In Crackdown 3 on the Xbox One, Microsoft is planning to let players level an entire city thanks to the power of the cloud, potentially breaking new ground in video game development.
When the first Crackdown was released back in 2007, many people only bought it so they could play an early beta test demo of Halo 3, access to which Microsoft smartly included for early Crackdown purchasers. But those who actually played the game likely discovered its cartoony, orb-filled super hero-inspired adventure actually had a lot to offer.
Fast-forward eight years and Microsoft is touting the next entry in the once unknown franchise as a significant part of the company’s upcoming 2016 lineup of games. After watching a closed-door presentation of Crackdown 3 at Germany’s Gamescom conference this summer I can see why.
Leading up to the Xbox One’s launch, and even shortly following the release of the console, whenever a Microsoft executive was asked to list defining factors that separated the company’s machine from the PlayStation 4, the word “cloud” was often mentioned.
But what does “cloud” actually even mean? It’s an industry buzzword that in this context refers to powerful computers located in a remote location. These computers handle some intense processing while users are playing games—processing that each player’s Xbox One console would otherwise need to handle alone. Supposedly, that allows for more advanced games with less stress on the gaming hardware.
But despite early claims regarding the power of the cloud, there hasn’t been an Xbox One title that’s taken advantage of this technology in a way that’s noticeable or attention grabbing—at least not until Crackdown 3. Games like Forza 5 and Titanfall both offloaded processing to the cloud, but to the average player, nothing likely seemed to change regarding the type of experience these games created.
If Microsoft and Reagent Games’ Crackdown 3 actually lives up to the multiplayer demo they showed off at Gamescom, it could be the first game to use cloud processing in a way that fundamentally changes how developers create video games.
SIGNS OF DESTRUCTION
“When we knew we had the opportunity to make another Crackdown, we knew we wanted to innovate. And the innovation we wanted in [Crackdown 3] was to make a true multiplayer game,” said Crackdown series creator and Crackdown 3 Director David Jones. To Jones and his team, “true multiplayer” in Crackdown 3 apparently means the ability to destroy almost any object in the game.
I stood in front of a massive, sprawling skyscraper, with my two co-op partners looking on nearby. Almost in unison we shot rockets at the building in front of us. Small sections of its structure began to crumble and fall towards the ground. One rocket hit a pathway connecting the two tall buildings, causing it to plummet to the street at our feet.
Jones says that each piece of concrete crumbling off the building is a physical object in Crackdown 3’s virtual world, and that there can be literally thousands on the screen at one time. He also emphasized that each bullet in the game has a direct effect on Crackdown 3’s environment. And while the feature wasn’t active in this demo, every piece of rubble from demolition sessions can allegedly be picked up and used as a weapon.
This is notable because in most games, something like a building exploding into a million pieces would be an illusion; it only looks like rubble and shrapnel are flying everywhere, a visual effect where particles don’t have any weight or physics within the game’s engine. But in Crackdown 3, according to Microsoft and the developers, that’s not the case.
On the left hand side of the screen the number of servers handling the widespread destruction, displayed for the benefit of those watching, quickly increases. After one salvo of rockets the Xbox One and only two additional servers are active, but following the third and fourth rocket impact, additional cloud processors kick into gear and a grand total of eight begin managing different areas of the city as it crumbles to pieces. Over the course of this demo in order to show how the cloud processing works in Crackdown 3, each building was color-coded to the corresponding processor handling its destruction.
“100 percent destructible environments have [previously] been impossible to do in gaming for a variety of reasons, mostly computer power and memory,” said Jones. “We’re breaking walls down completely in video games the way I see it. To do that we had to change the way we build games. If I can go into every single building, there must be rooms in every single building, on every single level.”
Usually only select buildings in video games, especially massive titles like Grand Theft Auto V and Crackdown, actually have interiors. According to Jones, in order to create realistic destruction in Crackdown 3, every structure in the game needed a detailed inside that can be entered, shot through, and reduced to a smouldering pile of concrete. Jones also showed off how accurate Crackdown 3’s destruction is by shooting a hole in the centre of a concrete block, creating a makeshift sniper nest.
At one point, just as the final pieces of a nearby leveled building landed on the the street, the demo crashed and my player was thrown through the ground and proceeded to comically float under the game’s world. That’s not necessarily an uncommon sight in the types of pre-release, unfinished demos that companies show off at trade shows like Gamescom, and it doesn’t mean the final game will be buggy or broken. But it did make me think.
The developers overseeing the presentation promised that the issue had nothing to do with the game’s cloud technology, but still, I couldn’t help but imagine that my fellow destruction-happy demoers and I had perhaps pushed the game too far. We won’t know until it’s out exactly what the game and Microsoft’s cloud servers are capable of, after all, and we were really going all out.
Whether or not Crackdown 3’s lofty destruction abilities actually pan out remains to be seen, but what was shown off at Gamescom could potentially end up becoming groundbreaking. Also, don’t worry—you’ll still be able to collect tons of orbs in the trenches and peaks of the game’s virtual city. As long as it’s still standing, at least.
Patrick O'Rourke is a journalist from Toronto, Canada. He’s a staff writer at MobileSyrup and contributes to the National Post’s Post Arcade, Playboy and a variety of other technology-focused websites. Contact him on Twitter at @Patrick_ORourke or at email@example.com.
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