Iain Angus was lead gameplay programmer on Burnout 3: Takedown, Burnout Revenge, Burnout Paradise and designer on Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit (2010).
Now at Konami, Iain kindly gave us some fascinating insight into the development of Burnout Paradise and the possible (lack of a) future of the Burnout series.
Leon Cox: So Burnout then, you were lead gameplay programmer.
Iain Angus: Yeah, on Paradise. I started at Criterion when we were porting Burnout 2 to GameCube and Xbox and I did audio stuff on that and then I did gameplay on Takedown and Revenge and then lead gameplay in Paradise and switched to designer when we did Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit.
LC: How long was [Paradise] in development?
IA: I started on it immediately after the end of Burnout: Revenge and there was a very small team for a while while the 360 port of Revenge happened. From that point on it got bigger and bigger. It slipped twice – it should have been a launch PS3 game at one point but that was never realistic.
LC: Was it lead on PS3 because I remember there were rumblings at the time that the PS3 version performed ever so slightly better than the 360 version?
IA: Nah, they were the same pretty much. We called the PS3 our lead platform because PS3 was harder to make stuff for, so we’d get stuff working on PS3 then on 360 and PC it pretty much just works.
LC: So at what point – was it during the development of Revenge – did you think, ‘well we‘re bored of just tracks and circuits’… nobody had done an open-world arcade racer really, had they?
IA: Well there was Midtown Madness of course.
LC: And GTi Club at the arcades had elements as well.
IA: Sort of – that had branching routes. We had a GTi Club machine in the office.
LC: Yes I suppose Midtown Madness was the nearest thing, but nothing quite so ambitious probably as Burnout Paradise?
IA: Yeah, the first next-gen game, at 60 [fps], open-world was a technical marvel that it worked at all. All the Criterion games after that went down to 30 frames per second.
LC: For sure. I’ve been back playing it because one of the rules we have on our podcast is that you have to have finished a game to qualify to talk about it.
IA: OK, what counts as ‘finished’ – do you have to get a platinum [Trophy]?
LC: Er, no [laughs].
IA: Good, because you’ll be a long time.
LC: I’ve been playing Burnout Paradise on and off for, well, since it came out really, and I’d never actually got that that Burnout license point. I had the 360 version, then I got the PS3 Ultimate Box and I’ve got the PC version as well, but I’ve been back to the PS3 version this last few months – I didn’t have far to go to get the Burnout license but then I’ve still got 100-odd events to play, plus a few gates and billboards and all that sort of thing.
IA: I’ve finished it three or four times to the Elite license level.
LC: Marvellous! Well it’s staying installed, but what I wanted to say was playing Burnout [Paradise], which is now six years old, it still looks really good!
IA: It does. If you look at it closely on a micro level – if you study the details and so on – the level of detail isn’t there because it has to run at 60. But when you’re clipping along at 200 mph it does everything it needs to do.
LC: I think a lot of people think of Paradise as the that-gen racing game, like the biggest achievement – even if people have fondness for the Forzas and things like that. Was it like, ‘We’re gonna build this game that looks cool for years to come’?
IA: Well you don’t think about that. When you’re making a game you just want to get it out there, get it good and get people to buy it, you don’t think about the long-term, really. You just think about when it comes out and selling it, so you just have to make it as good as possible. We’re not doing anything to it now so how it looks compared to things these days is not really relevant I suppose from the development point of view, though obviously to people like yourself.
LC: Other games have come and gone; Split/Second and Blur and things like that…
IA: Yeah a lot of ex-Criterion people worked on both of those.
LC: Right, makes sense. But Burnout Paradise remains and I think part of that is, I’ve noticed while I’ve been playing it again that other people on my friends list have been playing it again and I think they’ve thought, ‘I’ve never done everything on that’, because it’s a vast game as well.
IA: Well it’s a game that you can go and sort of chill out in, you can just go and drive around and mess around socialise and chat to each other, whereas most of the other games are, right we do this race and that race and that race and it’s a different sort of pace and a different style of online experience.
LC: How hard was it, or how easy was it, to do that particular style of online integration?
IA: Ridiculously hard. Really, really hard.
IA: Test Drive [Unlimited] had done something like it before and we borrowed a number of ideas off that, but their map was just astonishingly huge with not a great deal in it.
LC: Yes, Paradise City is very much condensed.
LC: Normally you expect with the online stuff to go into a separate lobby and hook up with friends but in this game you just jump in and out of this city.
IA: That’s right. The concept was always that the game is the lobby, the open world is the lobby and that’s basically what the online experience came from. A lot of the things got added along the way – a lot of the stuff you do; obviously we spent a year doing dlc – which was extremely bizarre – and a lot of stuff got added during that. But yeah, the game world is the lobby concept was strong and was difficult to do but was worth doing.
LC: You did multiple, major updates and for the first, best part of a year it was all free as well. Normally if a game comes out from EA and it needs loads of patches people are very negative about that because it feels like the game’s unfinished or it was rushed or whatever, but in this case it felt like you’d put out a great, comprehensive racing game and then you just kept adding huge, significant chunks to it with the ‘Bogart’, ‘Cagney’ and ‘Davis’ [Bikes] upgrades.
