Friday morning. The Day of EA’s Burnout Paradise Community Day.



I wake up not knowing what the hell’s going on. A concentrated beam of light is directed straight at my head, and it turns out that those big picturesque windows that I was loving the night before had turned into my mortal enemy. I woke up sweaty and hot at 7:30 AM, but I didn’t have time to be tired or annoyed. Today was the big day.

After a quick shower, I went downstairs to meet the other folks who were there for breakfast. My contact at EA (Andrew Green) met and introduced us, and did a much better job of memorizing everyone’s names than I did the whole day.

I was pleased to find out that everyone who was there, writer and EA employee alike (with the exception of one guy- more on that later) was cool. More than cool, they were personable, fun to talk to, and just seemed like good people. All sorts of gaming sites were represented here, from Talking about Games to Xbox Addict to Destructoid to UGO. I was amused to note that Aint it Cool had a guy there too, the very awesome Jack Pattillo (aka Monki), who I could tell I’d get along with right away, because he seemed to have the same sense of humor and loud style that I do.

We went and had a great breakfast at the hotel that EA treated us to, thankfully, because I doubt any of us could have afforded it anyway without taking out a loan (15 bucks for a bowl of cereal and coffee? Really?) I got the waffles, which were delicious, and downed 4 cups of the blackest cups of black coffee (blacker than the blackest black times infinity) as we all immediately started talking about all sorts of subjects, from gaming to the cities we were all from the strange dancing girl station on our hotel tvs (it looked like a sexier iPod commercial that just never ended) to Naked Wrestling. Don’t ask.

After that, we took the walk to EA’s headquarters. It’s a short walk, and it was an absolutely beautiful day. The other guys laughed that I had wandered here in the dark.
 



Things did look quite a bit different in the daylight.



When we walked in through the main entrance, I swear I could hear angels singing. Above us was a massive screen playing videos from their most recent games, and lined among the walls were tons of games, ready for you to play.





We all gawked around for a little bit, got our little EA visitor badges, and were ready to go on a tour. Before we could get going on that, we got an offer we couldn’t refuse. A couple of the developers from Army of Two had showed up, and were doing some playing in a room next door. Did we want to try it out? Uh, of course? (For full details on how that played, click here.)

 

After being pulled away from our playtime, we started walking around campus. And it is a campus. It’s a gorgeous place, one that my crappy pictures don’t do justice. (Never claimed to be a photographer!) But besides the beautiful grounds (oh, and football field, stadium, and basketball courts) there’s the office buildings. You ever go into an office building where every conference room is named after a game? Or where people in suits are sitting next to guys who look like gutter punks? Or where video games are literally everywhere, playable and being used by any employee that wants to? It’s such a strange mixture of the corporate and the creative, and it’s weird to see it get along the way it does. We all immediately fell in love with it. Here’s some shots I took during our walk around.



There were little kids running around the fields, of which there were many. Where did they come from? Nobody knew. There was a rumor going around that they were our prizes for the Burnout Paradise tournament later….



One of many different Spore posters that were hung up all over the place. I want one so friggin’ bad.


 
EA’s got whole hallways devoted to their many, many titles… from the beginning to present day. When you walk down a hallway filled entirely on both sides with just fronts of game boxes, you start to realize how huge the company is.



They had every console they’ve ever made games for, and one of the guys told us that there’s a library where they can take home games if they want to.  That big blue box on the left there was an attempt to reverse engineer the Genesis.




Ben Swanson (my other contact at EA) told us a funny story about this Ducati. This is the actual motorcycle you’ll see in the videos from the game… they damaged the damn thing up so much (check out the scratches and parts knocked off it) that EA had to buy the damn thing.



 

Here was a quick shot of the EA store that I managed before the employee there started yelling at all of us that we couldn’t take pictures. Maybe it’s because every game there is $20 bucks. Every. Single. Game. A bunch of us grabbed some and had our wallets out in record time.

We walked around a bit more, but it was soon they were ready for us to get some quality Burnout Paradise time in. We went upstairs to a room that was set up for us, with beautiful HD TV’s, Xbox 360s, and even Vision cameras so we could see each other’s expressions when we smashed them off the road.



We soon got into it, two games going at once, with everyone driving around the city online trying out new challenges. The people who hadn’t played it before were taught by the guys behind the game how to go about it.




Craig Sullivan was there (on the right), the lead designer of the game, all the way from England.


We were all given 10 minutes to interview Craig for our sites, and I was picked first. We went and found an empty conference room and started it up.
 
Craig unfortunately didn’t have a lot new info to reveal. He talked briefly about how his idea for the game was always to create this massive, seamless, open world environment, but it wasn’t until the power of the 360 and PS3 came along that they could actually do it.

