Criterion Separation: Founders Quit Burnout Dev Studio

By Graham Smith on January 6th, 2014 at 9:00 am.

This image is a metaphor for freedom.

Fiona Sperry and Alex Ward have left the company they founded, Criterion Games. The EA subsidiary has gone through some major changes recently, starting in September 2013 when the majority of its employees were moved over to a new studio called Ghost Games. That team is focused on the continued development of the Need for Speed series, while Criterion’s remaining 17 employees set about creating something new codenamed ‘Project Zero’.

Why should you care, I defensively imagine you asking.

There’s a lot of videogame conspiracies, but here’s the only one that’s real: somewhere out there there’s a group of games known as the Secret Best Games. If you have some free time, if you’re a bit bored of other games, and if can find them, maybe you can play them. The Criterion-developed Burnout Paradise is one of those games. It looks like just-another-racing game, but it’s secretly an under-appreciated gem. And it’s already quite appreciated. Jim sung its praises. John sang its praises. I’m singing its praises right now.

That’s why it’s interesting to me what Criterion might be working on next, and interesting that the company’s founders have moved on to do something on their own. Alex Ward confirmed via Twitter that he and Sperry were starting a new game company.

Back in October, Edge Online’s Neil Long did some digging into what Criterion’s project might be. The hints he found almost all come from Ward and Sperry, so the guesswork is equally relevant to what they might be working on next.

Although I hope not because that probably means it’s free-to-play. I’m crossing my fingers instead for some sort of crowdfunded space game set in an outerspace filled entirely with billboards you can rocket your spaceship directly through. The best kind of space game.

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50 Comments »

  1. Erinduck says:

    I dunno, I liked Burnout Paradise a fair bit, but I think there’s a reason it’s so underapTAKE ME DOWN TO THE PARADISE CITY WHERE THE GRASS IS GREEN AND THE GIRLS ARE PRETTY TAKE ME HOME JUST A’ URCHIN LIVIN’ UNDER THE STREET I’M A HARD CASE THAT’S TOUGH TO BEAT I’M YOUR CHARITY CASE SO BUY ME SOMETHIN’ TO EAT I’LL PAY YOU AT ANOTHER TIME TAKE IT TO THE END OF THE LINE RAGZ TO RICHEZ OR SO THEY SAY YA GOTTA-KEEP PUSHIN’ FOR THE FORTUNE AND FAME IT’S ALL A GAMBLE WHEN IT’S JUST A GAME YA TREAT IT LIKE A CAPITAL CRIME EVERYBODY’S DOIN’ THEIR TIME STRAPPED IN THE CHAIR OF THE CITY’S GAS CHAMBER WHY I’M HERE I CAN’T QUITE REMEMBER THE SURGEON GENERAL SAYS IT’S HAZARDOUS TO BREATHE I’D HAVE ANOTHER CIGARETTE BUT I CAN’T SEE TELL ME WHO YOU’RE GONNA BELIEVE SO FAR AWAY SO FAR AWAY SO FAR AWAY SO FAR AWAY CAPTAIN AMERICA’S BEEN TORN APART NOW HE’S A COURT JESTER WITH A BROKEN HEART HE SAID- TURN ME AROUND AND TAKE ME BACK TO THE START I MUST BE LOSIN’ MY MIND- “ARE YOU BLIND?” I’VE SEEN IT ALL A MILLION TIMES

    • N'Al says:

      Hah, yes, this.

    • hamburger_cheesedoodle says:

      That song is so bad it makes me not want to play the game. The only way I can get in is to mute my headphones until after the ignition has been turned.

      • PopeRatzo says:

        The game was so good it made me like that horrible song.

        • dE says:

          I have nightmares about that song…
          Gifted the game to a family member and somehow his virus infested machine never got past the title screen but seemed like it was doing something. He didn’t want to slam the gift, so he thought “maybe I’ll just let it run a while and it’ll settle right in”.
          Queue 2 fucking hours of increasingly colder and more hostile atmosphere as the bloody song was on an eternal loop. He couldn’t lower the volume, no sir no, he’d miss if actually something happened that way because he was busy doing other stuff. And he couldn’t give up, that’d be slamming a gift by someone you don’t want to upset. By the end I was practically begging him to just delete the game. :|
          Now everytime I start the game, I hear that song and feel the need to punch a wall and in succession instantly wipe the game off the HD again. Just can’t play it anymore.

