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Crackdown 2: Interview With James Cope – Lead Producer

While at the recent Crackdown 2 Media Preview Event in Toronto I had the chance to talk to Ruffian Games’ Lead Producer James Cope about the game. This was my first interview and mostly consisted of questions by others. thanks to my twitter followers @markwithers, @BossKamikaze, @IckyGalaxy, and @Freakizoid for the questions.

Q: Compared to Crackdown, how much bigger is Crackdown 2? Did you just take the original game world and expand on it to make a bigger world, or is it the same with the difference in 10 years?

A: Well, one of the things we wanted to do was not to expand the world so much because I think that’s quite a cheap way of developing a sequel like for me, if I got the same game but with a bigger world, that’s boring right, so what we wanted to do was flip around. What if we had the same world but bigger gameplay? So what we tried to do was expand it for the reasons of the Freaks. Ok there are underground cavern areas. We’ve gone down as well as building up. So you go underground and it sort of expands the gameplay in that way. but it wasn’t really about making the world bigger. We just wanted to change the way people play the game; the way they understood the world to be. So it’s a completely new Pacific City; it’s 10 years into the future. A lot of stuff has happened and the world completely messed up. So everything in Pacific City has been rebuilt but it’s the Pacific City that people will recognize for character development. But I’m glad we took that approach. We expected it to be easier than it was, but I’m glad we took the approach of trying to change the gameplay instead of trying to provide the same experience in the same area.

That’s good to know because while running around Pacific City in Crackdown 2 I would look at a spot and think, I remember that from Crackdown, or that looks familiar but has changed from 10 years ago, or even seeing a spot where a hidden orb was and thinking, oh, there’s no orb here anymore.

Yeah for sure and that’s what we wanted – that sense of ownership and deja-vu. [Laughs] Actually our Executive Producer at Microsoft often likes to think of it as going back to see a long lost girlfriend, but um, no it’s not really like that. [Laughs]

No, it’s better than that.

Q: Renegade orbs – Do they ever stop? I mean, you can chase them for quite a while and it’s fun, but how do we obtain them?

A: [laughs] Yeah, they are quite annoying aren’t they. They are essentially on a looped path so eventually they will go back to their default location.

Q: In the first game there were a lot of orbs to collect; well over 500. In Crackdown 2, will there be a way to track the orbs you’ve already collected?

A: Yeah. That was a bit of a mistake we made with the first game. Well, they were more successful than we expected them to be. We knew they’d be important, but it was an oversight that we didn’t put in anyway to track them and you had to find one to know how many you had left to find them all so now in Crackdown 2 basically what is happening is that the areas of the world are divided into sections so you are told in the UI, while looking at the achievements. When you pop that up it’ll tell you the progress points in achievements so you can see per territory how many orbs are left in the world and places where you have yet to find an orb. And also there is an orb ping, which you press up on the D-pad and depending on your agility skill, that levels up the orb ping so you can actually locate orbs in an area around you. So that helps a lot as well. And it’s good because it’s linked to your skill, it doesn’t make it so easy to find them, it’s just more of an assistance for the people that want it. Generally I’m amazed people stuck with it because it’s a really hard challenge.

It took me a while to find them in the first game, and actually I personally haven’t found all of them yet, but it’s addicting. It was a way that allowed us to explore the world and provide unique views from the point of where the orb was. A lot of them were placed in some clever locations too.

And yeah, that’s the thing, driving people to actually explore and go up because a lot of the problems we had in Crackdown was that people were stuck in this GTA mentality where you are running around the streets all the time, so we said, go up, all the fun is up there.

Q: For those that collected all the orbs in the first game, will the player be awarded in Crackdown 2?

A: We will reward players for having played Crackdown but we want to be very careful that it is not a game breaker. There won’t be a follow up achievement from Crackdown but we hopefully will be rewarding players a lot better than before. There is much more Kudos in Crackdown 2. It’s going to be much harder to get to the maximum rating, level 5 easily, but to level 6 is pure Kudos.

Q: Customization options – Are there different suit variations you can choose from in Crackdown 2?

A: Honest answer – No. You can change the colour of the armour you are wearing and that’s really just a limitation of the system we have built because we concentrated on four player co-op and multiplayer and the more you introduce player customization into that, the less you can do in terms of gameplay. So for every customizable feature, you are taking away the space you can do in gameplay. So the trade off is aesthetics or gameplay. and we always choose gameplay. It’s a shame, because I love the customization really, but for us, the way the game works, we have to limit that.

That’s understandable, and I totally agree. I prefer to have great gameplay and just goof off then to spend a long time customizing the look of my character.

Q: I noticed that when we gained our first Agility upgrade, we were awarded with a mask, so do we get more armor in that sense?

A: Yeah. As you level up, obviously the character becomes more powerful, so by level 5 he is like this really fast mobile “tank” [laughs] and that’s the thing, it’s about progressing the character into this sort of weapon. As you progress you become more faceless and that is what Crackdown is about. You are a weapon. A tool. A mindless clone, and you are doing the work of the Agency. That’s what we wanted to reflect. It was like you are going from this human being to this like faceless armored killing machine.

Q: Do the vehicles still evolve or morph as you increase your driving skills such as size, power, and bouncing suspension?

