension tuning. There is a myriad of other simulation variables, which are being exposed in the HUD for the audience. Tune and test live in a race or during an event, just practice a lap and continue to tune to iterate. Then save your tuning presets for that car, for that track or for online competition.

- What do you usually rely on, when forming a cars’ list for a new game?

- Well, it is an endless question. It depends on licensing issues and deals we’ve been making during the development process. The cars that are within the manufacturers’ stables are then applied to the in-game designs. A lot of work goes to types of cars that are popular for Time Attack, Drift, Muscle cars and others we get approved to use considering possible variables.

We’ve been building cars’ models collaborating with the manufacturers for over than 17 years to date. Shift 2: Unleashed is a multidiscipline Motorsports game. We have got cars that are definitevely very popular in appropriate car cultures. These are the cars that people wouldn’t mind buying and would like to witness, tune and compete on.

- What are your favorite cars in Shift 2: Unleashed?

Jesse Abney (Electronic Arts)- The cars I enjoy the most in the game are BMW, GT3s like Need for Speed BMW Z4, which is a great vehicle, and, of course, the Pagani. These are the most exciting drives in my opinion regarding the sound and open environments of high-speed racing. There are open tops now for the first time in the Shift series and some models feature this option. You can have a great time racing with them.

- The original game made it rather tough to win races on PCs with using just keyboards. Was the handling improved in this case with Shift 2: Unleashed?

- Many peripherals are available in Shift 2. Mapping of all the keys is now supported on keyboards, gamepads and steering wheels. Many variables can be adjusted like dead zones, speed or drift sensitivity and so on. The game supports many wheel controllers of such brands as Fanatec, Logitech or Thrustmaster, and a myriad of gamepads and such devices.

Everything that can be tuned is reflected in our engine and can be adjusted with all the sliders to turn the things up and down, on and off. Slightly Mad Studios has been doing a great job for the front-end to expose all of that stuff and to give much more usability to players to tune the simulation experience to its best.

- Previously, the players were heavily penalized for cutting turns. Does it remain the same in the new game?

- There are certain track rules for sport simulation games and online racing. Various control aspects are implemented in Shift 2: Unleashed to make single-player and multiplayer modes fairer.

- Autolog feature was firstly introduced in Need for Speed Hot Pursuit (2010) by Criterion. How have you collaborated with them to enhance this feature in Shift 2: Unleashed?

- A lot of collaborative efforts have taken place: sharing of information and ideas, and, obviously, Autolog is now in the Need for Speed series DNA, which will be included into any upcoming franchise game. However, the implementation may vary, but the functionality largely remains the same across all the titles. This social network for racings allows players to compare profiles, more carefully match make and display their achievements to others.

- How do you pick music for your racing games?

Jesse Abney's Autograph (Electronic Arts)- We usually have some licensed tracks in any Need for Speed game. Often we work with bands really closely, and I think that Shift 2: Unleashed will bring you some surprises in terms of its soundtrack and the bands you will hear. There are compositions in a number of different styles in addition to the original score that was created as well. Music’s highlights are setting the right mood for menus, transitions and other features.

- What are your favorite video games?

- Oh, there are so many! You know, my favorite ones over the years were the Need for Speed games like Hot Pursuit and Shift. There is a nature of innovation in the latter one, and I have become the biggest fan of it, while nurturing the visuals and intriguing evolution towards the authentic racing simulation games. Also I play other EA games like Dead Space (2008). The company is releasing many cool titles this spring like Bulletstorm and Crysis 2. A great online experience is promised by Battlefield 3 (2011).

- What picture do you have on your desktop?

- I’ve got two BMWs nose to nose. One of them shows elements of BMW M3 GT2 (2010), which is featured on the Shift’s cover. The other one is original and classic version of BMW M1 Procar (1978-1981). This race car is also in the vehicles’ roster of the sequel.

- Name 3 things you associate with Russia.

- Vodka, women and snow.

- Let’s move on to the closing comments concluding our Interview. What would you like to add?