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      Lambchops says:

      Not to mention DJ fucking Atomica.

      • SanguineAngel says:

        Which is to say, one should not mention Him. At least without a trigger warning or something

  2. CrazyPaladin says:

    Sigh. I was always waiting for a true burnout sequel, I’m sick and tired of these burnout games under the skin of need for speed. Being a burnout paradise follow-up or something traditional, I don’t mind, I would love both. Maybe a spiritual sequel by these 2 guys?
    Actually burnout paradise is like the only sandbox-based game that I actually liked. You feel like you truly have things to do and somewhere to explore. I mean what’s the fun of endless massacre of random dumb NPCs anyway?

    • hamburger_cheesedoodle says:

      I’ve quite liked some of the NFS games, and I rather enjoyed Burnout Paradise. But I hate, hate, hate the NFS/Burnout mashup thing that EA is doubtless forcing on Criterion/ex-Criterion. Both games do things very well on their own, but when combined, it felt like the worst parts of both smushed together.

    • Guvornator says:

      And by guys you mean 1 guy and 1 lady person ;) Burnout games have always been cracking entertainment, but it would be good to see what else they’re capable of. 10 pounds says Criterion are renamed EA Vroom Vroom or similar by the end of the year, and shut down in 2015. Which would be a shame.

    • PopeRatzo says:

      Actually burnout paradise is like the only sandbox-based game that I actually liked. You feel like you truly have things to do and somewhere to explore.

      That’s it in a nutshell. It’s leagues ahead of any other sandbox-based racing game.

  3. ran93r says:

    I quite enjoyed the latest Most Wanted but I wished it were a bit more Burnoutey.
    I will probably pick up Rivals at some point but I’m excited to see what comes out of their new studio.

  4. SanguineAngel says:

    Ah Graham, you have been ill informed! It is actually Burnout Revenge that is a member of the SBG. Common knowledge on the inside but an understandable error for a fringer such as yourself.

    • Steven Hutton says:

      Burnout Takedown or nothing

      • SanguineAngel says:

        ah man, even better! How could I have been so blind?

      • Themadcow says:

        Burnout 2 and Takedown were both excellent. It’s a shame that the series seemed to lose some of it’s fun after those entries. Burnout Paradise is OK but just doesn’t deliver the thrills of those games (which felt like modern versions of the classic Arcade game Chase HQ).

        Even my Mrs, who generally dislikes gaming, spent a silly number of hours engineering high-scoring destruction in Burnout 2′s Crash Mode.

        • Guvornator says:

          The Crash Junctions were a great unifier, I found. Pretty much anyone willing to pick up a controller can have fun with it.. I have no idea what they were thinking of getting rid of it, especially to replace it with Showtime, which was abominable.

    • Guvornator says:

      Burnout Revenge a) wasn’t on the pc and b) wasn’t a secret on account of how everyone who could buy it, bought it. Whereas Paradise didn’t sell on the PC, for which you should all be ashamed. Yes, you. You as well. And at the back there.

      • hayesmaker says:

        I bought it

      • Asurmen says:

        Possibly because it came out a year after the consoles, by which time everyone who cared already had it on consoles, and they didn’t really advertise that it was out?

      • Hahaha says:

        It’s not really a secret though is it…..

      • PopeRatzo says:

        I bought it twice because I wanted to create a brand new account and start every part of the game from the beginning.

  5. felisc says:

    *whispers* shazbot !

  6. SuicideKing says:

    Well, not surprised. Criterion wasn’t allowed to make Burnout, nor were they making NFS. A weird mix of the two that didn’t seem to do either things properly.

    I’ve not liked NFS games at all since Criterion took over, after all, if i had any interest in playing Burnout, i’d not be playing NFS.

