Interview: Crackdown 2 lead designer Steve Iannetta

In 2010, the agents are returning to action, this time with a new development team at the helm. Following a demo of Crackdown 2's single-player in action and a multiplayer deathmatch session, Ruffian Games' lead designer Steve Iannetta took time to discuss everything from new concepts and features in the sequel, the media's reaction to the RealTime Worlds "controversy" and evolving the co-operative world of Pacific City.
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The original Crackdown shipped with the Halo 3 mulitplayer beta. Are there any bonuses you're planning on shipping with Crackdown 2 since Halo: Reach is off the table?

It's not our decision, obviously. You'd probably need to chat with Microsoft, but as much as we can gather now there are a few things planned when it comes to release time. Can't go into too much detail about that. There are some intensive ideas kicking about how we want to present Crackdown 2, but again that's something you'd need to chat with Microsoft about.

Well, I'll make sure we bother them about that. Obviously, Ruffian Games has taken the reigns as developer of the Crackdown franchise -- the original developer being Realtime Worlds -- but in your experience, as a former member of that team, did including the Halo 3 beta take away from Crackdown and the attention it might have had on its own?

Indeed, I did. It seemed to be kind of two sided. I think in some respects people unearthed a gem because of the Halo 3 beta and I think another aspect, it was a negative to us. But I would like to think things evened out. After people played the game and reviews happened, we were given credit for what was, I think, a quite fantastic game. A quite unique game, quite fantastic game -- rough around the edges however. But as for any negative or positive affect, I don't know. I do think it all equaled out.

"The media ran with it. But it was quite a juicy story."

Has your relationship with Realtime Worlds been strained at all? Before Crackdown 2 was announced there were rumors that another developer would take over the title. Last year, Colin McDonald (head of Realtime Worlds) wrote in an email that RTW would be "gutted" if it wasn't involved with a Crackdown sequel, saying that if it did go anywhere else he would hope it would be an established developer and not a startup team, which Ruffian is.

McDonald went on to write, "I also very much doubt that Microsoft would harm an otherwise fruitful existing development relationship by gambling on funding Crackdown 2 with a startup on RTW's doorstep, for obvious reasons." [Ed. Note: Ruffian's office is located in close proximity to the Realtime Worlds office in Dundee, Scotland]. Has developing Crackdown 2 strained the relationship with your former employer?


I honestly believe that the press, the majority of the press, kind of took an unnecessary ... Okay, Realtime Worlds -- I used to work at Realtime Worlds -- they're all my friends. That's the only way I like to view that situation. You know when it comes to Microsoft and Realtime Worlds and the communication between them about Crackdown 2, it's entirely up to them.

But your relationship with Realtime Worlds?


They're my friends. That's how I think of it.

So you think the "controversy" has been sensationalized?

Uh, well. I think, obviously, the media ran with it. But it was quite a juicy story. But it's not, uh... You know, again, I'd just like to say that Realtime Worlds are friends. I've still got friends there. It's a close-knit community.

Alright. Well, looking at recent releases, are there lessons learned from other sandbox games that have hit in the last few months? Games like inFamous and Prototype.

There was. I mean, the market is getting big -- there are a lot of games out there. I would like to say we paved the way to sandbox games of this style. There is obviously -- and I wouldn't say "copy cats" by any stretch of the imagination -- but there is a number of additions [to this genre]. We have to raise the bar, we have to raise the standard. We have, and you mentioned two fantastic games there, we have to look at them and say, "How do we, the team, take Crackdown and move forward? And take and improve what these chaps have done with those games."

And it's raising our quality bar, it's raising our standard.

From what you showed of the single player, it looks like you're trying to run wild with those ideas.

[Laughs]

What is the major focus of Crackdown 2? When the first title was released it was a very good showcase for co-op gaming and easy connectivity between gamers on Xbox Live. There's a sense that a lot of what seemed so incredible in the past -- like these connectivity features and drop-in, drop-out gameplay -- is just an expected standard in today's titles.

What we're trying to do is turn on the contrast button. Increase the volume of all those areas and the experience in both the campaign mode alone or the four-player campaign co-op. Open the door for that. That is something that we're really proud of. And things like our 8-player versus enemy mode.

It's quite unique. Quite structured. Again, drop-in, drop-out: Where if you want to engage in this mode you can have up to eight players in an environment fighting against a huge amount of enemies.

In the demo you showed us, during a scene at night there was a swarm of enemies attacking your character. You can have eight players online during a sequence like that in this new mode?

Yeah. Eight guys. Online, fighting together in an environment like that. We believe it could be just fantastic fun.

"It's ten years later... You've turned the city into, basically, a living hell."

And those new enemies you showed off -- "The Freaks." Is that the official name? Really?

Well "The Freaks" were from the first game. The Shi-Gen -- once you killed the boss -- you unleashed the freaks into the world. Basically it's a continuation of that.

The storyline of Crackdown 2 is based around that mission from the original game? That's the basis of this entire game?

Yeah. It's ten years later and because of your actions you've turned the city into, basically, a living hell. Nighttime is just "freak" time. You can't go out at night. Daytime civilians are scurrying about trying to get themselves the necessities of life and when it comes to dusk you'll see them scuttling home. [Laughs]

The nastiness happens after dark.

Give me an idea of the creative process behind developing a sequel like Crackdown 2. You showed off the magnetic grenade, a weapon that allows players to tether objects together to create chaos. How does it work staring at a whiteboard in a meeting with a group of people tasked with creating something original out of a universe that already exists?

This article was originally published on Joystiq.