Last month 360Monster was invited as part of the Microsoft Xbox Community Network (XCN) to submit a selection of questions, which would be answered in a Q&A session with the developers of Crackdown. We put this to our community via our forum and in return we received some pressing questions from our members. The most interesting and inventive questions were selected and submitted towards the Q&A interview.
What follows an in-depth Q&A exclusive to XCN members with Real Time Worlds.
The game is obviously free-roaming, but will the game also include set objectives and an underlying set storyline or is the game fully “sandbox” in which there are some different endings in the game?
The main objectives of the game are to take down the seven bosses within each of the three gangs. Each of these radically different mission areas are integrated into the game world and can be attacked in any order the player wishes. It’s recommended that the player develops his skills before attacking some of them, but there’s nothing to stop him trying and, if he’s good enough, succeeding! We provide background intel on all of the 21 gang bosses and this provides the back-story to each gang’s activities as well as plenty of motivation for the player to get medieval on them!
Story was one of the interesting challenges in creating the first truly freeform urban action experience. We asked ourselves, “If the player can go and do anything any time, completing objectives in whatever order he pleases, then how can we tightly weave a plot line into it?” The simple answer is that we can’t; in Crackdown the player creates his own crime fighting story, a unique story, a story he’s much more likely to want to share with other players.
Was there any difficulty implementing the multiplayer in an open world game?
Definitely! Everything in the solo game is pushed to the limit. We have an environment drawn to the horizon and heavily populated with characters, vehicles and various other objects that can all be influenced by a powerful physics engine. Duplicating the entire solo experience for the co-op game by making sure nothing is left out has been our greatest challenge. In addition, the programming team begged us to keep the players together at all times. However, we wanted the core goal of player freedom to extend to the co-op game, so players can go anywhere and do anything anytime. The programming team also insisted that we shouldn’t include vehicles that travel at well over 200mph in a fully streaming environment, let alone a co-op one, but we did it anyway! The list goes on, and we’re delighted that we pushed the programming team so hard that they delivered the seemingly impossible.
Will there be new content and things to do in the coop mode, or will it be the same as the single-player game?
It’s exactly the same content, but it’s often been said that it’s twice the game!
Many people have labeled Crackdown a “GTA wannabe”. How do you feel about this kind of statement, especially when you were involved with the original GTA?
Well, in so far as it’s what Dave Jones always wanted GTA to be, I guess that’s true! It’s a shame that so many action games set in open urban environments have been attempting to offer nothing more than a GTA style experience. It means that a game like Crackdown comes along and people immediately assume that it functions in the same way. The Crackdown team really enjoys the GTA games and, as you stated, many of them have been involved in their development. So, we know we’re offering a very different experience.
Do you intend to make the main character have more impact on his environment? So far the footage we have seen makes him appear very light on his feet, more like a Spider-Man or Daredevil type character than a Hulk or Thing.
The principal goal of the character movement was to deliver pace and fluidity. We wanted the player to seamlessly grab ledges, thrust upwards to a rooftop and then leap out into an open space while searching for his next foothold. An Agent is a type of super hero. One of the five skills he develops is agility. The Hulk might be able to jump huge distances, but I don’t think we’d ever describe him as agile! Of course, an agent can also develop his strength and as he bulks-up you will certainly notice him becoming more “Hulk-like.”
Can you tell us about the usage of the 360-CPU? How have you managed the three cores in Crackdown?
I can’t really answer with specifics because an enormous amount of protected R&D has gone into making Crackdown the game it is. I can tell you that all those characters running complex AI, vehicles hammering around the streets, true physics behaviours, explosions, etc. taking place in such a complex vertical environment is pushing the 360 to the limit. With so many ‘same again’ titles surfacing on the next-gen platforms, it’s great to have produced a title that really couldn’t have been properly realized until now.
Open-ended and perpetual are watchwords that are being used an awful lot in describing games recently, including Crackdown. Indeed you are behind the biggest world in console history, Grand Theft Auto. How does Crackdown take this type of game to the next level?
No other game has provided a truly freeform urban action experience. I know, it sounds like a bold claim, but if you don’t believe me then, when it’s available, download the demo from marketplace and decide for yourself! Persistence is obviously a big feature of a game like this: if the player stacks a bunch of explosives somewhere then he expects them to stay and if he totals a block’s worth of traffic then he expects the carnage to stick around. We’ve balanced the level of persistence rather than pushed it to the limit because we found that if we go too far then the world becomes too devastated to be fun!
What kind of guns do you have in the game?
Originally we toyed with the idea of going a bit sci-fi & MiB with the weaponry, but in the end the more military and contemporary street gang style weaponry packed the meatiest punch. Plus it felt the best in the player’s hands. Of course, some of these weapons have been pushed to the extreme and a couple couldn’t have possibly been held and fired by a conventional soldier.
Suffice it to say, there are plenty of varied weapons to appropriate from cold, dead fingers. Returning these to the hidden Agency Supply Points scattered around the city will permanently assign them to the Agent’s inventory.
The graphic novel visuals are very distinctive. Why did you go for this visual style, and what does it add to the gameplay?
Well visuals never add anything to gameplay and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise! 😉 We prototyped this game with flat coloured, flat shaded, blocky environment and skeletal characters. That prototype delivered on what’s core to the playability of the finished product. When that happens, you know you’re making a game for the right reasons! Quite rightly though, we all want a big slice of spectacle served on the side of our gameplay. We’re confident you’ll agree that Crackdown more than delivers on that too!
