Microsoft's first big Xbox 360 game of 2007 is Crackdown, an open world action game from developer Real Time Worlds that promises to have more than a few new wrinkles in the genre. FiringSquad got a chance to chat with the game's lead designer Billy Thomson to find out more (as it turned out, a lot more) about Crackdown, which is due for release on Feb. 20.
FiringSquad: First, how did the idea for Crackdown come about?
Billy Thomson: The original high level concept was to make a MMORPG based in a real world city. So, on paper Crackdown actually began life as a fairly heavy RPG game, we had designed far more skills, and as I mentioned we had originally planned of going MMO. As always the first step of game development is the prototype phase, so we prototyped the foundations of what we believed to be the most fundamental areas of the game – the progression of the key skills, Agility, Strength, Firearms, Driving and Explosives – and started playtesting. What we very quickly realised was that these core skills were incredibly good fun to play around with in the test environment we had built, but they were far more fun when played as a fast paced action oriented game rather than the slower more deliberate pace of your standard MMORPG. So, with this information we made up our minds to take Crackdown down a different road, one that still had RPG elements but was more focused on fast paced action based gameplay similar to that found in an arcade game. At this point we decided to forget about any plans of making Crackdown a MMO game, we knew what we wanted. We wanted RPG based character progression in 5 key skills, a solid physics model to create fantastic vehicular based gameplay and allow for a huge amount of object interaction, to design our own city from scratch, with zero loading times and the ability to constantly be able to see the vistas of the environment that you would be playing in, a truly freeform mission structure, and a density of characters, vehicles and street furniture never seen before in a city based game. Our goal was to cram each and every one of these features into the most intense action game available on the Xbox 360, and we wanted it all available for co-op play too – doesn’t sound like that big a job if you say it really fast!
FiringSquad: How would you catagorize the game? Is it an action game? Is it a super hero title? Is it sci-fi?
Billy Thomson: Now that is a difficult question, is it an action game? Absolutely, I don’t think I’ve played a game that can produce the same type of intense sweaty palmed action that Crackdown does, but I wouldn’t limit ourselves to being tagged as a simple ‘action’ game. Is it a superhero title? Well we obviously don’t have a movie license with an already established superhero, but I’d say that our Agents could give Spiderman, Superman, the Hulk or Batman a run for their money! We have a solid RPG based progression system for our 5 skills, but I can’t see us ever being labelled as a dedicated RPG. We have explorative platform based gameplay throughout the entire game world, but I wouldn’t want to say we were just a ‘platform game’, and we have as much combat focused gameplay as any of the recent ‘shooter’ titles that have come out in the last few years, yet I wouldn’t say all we were was a ‘shooter’ game. We also have a vehicle physics model that’s as good as most driving games out there as well, but there’s no way we would say that Crackdown is a driving game either. I think this type of game is almost impossible to categorise, it’s not a basic action game, it’s not a Superhero game, it’s not an RPG, it’s not a platform game, it’s… well it’s just Crackdown!
FiringSquad: What can you tell us about the fictional backstory for the game?
Billy Thomson: I can provide you with a little backstory to give you an idea of the state of play is within the game world.
Pacific City is no longer policed by the Government, it is now ruled by three rival gangs. The Los Muertos, the Volk and the Shai-Gen Corporation.
The Los Muertos gang was established by Don Domingo Garcia and his unwaveringly loyal sidekick Rodrigo Alvarez. They served parallel 20 year prison terms for murdering a policeman who was in the wrong place at the wrong time during a botched sting operation, they were subsequently released 5 years ago. Regardless of his newly found freedom, Garcia wasn’t about to surrender the empire he had built while inside, he had a massive following numbering around 100 hardened convicts, but he didn’t need them all, he only needed his top men to help him manage the new army he planned to build on the outside. Garcia and Alvarez returned the night after their release to undertake a violent and bloody prison break ‘with a twist’, fighting their way in to the prison using automatic weapons and explosives, releasing a selection of their men and then making their escape as the Peacekeepers arrived. 27 Peacekeepers and 68 prison guards died trying to prevent their escape. Since that time, and with the demise of a state controlled operational police force, Garcia and his men have been left to flourish. They emerged on the east side a couple of years ago running some small time narcotics operations. The Agency, somewhat foolishly, decided to leave them alone, as resources were at a premium and they were loathe to risk another costly bloodbath. Unfortunately in the last year, their activities and membership have mushroomed – they have recruited another few key men and women to help run the expanding gang and their presence on the streets is there for all to see.
Intel reports lead us to believe that the key members of the Volk were originally a loose collection of soldiers at various outposts, who formed an organised crime cartel to facilitate the illegal smuggling of various types of military equipment across various Eastern European borders. Their focus was mainly on explosives, firearms and vehicles – where the real money was. Circumventing the massive bureaucracy of their mother country by criminal means became second nature to them, and on their subsequent arrival in Pacific City, they were able to hit the ground running with their massive collection of explosives, firearms and armoured vehicles at their immediate disposal. Once they had gripped the industrial area of Pacific City in their strangle hold, they began to bring in hordes of immigrants from their homeland to replenish their Workers who were lost in battle, any immigrants unfit to join their gang were left to fend for themselves and eventually created an unsuspected but welcome source of constant income, the Volk regularly steal from the stranded immigrants and force them to work to earn enough money in order to buy back the goods that were stolen from them in the first place.
The origins of The Corporation can be found in a government ruling several years ago to set up a commercial company to develop and market defence solutions. This company gradually attracted more and more funding until it became more heavily financed and better staffed than the government it supported. A subsequent buyout by an unnamed figure was reputed to have cost a sum of money which the government was unable to refuse in the face of mounting debts due to the constant war against the gangs who were fighting for control of the cities across the nation. Since that time, The Corporation has been in control of many government areas which it now refuses to vacate, and kept possession of all intellectual property belonging to the government. The Agency was set up to counter this threat to security and as a direct result of increasing gang activity in the city.
Pacific City’s future is hanging in the balance, the city is teetering on the edge of anarchy, law enforcement recruitment has plummeted. In a final attempt to overpower the ruling gangs, all forms of policing across the country have now combined forces to give strength to the Agency’s efforts. The Agency is making its last stand in the heart of the metropolis, in a high-security compound known as The Keep. Of course, access is restricted, and the compound is guarded by Peacekeepers, who are being challenged far beyond their skills and resources. Desperate times require desperate measures... The Agency is exploiting the controversial work of disgraced scientist Doctor Baltazar Czernenko. His underground human-modification program uses a cutting-edge cocktail of technology and selective breeding to propel the human race to a whole new level. Now Czernenko's sick science is being used to create new recruits for The Agency, new Agents of justice, who are superior to conventional law enforcers in every way, and who are capable of unparalleled physiological evolution and regeneration. As the Agency's first prototype, it is your job to track down the Kingpins and bosses who run the gangs and take them out one by one…