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Interview, part 1: Crackdown 2 design boss and producer on Pacific City’s future

Monday, 23 November 2009 09:04 GMT By Patrick Garratt

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Xbox 360 has several legendary exclusives, but Crackdown is the most enigmatic. Relaying a comedic, near-future dystopia through mob boss murder and an open, island city, the RealTime Worlds title was, for many, the first true HD 360 experience. Assuming the role of an Agent, the player’s task was simple: reclaim the streets while avoiding civilian-vapourisation. Pacific City’s sandbox, drop-in co-op, physics-based action and the ludicrous, all-American VO secured Crackdown a rightful place in the hardcore’s heart.

A second game was not inevitable. Microsoft got cold feet after the original “only” sold 1.5 million, and RealTime Worlds moved onto APB. Braying fans got their wish, though, when staffers split away from RTW to form Ruffian in December 2008 and started work on what was announced at E3 2009 as a full sequel. The wrangling’s well-documented. The game’s more important.

We were lucky enough to visit Ruffian in Dundee last month. The two builds we saw showed enough to confirm that Pacific City’s undergone some huge changes. While the sequel’s set on the same map, we’re now in a post-apocalyptic setting. The Agency gained control at the end of the original, then quickly lost it. A civilian splinter group called the Cell, effectively a terrorist organisation, is calling the shots. The Agency is playing a weak third in the power stakes to the Cell and the Freaks, the mutants that appear near the end of Crackdown.

We’ll wrap up all the detail in a feature tomorrow. In short, it feels like Mad Max on brick-dust smack; it’s got four-way co-op for the entire campaign; nine huge, completely new, underground areas with an “underworld population”; co-op vehicles; new types of orbs; a new hand-to-hand fighting system; fully-featured multiplayer, including modes like Rocket Tag; it’ll be locked at 30fps; Skills are now limited to five levels; and nope, there’s no release date.

Check back in the morning for the preview and play impressions. For now, though, hit the link for our massive interview with Ruffian’s creative director, Billy Thomson, and the game’s producer, James Cope. We’ve put this up in two parts: get the second bit here. There are new screens here.

Interview by Patrick Garratt.

VG247: The obvious one, as far as I’m concerned: there was no real reason in the in the first game to beef up your car powers, and loads of people finished without ever attending to them. What are you doing in the second game to make sure they work properly?

Billy Thomson: To make sure people actually use cars?

Yeah.

Billy Thomson: Well, the cars we’re putting in have a co-op slant to them as well. A lot of the weapons you’ll see in the game have got turreted weapons that are bigger and more powerful, and they can be strapped up onto certain vehicles. Some vehicles can carry up to three of four different turrets as well, so we’re pushing the co-op nature in that respect. We’re also putting in more systems for gaining driving skill as well. So rather than just running people over all the time, which was nothing short of a pain in the arse in the first game, we’re making sure that stuff you do in the cars is actually fun and provide skills for the player as well. It’s small things like that, as well as providing more gameplay modes for players.

A major point of the sequel is that the city isn’t “normal” any more. A huge part of the first game, really the crux of the first game, was that you were a bonkers policeman with the ability to kill whoever you wanted and people just slapped you on the wrist. It was the crux of the humour. How is the humour going to work in the sequel if you’ve removed that elemnent?

Billy Thomson: We’ve not taken it out.

Right.

Billy Thomson: It’s just less likely to happen as frequently as it did in the first game, purely based on numbers. Because what we’ve done, as you rightly mentioned, is a flip, where the mass numbers of AI you’ll see will be the enemies, the Freaks at night. But that’s not going to be a case of not having civilians during the day. You’ll still have civilians wandering around. They’ll be doing their thing with different ambient events that you’ll see in the city. That’ll still be there, and you’ll still get the slap on the wrist from the VAO. We’ve tried to maintain the humour, and if anything we’ve tried to push it forwards as well. It’s not that it’s gone, it just won’t be thousands and thousands and thousands of civilians that you’re ploughing through this time. It’ll be bad guys rather than good guys.

So you’ve still got people saying to you, “That’s the spirit?”

Billy Thomson: [Laughs] It’ll still be in there, yeah.

