Meet the man bringing Need for Speed and Burnout magic to The Grand Tour Game
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Despite what I’ve told several ex-girlfriends, family members and pets, I’m at my happiest when I’m locked in a room playing video games.
There’s just something about the mix of fun, skill, achievement and escapism that puts games ahead of any other form of media so far as I’m concerned. Which is why when I got to sit down and chat to Craig Sullivan, Creative Director of The Grand Tour Game, I left feeling incredibly happy that not only is it shaping up to be a great game, but that it has a provenance no one’s really talked about. Until now.
Chatting to me from Amazon’s LA studio, Craig opens up about his past – and it’s quickly clear that the Grand Tour Game has some serious clout behind it.
“I started making games 24 years ago,” he tells me. “I started off in QA testing games, then moved on to design. I think I did 16 years at Criterion where I worked on a bunch of Burnout games and was Creative Director on the last four Need for Speeds up until I left and joined Amazon on April 24, 2017.”
Craig lets slip that the first game he ever did bug testing on was Defcon 5, a first-person role-playing game-slash-shooter that, erm, didn’t get fantastic reviews everywhere when it came out in 1996.
“Remember Teletext?” asks Craig – talking about the basic TV-based internet-type thing that was popular before most people had PCs – “Well one of the first reviews [of Defcon] went up on there. They gave it one out of five and said it was the worst game ever made.
“But you have to start at the bottom to go up, right?” Craig laughs.
The Burnout years
Burnout Paradise was an absolute belter – Craig's been replaying it while developing The Grand Tour Game
Once Craig progressed from QA to being involved in actual game design things quickly improved from the dark days of Teletext game reviews.
I ask him what his favourite game to work on was, and he groans.
“People always ask me this question and it’s always really hard, because you spend two years of your life on something – so you always remember that time fondly.”
“But I just went back and played Burnout Paradise because it had been remastered recently, and I hadn’t played that game since I was lead designer on it. It was 10 or 11 years ago now and I’d forgotten about it, and I went back to play it because it was a very accessible, fun, irreverent driving game.”
“I only meant to play it for five minutes and I ended up playing it for two hours. So that’s a really fun game. There weren’t many open world driving games at that point in time so we were making a lot of it up as we went along. And that stuff is still fun now – fun gameplay is fun gameplay.”
I almost stifle the urge to wax lyrical about the hours I spent barrel rolling my car over my mates along the seafront of Paradise City, but time is running out. I figure it’s time to probe Craig about his time on Need for Speed.
BAFTAs, boy bands and bullet
“[2010’s] Hot Pursuit was my team’s first Need For Speed, and we had a lot to prove as a group of game developers and as a studio – in the end we won a BAFTA for it.
“I was lucky to go along to the awards ceremony with a couple of guys on the team. They bring out the presenters of the awards – they’ve had all these A-list celebrities handing them out so far. Then the presenters of BAFTA for Best Online Game were [dubious 00s British boy band] Blue – and as soon as they came on stage I said to everybody ‘I bet we’ve won and get left with the boy band’.”
“And we did! And we were up on stage with them.”
But Craig’s CV isn’t all car games and dreamy singers. He also helped develop Black, a gorgeous first-person shooter on Xbox and Playstation 2 that got rave reviews back in 2005.
“It was just fun, and that was born of a group of us going to shoot some guns in Vegas and we were like ‘video games don’t capture this’. So we felt we should make a video game that captured the visceral fun of using those things, in a safe way, obviously.”
Chances are if you had a PS2 back in the day then you played its demo to death – it had some of the best graphics seen on consoles at the time.
And now – The Grand Tour Game
Talking to Craig it’s clear that everything he’s done has really harnessed the power of games to entertain, regardless of genre. And this is something he’s confident will be present in The Grand Tour Game by the bucketload.
“If you look back through the games that I’ve made, and I’ve worked with some amazing teams over the past, and the recurring theme is that I would hope that I could give them to anybody and it makes them smile pretty quickly.
“Hopefully you can see that DNA in the Grand Tour, I’m lucky enough to work with people that share that outlook on video gaming.
“Some games can be sad, some games can be frustrating, some can be easy, some can be hard. Video games as a whole are amazing, I think we’re definitely stood firm in the ‘this is fun, accessible, irreverent, laugh out loud, based on the TV show, have fun with your friends’ kind of entertainment.
“That’s what I hope people bring from The Grand Tour game.”
And there’s not too much longer to wait.