    For me, the purest NFS will remain NFS II SE (nostalgia factor too, i guess), though Hot Pursuit II was also quite enjoyable.

    • Axess Denyd says:

      I don’t mean to be a spelling Nazi, but you seem to have quite seriously misspelled “Porsche Unleashed”

  7. Viroso says:

    Maybe if you can find friends to play with Paradise is fun. Otherwise, due to the open world mechanic, you have this:

    -Pausing the game and checking the map halfway through a race because the game doesn’t remotely hint you where the finish line is

    -Crap everywhere, like lamp posts, bus stops, all sorts of things you find in a real world city but that do not serve any purpose for a racing game. It becomes visual clutter, further making it hard for you to find your way, or random objects you can crash on in unexpected ways.

    -Since this game lacks the great visual clues and signs of past Burnout games, no vehicle in this game is as fast as what you had in previous titles, because it’d be too hard to navigate (or because they can’t load the open world fast enough).

    -Tracks are mostly one long path with barely any curves or a series of 45º turns when a track happens inside a city block.

    -Buncha annoying notifications exploding on your screen every second. Even more than in any other Burnout game.

    -You need to actually find and drive your way to the next event, and you only find out exactly what the event is once you’re there. This may sound fun at first but soon it becomes a bit annoying.

    -Racing the same tracks, or small modifications of the same tracks, over and over again.

    Before playing the game I thought the open world element was going to be awesome, then I realized that an open world just gets in the way of making a good track. Gone are the awesome the awesome turns, drifts, WELL placed obstacles and hilarious speed of past games.

    • KenTWOu says:

      I wanted to like Burnout Paradise, but I found a million reasons (including well described above) to hate it. I still don’t understand why RPS is praising this really gamey console game so much. From my point of view its core gameplay loop is simply broken.

      • PopeRatzo says:

        I have the opposite opinion. I don’t think RPS’ praise of Burnout Paradise does the game justice. I would go much farther. It’s the best arcade style racer ever done and it was by far the best value of any game I have ever purchased.

    • Stardreamer says:

      Everything Viroso said.

      Yeah, this is another one of RPS’ pet games that, for me, just didn’t live up to their hype. It’s fun for a while but I found little of the magic that attracted me to Burnouts 1 & 2 back in the day, and uninstalled less than a week after purchase.

    • Asurmen says:

      Well, the first point isn’t true. During the race pre start it tells you precisely where the race ends.

      The second is part of the point to me. It’s a racing game set in a city. I expect these things to be there, and crashing is the whole point of Burnout practically, especially in the modes where that’s the point! Also, having these supposedly random elements increases the skill ceiling. There’s more stuff to avoid other than merely other cars.

      Not sure what you mean by this point. What exactly are these great visual signs? Got to disagree with the whole long path without curves or inner city being just 45 degree turns as well.

      The notifications and same tracks issues I agree with but not to the point where I didn’t enjoy the game.

      • Viroso says:

        What mean by not giving you a clue is what happens while you’re racing. There are many paths, I don’t even want the game to tell me the correct one or the faster one, that’s the whole point of being open world, it’s so you can figure it out yourself, but at least tell me where NOT to go or give me a constant very vague notion of which direction I should be going.

        In other games you had absolutely huge lit up floating magic arrows showing there’d be a hard turn and the tracks in general were built in a way that you could see what the hell was coming, that vaguely hinted you the track’s geography.

        In this game, it’s a city, it isn’t even a fun to race city. There aren’t clues anywhere. There are tons of paths, shortcuts that lead you away from when want to go, paths that throw you in a street with no return, etc.

        The whole problem is that it was designed to be a city, not even some wacky racing game city. So things are awkwardly placed for a racing game. I like obstacles in Burnout, it was the whole point. I recall this tunnel with impossibly placed columns that forced you to zig zag, the cars, the many other things you’d find in your way.

        But in previous Burnout games, they were placed with racing in mind. So it worked, they managed to be challenging but they’d fit a racing game. Even the cars didn’t just spawn anywhere, so you’d never have a situation where you’re going at top speed and get hit by an incoming car you couldn’t see at an intersection, which happens in Paradise.