- The Shift series development is an ongoing process. We are looking to refine, progress and grow in terms of game design, quality and experience. Shift 2: Unleashed is continuing this experience allowing to feel, what it is like to be a race car, drift or drag driver. We really enjoy our Team Need for Speed reaching success in Motorsports and seeing our Speedhunters.com project rising importance in car culture.

Tere is a two-way street. We participate in the car culture, and with it we get a lot of education, in what our game design needs to be. Through this education we are constantly looking for ways of innovation and exploration, where we can continue to create great games. We have a real world force physics simulator running under the hood of Shift. That’s all about the experience, which is visceral, exciting and energetic.

It’s really fun to be a race car driver! We can’t expect players from all calibers and qualities to have as much fun as hardcore simulation players can get in our games. We want to give hardcore simulation fans something they could enjoy a lot. Innovation, technology, visuals and graphics in our games can really drive the racing genre ahead in the industry, and we would like everybody to appreciate that sharing the excitement of the experience we can provide.

- Thank you very much for this memorable Interview! We can’t wait to try the game out!

- Cool! Thanks for your questions!

Greetings from Jesse Abney

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29.03.2011 | Features | Alex "Jace" Ivanchenko

Shift 2: Unleashed

Shift 2: Unleashed

The critically acclaimed Shift franchise returns to the track with the sequel. The most immersive racing video game experience to date brings the true driver’s experience to life with all the intensity and exhilaration of being behind the wheel and competing in the Driver’s Battle. The game delivers all the violence, energy and excitement of race day in a groundbreaking authentic racing experience. It pushes authentic racing to the next gear with an all-new rendering engine and graphics overhaul, innovative helmet camera, night racing, and authentic degradation of tracks and cars.

Shift 2: Unleashed takes the innovative rivalry-generating Autolog technology pioneered by Need for Speed Hot Pursuit (2010) and connects friends, and competitors, together in head-to-head races and player statistic match-ups to add new layers of depth and detail to the intricate customization and tuning of the simulation series. The game was created by Slightly Mad Studios, which include developers and designers that worked on the critically acclaimed games GT Legends (2005) and GTR 2 – FIA GT Racing Game (2006).

Key Features:

  • Photo Real Cars and Tracks. Over 130 licensed cars are available including the Nissan GT-R GT1, McLaren MP4-12C, and Gumpert Apollo. There is also over 50 real-world locations like Bathurst, Spa de Francochamps and Suzuka as well as fictional circuits like downtown London and Shanghai;
  • Amazing Career Depth and Variety. Earn unlocks and participate in multiple racing disciplines on the way to becoming the FIA GT1 World Champion. Featuring everything from new Endurance races to muscle and retro cars, the game gives you the flexibility to choose the path that fits your individual racing style;
  • True Realistic Racing. Shift 2: Unleashed redefines the racing simulator genre by bringing the atmosphere of race day to life.. Featuring the FIA GT1 World Championship and GT3 European Championship plus real-world drivers, tracks, and cars, this is truly tomorrow’s sim for today’s adrenaline-fueled racer;
  • Next Level of Immersion. Experience visceral first-person racing like never before. The all-new helmet cam recreates realistic driver head movements that deliver an unparalleled sensation of speed: lean and tilt into the apex of corners, feel the impact of every scrape, bump, and crash, experience true in-cockpit vibrations, and more;
  • Change the Game with Autolog. Autolog is a revolutionary system that connects friends and changes the gameplay experience by allowing you to share virtually every aspect of your racing career. Compare Driver Profiles and career status, share and comment on pictures and videos, send challenges, and pull news feeds directly from NFS-related websites;
  • Customize for Show or Customize to Win! Unleash your creativity to turn some of the world’s most elite high-performance vehicles into fire-breathing weapons. Customize the engine, the body, the suspension, and much, much more, then put your ultimate racing machine to the test in any mode. Whether your goal is to race a 1000-horsepower Econobox or a tricked-out GTR, you have nearly limitless options to reign supreme on the track where every second counts.
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Jesse Abney (Electronic Arts)
Jesse Abney founded the role of Tech Development Manager at EA, while working on over than 20 company's titles. As a Producer on Need for Speed, he played a key role in development of Shift 2: Unleashed. Read on to our Interview with Jesse about the game. More »
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