If you've already checked out our hands-on preview of Need for Speed SHIFT, then you'll know it marks a change in direction for EA's mega-popular racing franchise. It's even drafted in UK developer Slightly Mad Studios, of GTR fame, to help turn the series into less of a gangster drive-by and more of a serious sim. But will it be to everyone's tastes? Here, Suzi Wallace, the game's producer, tells us why Forza and PGR should be keeping a close eye on their rear-view mirrors.

VideoGamer.com: Why should Forza and PGR fans be interested in SHIFT?

Suzi Wallace: We've got this real emphasis on the driver experience. We're trying to get as much of that as possible across to the user. We don't feel either PGR or Forza does this properly and does this to the extent that you actually feel like you're the driver. The focus in the game very much will be on the driver the whole way through. We're not disclosing any details today but there will be a full career mode in there and the focus is very much on you as a driver. It's not about the cars, it's about you. We don't think any other driving game really does that.

VideoGamer.com: How will SHIFT work online?

SW: I'm not talking about full modes today I'm afraid for online, but we will have full online support, up to 16 cars in a race as well. As for individual modes, I'm afraid we're not talking about that today.

VideoGamer.com: But you're confident that SHIFT's online modes will compare favourably with Forza and PGR's online modes?

SW: Yeah we're confident. Definitely.

VideoGamer.com: Going back, SHIFT is somewhat of a surprise for the Need for Speed franchise. How did it come to be?

SW: We were originally approached by EA. They were looking for somebody to produce a game within a franchise. They met us, came down to the studio, took a look at what we were doing, took a look at our engine and they were really impressed. We were really happy to speak to them and it's just progressed from there. It's great for us. Our games before were very hardcore and that end of the market is very niche, so it's exciting for us to be able to bring our games and our technology to more players as well. It's exciting times.

VideoGamer.com: The engine has been in development for a couple of years. How long has SHIFT been in development for?

SW: We've only been working on the game since last year. Less than a year at this point. In terms of development cycles that's an incredibly short time. We're happy with where we've got to at this point. There's still a ton of information to come about all the career and the core features of the game as well. There's a lot more still to come.

VideoGamer.com: When you were talking to EA about making a Need for Speed game, what did they tell you are the core values that make a Need for Speed game what it is?

SW: Obviously this is a big change for the series, but we've got lots of things that tie us into being a very noticeable Need for Speed game. None of the cars are standard. If you look to something like Gran Turismo you have very standard stock cars. In SHIFT we've got full race kits and full race liveries. I think this is very Need for Speed. Also customisation is going to be in there. This is a very core Need for Speed feature. We're not releasing full details on that at the moment but we feel it's very Need for Speed. The tracks as well, there's lots of life to them. Some of the more serious sim titles, they don't have what we call race day atmosphere going on. We think that connects us to previous Need for Speed titles. We know it is a big change for the series, but we've got lots of core features that will connect us.

VideoGamer.com: What led to the decision to split Need for Speed into three different directions?

SW: It was EA's decision to do that! You're going to have to speak to someone at EA about that. We're still an independent studio. Personally, speaking from a studio point of view, we think it's a good idea. Having one game to cater for racing gamers, you'll never be able to please everyone, so we think it's good to be able to separate it off and, for us, concentrate on the people who like a more realistic racer. We welcome that opportunity.

VideoGamer.com: This is the first time your games are going to have mainstream appeal. How does that make you feel?

SW: Yeah it's really exciting for us. We're happy to be working on the series. It's only hit home over the last couple of weeks since the press release has gone out. Before anyone knew we didn't feel the pressure as much, but now the pressure is very much on! Very, very much on! I'm feeling it a lot actually. But no, it's good. The pressure is good and it keeps a high quality of work as well. We're confident with the product we've got.

VideoGamer.com: Why are you feeling the pressure on this project?

SW: The Need for Speed franchise is really, really big. If you're talking about racing games anyone knows a Need for Speed title. There's lots of stuff going on around the Need for Speed franchise as well at the moment. Since the press release has gone out there's been a lot of attention on us and we've been fielding a lot of inquiries, but no, it's good. We're looking forward to it.