Craig’s been at Criterion for a staggering 12 years now. He’s worked on every game in the Burnout series, but never before in the role he’s in now. The first game he worked on the lead with is Black, and we all know how well that turned out. He was quick to dismiss any rumors of the team working on a sequel Black, even though he knows that just by saying that some conspiracy theorists will automatically assume he’s trying to cover something up. He’s not, he says. No one’s working on it. It’s a possibility for the future, but right now they’re working on another top-secret project.

I asked him a question that I’m certain he’s sick of, which is if they would ever try to implement retries for races. One of the biggest problems people seem to have with the game is the fact that once you fail a race, there’s no easy way to restart it. You have to drive all the way back to the beginning and do it over, instead of instantly warping there. He seems very against the idea. He thinks that by making you drive around more you get to really know the world, all its shortcuts and twists and turns. They never leave you off in a place where you’re far from another challenge, and there really is a ton of stuff to do. It’s never out of the question that they might release an update for the game that allows you to do it in the future, but it really is only a small minority of people who are complaining.

He also said that we should check out the Burnout Podcast, which is up on Criterion’s site. I’ve personally never listened to it but he says they give plenty of tricks for the game, and answer reader’s questions.

As for downloadable content, they’re still not ready to say anything solid about it. The one thing he did say was that it wasn’t just going to be some little nonsense, like new cars. It was going to be something huge, and well worth waiting for, and paying the 5 bucks for whatever it is.

I made him chuckle when I relayed a comment from our messageboard denizen Gravedigger, who had asked me to apologize for the whiny bitches who complained about the Demo only supporting 4 players. They then upped it to 8 player, or so the story goes. It turns out though that it was always the plan- start it off at a 4 player max, see how it handles, then up it to 8. It was basically a beta test for the system, and showed that it could work perfectly, the kind of seamless online multiplayer that hasn’t been done yet.
 
After talking with him, I went back and jumped into a game of Burnout. It still amazes me how fun the game is. It just never seems to get old, and we soon got into the challenges, while crashing mercilessly into each other, of course.

Soon though there was the competition. We cracked our knuckles and got ready for some serious gaming. Well, as serious as it gets, at least.
 



The first contest involved the stunt runs in the game. At various places in the world there are stunt runs. When you start up a run, you try and string together as many stunts as you possibly can. You get combos for huge jumps, breaking through billboards, doing barrel rolls… all sorts of crazy stuff. The trick is to keep stringing it together using the boost to keep the score going. A million is damn hard to get to, but anyone who could get that many would grab a t-shirt that no one else but the developers had, that said Millionaire’s Club on the front and Burnout Paradise Team on the back. Pretty nifty.  
 
Jack, the motherfucker from AICN nabbed the score first, but after a few runs at 300k+ it wasn’t long before I figured out a great route myself and nabbed a million something points. Two other people got it later on, but we found it funny that the two movie sites bested the gaming-dedicated sites. We all got our pictures taken and were told that they’re going to be put up on Criterion’s site.
 


 
While I played, I marveled at how much there is to do in this game, how many ways to play it. There’s just so much to see and do, and it seems impossible to do it all. According to the developers, only 7 people in the world have gotten 100% in the game so far. 7. Do you know how many copies of this bad boy have sold? Whenever my Xbox 360 winds its way back to me from Microsoft (its still
on its way to Texas in its coffin) I’m going to put some serious
playtime on that sucker and try to get it myself. The guys at Criterion
promised us goodies if we did.
 
While we were all trying to do it, the people behind the game were showing us the best routes to take. One thing that’s cool to note is that Craig himself has a high score of around 25 million in the game. How many designers are as good at their game like that? Not as many as we’d like, I’m sure.

Craig’s words rang true here while we were attempting to find the best
place to do stunt runs. Every time I failed one and drove the long trek
back to the starting line, I’d figure out another path, another thing
to try. It’s just so different and unlike everything else that I’m glad
they didn’t allow me to just jump back there, cause I know I would’ve
done it and missed out on so much.


 
After taking some pictures with our hard-won t-shirts for Criterion, we all got together for another contest. This time, two teams of 6 playing for some Gamestop gift cards. I suggested the 4 millionaires team up and go up against the other 8, but they refused. Our goal was to try and finish the first 25 challenges from the multiplayer freeburn mode, and we soon got to it.

Playing against another group adds to the enjoyment, I have to say. It’s hard, because some are tricky ones where you have to find a billboard to smash through or a big jump to hit. Our guys lost the battle, though… the other guys were just too fast. But it just shows you how fun it is to work together with a group of cool people to try and knock out these challenges. No other racing game has a mode quite like it.

After that we got copies of the game (you did enter the contest for it, right?), and all sorts of other goodies like Burnout pint glasses, coasters, and even a box of dozens of Burnout matchbooks (which they didn’t catch in my carry-on bag!) We said goodbye to the fine folks who helped out with the event and went back to the hotel. Work was over for the day…. now, it was time to go drinking.