        I’m sure the game has a high, possibly higher, skill ceiling, simply because of all of the random elements. But the skill it is asking me isn’t one I think makes the game better. What the game wants me to learn is the entire layout of this city, I don’t care for that.

        I love learning tracks, mastering them, but learning the entire city is a pain. Specially because it’s different. A track has only one way, maybe a few shortcuts, and with every lap I get the hang of each part. Through practice, and some light experimentation, I improve.

        With Burnout Paradise it requires a LOT of experimentation, and sometimes you can’t afford to experiment because you’ll be harshly punished, sent down a crappy path. With Paradise, experimenting also means opening up the map, which sucks in the middle of a race. Paradise just has too many paths, too many shortcuts, too many poorly placed obstacles.

        Racing games are kinda like platformers or even fighting games and rhythm games. They’re games that require you to master a long set of commands, it’s like learning every step in a dance, but you learn it in an intuitive way, simply by following and feeling the track. In paradise, the learning isn’t intuitive, it’s something you have to focus on, work at.

        For me that’s a distraction, and for the game it’s a distraction too. It forces the game to give up some other elements, such as the breakneck speed the series was known for or well crafted tracks.

        Instead you get a bunch of repetitive paths. The thing that makes a track unique isn’t just the amount of curves, length, or stuff like that. What makes a track unique, and fun, is often one or maybe a couple of segments that do something like no other track. You don’t really find much of that in Paradise. There are barely any interesting segments in the game. They exist, but you rarely get to race in them.

        And look at the game’s map
        http://www.operationburnout.com/paradise-assets/drivethrus/drive-thru-map.jpg

        The city is split in blocks, so you mostly get 45/90 degree turns and they’re all too similar. The mountain area has some cool turns, but it’s mostly nearly straight paths with veeery smooth curves. For me, most of the game wasn’t fun to race.

        • plugmonkey says:

          “What mean by not giving you a clue is what happens while you’re racing.”

          What?! The car’s indicators flash! How can you not notice that?! It even goes “tick-tick-tick” or “tock-tock-tock” depending on whether it was left or right! That’s TWO clues!

          Fancy driving at 200mph through a crowded city centre and not looking at your indicators! What’s wrong with you man?!

          “no vehicle in this game is as fast as what you had in previous titles”

          They are. Unless you’re talking about ‘boost jumping’ in Revenge, but that was a bug. Maybe you didn’t get that far, seeing as it wasn’t your cup of tea, but the last half dozen or so were as fast as anything that had gone before.

          Everything else, I can’t really deny. It was definitely at its best as a social multiplayer experience of just cocking about. It gave you an experience I hadn’t had since all my friends had BMXs.

    • Laurentius says:

      Can’t say i disagree, of this open world type of racing games, ultimately i found Test Drive Unlimited far more enjoyable and with vastly superior lasting appeal.

      • PopeRatzo says:

        Test Drive Unlimited just didn’t have that lovely sense of light and space and place that Burnout Paradise had. It was just so damn geographical.

        Hell, I even came to develop a certain fondness for DJ Atomika.

    • Iceman346 says:

      I absolutely agree. I played Burnout Revenge on the 360 before and just loved that game. But Paradise basically lost everything that was fun about Revenge, even the music selection was horrible by comparison.

      I bought Paradise on sale for about 8 Euros and I still regretted it.

  8. Snargelfargen says:

    My favourite part of Burnout Paradise was the Challenges, where you chose a bunch of ridiculous goals and invited 7 random people to help*. Trying to get near misses with 7 other people in a drift loop, doing jumps over each other (on ramps that, disastrously allowed people to jump from BOTH directions), barrel rolls in the airfield…. good times.

    *”help” in most cases meaning crashing into other players at the funniest time possible

  9. TwwIX says:

    What? Another founder of a classic studio departs from the clutches of EA?

    This seems to be a new trend for EA. Let’s hope it continues!

