Ruffian Games has a lot on its shoulders. As a fledgling studio made up of former RealTime Worlds developers, the team is now finishing off the sequel to Crackdown - a game created by Ruffian's collective former employer.
Add to that the love/hate relationship that games have with the open-world action game and that makes for a lot of pressure. Sitting with me at a press event after showing me the game, producer James Cope is anything but stressed, however. Polite, friendly and quite jovial.
He is more aware than anyone of the challenges that faced - and may continue to face - the studio, but Crackdown 2
looks set to be a successful project, in taking the great bits and improving the problematic parts of the original, with added accessibility. And Rocket Tag.
SPOnG: The original Crackdown didn't really have much of a story. Now we've got mutants and the day and night system adding a bit more of a premise. With that in mind, how have you designed the Pacific City to make it more familiar to those who've played Crackdown without it getting boring?
(Laughs) It was really hard because the thing about Crackdown
is that when you think about what it has in a characterisation sense, it had none. The Agent you play has no personality, you never know anything about them - they're just mindless clones.
So we thought about how to continue Crackdown
as a universe, and we came up with two things that could really be considered elements of character - the voice of the Agency and Pacific City itself. We destroyed everything else at the end of the first game (laughs)!
We looked at anything left unfinished from Crackdown
and found the Freak outbreak mission - we took that as the inflection point and drew the timeline forward about ten years. So from a game fiction point of view that makes sense. What that let us do from a gameplay perspective is detail how Pacific City is being reborn in this new era.
Then we have the Cell and the Agency fighting against each other - add that to the Freaks and the general chaos and destruction and you have a character in the city that's aged. One of the real beauties of that for me is to go back and recognise places I remember from Crackdown
but then wonder 'why has this happened,' 'what's caused this?' It's telling a story without being narrative in any way. That was really the characterisation and context that we worked with.
SPOnG: Do you guys sort of regret blowing up Pacific City at the end of the first game, knowing that a sequel would have likely been on the cards?
Yeah... We shot ourselves in the foot at the end of Crackdown
, and if you're familiar with the ending of the game you'll know why. We set up a scenario at the end where the Agency no longer made any sense. Revisiting it when we had the opportunity to do so made us realise that was a mistake. We've had to think very hard about how we corrected that.
Where the Crackdown
franchise is going now is different to where we thought it would be when we made the first game, and the thing is we now have a good understanding of what people liked so much about it. When we finished Crackdown
we went through the turmoil of worrying about whether players would love it or if they would think it's deeply flawed.
But we loved the fact that it became this growing hit with people, and all of the things that they loved about Crackdown
gave us all a bit of a morale and confidence boost really. We were able to take what people said on board and think 'Yeah, this did work really well' or 'Actually, that really was a bit of a problem.'
The direction that Crackdown
was going to go into has been redirected a little bit – the franchise's course has been steered a touch because we've taken all of that feedback on board. The game's been out for a long time now, and we can put out a product that we think contains all the best bits from the original game with some improvements to areas that needed it.