A: No, morphing vehicles no longer exists. The problem we had with morphing vehicles is that when you think about it, in Crackdown we essentially have 4 levels of average and then one brilliant thing at the end. We didn’t like the four levels of average. Everyone liked the brillant thing. But not many people in Crackdown got that. So driving – We got the numbers back and not many people at all got full strength driving and we said, ok, that didn’t work [laughs] and thought, why did we invest so much time in to something superb and in the end no one saw it. So we said, lets get rid of the morphing and let’s give the player brilliant vehicles every time they level up. And that let us do things like have much more variety in vehicles like you start with the agency car, and then buggy with roof mounted machine gun, and then the SUV with jumping suspension and the ability to climb walls, and the tank and helicopter. Essentially it’s variety. and it’s rewarding variety rather than having the same thing 5 times.

That’s great because I had a lot of fun jumping around with the odd driving because I’ve done it enough but GTA. I think of Crackdown like the part after you complete GTA where you run around and just goof off. It’s just mindless fun and you never hit a barrier where you thought, I’m bored.

I’m really glad to hear that. The thing about that and the thing we are proud about is that we didn’t put any barriers in the way of players. It was all truly open. We do actually think of ourselves as maybe the only truly open world game. It’s the fact that, here is the world, go ahead and mess around. There happens to actually be some missions in this world. Mess around and find them. You know, it’s not about oh, you must do this to unlock this. It’s just goof off, and you’ll be awarded.

Q: I know the first game had co-op, and it worked well, but what have you done differently with co-op in Crackdown 2? Xbox Live only? Split-screen?

A: Yeah, it’s live only which again is just a limitation in terms of the technology we made. Honestly, we’d love to do split-screen. I love that whole thing of sitting in a room and playing with you friends playing games but we are just doing too much on the game at once.

Q: DLC – Are you planning to have any Downloadable Content in the future? If so, will it be heavily focused on the singleplayer campaign or more focused on the multiplayer side, or possibly even support for both?

A: A bit of both. Crackdown DLC was pretty amazing because it wasn’t just about trinkets like an extra weapon, an extra vehicle or map. You get that, but the real amazing thing was we gave away things like the “Keys to the city” or street racing that really changed the way you play the game. And that’s what we plan to do again. Introduce new gametypes, new game modes. I mean, like players look at the game as a sandbox, we look at it as a sandbox for development as well and the great thing about it is, at the end of the game we end up with all these building blocks we can then use for different types of gameplay. The main difficulty with Crackdown is we never know when you’ve got the end of it. It’s so broad. You never really know what’s going to work well. and once you actually have that sandbox put together can you look at it and say, that’s cool [laughs] So yeah, keys to the city will be back, we will do new weapons and vehicles and all that but the real beauty of it is the gameplay expansion we do.

Q: Roughly how many maps for multiplayer will be shipping with the game? How many game modes?

A: I believe there will be 9 maps at launch. In terms of game modes we will be launching with Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and Rocket Tag because we believe they are simple and we think of simplicity as being the main thing in multiplayer. The thing about multiplayer games, they believe that more is better. And we think no, simple, cool and fun is better because we find with games that have too many modes, gamers tend to settle on 2 or 3 anyway.

Q: Any sort of team based objective gametypes in the future? I mean, Rocket Tag is objective, but it’s FFA.

A: Yeah, it’s possible. I mean we are still working on it. Honestly, we are just working on DLC right now and the future is not solid yet. I’d like to. We definitely have one game mode in development which will make it into DLC that is very exciting and you know very much oriented around Crackdown orbs.

Very interesting. I look forward to seeing this DLC.

Q: Now I’m sure you get asked this quite often and it is confirmed for release, but demo – Is there any sort of date when this might be available?

A: Honestly, we just don’t have a date yet. Expect to have a great experience with it, and it will be like we did with the first game – accelerated skill leveling and that sort of thing. It will be coming out sometime ahead of release. I’d like to get it out somewhere around 4-6 weeks before release; Nothing is specific but definitely before release.

Q: Will there be any special editions of the Crackdown 2?

A: To my knowledge we will not be doing a limited content edition. There will be some cool things coming out in a few weeks that will probably constitute as some sort of collector items and the pre-order armour so there will be stuff to get ahead of launch that you can think of as collectors items but I can’t say what that is yet. [laughs]

Q: With the addition of avatar awards, will Crackdown award players with anything for their avatars?

A: Yes. We have them in game as sort of progress rewards. Again, pretty cool stuff; having your avatar dressed as an Agent.

Q: So I know you won’t be able to say, but what’s the future for Crackdown? Crackdown 3 perhaps? What about branching off to other games?

A: Well, Crackdown is going to exist in the future. I obviously can’t say what comes next, but we do want to continue with Crackdown as a franchise, but we also want to revolutionize what people think of as Crackdown. It will be recognizable, but a massive surprise and that’s about as far as we got so far. [Laughs] In terms of other games, we’d like to. We’ve got ideas of what we’ve like to do, but one of the cool things about Ruffian is, we like to stay grounded and focused on one game at a time. As a studio, it becomes very hard to manage more than one project; it basically becomes a logistical nightmare really. And whenever you get more than one project on the go at one time, you’ve always got that one project that is going to be the one to focus on the most. And we do think that the best games do come out of that mentality of focusing on one project.

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