  10. Lionmaruu says:

    ohboy, Burnout paradise is my favorite arcade style racing game ever! I own it on pc and xbox 360.
    I hope they can keep making games like burnout, since piece of shit AE don’t and stole their ideas for the crappy nfs series.

  11. bill says:

    Midtown Madness is the true Secret PC Open World Racer.
    MM2 would have been, but they tweaked the collisions a bit too much.

  12. The Random One says:

    I hated Burnout Paradise. The open world city was essentially used as a main menu, and having to drive my car to the beginning of the race was a chore. And of course that if I want to try the race with another car I have to drive back to the garage and pick up the other car and go back to the starting point. And even during the races the open world didn’t work, because there were only a few tracks where alternate routes are feasible and many where you need to figure out the One True Path or you have no chance of winning. THERE I SAID IT, TRUTH BOMBS DROPPED

  13. Themadcow says:

    So, in summary then… we want Burnout 1-3 with nice shiny graphics? That would do for me…

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      FriendlyFire says:

      This. I liked Paradise (and I enjoyed Most Wanted), but none of those later games can match Takedown. That game was just extremely well put together and a lot more focused.

  14. Ginger Yellow says:

    . If you have some free time, if you’re a bit bored of other games, and if can find them, maybe you can play them.

    So, Project Zero is an A-Team game?

  15. PopeRatzo says:

    I loved Burnout Paradise more than any other racing game ever. I loved it so much that I bought it for Playstation 3 as well as PC even though I don’t own a PS3. I was housesitting for a friend for three weeks and he had a PS3 and I went out and bought it because it was just a blast to play. There was just something about all the different types of things you could do in the game and the wild variety of music and clever design of the city that was just exhilarating. Eventually, I turned the music of the game off and played my favorite mp3s and then new mp3s that I thought would be fun for an arcade racer.

    While the more recent Criterion games with the NFS series were pretty good, none of them could touch Burnout Paradise. For example, NFS RIvals is very good, but there are no urban environments in which to race and pursue. Rivals was my last hope that Criterion would at last make another Burnout Paradise, but alas, it was not to be (although I’m still enjoying Rivals).

    Please, please please, anyone from Criterion or anyone who has left Criterion or any other developer, PLEASE make an updated Burnout Paradise with a bigger map, more things to do, and the lovely lovely light and space. Take the engine from NFS:Most Wanted (Criterion version) and just give us a huge map. Let us play as cops like Rivals and let there be stunt driving and Marked Man and points for spectacular crashes and destruction and billboards and gates. Have the challenges like elapsed time for every street and burning routes. Lots of challenges. Hundreds of hours of gameplay.

    I would be happy to pay $100 or more for such a PC game.

  16. PopeRatzo says:

    One more thing: I went to the linked article filled with those ex-Criterion tweets. My big takeaway is that Alex Ward appears to be a total tool.

    He’s convinced that “socially-connected, free-2-play” games are where it’s at, which shows that he’s a follower, not a leader.

    Socially-connected, free-2-play games are only the future for people who hate computer games. It sounds like Mr Ward has either gotten married, had kids, or has decided that creativity is too hard and it’s time to fluff up the 401k while the getting’s good. I seriously doubt we will ever see anything worthwhile again spring from the head of Alex Ward.

    The good news is that there are almost certainly little studios in Eastern Europe that are ready to dine out on the carcass of Alex Ward and his ilk.

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      jrodman says:

      I think there will be social free to play games in the future, though. I just don’t think they’re going to make a lot of money while being great games. If Zynga is failing, who is making the money now?

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      Nogo says:

      Ya, fuckin sell out.

      (grow up)

  17. captain nemo says:

    I’ve had a ton of enjoyment from Burnout over the years, mainly from “Burnout2:Point of Impact” & Paradise.
    I’ve tried NFS but it does’nt really do it for me.
    I wish Sperry & Ward well.
    Hopefully DJ Atomica & EA Traxs are being consigned to rubbish bin of history

  18. Sharlie Shaplin says:

    Screw all this Burnout drivel. Me and 20 other people want Sub Culture 2!