Producer discusses the making of Scottish studio's game - but says no to Crackdown sequel

Realtime Worlds chats about Crackdown creation challenges

Realtime Worlds has gone on record to say it is not producing a sequel to its Develop Award-winning hit Crackdown, but has offered an insight into the making of the game to fellow developers.

At this week’s Industry All Stars event, producer Phil Wilson spoke on the studio’s founding, outlining the key aims of the team to create new IP using content creation tools and middleware to reduce costs, all to create bestselling games – but was frank that the path from concept to million-seller for Crackdown wasn’t without struggle. (As any developer will tell you can be the case for most games, we hasten to add.)

Wilson’s first admission was that about the timing of the game’s announcement, with the team thinking the game was too early to debut when it was first unveiled. Although this did help push the team to work harder and prove themselves, and prove that the concept was a good one, even though "by the time we got to the end of pre-production we were woefully understaffed and over budget".

Microsoft Game Studios, however, was praised as a partner that allowed such a situation – that other publishers would no doubt balk at – which naturally solved itself thanks to the team’s determination.

"We did have much more crunch than we were happy with – but a lot of that had to do with the passion of the team. In the end they had a real sense of ownership, and development was fun," he commented.

Key to this was refining the game’s sandbox element. The studio had hired a number of former GTA developers (no doubt given that studio founder and Crackdown creator Dave Jones was responsible for the first game and Realtime World’s relatively close proximity to Rockstar North) who experimented with the concept persistently in an attempt to "break the design" and ensure the virtual world was watertight.

"It was a big part of the idea to just let people do things," he said, explaining that QA teams’ iterative replay proved invaluable and eye-opening. "Testers would do things we were completely blown away by."

Despite the rising confidence amongst the team, it seemed at this point the game’s publisher was worried, fearing that all the hard work would just get ignored come release. Hence why the game, when it launched in February earlier this year, came pre-shipped with a beta key to the then-upcoming Halo 3 trial. "It was a great boost."

In fact, it seems that the bundled beta access inverted its original business plan, with the new IP in the long term helping to sell the Halo franchise, rather than the other way around: Wilson explained that in just six months the game has sold 1.5m copies.

The game’s downloadable content has seen similarly strong sales. "I highly recommend other developers add downloadable content to their games," said Wilson.

"It’s a breath of fresh air," he added before elaborating that the recent Crackdown content pack was developed with just half the game’s original dev team in just three months and has been bought from Xbox Live around 200,000 times since its introduction.

Moving forward, Wilson said Realtime Worlds plans to take cues from the active Crackdown online community, which has seen a number of players upload videos of their craziest stunts and explosions to YouTube.

"In future we want to make it easier to show off what people do," he said, saying the studio plans to let players of its games "record something cool and share it with their friends. We’re looking at how to integrate that in future."

This won’t be a feature in Crackdown 2, however – in fact, Realtime Worlds isn’t working on a sequel at all, Wilson confirmed.

Although the team is in some respects "heartbroken", "Microsoft were a little late in stepping up to the plate to ask for Crackdown 2, and by then we had already started working on bigger, better things."

Such as? Realtime Worlds plans to launch its first MMO next year with Webzen called APB (All Points Bulletin) a ‘cops and robbers, but multiplayer’ style game which Wilson said will place emphasis on customisable characters and vehicles – while a second team including Wilson works on another undisclosed project due in 2009.

Overall, he said, the studio was at a great point in its life – with a development team in South Korea working alongside its Dundee-based team, a rising headcount of 175 and management steerage from GTA creator Jones, former SCEE MD Ian Hetherington and former Nintendo America boss Tony Harman, all working to take on "ambitious concepts" and "make them real" for the masses.

NOTE: Details/facts in this story have been adjusted at the request of Realtime Worlds. 

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