When Crackdown 3 was announced in 2014, Microsoft emphasized the return of series creator Dave Jones and his new company Cloudgine, which provided a cloud computing service to help power in-game destruction that would otherwise be impossible on a baseline Xbox One. In an interview with Kotaku around that time, Xbox head Phil Spencer, now executive vice president for gaming at Microsoft, said, “[Jones’] Cloudgine company is doing a lot of the technology behind Crackdown.” But earlier this year, Fortnite creator Epic Games announced it had acquired Cloudgine. Jones left the creative director role at the project’s co-developer Reagent Games, and with it Crackdown 3, to take the role of director of cloud and esport strategies at Epic.
The move raises questions about Microsoft’s plans for the game’s big multiplayer destruction. The initial description of the destruction sounded almost futuristic. “Unlike other games, this wall has compute power and memory on demand,” Jones told GamesTM magazine. “Each single bullet will take away a little bit of the geometry. And everything is physical. In true Crackdown style if I want to be at the top of a building, any building, and create a little sniper nest and shoot my friends from there so they can hardly see me, then that’s pretty exciting. That’s the kind of thing we can do.”
A Gamescom 2015 demo displayed publicly, for the first time, how this would work. While the visual fidelity didn’t compare with modern open-world games, the physics and destruction approached Jones’ bold promise, with the player bringing down skyscrapers piece by piece.
Last week at E3 2018, we spoke with Microsoft Studios head Matt Booty about the status of the destruction mode, which the company hasn’t shown since that 2015 demo. Booty confirmed the destruction-heavy online multiplayer mode remains in development. “It is still part of [Crackdown 3],” said Booty. “We’re not showing a lot of details about that here. We’ll have more to show as the year goes on.”
Booty was less clear on which cloud tools will power that mode. “You know, we’re super lucky as part of Microsoft that we get to work so closely with the Xbox platform team, that the cloud shows up in all of our games in pretty exciting ways. [...] Over time, things will evolve and I can’t really speak to what’s in the game, but it’s — these days with a big game like that, we’re very fortunate to have access to industry-leading cloud technology.”
Asked for clarity on whether or not this meant Cloudgine and Microsoft’s own cloud tools would power the mode, Booty responded, “You know, I’m not going to get into the actual technical breakdown. Let’s just say that we’ve got access to a great infrastructure, and the game’s got some great tech in it, and we’re going to put those two together in the way that makes the most sense.” Booty’s response marks a sharp departure from Spencer’s 2014 claims about the role Cloudgine would play in the final product.
Booty also confirmed that Microsoft is no longer working with Jones or Reagent Games on Crackdown 3. “We’re just working with Sumo [Digital] right now,” said Booty. “That’s our main development partner. And as you know, I’m sure you know, any game has got a number of folks that come in to help us with content and some development, but Sumo’s our main ... Sumo is our main partner on Crackdown.”
The status of Reagent has been a mystery since Epic announced the acquisition of Cloudgine in January. Even though Cloudgine and Reagent are technically separate companies, they seem to have close ties — Jones having co-founded Cloudgine and founded Reagent, and having served as creative director at the latter. Following the Cloudgine acquisition, multiple Reagent employees left the company to join Jones at Epic or take jobs elsewhere, according to their personal LinkedIn pages. On LinkedIn, only three people have Reagent listed as their current employer. Two of those employees have added other jobs since November 2017. The other, when contacted via email, confirmed they no longer work at Reagent, but declined to go into detail regarding the project or the status of the company.
Emails and phone calls to Reagent have gone unanswered. The company’s Twitter account hasn’t posted since January 2017, when it tweeted a job listing for a software engineer. The included link is now dead, as is the rest of the company’s website.
Dave Jones has not commented at publish time, and when contacted about the acquisition earlier this year, Epic Games’s PR team denied requests for an interview with Jones.
In an E3 2018 interview with Giant Bomb, Jeff Gerstmann asked Phil Spencer about Crackdown 3’s original announcement and its emphasis on cloud-based destruction. “I thought we got a little bit into talking about how we’re building the game and not talking about the game,” said Spencer. “So after some of the stuff, I was like, it’s not about the power of the cloud — and everybody can find a video of me saying that, so I understand — but let’s talk ... just talk about being Crackdown.”
“There’s still creative work to do,” Spencer continued. “I’m not saying the game’s perfect by any stretch right now. But we are committed to the game. We definitely had a heart-to-heart as we were rolling into E3: ‘If we’re going to show this and we’re going to say it’s coming, I don’t want to head-fake the community again.’”
Part of that commitment will involve Microsoft’s own cloud tech. Crackdown 3 will still benefit from Microsoft’s Azure cloud server network, the actual computing source that, in recent years, Microsoft reps have said would grant games 13 times the physics computing power of the Xbox One. How Azure will support the destruction mode without the support of Cloudgine should become clear once the game ships in February of next year.