IA: I never understood the business reasons for that. I think there was some sort of internal turmoil going on within the company and its relationship to EA as a whole. We didn’t have another project to go onto at that time, and I still don’t understand why we did it because in many ways it doesn’t make sense. It was great for you guys, the fans, because you get stuff for free but then, at the end of the day it is a business. You have to make money to pay people’s wages, keep the lights on and so on.
LC: It was genuinely confusing from a consumer’s point of view. Even back then in 2008 it was surprising but I think now, when we’ve had the last five years of EA Sports’ Tiger Woods games coming out with £100 worth of dlc on day one… With Burnout Paradise we were getting these regular, significant, free updates it was just a bit bizarre but I think in terms of hearts and minds that’s another reason why [the game] is so fondly remembered.
IA: Yes, that’s right. We didn’t really capitalise on that in games afterwards but it was a real learning experience, and the things we did on Need for Speed; Hot Pursuit [such as] the Autolog came out of experiments we did in Paradise. A lot of the tools and technology that Criterion used in subsequent titles developed then, a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff; telemetry, understanding what all the users are doing, what they’re enjoying, what they’re not, which is how all mobile games are done these days – they’ve all got their analytics and so on so it was an early form of that. One of the coding tasks I did was the Time-Savers Pack where you paid like £2 or something to have every single car unlocked, whereas these days it would be XP-doublers and one car at a time for five quid and all this. Mind you I did that, took me an afternoon because it was quite simple to do – unlock all the cars if you’ve bought this thing – and it made [a substantial sum of money].
IA: Another thing that happened in that time was the Wii was really strong, and if you remember game coverage at the time was “casual” – there are all these people out there who don’t like games very much but they’re buying Wiis and so on, so a lot of things like the Party Pack and changes that were made to the handling, the barrel rolls and so on was to try to make it more ‘casual’, more ‘Wii-friendly’, and I think that was kind of a mistake really because the Wii was a fad, as has been proved by history, and a lot of that audience were not playing games like Burnout Paradise, they were playing Carnival Games and Wii Sports tennis and have moved on to Candy Crush Saga and they’re welcome to it.
LC: I had no idea that you’d what, softened the requirements to flip your car or that sort of thing?
IA: We changed the controls for barrel-rolls so it would automatically level it off. It’s really interesting if you go back and play the game off a disc without installing any of the patches – even the handling on the first car was really dumbed down so that the first car that people drove was easier, but a lot of people didn’t like it. We had a very hardcore, vocal following – as all games tend to do – who didn’t like it but then you think well, is it just you ten loud guys or is it actually a problem? It’s kind of difficult to tell.
LC: Another thing that I imagine was really difficult to program was probably the camera [during crashes].
IA: Oh, God! Yes, absolutely, it’s so difficult because normal TV cameras, they know what’s going to happen, where it’s going to go, but we don’t, and it’s a dynamic world with lots of flying, physical objects. You could have a nice shot of the car rolling over and then a bus will just come between the camera and the thing it’s looking at. So the code to detect all that is ridiculously complicated.
LC: I thought it might have been.
IA: Also in crash mode, in previous games, two massive accidents could happen simultaneously in different places and what do you look at? It was a tricky one.
LC: Just the deformation on the cars…
IA: Yeah that took quite a lot of effort.
LC: The cars, as I say, again I still think they look [good] – look at Forza 5 and the cars there we’re getting ever closer to photo-realism – and obviously you didn’t have licensed cars in Paradise, which I’m perfectly fine with.
IA: Having worked on Need for Speed as well having real cars does make a huge difference to people’s perceptions and what they’re willing to pay money for, I guess it makes the game seem more valuable if it’s got sort of ‘real’ things in it, like they’re almost getting a real Porsche or whatever. So again, from a sales point of view, real cars makes a huge difference but then you can’t burn them, because the people you license the cars off don’t want to see them on fire.
LC: I recently had to be reminded of the fact that there’s that quick ‘restart event’ tab on the d-pad which is a lifesaver when you’re just trying to do a particular race. One of the things that came up on forums over and over again at the time was, was there ever the consideration to put in fast-travel? Or if not GPS and checkpoints, Grand Theft Auto style so you could draw a line on the map.
IA: Originally you couldn’t even restart an event. A checkpoint race came in with the bikes pack and the [Big Surf] island. [The initial lack of quick restart] was pure bloody-mindedness from the guy in charge. He had this idea – and we all thought it was stupid. Let people retry, it’s just inconvenience – and he just wouldn’t have any of it. So yeah, it was a poor decision. We should have had those things. A lot of the races would have been so much better with big walls and arrows.
LC: I’m interested to hear that. As somebody who loved Burnout 2 very much and enjoyed its successors but did sometimes struggle, also just from a visual point of view, things are going past so fast, until you’ve been round the city 200 times and remembered where a lot of the outcroppings and things that are going to take you out are, I kind of missed the days where you could bounce off the big, green chevrons.
