Crackdown Community Q&A

Phil Wilson talks directly to our readers. Dunno why we bother.

Crackdown was released by Realtime Worlds in February to critical acclaim and excellent sales. The game scored a well-earned 9/10 on Eurogamer with Tom Bramwell informing us that it was his '...favourite Xbox 360 game of recent times' [still is - Tom Bramwell, for it is he]. The game has also generated one of the most popular threads on the Eurogamer forum, with members discussing their tactics and sharing the fun things they find to do in the world of Crackdown on a daily basis. With this in mind, and some Irish soda bread and a crate of Guinness in the post, producer Phil Wilson thus agreed to answer some of the community's questions. Given that the Guinness had been handed over before he answered any questions, we can't guarantee the coherency of his answers. Then again, we can't guarantee the coherency of our questions.

Phattso: Are there any plans to add flying vehicles via download? Or is that being saved for the sequel or, perhaps, not on the cards at all? The thought of having an agent in co-op hanging off the wing of a light aircraft I'm flying and then both of us dropping in on a boss appeals to me greatly.

Phil Wilson: Since nothing's announced for the forthcoming downloadable content I have to be careful what I say about it, but flying vehicles are something that we initially decided to steer well clear of. That was partly because we wanted verticality to be earned only through vertigo-inducing climbs and were also concerned that we might possibly break that explorative element if we threw in a helicopter or similar; but it was also because flying vehicles put new demands on a game engine that already had more than its work cut out to support the existing goals. As it happens that latter concern was irrelevant because, as you can see in the finished game, the existing engine can handle immense draw distances and rapid streaming... so airborne antics is definitely not off the table going forward.

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Expect competitive multiplayer and more co-op in the forthcoming downloadable content, says Phil.

Eighthours: Is there anything that members of the community have managed to achieve in the game that the development team never thought possible, or hadn't even considered as an idea?

Phil Wilson: YouTube has been fascinating. We always hoped it would be like the Halo Warthog videos only far more impressive and exciting, so it's been fantastic to see what people are up to. One thing that blew our minds because even we never realised it was possible was one guy using the SUV's top-level suspension compression coupled with an unprecedented level of gaming skill and timing to drive all the way up the side of the Agency Tower, landing on the top. Much respect!

One of the new (and in my humble opinion great fun) downloadable content game modes came from looking at a co-op video posted online, and credit will eventually be given to those folks that had the original idea.

Huntcjna: Do you think that the attachment of the Halo 3 beta program to the game's release helped or hindered your hopes for the title and do you think it detracted from the perceived quality of the title on release?

Phil Wilson: We were initially very excited at the original suggestion of attaching the Halo beta invitation, but we were also quite concerned that it would generate a backlash of malcontent from which it might prove hard to recover. However, we all know from bitter personal experience how hard it is to get a new franchise off the ground, no matter what the quality. In fact many of our guys remember only too well that even the original GTA was far from an overnight success. In the end we had to view this as what it was - a marketing stunt. We knew a lot of people would take interest in Crackdown solely because of the opportunity to play Halo 3 early, but we also felt pretty confident that they'd then be pleasantly surprised (if not downright blown away!) at Crackdown. We were fortunate that the announcement eventually came just a week or two before the demo hit Marketplace, so we had to endure a mercifully short period of naysaying or, as Penny Arcade put it before going on to say how much they enjoyed the demo, "What kind of filth must this game be, I thought, to require such naked bribery?" In the end though the demo went on to become the most downloaded and, more importantly, by far the most played of any so far on 360.

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Yes, someone did climb the Agency Tower in an SUV. Probably looked this pasty in real life once they'd managed it, too.

Yossarian: With any new sandbox or open-world game there are inevitable comparisons to the hugely-successful 3D iterations of Grand Theft Auto. To what extent did GTA guide or influence the development of Crackdown? Was there a conscious effort to be distinctive and different, and how do you feel your game design philosophies compare?