VideoGamer.com: It's a sign of success, really, when you have this level of interest.

SW: Yeah, luckily the reception has been great as well. We've not had anyone with any negative comments about it, really. So we're excited about it.

VideoGamer.com: Are you keeping an eye on the forums and what the fans are saying about it?

SW: Yeah, we've been having sly looks when the press release went out with the original screen shot. You have to take everything with a pinch of salt, you know what the internet is like, you can get some quite extreme views. I don't know if you saw the first screen shot, we were quite chuffed when people were going "that's blatantly a render, that's definitely a render, there's no way it's in game". It was like, well we know it is. None of our screen shots are edited in any way. If people out there think it's a render and we know it's in game, my boss was quite happy with that. That went down quite well! It's been really good.

VideoGamer.com: Would you say SHIFT is the best-looking racing game ever made?

SW: Of course! The engine for us, you know we've come a long way with it and there's been lots of improvements but yeah, we think it's way above our previous titles. I think it's the best-looking racer out there. If you look at our cockpits especially, there are other games with cockpits out there but I do think we've got the most stunning-looking cockpits.

VideoGamer.com: How have you been able to achieve that level of graphical quality given the game hasn't been in development for that long?

SW: Lots of hard work I guess. That's where our background and experience is. All the guys are massive car fans as well. And the great way of how we work, the distributed method of working, we've got guys from all over, so everyone gets to feed back, so it's not just reviewed by one guy, everyone feeds back on everything. So there's been lots of great feedback and it's enabled us to get a product that everyone within the company is happy and pleased with. So yeah, hard work and perseverance! We've got an amazingly talented bunch of guys working for us as well. From the guys who originally started out, and we've got lots of new talent with us as well that have good experience with working on other high-quality titles. The team is amazingly talented. All down to them and lots of hard work! And me whipping them into shape!

VideoGamer.com: The game is due out autumn this year. What platforms will it be released on?

SW: PS3, Xbox 360 and PC. There is a PSP title in development as well but it's not being developed by us.

VideoGamer.com: Will it be simultaneously released across all formats? Will the PC version be out at the same time as the console versions?

SW: Yes.

VideoGamer.com: Traditionally the PS3 has been considered somewhat difficult to develop for. How have you guys found development on the PS3? How much of a challenge has it been getting both versions looking exactly the same?

SW: Yeah it has been a challenge. Our background is obviously in PCs so console development is... we've been working on it a lot recently. It's more tricky to get everything to run on console. Xbox is not quite as similar to a PC as a lot of people think, actually. It definitely has more similarities than the PS3, but there are still quite a lot of differences. So both consoles have given their own hurdles to get over. But we're really happy with where we are at the moment. We're just working on a PlayStation build to run at a really solid frame rate and to get the consoles up to as good a standard. We've got the same assets going into the console builds as well, so everything you see on PC will be exactly the same on console.

VideoGamer.com: You're confident then that the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions will be exactly the same when the game is released?

SW: Yeah.

VideoGamer.com: One of the things that struck me about the game is the simulation of G-Forces with the camera. It seems like an obvious thing but no-one has done it before. Why do you think that is?

SW: Honestly, why nobody's done it before is completely beyond us. It makes perfect sense to us to have all this in. To get across this feeling of actually being in the car - as you see we've got really detailed cockpits, really detailed cars - we're firm believers that the more details, and there's lots of tiny details where you might not even notice them until someone points them out, the more believable it is and therefore the more immersive the gameplay experience will be. To us cockpit view is absolutely essential to get that kind of feeling. The G-Forces - I don't know why it's not been done before, but it makes perfect sense to us and serves to put you actually in the car as well.

VideoGamer.com: Do you think that after SHIFT comes out your rival racing game developers will copy it?

SW: We'll wait and see! But we were there first!

Need for Speed SHIFT will be released on PS3, Xbox 360, PSP and PC in the autumn.