Inside The Crew’s connected next-gen playground, Ivory Tower speaks

By Dave Cook, Thursday, 15 August 2013 08:47 GMT

The Crew developer Ivory Tower talks VG247’s Dave Cook through its huge open-world racer and explains how next-gen tech makes it all possible.

The Crew

Developed by Ivory Tower, The Crew is an open-world racer heading to PC, PS4 and Xbox One in early 2014.

It was recently confirmed that The Crew has been in development for over four years.

Ubisoft has confirmed that The Crew has 10,000km of road and no player-limit.

You can check out The Crew’s E3 2013 trailer and debut screens here.

Announced by Ubisoft at E3 2013, The Crew is the next-gen, open world racer from the former Test Drive Unlimited developers that make up Ivory Tower. It’s big, it’s online and it’s indicative of where tomorrow’s connected play-spaces are headed.

Like Destiny, Titanfall, The Division and scores of fellow next-gen releases, The Crew’s heart consists of persistent online features that deliver a populated, socially-integrated world teeming with competition, collaboration and interaction.

It’s clear that this space is where several publishers see the future of online gaming, and with a 5000 km-squared rendition of North America to play with, Ivory Tower has laid out high ambitions for the format. Make no mistake, this game is huge.

I recently spoke with the game’s creative director Julian Gerighty to get a handle on the scale of The Crew’s world and the online features buried within.

“The Crew surely features one of the biggest playgrounds ever conceived in videogames,” Gerighty explained. “The map is about 5000 km² big and features 10000km of road. To travel from coast-to-coast with the fastest car in the game would take you about one hour and a half if you stick to the road. A little longer if you’re going off-road.”

Here’s The Crew’s E3 2013 trailer in full.

To avoid falling into that old trap of making an open world that feels barren, Gerighty added that Ivory Tower has put variety firmly at the forefront of design. As you cruise the landscape you’ll be able to drink in the sights of rolling hills, dense forests, bustling cities, quiet suburbs and sunny beaches all with 1,000 real-world landmarks peppered throughout.

“Variety is essential because it allows our designer s to create an experience where you constantly have to challenge yourself and adapt to new conditions,” Gerighty continued. “A police chase or even the simplest outrun feels completely different when they are set in the scorching canyons of Nevada rather than in the busy streets of NYC.”

Of course, variety isn’t purely visual, and Gerighty explained that within this ever-changing backdrop players will have a slew of online-enabled missions that span street racing, time trials, smuggler’s runs and rally raid courses – as well as campaign missions that can be tackled solo if a player wishes.

Gerighty confirmed that The Crew was always coined as an online, open world racer and that the team’s work on Test Drive Unlimited spurred it on to further explore what could be possible within such a setting moving forward. Given the advanced clout of next-gen formats and the increasing interest in emergent gameplay across the board, the decision was a no-brainer.

“We thought of The Crew as a connected driving game right from the beginning,” he continued, “because the ability to create living worlds and interactions between players is something that really got us excited. In that regard The Crew is a foray into the genre but our bet is that we’ll be seeing a lot more of open world games in the future.

“What does that bring to the table for videogames? Well, you now share the same world and therefore you’re part of a community but perhaps the most important thing is that it creates a stimulating environment in which your accomplishments are all the more valuable and motivating because they are shared with peers.

“This is not particular to driving games but instant competition and showing-off have always been popular among gear heads and that’s why we thought of The Crew as a connected driving game right from the beginning. With that in mind we designed the user interface as to facilitate instant cooperation and crew building.”

Building a crew and smashing opponents online is just one strut in the game’s framework, albeit a significant one. Beneath the show-boating, leaderboard scraps and bragging rights lies a narrative and this is perhaps The Crew’s backbone that fuels progression across the world.

The plot sees players infiltrating a nation-wide criminal organisation and attempting to shut down its operations on a city-by-city basis. To do so they’ll need to participate in race events to prove their worth and amass a stock of faster and more ferocious vehicles along the way.

Wary that some people often skip solo campaigns in favour of multiplayer, I asked Gerighty for his thoughts on how the narrative co-exists alongside the online competition. “The narrative is one way for us to propel the player into the full online experience,” he explained, “engaging players throughout their journey and structuring their progression while embracing open world play. 

“Our aim is to deliver a flexible narrative presence while keeping a certain amount of control, we call it ‘structured freedom’ and it is quite challenging to achieve considering that every single player in the open world evolves at his own pace. The storyline ties everything together and challenges the player on a regular basis so he always has a goal to strive for, a clear objective that keeps him motivated.

“By doing so we avoid one of these pitfalls many driving games have where at the end of the day you’re just doing laps around a track. But if one enjoys fooling around with friends and making up their own challenges together they can choose to take a break from the main campaign any time and roam our playground for the hell of it.”

Gerighty confirmed that you will be able to team up with friends on both a cooperative and competitive level, and that this engagement is organised through the game’s social interface. It’s a way of letting players communicate and compete with ease that means you never need to stop driving in order to micro-manage or fool around with countless menus. Fluidity is key.

As Ubisoft is wont to do with games like The Division, second-screen features will also make an appearance in The Crew. Using a connected device players will be able to browse and manage their garage, car set-ups, locate their friends in the world and coordinate events, all within the same interface as the full game.

Tantalisingly, Gerighty added that each car in your garage will have 19 key tuning components and that every vehicle will bear over 10,000 customisation combinations that will impact how they handle on different surfaces. If you really want to get lost in car tuning and stat-maxing then this is just the ticket. All of this can be done on your second screen as well.

Oh and I can’t remember who asked me this on the VG247 comment threads once but yes, Gerighty confirmed to me each of The Crew’s vehicles has cockpit view.

I closed by asking Gerighty for his view on how Sony and Microsoft are approaching the notion of persistent online multiplayer and how each company’s next-gen consoles have helped make Ivory Tower’s vision for The Crew a reality.

“Sony and Microsoft have integrated the fact that digital activities have come to represent an increasing share of time in everyone’s daily life,” Gerighty concluded. “And so has Nintendo with StreetPass. But this did not influence us as much as MMO games on PC.

“You have to keep in mind that the core team at Ivory Tower was the core team behind Test Drive Unlimited which when it was released in 2007 had a living world around the player and it was ahead of its time in terms of online features.

“It was not perfect. That vision of a connected world and a shared world between car enthusiasts, this is something that we are continuing to improve upon. So imagine five more years of iteration on this very idea. That is what we are bringing with The Crew.”

The Crew will hit PC, PS4 and Xbox One early 2014.

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