We really didn’t see much of the missions this morning. Mainly, you were showing of the sandbox elements. How are you going to the narrative into the sandbox elements? Obviously, in the first one, it wasn’t actually that successful, and the popularity basically came from the fact it was a toy. How are you going to bring the story forward?

Billy Thomson: Well, there are different ways. We’ve got video we can play in-game, but one thing we’re not going to do is interrupt the player at any point. With the first game, we spent a long time in various meetings going through different possibilities on how we could convey information to the player in a way that they saw it, understood what it was and it came at a good time; I don’t think we got it right, personally. It constantly came up at the wrong time, and because it came up at the wrong time, all you wanted to do was skip it, and the information that was in there wasn’t that important anyway, really. So this time we wanted to make sure that if the player does get to a point in the structure where information is there and we want the player to see it, we’ll make sure that they can go back and view it again in the UI.

But, there’s almost a multi-thread to the information, to the stories we want to tell. So it’s not just one: it’s multiple characters in different threads that’ll tell different parts of the story, and it’s up to the player to find these parts of the story. You’ve got a core storyline, but you’lve also got bits that are almost like flavouring all around it. If you can find those things in the game, then that’ll provide a more rounded understanding of what Pacific City is, and exactly of what happened, how the city fell into the hands of the Cell, and how the Freaks took hold of the city. All those things unfold as the player plays the game, but they’ll not be forced on the player. The only things that’ll be pushed on the player will be based on the player’s progression through the game, so the story is more reactive. It’s not pressed on the player. The player does something, they get a bit of information. It’s more like that mechanic.

You’ve got four-way co-op throughout the entire campaign.

Billy Thomson: Yeah.

Doesn’t that present a major design challenge? Surely you’re going to go through each of the missions very quickly with four players, but it could take literally four times longer with one player and it could be an awful lot more difficult. Is the game much faster with four players?

Billy Thomson: The honest answer is “yes.”

Right.

Billy Thomson: The very quick answer is “yes”. We had two choices. We could have gone for dynamic balancing of the AI, which I think causes a lot of problems. Think of this scenario: you’re standing at a corner, and you’ve got three guys round the corner, and you’ve got an Uzi. You run round the corner and mow the guys down, and you take very little damage. Now, if we did dynamic balancing, and you add three more players to that game, and you run around another corner and meet the exact same three AI and we’ve upped their health and upped their damage, then your experience from corner to corner is going to be completely different.

So what you’ve just taught the player – that you can just take down three guys in an instant and not need to worry about health – you’ve just changed at the next corner. I think that’s a big issue. So we’ve gone in a slightly different direction, which is to allow to player to balance the difficulty themselves.

If they’ve played through the game, and now they’re playing with three other friends and they’re finding it too easy, they can very easily ramp the difficulty up, to get something that they feel is more akin to their level of experience and their level of ability.

But what we will do is balance the game so it’s something that’s easy for one player to play through. It will be based on one player, and more players make lighter work, essentially, and it’s up to the player if they want to ramp that difficulty right up. While it is a Live title, people will play it on their own as well, and we need to make sure that we get the balance right for those people that play on their own. If more people join in, they can just ramp the difficulty for themselves or they can just fly through the game and do a speed-run. It’s giving the player the freedom to make their own decisions.

James Cope: Also, players think that co-op’s a way of making the game easier anyway. In the first game, people had a particular challenges they couldn’t achieve on their own, and they got in other players to help achieve them, and that’s something we’re going to try to maintain anyway. In a freeform experience, if you have more players it makes it easier. That’s our reputation, so we’re just playing to that basically.

Billy Thomson: I personally preferred the first game on Psychotic. I think it’s a better way of playing it. It makes you think about situations. You pick them off, or you’re dead. I’ll definitely make a point in the sequel of being able to ramp up the difficulty to it’s hard with four players and you really do feel challenged, but it’ll be down to the player to decide whether or not they want to be able to play it on that level.

You’ve got an eight-player “against the Freaks” mode in it. Do you think that was necessary from an aesthetic perspective, or is it basically a reaction to Firefight and Horde?

Billy Thomson: It’s definitely not a reaction. It was an idea that was thrown around that sounded really cool. Maybe somebody else is doing it. I don’t know if anybody else is doing anything like that right now. It just sounded like a great idea, and something that was a challenge for us to try to achieve. I think if we get it right it could work really, really well. It’s definitely not a reaction, because I wasn’t thinking of those game modes when the idea was presented.

