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The gaming version of an action movie

5 min reading time

Need for Speed Payback and the digital twin of the BMW M5:

The current version of the ultimate racing game experience puts the player behind the wheel of a virtual dreamcar fleet. And behind the wheel of a deceptively realistic new BMW M5. A glance into the developer’s studio.

The foyer at Kvarnbergsgatan 2 in Gothenburg, Sweden, doesn’t have much of a workplace vibe to it. The space is more reminiscent of a hotel bar: clean Nordic lines and a countertop of wood and metal displaying the logo of a ghost. Sometimes the bar is indeed used for after-work drinks. But otherwise, this beautifully designed interior is the creative hub of one of the most popular car racing video games of all time: Need for Speed. Welcome to the studio of games developer Ghost.

Racing game with a long history

The cradle of Need for Speed: the studios of Ghost in Gothenburg.

In the gaming world, Need for Speed is a franchise with a long history. Since the launch of the first edition 23 years ago, the complete series has grown to 24 titles. Ghost, the studio that created Need for Speed, is owned by Electronic Arts, one of the world’s top five video games companies.

The time frame for developing a game like Need for Speed Payback is long and can easily involve several hundred people. “It takes around two and a half years to turn the basic idea and rough draft into the finished product,” explains Will Graham, senior brand manager of Need for Speed.

The days of gaming and video games being the preserve of adolescents in their bedrooms are long gone – if they ever existed. The average age of gamers today is 35. In Germany alone, a quarter of all video game users are over 50. “It’s now become a generation thing,” says Graham. 

We have players who enjoyed Need for Speed as kids. And as adults they’re now lining up against their own children. It’s fantastic!
Will Graham

Senior Brand Manager of Need for Speed

NFS – Driving pleasure with 80 virtual models

Need for Speed is less about lap times. Packed with white-knuckle car chases, the titles in the series are more like action movies in which you can play the starring role. The fun even includes tuning and pimping your personal car pool.

In The Need for Speed the player had a fleet of nine cars to choose from. Today there are no fewer than 80 models, all virtually identical to their road versions in every detail. Maintaining the car fleet is the job of Heidi Klinck and Bryn Alban. In addition to the BMW M5, the pool now includes a BMW M4 GTS, BMW X6 M and several models from the BMW M3 series.

The fact that the vehicles used in racing games now look so realistic and provide the true gaming experience can be attributed in part to the processing power of computers and consoles such as PS4 and Xbox, “and also that I only work with perfectionists,” laughs Heidi Klinck. The Canadian is lead vehicle artist for NFS and as such the ultimate perfectionist authority in matters of vehicle visuals. 

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A Need for Speed programmer's workplace in the Ghost offices.
A Need for Speed programmer's workplace in the Ghost offices.
Starting line of Need for Speed: A glance into the developer’s studio in Gothenburg, Sweden.
Reminiscent of a design hotel: the creative hub of games developer Ghost.

A virtual likeness for the racing game

It takes six months to create a virtual likeness of a vehicle for the racing game. The programmers and designers don’t always have access to all the data they would like. Something you couldn’t tell when seeing the final cars.

So if a passion for gaming and cars is a perfect fit for the team, which vehicles are a perfect choice for the Need for Speed series? “That’s a tricky one,” Graham replies. “When it comes to cars, people’s tastes vary enormously. For some, it’s got to be an insanely expensive super sports car. For others, it might be the first car they ever owned. Even though they got rid of it years ago, Need for Speed lets them drive it in virtual form and pimp it in ways they might have wanted to do when they owned it in real life.”

In the current game, the gamer adopts the guise of the female driver of the three playable characters and gets behind the wheel of a new, dark blue BMW M5. The M5 is exclusive to Need for Speed. No other video racing game currently gives players the chance to burn rubber with the 600 hp saloon. Within minutes, the controller is moist with perspiration as the players don’t just see the acceleration on the speedo, but also feel the sonorous roar from the loudspeakers and sense the landscape flash by.

Bryan Alban exclaims: “And a vehicle like the BMW M5 is a perfect fit – not just because of the technology and everything packed under the bonnet. You just have to look at the M5 to see how it oozes performance, driving pleasure and sportiness.”

Facts and Figures

6 months 
is the time it takes to create a virtual car.

2.5 years 
is how long it takes to develop a new game in the Need for Speed series.

USD 108 billion 
is the value of video games sold annually worldwide.

41%
of all gamers in the US are female.

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