Microsoft talks Crackdown 3 PC's unlocked framerate, ultrawide support and modding potential

I've played Crackdown 3, and wrote that its campaign feels straight out of 2007 in mostly fun ways. I didn't write too much about the PC version, but from what I saw it's almost all good news. The PC version ran well, with no slowdown or other issues in my experience, and out of the box had sensible key bindings—something recent games like Anthem and Fallout 76 have gotten wrong. After my demo, I chatted some with Xbox Studios' head engineer Brian Stone and Crackdown 3 head of production Jorg Neumann, who gave me a few details about the features the PC version supports. Even given the power of the Xbox One X, the PC version is going above and beyond.

"We used Gears 4 as the model of a really well-done PC version," Neumann said. "Brian was actually instrumental in deciding on the features, ultrawide and all that stuff, and we hired a specific developer for the PC version to help us. Double-11 has done an awesome job focused on the PC version, and I think it shows. We're all really proud of it, frankly."

Stone told me that Microsoft put "dedicated design and engineering against mouse and keyboard controls" to get them right and made sure that it supports various ultrawide resoultions, including the extremely wide 34:9.

And it supports unlocked framerates, including in multiplayer, which is especially a challenge because the mode supports crossplay with consoles. "That takes a lot of careful diligence on our side to make sure that it doesn't break the multiplayer experience when we're playing with devices with different capabilities," he said.

If you've ever wondered why certain games support unlocked framerates and others don't—or why that feature couldn't simply be patched in—Stone gave me a nice high-level explanation.

"It goes to the decisions that you make very early on in development. If you start with your engine design so that the simulation is unlocked from the presentation layer, then you're pretty well set-up to be able to unlock framerate later on. If you don't have that as part of the sort of starting point of your engine architecture, then it becomes almost impossible to do that later. Now in our case we're using UE4, which does have that as a core tenet of the architecture, and so all we really had to do was make sure that as we built on top of that, we weren't making any decisions to break that. ... So it's important to hold onto that throughout the development lifecycle, that effectively 'present' and 'sim' are separate ticks, and can execute separately."

Any game that tied animations to framerate didn't follow that advice.

The feature of Crackdown 3 Stone got most excited to talk about won't matter for most gamers, but will likewise excite the PC crowd who love to fiddle with their settings. Crackdown 3 ships with some deep diagnostics—stuff that Microsoft used to dial-in performance during testing—that you'll be able to use yourself. "We show you real time graphs of if you're dropping a frame, where, why it happens, did the GPU drop the frame or the CPU, so we actually provide a full on-screen overlay of diagnostics that you can turn on if you want to, to self-tune to the experience that you prefer," Stone said.

At the end of our interview, I asked about modding. Even though I knew it was a longshot—Microsoft's PC UWP platform is built to obfuscate game files, making modding difficult or impossible without official support—Crackdown 3 seems like such a ripe canvas for cool mods.

It's absolutely something we've considered," STone said. "In this case, we're focused on the launch experience, which is not targeted at modders. But yeah, I would love to look at that in the future. I think it's one of those things that can extend the lifespan of a game for a long time."

Far from a guarantee, but better than nothing. Crackdown 3 is out on PC on February 15.