James Cope: A lot of us here are big fans of games like Robotron, and we wanted to have that kind of Smash TV experience in Crackdown. Mass AI against a few players is incredibly good fun. Having that arena-based thing, we think, is going to be a fantastic feature. But we appreciate that it is a good idea, so other people are doing it as well [laughs].

Hit this for part 2.

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    Mass Effect boss Mike Gamble has shared a teaser image, which we’re more than happy to draw speculative conclusions from. The new Mass Effect game in the works at BioWare Edmonton is a mysterious beast. Judging by how long it’s been in development, it feels like we’re about due for a proper reveal, to clear […]

  • Watch almost a whole hour of Wolfenstein: The Old Blood

    Wolfenstein: The Old Blood is almost here. Are you ready for old-school shooter action? Wolfenstein: The Old Blood publisher Bethesda livestreamed almost an hour of the Machine Games shooter recently, and has now uploaded the archive to YouTube. Check it out below: Wolfenstein: The Old Blood launches digitally on PC, PS4 and Xbox One on […]

  • Splatoon lacks voice chat to promote a positive online experience

    Nintendo’s multiplayer game Splatoon will not contain a voice chat option in order to “focus on the positive aspects” of online gaming. Speaking in the latest issue of Edge magazine (thanks, GamesRadar), Splatoon co-director Yusuke Amano said personal experience with negativity in online voice chat was one of the main reasons for excluding the feature. […]

  • D4 on PC: differences from Xbox One version, system specs announced

    D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die – Season 1 is coming to PC, and Access Games has provided a list of features different from the Xbox One version. We’ve pulled most of the changes off the game’s website and posted them below, along with the PC specs. D4 on PC Kinect gesture input controls replaced with […]

  • The Megalodon returns to Battlefield 4 with the latest CTE patch

    The Megalodon Easter Egg in Battlefield 4 may have been removed earlier this year from Naval Strike, but it has since resurfaced on the CTE with the latest patch. I’d make a Jaws reference, but it’s been done to death. The shark is shown in the video on the Paracel Storm map which was where […]

  • Survival horror game Kodoku has a new work-in-progress trailer

    Kodoku, the survival horror title from Carnivore Studio, has a new work-in-progress video available, showing you how the game is coming along. Announced for PlayStation 4 and Vita back in 2013, the game is slated for release sometime this year, and tasks the player with avoiding mythical Japanese ghosts using only magic and stealth. Thanks, […]

  • Current HoloLens prototype has noticeably “tighter” FoV compared to January build

    Microsoft’s augmented reality headset HoloLens is still very much in the prototype stage, according to various reports out of the Build Conference. Microsoft hasn’t discussed technical specs with the press yet as nothing is set in stone, but during a hands-on at Build, Ars Technica noticed the prototypes had a “x86 processor, 2GB RAM, 802.11ac […]

  • Silent Hills petition asking Konami to continue development has over 50,000 signatures

    A petition to save the Silent Hills game has been formed by fans in the hopes Konami will change its mind and bring the collaboration with Guillermo del Toro back from the dead. Konami confirmed on Monday the Silent Hill remake from film director Del Toro and Metal Gear’s Hideo Kojima had been cancelled, but […]

  • Attack on Titan has a US release date, title changed in EU over copyright claim

    Attack on Titan: Humanity in Chains will be released under a different title in Europe, according to the publisher, and while a release date has been set for North America, the same cannot be said for fans across the pond. According to Atlus, a copyright claim in Europe has forced the company to publish the […]

  • Yooka-Laylee meets final Kickstarter Stretch Goal in less than 24 hours

    The Kickstarter for Playtonic’s Yooka-Laylee sailed beyond its final £1 million ($1.5 million) Stretch Goal overnight, which will allow for a simultaneous release on all announced platforms. Once funded, Yooka-Laylee was slated for release on Linux, Mac, PC, PlayStation 4, Wii U, and Xbox One; however, a simultaneous release on all platforms wasn’t guaranteed unless […]

