Crackdown 2 lets you be judge, jury, and executioner for a huge, fully explorable city and takes multiplayer gaming to unprecedented levels for the ultimate co-op and competitive multiplayer experience, providing you and your friends with the complete freedom to explore, destroy, and play your way as you restore justice and peace to Pacific City—by any means necessary.
The sequel is set some ten years after the first installment, placing the player as another genetically-modified agent sent out onto the streets of Pacific City. The once-bustling metropolis has been ravaged by infection and the ongoing struggle for power over the city's inhabitants. The player returns to fight off hordes of Freaks following their accidental release into the populace and regain control of the City from the hands of The Cell - a powerful terrorist organization fighting to overthrow the Agency.
WP: Who has the honor to speak with us? State your name, rank and occupation!
I'm John Noonan, and I'm a lead developer in Test for Microsoft Game Studios.
WP: How long have you been involved with Crackdown 2?
JN: Pretty much since its inception, and before that, I worked on Crackdown 1 as well. Crackdown is sort of a labor of love for me.
WP: Crackdown 2 is set in the same city as Crackdown 1. Did you redesign everything from scratch? Did you go back to the original map and upgrade it? How much is new, and how much is modified from the original game?
JN: From a technical standpoint, we've changed about 70% of all of the geometry, all of the structure in the world. A lot of stuff's been torn down and destructed. The game takes place 10 years later. A lot of the stuff is brand-new. We've got brand-new buildings, brand-new neighborhoods, and then we also have Freak lairs, which we're not showing today at the X10 event, but they're completely new environments underground where the Freaks live.
WP: Let's talk about the visual look of the game. Crackdown 1 was very vibrant, and Crackdown 2 is again very vibrant, with very bright colors. Isn't there a little bit of a disconnect in taking a game that's open world and violent and making it look like a cartoon?
JN: You know, Crackdown has never been something that's a realistic experience. I mean, you can jump 200 feet in the air. You can kick a car a block. We really think it feels right not being gray and brown and muddy and realistic-looking. It feels like you're playing a comic book, in a lot of ways, and we think it looks best when it's like that. We've certainly tried other things, but we feel that this is its comfort zone. It really shows not just that the game doesn't take itself too seriously but also that it's a little bit more accessible maybe than your average very ultra-realistic sort experience.
WP: What about character abilities? What, if any, new abilities do you have in Crackdown 2 that we didn't see in the first game?
JN: We definitely have some new abilities. One thing that we're showing at X10 is the wing suit, which is really an ability for you to glide around and dive and pull back up and swoop through the air. A lot of our new stuff is in terms of the toys that we give you. We haven't been showing a lot at the X10 event today, but what we've shown before are magnetic grenades, where you can stick objects together and drag stuff behind you and basically build your own contraptions. We also have completely redone the melee system. In the first game, you could kind of do a roundhouse kick. Now there are combos, and you can pick up any object in the environment and use it as a weapon rather than just being able to throw it. We feel that the hand-to-hand combat is completely better. It's really awesome.
WP: Story-wise, Crackdown 2 follows up 10 years after the original Crackdown, but do the games tie together at all, or is it a completely new experience?
JN: They tie together. We're not showing all the story stuff today, but basically, at the end of Crackdown 1, you inadvertently release a virus. You don't even really realize that you've done it. Ten years later, the virus has really taken hold. There are Freaks all over the city, and they've torn the city apart, so the games absolutely link together. Story is something that we really wanted to improve in Crackdown 2, but we're not going to shove it down anyone's throat. They're going to have to opt into it. If you don't want the story, if you liked Crackdown 1 for its lack of story, then you're going to be happy here. If you want a little bit more story, then we absolutely have it for you. Crackdown 1 had a great story; we just didn't really tell it. We're telling it this time, but only if you really want to hear it.
WP: Which other titles you guys see as your competition? Are you competing against the GTAs out there, or do you think of Saints Row 2 as more of a competitor?
