WP: Who has the honor to speak with us? State your name, rank and occupation!
I'm Chris Archer, and I'm executive producer on this title.
WP: True Crime is a franchise that Activision had a few years back, and it's kind of sat idle. Why relaunch it now? What makes this a good time to go back to the well and bring back an old franchise instead of creating a new one?
CA: We always liked the franchise, and I think we waited to get the right team and the right idea before we launched it again. We've really taken a different approach on this and thought of it as more of an original IP, as a reboot, something where we take a couple of the things that we liked about the past games and we really start from the ground up. The new team, United Front Games, built technology from the ground up, and all of the ideas and things are from the ground up — with one exception, and that's the undercover cop angle. That's sort of what we brought from the old game, so that's really what remains.
WP: One of the draws of the original True Crime was the accurate city layouts. Is the new True Crime based on a real-life city, or is it more fictional and designed for the game?
CA: It is based on a real city, Hong Kong, but we definitely did take a different approach. Instead of laying the map down and doing one-to-one, we built the city for gameplay first and exactness second. We wanted to give people the sense that it's Hong Kong, and it's very true to life, but we've really condensed it so that we have the best density of gameplay, or best gameplay per square inch. That's something that was lacking in the last games; we want people to feel like there's always something to do around every corner.
WP: Maybe you can expand on that a little bit. Gamers always say, "We want realism. I want to drive down my street in a game," but as we hear from developers, that's not necessarily a playable game. What makes a game playable? What gives it that playability "per square inch"?
CA: I think that is a novelty, and a lot of people will get that experience. Unless you live there literally and you do live on that street, you might not know that it's not your street. There is a lot of realism to it, but if there's a building that doesn't play well, that doesn't feel good, and it's in the way of something that we want to do that's really fun, we're going to remove that building and make something fun in its place. That's a different tactic than we took in the past games. Now it's purely for gameplay, and you still get that feel. It may not be your house, but something really fun is going to happen there instead. That's the good trade-off.
WP: Are you going to mix up the gameplay equally between on-foot and vehicle segments, or will it favor one over the other? Speaking of vehicles, what types of vehicles are you going to have in the game?
CA: Well, we definitely have an on-foot focus to the game. There's parkour mixed with combat mixed with shooting, and there's a really tight integration with all of those things. It's been a real focus for us in this game. The core team comes from ex-Need for Speed guys, so the driving is really exceptional. I would connect it more with a Burnout experience, so you really have a great driving experience but also a really robust combat and free-running experience. We really wanted to focus on the on-ground, but we kind of got the driving for free. We've really got a great game on our hands.
It's a really broad variety of vehicles that we have in the game. Motorcycles and cycles are centric to the game because of the narrow alleyways. You can jump off the fronts of cars, so you can use those for stunts and things like that. Everything from cars and trucks all the way across the board, so a lot of things that you'd expect from a game like this. We have a cross section of tons and tons of cars.
WP: In the combat sequences, a lot of edges of countertops and boxes glow in an orange hue. What does that indicate?
CA: Anything in the world that has that highlight is either vaultable or usable in some way. As you're moving through the environment, if you come across an obstacle in your way, you can leap over that obstacle parkour-style, and you can kick, punch, shoot, etc., out of that. It makes the environment very accessible, but it also creates a whole different dynamic for combat and shooting, so that's what that is about.
[In the game world,] we also have tons of objects that you can interact with while you're engaged in combat.
WP: Say you have a player who wants to focus on melee and another player who wants to focus on shooting. How do you balance the game for those two different styles of play so that both types of gamers can have equally fun experiences?
CA: Because we merged those things so closely together, we give the player the ability to play the way they want. You can shoot everybody, or you can fight everybody. We tried not to make it modal. In most games, you're in shooting or you're in fighting or you're in driving. What we've done is taken all those modes and sort of merged them all together. You can ride the motorcycle and jump from it, target it and blow it up just like you can hijack a vehicle and jump from vehicle to vehicle. The same thing you can do in running around. I can run up the wall of a truck in the open world and do a wall attack. I can grab a guy, throw him in the trunk. In the interior, I can use a crate and slam a guy's head against it, or I can use a fridge that's there and slam his head into it. Everything is very active. Anything that you see that should be usable is likely usable, in combat, driving, etc.
WP: Let's talk about the story for a bit. It's set in Hong Kong, and there's some sort of betrayal going on, but give us a little more background on that.
CA: This time around, we really wanted to focus on a more serious story. We got a lot of inspiration from "Infernal Affairs" and Hong Kong action cinema. In particular, the Western version of "Infernal Affairs," which is "The Departed." We have a cop who's sort of on the edge. There's sort of a moral edge that he's riding. We give the player the ability to do bad stuff on the behalf of good, but there's a point in the story where you're not sure whether you're a good guy or a bad guy. I think that's a really cool hook, and it makes the character really likeable in terms of people can connect with him more. The whole time, we've understood that players like to play a good guy. He's not a superhero, and he's not a thug; he's just an exceptional human being who has a likeability factor. We really focused on that this time around. No camp. It's a serious story. There's some tongue-in-cheek stuff and some funny stuff, but it comes naturally through the serious nature of the situation that he's in.
WP: We've got to ask because you always see it in Hong Kong action movies, American action movies and video games but we've never seen it in the news. Why is there always a shoot-out in an Asian meat-packing plant?
CA: (laughs) Meat has great physics! I don't know. That's a good question. In the demo that we showed you, it was a heroin plant, which is sort of typical as well. We did a ton of research, looked at real situations and heard stories from real people. The funny thing about movies and games is that when you do the research, you start to find out how the Triad works and the hierarchy there, all the serious stuff that they do and the stuff that goes down. You find that those things actually happened in those environments. We're matching in an authentic way the kind of things that we heard from our contacts in Hong Kong.
WP: How do you do research on the Triad? You didn't fly a bunch of developers out to Hong Kong and walk down the street asking, "Do you know anyone in the Triad?" How do you actually do the background research on these elements that you want to bring into a game?
CA: It's not easy. You don't just walk up to the Triad and say, "Hey, can I ask you some questions?" It took a long time, and it took a lot of trust and respect from this guy knows this guy knows this guy. It took over a year to get to the people who really knew. Our writer was able to gain the trust of people, move through the organization and get some really cool information. We always wanted to stay true to what it was and not be the stereotypical game. What you're going to see from the information that was so hard to obtain is stuff that's really different and new and interesting. People may not understand it immediately, but they're really going to enjoy the kinds of things we do.
WP: If you had to sum it up in two to three sentences, what really makes True Crime: Hong Kong a game that's worth playing?
CA: I think that True Crime: Hong Kong is the rebirth, reboot of the True Crime franchise, and a lot of people really liked those games. What we've done with it recently is we have a really great open-world environment with tons of stuff to do, but we really focus on the on-foot experience and sort of put down our thumb on the thing that really attracts people to these types of games. [We're] making an action/adventure game within an open world, so you really have great abilities, great combat, great shooting and great driving in an open-world context. It's something that we really strived to do, and I think that's what we're delivering to the player.
WP: Is there anything that we haven't talked about that you wanted to add?
CA: Absolutely, but I can't! (laughs)
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