As you’ll no doubt have realized by now, everything in Crackdown is turned up to 11. We haven’t blown our budgets on a handful of extremely detailed characters or vehicles. Instead we’ve created a previously unseen world where thousands of people and hundreds of vehicles are visible at any one time in an environment that, from the always-accessible rooftops, can be seen in full. We wanted Crackdown to stand apart visually rather than follow the flock, so with the OTT action and superhuman abilities we quickly settled on a graphic novel stylization as a perfect fit.
The graphics technologies required to nail this look have largely been cutting-edge and difficult to achieve. This has worked against us over the last year or so as we released video footage and screens while the visual style was still in development. Take a look at the latest media though and you’ll see what our intentions always were; we’re certainly extremely pleased with the results.
There are three gangs terrorizing the city. Asians, Russians and Mexicans. Do the gangs interact with each other?
Microsoft’s geopolitical department would have a field day with this question! But yes, though there is a fairly balanced inter-gang status quo across the city before the Agency kicks into action, the gangs do from time to time engage each other in open warfare. When this happens the player can move in for some easier kills or just sit back and let nature run its course.
The gangs predominantly speak in their native tongue – Los Muertos in Spanish and The Volk in Russian. I should say that, though the Shai-Gen Corporation is of Asian origin, the board of directors (gang hierarchy) is completely multi racial. Therefore, their corporate language is English.
Can you describe how the player develops new skills and abilities as the game progresses?
All skills can be developed by killing. In fact, internally we refer to it as ‘skills for kills’! Hand to hand combat is one way to develop the strength skill, but any kill resulting from an act of brute strength will develop that attribute (i.e. bowling a dumpster through a bunch of enemies and then using one of the resulting bodies to beat the life out of the others). In this case the incentive isn’t just to become tougher for the harder missions, it’s to smash up previously indestructible barriers, rip up streetlights, use them as weapons, and hurl trucks across freeways into the path of an oncoming gang vehicle. Everyone wants to be a super agent!
As for developing the other skills: make kills from altitude and the agility skill is developed to the point where the player can leap Matrix-style from rooftop to rooftop; run down the bad guys (while surgically dodging the innocents) to develop driving skill and use of firearms and explosives should speak for itself. In testing we’ve found people fooling around with vehicles for hours on end: performing massive jumps, nailing stunts or simply completing races again and again. The mantra has always been to reward with skill progression any actions that players perform repeatedly AND continue to find fun. In fact many activities in the game will result in skill bonuses. The agility skill can also be developed by collecting markers scattered across hundreds of rooftops throughout the city.
Why did you go for coop multiplay instead of competitive? And is competitive multiplay planned as a surprise?
That’s a funny question because almost all cooperative game sessions regularly deteriorate into all-out death matches before a truce has to be called. It’s a lot of fun, particularly in the unique world of Crackdown, so we obligingly keep score until the score is settled.
As for more complex multiplay, that would also be awesome but it’s a different kind of game compared to the one we’ve made here. Plus, I’ve never been one for ruining surprises either…
What kind of areas are included in the huge city and will there be other locations outside of the urban sprawl?
The city is divided into three main districts, with a fourth island at its centre forming the base of Agency operations. The districts are all uniquely themed to their host gang. The mission locations within them are all original and distinct, from the lighthouse and surrounding caves, to an offshore oil rig, to floor after floor of a towering skyscraper. As you can tell from those examples, we have many rural locations away from the city lights. We wanted the size and scale of Pacific City to overwhelm the player to begin with, but only to begin with. Through exploration and character development you should eventually get to know the full environment really well and take ownership – it becomes your city!
People might initially see Crackdown as a GTA clone, but in which directions did you want to take the game to set it apart?
The most obvious answer to this question is ‘up’. In Crackdown we’ve created a highly detailed vertical environment providing a true play volume for the intense action. In Crackdown the player is a crime-fighting super-soldier in the same morality mould as Judge Dredd. The city is his playground, everything in it are his toys. He has one clear objective: remove all trace of crime, but how he goes about doing this is entirely up to him – there is no restriction of a linear plotline; he becomes immensely powerful and regularly performs spectacular actions. So I guess you could say the directions in which we wanted to set the game apart from GTA was ‘all of ‘em’!
Will there be a punishment for a player committing repeated criminal acts against innocents?
Collateral damage is acceptable up to a point, but beyond that the Agent will be warned to minimize civilian casualties. If players persistently ignore warnings then an APB goes out to the local police force, the Peacekeepers, to take down the rogue Agent. The higher the Agent’s skill the greater the onslaught he’ll have to endure for his sins. Taking flight to the rooftops can be advisable at times like this.
The gangs actually perform in a similar way – kill too many of them and you piss them off, kill a boss and you really piss them off which results in hit squads that track you down and, if successfully dispatched, become a great source of skill development
The coop-mode sounds very interesting. Can you explain how it will work and how we can play it with our friends?
One of the great things about the co-op feature is that players can dip in and out of each other’s games at any time. Games can be opened up to accept join requests from anyone or just friends if preferred. If you’re having a hard time with a particular gang boss, you could invite your friend in to help out. If you’ve arranged to meet up in the game then there’s no reason to wait at a lobby just play the game until your friend’s join request pops up.
Thank you for your time guys!