GTA Creator Talks Crackdown

GTA Creator Talks Crackdown

Next-Gen spoke with Grand Theft Auto creator Dave Jones about his upcoming Xbox 360 game Crackdown, his adoration of Xbox Live, out-doing GTA and a new $31 million investment that will let his firm make lots of cool stuff…

For a game designer that has created the Grand Theft Auto and Lemmings franchises, what else is there left to do?

Jones’ answer: Snag a cool $31 million investment for your company and keep plugging away at two pieces of fresh IP.

Jones in fact is the person who created 1991’s meandering Lemmings and the decidedly more mature GTA, which debuted in 1997.

Now he’s the founder, CEO and creative director of Scotland-based Realtime Worlds, established in 2002. The next frontier for Jones and his crew is online-focused next-gen games development, initially in the form of its first title, the Microsoft-published Crackdown for the Xbox 360, and then Webzen’s All Points Bulletin (APB) for PC and Xbox 360.

Nearly three years into development, Crackdown almost seems like the anti-GTA: It’s still a go-anywhere-do-anything sandbox-style game, but in Crackdown the main character is not the criminal sort. Instead, the game puts gamers on the other side of the law, playing the role of a super-powerful cop that has been commissioned to rid the fictional Pacific City of crime. Don’t be mistaken—the protagonist is an authority figure, but as justice’s last resort, he can cleanse the town by whatever means necessary, so gamers shouldn’t expect to be giving thugs a fair trial.

Jones told Next-Gen that the game, due out next year, is shaping up nicely. “[Crackdown] is coming along really well,” he said. “Basically, we’re in the final, final stages of just bug-fixing now. We hope to have that all wrapped up over the holidays, and then launch in spring. It’s not far away at all, as far as we’re concerned.”

Lots of sand

But honestly, sandbox games of varying quality are utterly commonplace nowadays. Mercenaries from Pandemic and Saints Row from Volition are two of the better examples of the genre, but what will Crackdown have to offer that’s different?

moscallout"It’s going to be very hard for any game to reach [GTA’s] success."/moscalloutJones explained, “There are quite a few things [that set Crackdown apart from other sandbox games]. The [Xbox 360’s] Achievement system is really good, because sandbox is all about trying out cool things, so we can go to Achievements and find out what players are doing. … [We’re] also really pumping up the number of what we call ‘toys’ in the world. Sandbox is all about explosions, trying things out with loads of other things. On 360, we’re really pushing it in terms of vehicles, characters—it really becomes a lot more fun when you lump in all that kind of stuff. And co-op is definitely one of the strongest yet.”

The designer is particularly excited about that co-op online aspect. “In terms of online, it’s one of the first of these sandbox games with co-op. So that’s quite difficult to do, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun. We spent a lot of time on the technology for that. … As the franchise progresses, you might see something else continue in that space.”

Loving Live

As a developer who is watching the online gaming realm with particular interest, Jones also has plenty of love to express for Microsoft’s online service, which Crackdown will utilize in a few ways. “I think [Xbox Live] is absolutely brilliant,” he opined. “It’s really the defining thing for Microsoft. … One of the reasons we got the investment is so that we could try some new things in the Live space—using the Marketplace, downloadable stuff. It’s just great for all the stuff you can do—the big games, the very small ones. There’s just potential for other things as well.”

He couldn’t go into specifics regarding Crackdown’s downloadable offerings, but did say Realtime Worlds is in talks with Microsoft about content. Still, Jones added that as far as his company’s online plans are concerned, the main focus will be on online multiplayer and community aspects.

Out-doing GTA?

As creator of one of the biggest franchises around, Jones doesn’t act as if he’s living in the shadow of his own creation—GTA— nor is he driven by the thought of out-doing the series.

“It’s always good to have a big hit game, but we’re just driven by gameplay, and we focus on that more than anything else. … It’s going to be very hard for any game to reach [GTA’s] success. … It’s not something we tend to think about, but we have the same kind of dedication and enthusiasm that made GTA. We put that into all our games. There’s no reason why some other games could potentially [reach the same status].”

The next title after Crackdown is a cops-versus-bad guys MMO called APB for PC and Xbox 360. As the game isn’t expected to launch until 2008, available details are scarce, but Jones said it has just come off of pre-production and the first playable builds have been circulating.

On PS3 and Wii

So what’s with Realtime Worlds and all this Xbox 360 development? Does Jones have something against the PlayStation 3 and Wii? Nah.

“I’ve only seen [the PS3 and Wii] at shows,” he explained. “I find it as hard as anyone else to get a hold of one, especially in Europe. … It’s a shame that I haven’t had a chance to spend much time on them yet.”

He continued, “We’ve been really focused. We’re only doing two projects at a time, so we’re focused on APB on PC and Crackdown on 360. We really haven’t had a chance to look at [other] dev kits.”

Private equity and complete control

The big news for Realtime Worlds today is the aforementioned $31 million investment made by big venture capital firm New Enterprise Associates (NEA), which has invested in other game-related businesses such as Xfire and Glu Mobile.

Jones said that the investment will allow his company to focus on “being independent and working on new IP.”

Private equity is very gradually becoming more common, some examples being BioWare-Pandemic’s support from Elevation Partners and Foundation 9 Entertainment’s friends at Francisco Partners.

Jones said control over projects is one of the best results drawn from private equity. “I think [private equity] is a good route to go,” he determined. “I think it’s a good balance. Basically, we’ll always have some kind of publisher funding, but it’s always good to do a project yourself, where you are in complete control. Obviously, publishers and their people are going to want to have certain ideas. I think it’s good to have investment backing where new IP is seen fully to its completion, basically.”

He explained that the investors “won’t have much of an effect on daily operations,” although NEA principal Patrick Chung and NEA partner Harry Weller will join Realtime Worlds’ board. Ian Hetherington, founder of Psygnosis and former Sony Computer Entertainment Europe CEO will remain chairman.

Jones added that the investment will have “no effect” on his company’s relationship with Microsoft or other publishing partners, although he speculated that now Realtime Worlds can self-fund Crackdown and sell the game in different markets if it chooses.

A good combination

A promising young independent game company; interesting, fresh projects; management with a good track record; some extra money to play around with… it all sounds like a good combination.

“[The partnership with NEA] is letting us invest in our tremendous new state-of-the-art studio here, and we’re hoping to create an amazing environment for creating new IP and fresh ideas all the time,” Jones concluded.