Dave Whitelaw sits down with Dean Smith of Ruffian Games to discuss Crackdown 2.
In a year packed with amazing games, you need to be impressive to stand out. One title which has been receiving massive amounts of buzz is Crackdown 2. The follow-up to the massive 2007 hit, Crackdown 2 has been developed by Ruffian Games, based here in the UK. I took the time to sit down with one of the lead designers from Ruffian, Dean Smith, and ask him how the 360 exclusive was shaping up.
Hi Dean! Thanks for taking the time to speak to me in what I am sure is a very busy time for Ruffian. The buzz around Crackdown 2 seems to be growing exponentially. Can you tell me how development is going at the moment and specifically what your involvement is?
[Dean Smith] It’s my pleasure Dave. I’ve had my head buried in the game for so long now, that being able to finally talk about it is a great reward. In truth, it isn’t a busy time, the hard work has been and gone. We’ve sent off the final build of the game and are all sat with our fingers crossed about it smoothly making it on to a disk.
Wait. Forget all of that, I just got an email entitled ’Crackdown 2 has passed Certification’. Job done.
I’m a designer at Ruffian. I specifically focused on two things throughout development: The assembly of ’Project Sunburst’ (The Agency master-plan to eradicate the Freaks of Pacific City) and the Cell ’Tactical Locations’ (Strongholds of the resistance group within Pacific City).
How long has the game been in development? Were there always plans to do a sequel or was it entirely reliant on the first game reaching a certain level of success?
[Dean Smith] Well I joined the project 13 months ago. As far as I know, the development isn’t much older than that (Around January 2009). Before I joined, the company was much smaller. The founding members were striving to get the fundamentals in place so that everyone could hit the ground running as the company staffed up for full production.
I’m a new designer in the world of Crackdown, so I wasn’t around for the birth of sequel plans. There are a lot of guys here however, who worked on the first game and it’s clear from their passion that they are all extremely happy about the opportunity to work on the sequel.
While the gaming community was overwhelmingly positive about Crackdown, there must have been some elements which you didn’t like or felt could be improved upon. Can you elaborate on what they may be and what steps you have taken to make the sequel even better?
[Dean Smith] I’ll be honest, when I tried Crackdown as a gamer, I didn’t get it. I was so used to the typical hand-holding nature of open-world games and felt lost. I spoke to a few friends who were huge fans of the game about my concern. In a moment of clarity, the penny dropped – ’Holy shit, I can actually do whatever the hell I want’. From that point on I was hooked. This time around, we offer some direction for the uninitiated. There is an informative tutorial that sets the scene, teaches the player basic skills and encourages the mental picture about the freedom within the game.
I also wanted to address the objectives within Crackdown. Sure, there was the freedom within Crackdown, however the main campaign was a series of assassination missions. This time round we have more variety. The war isn’t only you against the freaks; we also have a resistance organisation within the world who want to bring down The Agency. Throughout the whole campaign, while dealing with enemies from two separate factions, you are also constructing a massive weapon, linked throughout the entire city (Project Sunburst), and there is a lot of variety in how you go about that. The main components of Project Sunburst (Beacons) need placed within freak lairs, and the secondary parts (Absorption Units) are scattered throughout the city. Some need to be reclaimed from Cell territory, some involve platforming or exploration, and The Cell even attempt to sabotage your efforts during this. On top of that, we have the famous orb hunting, rooftop races, road races, a very threatening and abundant freak population and a dynamic living city where the ambience responds to the time of day and your campaign progress. There is a lot to do in Pacific City and a vast amount of distraction as you make your way through.
The separate factions offer a lot of entertainment, too. It can be hilarious just to sit on a rooftop and watch as a 3-way street battle plays out between Freaks, Cell, and Peacekeepers. Not to mention the civilians caught up in it all, fleeing for their lives.
Can you tell us the opening scenario for Crackdown 2? What were the reasons for staying in Pacific City rather than moving to a new location?
[Dean Smith] You might remember that a Freak virus was unleashed on Pacific City towards the end of the first game. Well, Crackdown 2 is set ten years after these events. The Freak virus has done a lot of damage to the city in this time. There is an overwhelming population of infected. The Agency has failed to cope with this, and in turn, an underground resistance organisation called ’The Cell’ has formed to protect the citizens of the city, both from the Freaks and the Agency. Your job, as an Agent, is to remove the Freak threat. However, the cell won’t make that easy for you. A three-way war is set up at the beginning of the campaign. It was natural for us to return to Pacific City and explore this story further.
What can you tell us about some of the new features in Crackdown 2?
[Dean Smith] It’s actually a tough question, that. I’m playing the game a lot at the moment and I’m still finding new and unique things to do that I didn’t know about! We’ve kept the huge sandbox world, and added a lot more toys to it, such as the UV shotgun (which breaks Freaks apart at a molecular level), Turreted weapons, Vehicles with Turreted weapons, Tanks, Choppers, an Agent Wingsuit, Mag Grenades, etc. We’ve really scaled up the fun you can have within the sandbox by providing the tools for player creativity.
We’ve also doubled the co-op to 4-player, which is drop-in/drop-out. There is a dynamic Freak system which responds to time of day and player progress, a varied campaign, 16-player multiplayer, new types of orbs (including rather sneaky ones that you’ll have to chase down), improved story elements, revamped AI. There is a lot to do in Crackdown 2.
A lot of people are very excited about playing cooperatively with friends in Pacific City. What can you tell us about cooperative play and how it will work?
[Dean Smith] We’ve increased the co-op to 4-player. It’s drop-in/drop-out. You can play together, or pursue separate objectives (this should make speed-runs interesting). It’s a great social experience. You can work together to progress through the campaign, or just mess around (creative players will get a huge kick out of this). You can still kick your friend off the Agency tower, only this time it will be 3 friends and they’ll be falling for an awful longer time than before.
It was both the easiest and most difficult game to design when considering 4-player co-op. Trying to anticipate player actions in Crackdown 2 is almost impossible, so after a while I gave up on trying to force the player into anything. We just offer the ingredients for fun, try to give a nod in the right direction, and let the player choose to play however they want. I can’t wait to jump into games online and see how players are getting through this game. I expect to be surprised.
Do you have any plans to make the game hook up with Natal at any point in the future?
[Dean Smith] I don’t think that Natal fits Crackdown 2 at the moment. But as a developer, I’m definitely interested in the tech and would love to explore what Ruffian could do with it in the future.
One of the criticisms I had with the first game was that once you completed the main quest, there wasn’t much to do. Pacific City was such a fun environment to traverse but needed a set goal. Can you tell us how you plan to keep us playing long after the campaign is done?
[Dean Smith] Crackdown 2 is more objective-based and progressive. We don’t just have a series of assassination missions this time. We have a wide variety of missions and objectives that will keep players entertained as they reclaim Pacific City.
Finally, now that Crackdown 2 is due on shelves in a month, has there been any discussion on a third title?
[Dean Smith] I can confirm that as a game development studio, we will definitely be working on a game. I just can’t say what that is yet.