Interview: Hunting orbs with Crackdown 2's Billy Tomson and James Cope

Though the Crackdown franchise has a new development team in Ruffian Games, the upcoming sequel hopes to retain the best qualities found in the original Xbox hit. You'd think the task is made easier when former Realtime Worlds employees form part of the developer, but creative director Billy Tomson and producer James Cope believe there is still room for improvement.

In an interview with Joystiq, the pair discussed Crackdown 2's vision and its attempt to perfect the open-world formula. Read on to learn more about the limitations of the original engine, memory complications, the omission of female playable characters, and plans for future content.

What were the elements that you wanted to retain from the original Crackdown during development of Crackdown 2?

Billy Tomson (Creative Director):
We definitely didn't want to mess with how the player progressed, skill-wise. That was very popular. There weren't a lot of complaints in that area. The free-form nature, as well, we didn't want to mess too much with that. We have added a little bit of structure at the start of the game but it does open up again to be fully open-world and completely free-form. Players can choose any direction they want to go and take the objectives in any order they like, so we stuck with that. We didn't want to mess with that too much.

The way that agility orbs work as well, we wanted to retain that in there so the player had to always pick a route up to where the agility orbs were placed. We didn't want to add too much in the way of cutscenes in there as well. Obviously people wanted more story, so we have added more of a back story but we didn't want to constantly stop gameplay by placing these cutscenes all the way through. Crackdown flows quite well. It's not something you can start and stop, we wanted to make sure we didn't break up the gameplay too much.

How does it work when I'm playing a game and I invite three friends into the experience, in terms of the story? Does the Agency directly speak to all four characters or recognize the change at all?

BT: It will talk to all four characters but it doesn't change the story. You essentially join a friend's city and you progress through their city. You can level-up your agent but you're not actually progressing your city.

So, joining a friend is just for the fun of it? Not to complete missions in my own campaign.

BT: You can upgrade your character, but you're not actually completing the objectives as far as your city is concerned.

Fable II had a system where if you brought in a friend you would share Achievements if you completed tasks throughout the world, does Crackdown 2 have a similar system?

BT: Yes, you do still get achievements and all the agility orbs that you pick up, that's all tracked and does come back to your city. The only stuff that we did, and we did it on purpose, was closing off the core story. We want that to remain in your city. We always have a fear that if you jumped into another player's game and they completed 90% of the objectives while you're in the game that it would lock those objectives out of your city too. We made a conscious decision to shut that off and just have that in your save.

Back to changes in Crackdown 2: the vehicle transformations and vehicle leveling systems are gone in the sequel. Was that decision made because you felt it didn't work in the original title?

BT: There were a few different reasons we went for this. One of the reasons was that in order to do progression [with] the vehicles, it means that you obviously want to end up with something that's amazing. A fantastic experience when you get to the top level of that particular vehicle, but in order to have that progression you've got to step back and then you get a point where you realize it's not that fun in the start. In order for you to have a better gap to get to the point where it is amazing, it's got to start off fairly plain and simple.

And, honestly, it was a grind and it's the kind of stuff we didn't like. We were forcing the player to go through all these varying levels of vehicles that were just okay and getting slightly better. Eventually if you put effort and God knows how many hours it took, then you got the really good vehicle.

We thought, "Fuck that." Just right from the start, let's give them five really cool, varied types of vehicles, all at the max level. It simplified things from a development point of view. So many people never got to experience the best vehicles in the original Crackdown. This is a way to change that, to give them that experience.

Is the driving engine the same in Crackdown 2?

BT: It's the same driving engine but the majority of the vehicles are being tweaked.

James Cope (Producer) : It was a bit flighty the first time. We've tried to ground it a bit more, make it a bit tighter.

Crackdown did some creative things with DLC; particularly the "Keys to the City" mode, which was almost a dare to the community, saying "Here, go break the game!" I think asking about downloadable content at this stage, before the game is out, is a little hackneyed but I wonder how much creativity Ruffian will try to bring to the content in Crackdown 2.

JC: "Keys to the City" will definitely be back.

BT: We can't say for certain exactly what will be in the DLC pack, other than there is definitely going to be DLC. Like Jim says, we're definitely going to do "Keys to the City" again, and we're going to add some stuff to that.

JC: One thing about DLC, though, is that we struck on this really good thing in the original Crackdown where we changed the way the game behaved. [Ed. Note: Both Cope and Tomson worked on the original game in the series.] We gave away trinkets and new weapons and other stuff, but we also gave away completely new game modes. We want to try to do that again, so strongly hinting towards the fact that you can expect to see radically different game modes in DLC, as well as "Keys to the City," new vehicles, new weapons.

We do believe that DLC is an opportunity to change the way the world behaves or plays. Completely new gameplay. Rather than just a bit of new content.

BT: Yeah, rather than just a new thing that requires you to kill other characters. Like Jim says, we want to give players new features, vehicles and other things that help change the way you play the campaign game. That way you can go through and play 4-player again and just have a laugh.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.