Phil Wilson: For this question I hope you don't mind me deferring to Billy Thomson, ably equipped to answer it as he is, having been Crackdown's lead designer as well as first cutting his teeth as a designer with Dave Jones on the first two GTA games. The following are his words:

Billy Thomson: We knew that we would constantly be compared to GTA when we began work on Crackdown. It was inevitable really; we were making a city-based action game in an open world, where the player character has the ability to drive any vehicle or fire any weapon they come across during play. Add to that the fact that Dave Jones is the creative director and you'd be a fool to expect anything else.

That said, we didn't go out of our way to avoid comparisons or deny similarities. Let's be honest, the GTA series is one of the biggest and most successful in our industry so there are worse games to be associated with. What we did was make sure that we made people aware of what made us different from GTA. Our approach to the design of Crackdown definitely set us apart from that of the guys at Rockstar.

It seems to me that they tend to focus more on nailing a strong central storyline that they hang the missions from, and they tell their story via well-written dialogue delivered by some great voice talent playing really colourful characters, and it's all done within well-crafted cinematic cut-scenes. I've got a lot of respect for what those guys accomplished; you just have to look at how many other developers have tried and failed to do better versions of the same formula to understand just how good a job they've done.

While being the team that finally nailed this formula properly was a tempting objective it just wasn't where we wanted to go with Crackdown. We wanted to take the genre in a different direction and possibly even create a new one in the process. The design focus for Crackdown has been really quite simple: solid, intuitive controls - easy enough for a beginner to pick up but with enough depth to really reward players who master the more advanced controls; a truly freeform experience - no boundaries, no locked doors, you go where you want to from day one; character progression - a set of key skills that the player can advance as they play through the game, and the key goal here was to reward the player for performing actions they enjoyed doing rather than forcing them to perform tedious tasks to advance their skillset; a well-rounded player character - that can perform all of the actions you expect to, jump into the air, grab any ledge, pick up any object, drive any vehicle, fire any weapon, and then when you get this right increase all of the abilities to the point of making the player feel like a superhero! At the end of the day that's what we really wanted from Crackdown, to truly make the player feel empowered while they play, and I honestly believe we fully delivered on that goal!

Polar: Are there any plans to implement competitive multiplayer play in the future? Can you let you let us know anything exclusively exciting around the up and coming downloadable content?

Phil Wilson: Sadly I can't say much about the DLC but I will say that we've got some competitive (and one co-operative... if you chose to play it that way) game modes that we're already having a great time playing. Longer term it would be good to offer multiplayer to more than two players in the Crackdown Universe - the prospect of mass co-op is definitely an exciting one.

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Being the police and kicking minorities. Ellie's not impressed.

Squeakyg: What can you tell us about plans for a sequel?

Phil Wilson: No sequel has been announced, so sadly the answer is "nothing". Sorry.

Gogobaka: Why does Crackdown have such a short single-player campaign? The extras (achievements, races etc.) add some challenges, but I don't feel they compensate for the short single-player campaign.

Phil Wilson: I think we should have stuck to our guns and never included the nancy-boy difficulty level that was erroneously labelled 'tough'. Invariably people who complain that the game was too short were playing it on the easiest difficulty level. They're also the kind of people who find it hardest to adapt to unstructured play. As a child perhaps you stood at the literal sandbox, staring, wondering what to do? Go have fun FFS! If you don't like blowing s**t up then Crackdown's not for you. If you have no imagination then Crackdown's not for you. We're pretty proud of those facts to be honest.

Okay, so that was perhaps a little harsh, and before I get flamed let me also say that it wasn't entirely serious - though perhaps deserved given the impudent tone of your question young man! The truth of it is that Crackdown is a seriously broad-ass game, and I hope you'll excuse me championing it as the best pure sandbox title on the market right now. But we also acknowledge that the sense of purpose and objective is not as well-rounded as, in a perfect world, we'd all prefer. But we're glad we put the focus where we did and, in the event of a sequel, we know exactly what to build on those foundations in order to address all such criticisms.

