10 Interviews

Crews'n USA: Ivory Tower on The Crew's open-world ambition

By Chris Scullion on Thursday 3rd Oct 2013 at 9:37 AM UTC

While all eyes are on the launch line-ups for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, work continues on the second batch of games expected in early 2014. Of these later titles, Ubisoft's The Crew is undoubtedly one of the most exciting.

Promising a massive open-world racing environment spanning the entire United States of America and an emphasis on online co-op, that The Crew is a game with great ambition cannot be argued.

Despite this, it still remains to be seen whether this new IP will have both the quality and originality to break the curse of new racing game brands, and succeed where the likes of Blur and Split Second failed.

To discuss this, as well as some of the game's finer details, CVG sat down with Ivory Tower's creative director Julian Garrity.

Ubisoft is one of the few remaining third-party publishers that has committed full support for the Wii U. In fact, The Crew is one of the few Ubisoft games that won't be coming to Wii U. Is the reason for this down to hardware ability, network capability or sales?

It's a combination of those factors and to be honest it's not even a Wii U question, it's more an issue of current gen as well.

I've been on the project for the last two years and it's got a history beyond that, and the target platform was always high-end PC in order to realise our visualisation of what the game should be and what it could offer. It's a nice coincidence for us in many ways that the next-gen consoles have come along at the time that they have and that they have the architecture they have because it's allowed us to make a pretty smooth transition to them.

But honestly I think it was really an issue of the number of compromises we'd have to make on a number of platforms, not just Wii U. It would have been: "Well, we could do this but what would the impact be and what would that take away from what we were originally visualising?" That's really the reason behind it. It's a shame but, you know, things move on.

'Destiny With Cars' The Crew is basically a next-gen, persistently online Driver without any of the fluff. It's an open world racer spanning the entirety of the United States, and while a story-based campaign will feature, it hopefully won't involve superpowers.

According to Ubisoft, it'll take an hour and a half to drive from West Coast to East in The Crew's "idealised" version of America: idealised because it comprises only the best roads in the nations. That's 5,000 square miles of road to explore.

The Crew is a persistent online racer. Imagine Destiny with cars, basically: you'll constantly be encountering other real world players without any loading screens, lobbies or pauses. Players can form crews and complete race missions cooperatively, or they can compete against ghost records.

- Shaun Prescott

You'd expect such an ambitious game to appear at the end of a console's life when everyone's mastered its architecture, but this is coming to two systems that aren't even out yet and have been evolving throughout the game's development. Was this a challenge?

I think the approach both of the manufacturers have taken in terms of the core of their systems has been a big help. I remember the days of people tearing their hair out at the thought of having to port to PlayStation 3 in the early days and I've not experienced any of that this time around.

There are always challenges, for sure, with a multi-platform release but there's a much greater consistency in terms of not only what the machines are capable of but also how the machines operate. It's not been so bad for us but I think the key to that was the fact that for as long as I've been on the project we've led on PC, and we've seen that with a lot of people now.

A lot of people are saying, well, regardless of what the sales platform may be, by taking that approach and leading on PC you're going to put all of the versions on a very good platform and then from there you can look at what each one offers you and how you can push to maximise what that machine can do. But it's been a good start for us and, you know, we're not releasing until next year so we've still got some time to push those versions even further now that the specs have become more stable.


How much will The Crew offer single-player gamers or those who don't often play online?

There is a co-operative element to the game but you can choose to play single-player if that's the only element you're interested in. The entire game story, which basically takes you on a road trip around the whole country, getting into a whole series of missions and meeting characters, that is entirely playable in single-player and multiplayer co-op. It's not a choice you've got to make at the start, you can dip in and out as and when it suits you. All of the open-world sandbox gameplay is entirely single-player compatible.

Honestly, if it's your choice - and I completely understand that choice, it's a choice I'd make myself - there is nothing being held back and at no point are we going to say to you "oh, well, there's this really cool thing you could do but you really should be doing it in multiplayer". I think there's a lot of things where the online boosts the game, and there are rewards that we offer where we will enhance the rewards based on multiplayer participation.

So, to give a very basic example, the reward in terms of XP and cash that you would get playing on your own and doing a mission would be greater if you did that mission with your friends and if you were the best of your friends. There'd be an extra incentive in that because you played together you'd get a bigger reward.

Will there be scalable difficulty though? After all, if I'm struggling would I just be able to join a crew with my friends who are much better at the game and ride their coattails to an easy success?

Well, this is where the MMO comparisons sort of come in. In some respects it will come in easier in that four heads are better than one, but in other areas it'll raise the difficulty of the game to meet the challenge, so targets may be able to sustain more damage for example, or AI will be more aggressive.

So that is in there, and that's part of the reason why the rewards are greater if you play in multiplayer because we're going to raise the challenge a bit more and make you collaborate, but you get a better reward for doing it. But those rewards don't in any way mean a single player has to do anything differently to unlock content.

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These days the racing genre mainly consists of established brands - Gran Turismo, Forza, Need For Speed and the like - and few original properties succeed. How do you plan to address this with The Crew?

I think it's always a challenge putting your name out there and getting it noticed. E3 was an opportunity for us to show the game for the first time and we got a great reception there.

I think for us we have a number of pillars to the game which people have found very easy to grasp, like the open world and the promise of being able to drive through the whole US, that's got a great reaction - not just from driving and racing fans but from action fans and fans of other genres, because the promise is so huge that, you know, they're not players who would be into sims or other racing games but they see an exception potentially. So I think that's great.

I think to make a statement as bold as ours so early in to the life of the next generation gives us a good opportunity to establish a foothold and, compared to some of the games you've mentioned, the strategy for this game is very long-term. When you're dropping an environment the size of the US in player's laps on day one you're going to be supporting that game for some time.

Unlike some games where you'll hear people saying "this is a rental, I can finish this in a weekend" that's really not what you're looking at with The Crew, it's something on a much bigger scale and something that's going to be evolving post-release as well.


But when you say you're giving players the entire US on day one, does that really leave much scope for future DLC? Would you ever see the game map expanding to include other continents?

Our focus is still very much on the US and, I'm going to be honest, even with the current land mass there are many places where we could take that in terms of game content, which is still under discussion.

We're still kind of like: "Okay, we're releasing next year but what can we do to make the US feel fresh a year from now, or two years from now?"

But obviously when you work on a game of this size for as long as we have, conversation naturally gets drawn to, you know: "What are we going to do next?". But I'm not aware of any plans at the moment - all our plans are on making sure the players get to really experience and enjoy the land mass that we'll offer on day one which is the whole of the US, north to south, east to west, a huge number of cities.

The roads don't have barriers, you're not being restricted in your movements, you can go cross-country and not see a tarmac road for miles if you want to do. And that's there day one, that is all there for every player, single or multi, from the beginning.

Finally, it could be said The Crew has a direct competitor on PlayStation 4 in Drive Club, in that both games focus heavily on gathering a group of online friends to race together. There is a competitor on Xbox One too in Forza 5, albeit not a direct one. Has that disparity influenced you in any way?

Honestly, no. I mean, I've had so many years of working on driving and racing games that as a player first I always pay attention to what's being announced and what's coming out. I have to be honest, my knowledge of Drive Club is probably a little bit shaky and I should probably get a bit more educated on what they've been doing.

But for us, there are enough areas in which we're breaking new ground that we feel we stand alone quite comfortably in our own place, and hopefully we can attract as many players as we can to join us, really.