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Postmortem: Realtime Worlds' Crackdown
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Postmortem: Realtime Worlds' Crackdown


September 7, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 6 Next
 

2. Marketplace Demo

"The Crackdown demo is like crack!" This comment came from the Microsoft user test lead, and no statement could motivate a team more.

Whatever you might think of the general quality of content, Xbox 360 Marketplace is a great piece of design. For a game like Crackdown, which we knew most gamers would enjoy if they'd just pick it up, the opportunity to freely distribute the demo to everyone with a broadband connection was a golden opportunity.

We began working on the Crackdown demo roughly five months before the game's completion. This early work mostly consisted of creating an infrastructure to support an alternative build and data configuration, meaning creating a special demo-only code branch could be deferred for as long as necessary.

We heatedly debated how much of the Crackdown experience we should present for free in the demo. Until we heard some reassuring user test feedback, many of us were concerned that Realtime Worlds might only be remembered as those crazy guys who gave away the farm.

In this case "the farm" consisted of roughly a quarter of the total game environment, one-third of the game missions, and a generous 30 minute time limit that only kicked in when the player reached a certain level of progression.

Conversely, the decision to include hugely accelerated skill levelling was unanimous because we all accepted that the biggest hook came from just a taste of a fully evolved agent's capabilities.

Crackdown consists of only one level, but unfortunately, it eats up more than 4Gb. Not wishing our demo download's girth to scare away potential players, we cited our maximum as that of previous demo heavyweight -- Project Gotham Racing 3, which clocked in at an impressive 1.4Gb.

By cutting all the audio, video, vehicles, and high LOD environment blocks that we knew couldn't be triggered without leaving the demo district (and then painstakingly replacing those we were wrong about) we eventually hit comfortably below this target.

To the knee-jerk outrage at the news of Halo 3's Beta attachment to Crackdown, the demo was the perfect antidote. Instantly well received and exploding to top honors in the 'most downloaded and played 360 demos ever' list, it was clear that Crackdown was going to enjoy the success we all reckoned it deserved. The gravy came when the team's aspirations for 'Warthog' style fan videos were also realized as hundreds of spectacular sandboxing stunts vied for space on YouTube.

3. Trust

As you'll see in "What Went Wrong," Crackdown was in many ways dealt a poor hand and was forced to play badly until at the last moment, it threw down a Royal Flush. In other words, there was an enormous strain on the publisher-developer relationship until just at the eleventh hour, belatedly, we delivered the game in full and on the initial promise.

At the same time, it would be misleading of me not to say that the relationship between Microsoft Game Studios and Realtime Worlds was simultaneously and paradoxically strong. There were certainly some individuals within Microsoft's production team who were passionate, driven, and great to work with.

Additionally, the wider first-party family (traditionally our competitors) were only too happy to help out whenever the need arose. But without one key element, Crackdown might not even have been conceived -- and that's trust, albeit the anxious sort, like the trust a parent gives a child when handing over the car keys for the first time.

I've learned the hard way that projects become exponentially less predictable the more unique, groundbreaking features they take onboard. Despite enormous potential for Crackdown to be a shipwreck, senior management on either side of the Atlantic imbued their teams with enough freedom for the project to push back the boundaries of an urban action environment, creating a home to an incredibly engaging sandbox experience. Without belief at all levels, games like Crackdown simply don't wind up on a store shelf.


Article Start Previous Page 2 of 6 Next

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