  • Not a Hero will miss its May 7 release date, but not by much

    Not a Hero will miss its May 7 release date, according to an announcement from Roll7. Not to worry though, it’s only by a week. According to the developer, the delay is due to “having undergone super-secret upgrades to crank shit up to 60fps.” The extra week will provide the additional time needed for tweaking […]

  • Assassin’s Creed, The Crew, Far Cry 4, other Ubisoft titles on sale through the Humble Store

    Ubisoft has put a number of its games on sale through the Humble Store. Franchises Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry are on discount as are single release titles. The list of games on sale are below. For pricing in your region, head over to the Humble Store. Anno 2070 Complete Edition Assassin’s Creed 3 Assassin’s […]

  • Payday 2: Repeater rifle, Peacemaker pistol introduced with The Butcher’s Western Pack

    Overkill Software released the 21st DLC pack for Payday 2 yesterday, titled The Butcher’s Western Pack. The pack will run you $4.99/€4.99 and other digital distribution channels. “For our 21st DLC we go back in time to visit the Wild West and the arsenal it was known for,” said the developers. “With it we’re introducing […]

  • The Yooka-Laylee Kickstarter just launched and has already met its funding goal

    Playtonic Games launched the Kickstarter campaign for Yooka-Laylee at 5pm UK, and in just over 30 minutes it already hit its $270,000 funding goal. You can watch the funding counter continue to roll over through the link. Yooka-Laylee is a 3D platformer where the characters use special moves such as Yooka’s tongue grapple and Laylee’s […]

  • Batch of hi-res Persona 5 screenshots released by PlayStation Japan

    A set of screenshots have been released for Persona 5, and while you’ve seen these before in magazines and on the official website, these are high-res versions. Some will even look familiar to those who watched the first gameplay trailer back in February. The shots were posted over on the PlayStation Japan Persona 5 game […]

  • Is Alien: Isolation getting HTC Vive support?

    Placeholder images for SteamVR icons have been found and it looks like there may be support for Alien: Isolation, so if you enjoy soiling yourself, get psyched! NeoGAF members found a thread on Reddit, where a little rooting around in a Steam directory unearthed the images. The list includes both games and apps, and as […]

  • Xbox Live multiplayer is free this weekend on Xbox 360

    Xbox 360 players in all Xbox Live regions can play multiplayer online for free this weekend. If you are a Silver member, this means you are Golden from May 1-3 and can play multiple games online with your buddies. All you have to do is log-in to Xbox Live.

  • Assassin’s Creed actor Michael Fassbender confirms film production starts September

    The Assassin’s Creed movie will start production this fall, actor Michael Fassbender (Prometheus, 300, X-Men:First Class) as confirmed. Speaking with ComingSoon.net, Fassbender said filming will start in September, which is inline with Ubisoft’s announcement in February. The actor will star in the film alongside Oscar-winning actress Marion Cotillard, both reuniting with their MacBeth director Justin […]

  • Eve Online boss states VR won’t be as big as we think next year

    I don’t think I’m the only one who wants VR to hurry up and manifest into a Sword Art Online-esque reality. Unfortunately, the chief executive officer at the studio behind Eve Online doesn’t think that will be happening any time soon. Talking to Venture Beat, Hilmar Veigar Pétursson touched on his excitement at the prospects […]

  • The Last of Us: Left Behind goes standalone in May on PS3, PS4

    Naughty Dog has announced that The Last of US DLC Left Behind will be released as a standalone experience next month. It can be purchased for both PlayStation 3 and PS4 through the PS Store and a two-hour demo of the Factions multiplayer will also be made available. “The Left Behind standalone game will have […]

  • EA’s annual E3 press conference takes place on June 15

    Electronic Arts has announced its annual E3 2015 press conference will take place the day before the show kicks off on June 15. EA, Microsoft, Sony and Ubisoft always hold press events the day before E3 officially starts, so this isn’t any surprise, really. The presser, dubbed “Live to Play”, will last one hour and […]

  • Steam exchange rate mix-up closes down community market

    The Steam community market was buggered up big time today after a mix-up with currency conversion had items selling from practically nothing, to millions of dollars. PC Gamer picked up on the news after a thread on Reddit appeared with screenshots depicting just how silly things were getting over there. The currency exchange rate data […]