JN: All of those games are great. We play all of them, and we love them. None of them have co-op throughout the entire campaign. Certainly none of them have four-player co-op throughout the entire campaign. There are inevitable comparisons to other superhero-ish games, but there's really nothing like having three of your friends and running around the world and blowing stuff up. We feel like we have our own little niche that we've carved out, and there's not really anyone else doing the same stuff.
WP: How are you handling the mission structure with the friends? Say you're playing with your three friends, but each of you is at different points in the game. Is it just wherever the host is? What happens if I join your game and complete an advanced mission? Do I unlock it? How are you reconciling all of that?
JN: That's a super challenging problem, so what we've done in this game is that you're basically joining the host's world, but there are things that you take back with you. If I pick up an orb in your world, it's coming back with me. You're never going to have to pick up an orb twice. The same with experience, weapons that you may have stored or vehicles you may have found and stored, that stuff all comes back with you. The missions themselves stay with the host. It's something that we'd love to improve maybe in the future, but one step at a time. We're not making an MMO just yet. (laughs)
WP: In many ways, the first Crackdown was a game that came out of nowhere. Nobody was really expecting it. Obviously it got a boost from being bundled with the Halo 3 beta. Looking back, what was it about the original Crackdown that you think really drew in players? The Halo 3 beta got everyone to give it a try, but what was it that kept people playing?
JN: I think it's an accessible game. You can jump in and blow some stuff up. The physics were great. It's totally freeform. We're not telling you how to play it or what to do. I think there's a lot of that.
Obviously the orbs were a huge thing. Everybody loves it — the agility orbs, the hidden orbs — and we've got a handful of new kinds of orbs in this game to keep people coming back. There are renegade orbs; you actually have to chase after them because they're not stationary.
I think the co-op aspect is a really big part of it. An open-world game can be really intimidating, but for a lot of us who worked on the game, a friend would buy the game and say, "Show me the cool stuff in here," and we'd say, "Jump into my world, and I'll give you a 30-minute tour of all the crazy stuff that you can do." That was a big part of it.
Another big part of it was the demo. We had a pretty unique demo in that we called it a "true vertical slice." It had accelerated level progression so within the 20 or 30 minutes of the demo, you can go from the ground-walking, regular player to a superhero by the end of the demo, which is a compressed version of what's in the main game. We think a lot of people really realized by the end of the demo, "Wow, this is not your average run-and-gun type of game." Where else can you pick up cars and jump on top of buildings and stuff?
WP: Are we going to see another demo for Crackdown 2 before it's released?
WP: If you had to sum it up in two to three sentences, what really makes Crackdown 2 a game that's worth playing?
JN: I think it's just the completely seamless four-player co-op experience that is just really unrivaled. "Vertical mayhem" is sort of the genre that we've coined for Crackdown 2. There's just nothing like it. We've got platforming, we've got shooting — it's just totally open, freeform gameplay. We think it's really unique, and we're really excited for people to check it out.
WP: From a developer standpoint, how do you guys come up with all these wacky Avatar ideas? Why make those rather than focusing on straight DLC add-ons to the game? Are Avatars really that popular?
JN: Actually, they are! (laughs) People love dressing up their avatars and showing their support for games. Ultimately, the items that an Avatar gets are almost purely art. Artists can go off and build those when the art aspect of the game is pretty much getting shut down and we're just fixing bugs and polishing up those last few features. That's typically when artists have a little bit of free time, and they can go off and build that stuff. You don't need a developer to make an Avatar item. If we didn't do them, we'd get tons of people asking for them.
WP: Is there anything about the game that we haven't talked about that you wanted to add?
JN: I don't know if we talked about PvP. We have a full-on, 16-player PvP mode in Crackdown 2. We've got multiple game types that are in that mode, and I think everyone's going to really love it. Again, it's something that's totally unique. You've got these sort of bionic fleas, 16 of them all jumping around. It's really like nothing else.
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