IA: That’s right and somebody coming to the game new, the amount of open-world games you’ve probably played, having to learn all these things… In order to enjoy Burnout Paradise you have to learn the map, know it inside-out – and I do having worked on it and completed it a bunch of times, but somebody coming to it new… I started Watch_Dogs the other day and it’s like, another massive open world, can I be bothered to learn all the ins and outs of this? I’m not sure I can. I did in GTAV because it was a damn good game, but that requirement, you really have to do that to enjoy the game and it’s a huge requirement to ask of anybody – the amount of time and effort to do that and it puts a lot of people off, and we could have made it a lot simpler.
LC: I think some people on the podcast will say they loved the fact that you could make your own route up…
IA: That in itself is cool, but you have to, like I said, learn the world and the chances are you get lost as well, and take a wrong turn.
LC: I sometimes feel ‘cheated’ by the AI, who obviously know where they’re going…
IA: They just drive the best route, or close to it.
LC: You’ve moved on from Criterion and EA to Konami, but can you see EA and/or Criterion bringing back the Burnout name?
IA: No it’s never going to happen. Ever.
IA: No. Dead. Yeah, totally.
IA: There’s no reason for them to. Most of the people have gone anyway, who worked on it. No, it’s never going to come back.
LC: What if the Burnout: CRASH! downloadable game had done better? [chuckles]
IA: No, that was a ridiculous project in itself.
LC: I was very disappointed because I loved crash mode.
IA: Everyone was disappointed. I feel quite bitter about that one because I did crash mode in Burnout 3 – it was me and one other guy called Chris Roberts and I wasn’t consulted on this thing they made.
LC: It wasn’t right.
IA: It was an attempt to get into, ‘Ooh, mobile and tablet games are cool now so let’s try one of those’. Poor decision-making from senior people, and all those people have left. EA changed a number of years ago when John Riccitiello became the head and he’s gone now, he didn’t do that well, but now they do fewer, bigger games. That was their whole big thing. They cut down on the number of things they made and the things they did make they went massive on. So FIFA became massive, Battlefield became massive, Madden – massive and they don’t make as many games as they used to. They used to do all sorts of things like SSX, NBA Street, blah-de-blah… the number of titles they do is greatly reduced so in order to get into that, in order to hit the big time at EA there’s an internal battle to get a project off the ground and when they’ve already got Need for Speed which is much bigger, sales are huge – even when the quality is a bit off – compared to that Burnout hardly sold a thing, well, it sold an order of magnitude less, so why would they ever put the money behind it and do it, at least to a triple-A standard like Burnout Paradise.
LC: Even as a downloadable HD edition or something?
IA: That’s tricky. Interestingly they did have Burnout 3 running on a phone at one point but only as a sort of demo test. It didn’t really work properly. HD editions they’re quite hard to do because all the tools and stuff have atrophied. They’d have to make it from scratch which has its own challenges. They’re capable of raiding their IP locker – like with Dungeon Keeper – and knocking something out but something worthy of the name, a triple-A game, ‘Burnout Paradise 2’ – never. I’m calling it now: It ain’t gonna happen.
LC: I absolutely loved Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit  and it felt very much like the true successor to Burnout 3.
IA: I was designer on that. Almost the lead designer but not quite. That was a two year project and the first year was a disaster that was thrown away, and then we kind of knocked something out as quick as we could and basically copied Burnout 3 as much as we could.
LC: It came out alright(!)
IA: Burnout 3 and Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2, which was the  PS2 game. Did you ever play that one?
LC: No never did, I was very much ‘anti-Need for Speed’ back in the day.
IA: Well that one was really good, that was before Underground – and it has to be the PS2 version because the same game on GameCube and Xbox were done by different people and were nowhere near as good – and that had racing while being chased by cops and that’s the bit we copied. Did you get all the way to the end?
LC: Yes, absolutely.
IA: Cool, there was one in the top tier called ‘highway battle’ which was a bit of a piss-take of Need for Speed: Undercover because that was their big game mode so I nicked the name off that, and basically that is the ultimate experience and everything else was just building up to that from the pursuit race point of view.
LC: Yes I played it all and got most of the dlc as well.
IA: Yes that was the last thing I really did at Criterion was the dlc. Did you ever play a Konami arcade game called Thrill Drive?
LC: I may have played it.
IA: If you play Thrill Drive and Burnout 1 they’re virtually identical.
LC: It came up on the Burnout 1 podcast as an inspiration.
IA: It was more than an inspiration from what I was told. I joined after that happened but… Burnout 1 was so hard that Sony refused to certify it because they couldn’t complete it. [Criterion] had to submit a video of them completing it.
LC: Well, it’s sad to hear that the Burnout name is probably dead.
IA: Well, I don’t know, they might do something but, from what I heard before I left I doubt you’ll see anything. They’re certainly not working on it right now.
LC: They’re not working on the sequel to Black either.
IA: That’s never going to happen either!
This interview ties in with issue 136 of the Cane and Rinse podcast.
In this solo Burnout Paradise Quick Rinse, Darren Gargette takes himself down to the Paradise City where the girls are green and the grass is pretty (PC version):
NB: Apologies if one or both of these Burnout Paradise videos isn’t/aren’t available in your region or on your platform. Licensed music is the problem.