  • Britney Spears signs five-year deal with Glu for new mobile game

    Pop star Britney Spears has signed a five-year deal with Glu mobile for a new, untitled game. The mobile game will feature her “voice, likeness, and creative influence,” and is due for release sometime next year. Glu also signed a deal with Katy Perry in February, so expect a game revolving around her to hit […]

  • Large Activision publisher sale on Steam discounts Call of Duty, Prototype, more

    Activision has put the majority of its library on sale through Steam this weekend, and if other titles weren’t included, it could be referred to as a Call of Duty sale. Below are a few standouts. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare – Gold Edition 25% off Call of Duty: Ghosts 67% off Call of Duty: […]

  • The Dota 2 International Compendium is out, second Stretch Goal almost complete

    The International Compendium has been released for Dota 2 with the prize pool sitting at a lovely $1,917,155 as of press time. Valve said over the weekend to expect the International Compendium to drop sometime this week. As with previous years, those who purchase the Compendium can earn rewards by completing challenges, making predictions and by […]

  • If permadeath RTS games are up your alley, check out indie project XO

    The Square Enix Collective showcases projects for a limited time to help drum up community support and potential backers, and RTS title XO from Jumpdrive Studios is worth taking a look at. The teaser trailer is fairly brief, but if you visit the page for XO over at the Square Enix Collective, it’s understandable – […]

  • GTA 5 PC patch disables mods. Here’s how to get them working again

    A new patch for the PC version of GTA 5 was released yesterday and, as it turns out, has wiped the ability to use mods with the game. The wasn’t great news for some players, but YouTuber taltigolt has already figured out how to play the PC version with mods after installing the patch. Matt […]

  • Xbox One ad stealth launches a mysterious Halo 5 competition

    A new Xbox One advert released today isn’t as straightforward as it appears. The trailer has a couple of pretty conspicuous ‘glitches’ throughout, and members of NeoGAF wasted no time in breaking it down. The first item of interest is the screen from the hunt the signal site, which displays an error message when accessed […]

  • Battlefield 4 Jungle map improved with latest update

    DICE LA has updated the Battlefield 4 Jungle map, adding more foliage and a new route. As demonstrated by Westie in the video above, the map now has the kind of foliage you’d expect in the jungle, helping to conceal infantry players. The update also tweaks positions of objective points and has added a concealed […]

  • Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate free DLC pack for May includes Metroid and Mega Man armour

    The May DLC pack for Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate boasts some big ticket items, including Metroid, Street Fighter, and Mega Man gear. This big fat chunk of free DLC, detailed on the capcom unity blog, includes Hunter equipment: Metroid’s Varia Suit Metroid’s Zero Suit Metroid’s Arm Cannon Taiko Drum Master Hunting Horn USJ’s Star Rook […]

  • Destiny: Xur location and inventory for May 1, 2 – Hard Light edition

    Here he comes with his weird face, dealing goods and gear for Guardians. It’s Friday. Xur: Agent of the Nine is back in the Tower. Of Course he is. Got your Strange Coins? Here’s what’s in his bag this week: Ruin Wings [Exotic Titan gauntlets] – 13SC Don’t Touch Me [Exotic Hunter gauntlets] – 13SC […]

  • Dragon Age: Inquisition Jaws of Hakkon DLC drops for PS4 on May 26

    Dragon Age: Inquisition DLC has now been announced for May 26 for PS3, PS4 and Xbox 360. The announcement was made on Twitter via the official Dragon Age account. Mark your calendars! #DAIJawsOfHakkon pic.twitter.com/mU1WfkSrQV — Dragon Age (@dragonage) May 1, 2015 The DLC was released for PC and Xbox One back in March thanks to […]

  • New Witcher 3 screenshots highlight Geralt’s questionable fashion choices

    Even though The Witcher 3 release date is drawing closer, it still feels like a million year away. So here are some more screenshots to tide you over until then. We got to look at in-game shots yesterday, but these new screens show Geralt riding through some gorgeously vibrant mountains, in the midst of combat […]

  • Sims Gurus patch out pregnant men

    Say goodbye to The Sims 4 unique take on fatherhood, as The Sims Gurus confirm that male pregnancies are no more. The Sims 4 players have been reporting high numbers of alien abductions, leaving their male characters with sore bottoms and a bellyful of alien baby. Kotaku reports that not everyone was getting their knickers […]