Microsoft Studios' Brian Stone on how Crackdown 3 leverages the cloud
Crackdown 3's most noteworthy feature is its cloud-processed destruction physics. We caught up with Microsoft to learn how it all works.
Crackdown 3 targets a February 15, 2019 launch date, complete with separate campaign and multiplayer competitive modes. The multiplayer modes, dubbed "Wrecking Zone," take place in a virtual arena dotted with gigantic explosive-filled skyscrapers, huge twisting sci-fi walkways, and electrified pitfalls. Notably, every chunk of these arenas can be destroyed by players, offloading physics computations to Microsoft's Azure cloud.
Leveraging Azure, multiplayer matches in Crackdown 3 utilize massive amounts of additional processing power beyond your base Xbox or PC, bringing persistent, dynamic physics-based destruction across sizeable urban-industrial-style maps. Last week, we talked to Microsoft about how it all works, and the implications it could have for the future of gaming.
Getting Crackdown 3's Wrecking Zone into a playable state sounds like it has been a gargantuan task for Microsoft. We spoke to Brian Stone, Microsoft Studios' head of engineering, to learn a bit more.
Crackdown 3 has traversed various incarnations since the early demonstrations in 2014. The original prototype showcased grey isometric shapes spilling out of a featureless, monochrome building. Today, we have towering neon skyscrapers with fully destructible building blocks, right down to the foundations.
Stone impressed the technical grind required to get Crackdown 3 to where it is today, and how Cloudgine, Ruffian Games, Reagent Games, Sumo Digital, and Certain Affinity all collaborated at various stages of the project on a very particular vision: completely destructible environments, offloaded to Microsoft's Azure cloud.
Microsoft encountered a range of unforeseen technical challenges as a result of that vision. Stone gave us some further insight into how the tech works, and a glimpse at the depths of complexity Microsoft's team had to deal with in order to get these features to work. From him:
The demo Stone was referring to was the above clip from Build 2014, which shows how physics calculations done over your internet connection can vastly increase the processing capability for what you see rendered on your home console. We were told that Crackdown 3's Wrecking Zone can use anything up to and beyond 12 times the power of a base Xbox One X.
Stone noted how Microsoft's on-going investments in datacenters and Azure hardware upgrades have helped mitigate some of the potential issues.
So how does it all work?
Those concerned that Crackdown 3 will need some kind of advanced internet service package or additional data bandwidth to run properly can rest assured that it works the same way any other multiplayer game would. Still, getting Crackdown 3 into a position where it wouldn't overwhelm your data caps also represented some hard technological challenges. Stone explained:
Crackdown 3 as a foundation
Stone offered a developer quote to describe Crackdown 3 from an engineering perspective, "It takes you half the time to do 90 per cent of the work, and then it takes you the other half to do the last 10 percent." I inquired about whether or not this tech could be applied beyond Crackdown 3's Wrecking Zone, perhaps to other Microsoft or even third-party titles as a sort of middleware suite, like Microsoft's Simplygon and Havok software. Stone said:
Back when Microsoft originally announced the Xbox One in 2013, the "power of the cloud" became a sort of meme detractors claimed to be nothing but buzzwords or vaporware. With Crackdown 3 around the corner (and having played it myself), it certainly seems like those original promises are about to bear fruit.
I also spoke with Stone about whether Microsoft was right to have talked cloud so early on in the Xbox One messaging:
Crackdown 3 and the future
Ultimately Crackdown 3 represents the culmination of an intense amount of engineering prowess that few companies outside of Microsoft can muster, both from a programmatical perspective, and an infrastructure perspective. Whether or not Crackdown 3 goes on to be a hit, it's a proof of concept for a new way of thinking about physics in games, innovating on the back of Azure's near-limitless processing capability.
Microsoft is razer-focused on making Crackdown 3 as good as it can be and hasn't even begun exploring how the tech could be applied to other titles, but the potential is not only obvious it's exciting. Stone agrees:
Crackdown 3 is scheduled to be released on February 15, 2019, for Xbox One and Windows 10. It'll be available as part of Xbox Game Pass, which is priced at $9.99 per month.
Get the Windows Central Newsletter
All the latest news, reviews, and guides for Windows and Xbox diehards.
Jez Corden a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!