Crackdown : Interview with Phil Wilson
- Producer from Real Time Worlds
December 2006

Phil Wilson

English version
Pour la version française, cliquez ici.

With other press members of XCN (Xbox Community Network), we have been able to ask some questions to Phil Wilson, producer from Real Time Worlds concerning their game : Crackdown.

XCN : Was there any difficulty implementing the multiplayer in an open world game?
Phil Wilson : 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.

XCN : Will there be new content and things to do in the coop mode, or will it be the same as the single-player game?
Phil Wilson : It’s exactly the same content, but it’s often been said that it’s twice the game!

XCN : 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?
Phil Wilson : 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.

XCN : Do you intend to make the main character have more impact on his environment?
Phil Wilson : 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.”

XCN : The graphic novel visuals are very distinctive. Why did you go for this visual style, and what does it add to the gameplay?
Phil Wilson : 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.

XCN : There are three gangs terrorizing the city. Asians, Russians and Mexicans. Do the gangs interact with each other?
Phil Wilson : 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.

XCN : Can you describe how the player develops new skills and abilities as the game progresses?
Phil Wilson : 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.

XCN : Why did you go for coop multiplay instead of competitive? And is competitive multiplay planned as a surprise?
Phil Wilson : 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…J

XCN : What kind of areas are included in the huge city and will there be other locations outside of the urban sprawl?
Phil Wilson : 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!

XCN : People might initially see Crackdown as a GTA clone, but in which directions did you want to take the game to set it apart?
Phil Wilson : 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’!

XCN : The coop-mode sounds very interesting. Can you explain how it will work and how we can play it with our friends?
Phil Wilson : 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.

XCN : Many thanks for your time Phil !

Phil Wilson

Related links :

- Crackdown videos

- Crackdown official site

- Other Xbox 360 interviews

Max73, Xbox Gazette, January 15th 2007

Thanks to : Phil Wilson, XCN, Real Time Worlds