Repairmanjack: What are the chances of having a patch that resets the bosses? I'm having to create new gamertags or delete the game from the hard drive to replay it and Time Trials don't really make up for this.

Phil Wilson: Ah crap, I can only apologise for this cock-up on behalf of persons that shall remain nameless. You wouldn't believe what happened here even if I told you but suffice to say that we will have a 'reset gangs' option in the free DLC (in place of the current crimes on/off toggle - and it's quite possible that you heard it here first!) So while I'm spilling beans, there's also another great mode that I'm pretty sure is also kinda what you're asking for but a whole lot more - so I hope that goes some way towards compensation. Our bad!

W00t: Which were the features that you had to cut that you miss the most?

Phil Wilson: Ooh, so tempting to answer this, but I'd only end up giving away what we might be working on right now. Suffice it to say that if you're playing the game thinking "it would have been even cooler if you could do this" then it's much more likely that there's a very good reason why we didn't rather than we just didn't think of it.

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There are no birds in the game. Or women. Except this one. But you can only kill her, sadly, rather than reading her poetry or buying her plates of chips that she'll only eat half of.

Lots of folk: Any chance of getting some birds in to the game (or a sequel)? It would be wonderful to be looking down on them from above, only to Firefly them right out of the sky in an explosion of feathers.

Phil Wilson: Funny, to my shame I first read this question as yet another gripe about the lack of female agents (something we wanted to do, and in fact nearly finished doing, but then, for various reasons couldn't do this time around)! But birds in the sky to hit with rocket launchers? The suggestion did come up once but it's in fact something that I'm strongly opposed to because a) I have prior experience of introducing fauna to game worlds and it's a slippery slope of frivolous feature creep, and b) when I see stuff like this in a game I immediately think "sure you got the exploding seagull's just fine, but what about the control system boneheads?". That's probably just me though - so maybe if there was a sequel?

Krudster: One thing that I found quite jarring was the lack of a coherent narrative throughout the game. In some respects it made it feel quite 'empty', and for a while I lacked a real sense of purpose for my actions. But then, as I levelled up, the freedom you're offered in terms of who to tackle and when made it quite refreshing not to be forced down a linear path. Do you think Crackdown might actually start encouraging developers to realise that they don't need to tether the gameplay to a prescribed storyline in the future?

Phil Wilson: Great name. Great question. Crackdown was always all about the freeform experience, and that required a huge amount of evolution. At no point during that process could we conceive of a viable plotline and narrative, and the fact that any one of the 21 key characters can be dead at any time does put something of a crimp on storytelling. That said, and now we have a better handle on this kind of experimental open structure, and we do have some ideas on how traditional storytelling methods could be better employed. We're not sure how far down that road we'd want to go though because we're actually very proud of the fact that Crackdown players, rather than all silently experiencing the same pre-prepared tosh (let's face it videogame stories are rarely something to write home about) tend to enthusiastically exchange their own personal accounts of unique experiences founded on genuinely emergent gameplay (and not the pseudo rubbish we've all been peddled thus far either).

But to actually answer your question, I hope that Crackdown does help developers to think about games creation more as 'limitless toy making' than 'interactive story writing' but that's not to say the latter doesn't have it's place. In the UK Crackdown just missed out on the #1 All Formats Chart position by shipping the same day as Final Fantasy XII... but it's hard to think of a worthier adversary!

Krudster: Also, do you personally think not having a linear storyline worked, with hindsight? Would you ever consider making a Crackdown game "the old way" with a branching story?

Phil Wilson: Oops, I guess I kinda covered this already. But the answer is yes, we would consider more narrative in another Crackdown game, but not necessarily with a branching story.

The Eurogamer Crackdown community wants to let Phil know how that they're thrilled he answered their questions. They also liked the game, if that wasn't already obvious.

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