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APB: GDC First Look Part Two - Optimist

While at this year's Game Developer's Conference both Keith Cross and Laura Genender attended a seminar called "My First MMO". This seminar was about the upcoming MMO All Points Bulletin. While both Keith and Laura left the room impressed, Keith's impressions were pessimistic, while Laura's was through the roof enthusiastic. Today, we present both of their views as an MMORPG.com first look at APB.

This past Thursday I accompanied Keith to the “My First MMO” seminar. I didn’t really know what to expect; to be honest, I thought it would be ‘lessons learned’ about MMO-specific issues, like customer support tools, PVP vs. PVE balance, etc. As Keith mentions in his article, though, the seminar was more about speaker David Jones’ upcoming MMO All Points Bulletin, or APB.

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The first half of the seminar, Jones discussed the definition of an MMO and how he was trying to break that mold. Keith gives an excellent description of that presentation, far beyond my power of memory, so I’ll just recommend you read his article and move on to APB.

The second half of the seminar was a showcase of APB, and here’s where my jaw started unhinging. Everything about the game seems fresh, detailed, and unique; whether or not it will actually work as an MMO is another question, but it’s Keith’s job to be jaded – I get to be a fangirl.

Character Creation

I try to shake off the “female gamer” stereotype by showing little interest in my characters’ appearances, clothing, accessories, etc. Truth is, while I would gladly wear an “ugly” piece of armor if the stats were better, I love looking great with my character. I spent hours in City of Heroes and PotBS playing with character creation. I’ve timed my client out several times while tinkering with EVE portraits. I even play with my armor dye colors during raids while playing EverQuest (man, I hope my raid leader isn’t reading this).

With all that in mind, I was absolutely batty over the APB character creation demo at GDC. While we only got to see a male avatar, the detail of customization was so deep and innovative that I believe I began to salivate.

The amount of details which you can put into character creation is overwhelming; it surpasses City of Heroes, POTBS, and even EverQuest II. You can make your character skinny or fat, buff or lean; you can change their height and skin color and even change how prominent their veins are. You can decide the size and angle of ears, mouth, nose, cheeks, eyes, eyebrows, forehead. You can pick their hair color and style, then GROW the hair out in whole or in part (i.e. just the bangs or just the back – mullet, anyone?).

As amazing as that all was, my eyes bulged out of my head when Jones showed us the decal system, and how it could be implemented in terms of character creation. In another customization screen you can create logos or decals via geometric shapes and a selection of random images such as suns, skulls, etc. Using various geometric shapes, players will be able to make detailed, personalized images; the demo we saw included a hockey mask and two skulls in front of a flaming background.

Players can then use those logos on their character’s body as extremely realistic tattoos – and man, do I mean realistic. They followed the contour of the body and stretched as the player desires to wrap around an arm or over a shoulder. You can essentially create any tattoo you want, and stick it anywhere you want.

Players can also pick from a variety of different clothing items, which can all be layered, mixed, and matched as desired. David Jones showed us a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, where the user could decide to tuck his shirt in to the pants, into the boxers, or leave his shirt untucked. You can layer a short sleeve shirt over a long, or a jacket over it all. You can wear a necklace, or several necklaces.

Of course, the decal/logo system applies to clothing, too. Player-made decals follow the contours of cloth, and can even be put on your shoes.

Last but not least, vehicles play an important role in character creation in APB. Vehicles can be similarly detailed and customized, with different styles of headlights, fenders, wheels, etc. You can even choose to have your car be green, but the engine hood be red. Want to play music in your car? Anyone you drive by will hear it if they have the same track; if not, the game checks to see if they have a song by the same artist, then genre, then random.

A video of part of the character creation system can be found here: http://www.gamevideos.com/video/id/17691

Gameplay

Quests in your average MMO are mostly PVE based. You kill some goblins and bring their heads to your NPC; you kill some bats and bring their wings to your NPC. Sometimes you have to kill a special boss which has an annoyingly long spawn time and/or a placeholder to bring his SPECIAL head or SPECIAL wing to your NPC, and you get a slightly more SPECIAL reward. But it’s all very repetitive.

APB aims to make PVP an intrinsic feature of “questing”. Players are divided into two factions which essentially boil down to “cops and robbers”. Robbers get tasks like hijacking an armored van, or stealing televisions – and cops get missions to stop them. Players are matched up based on location and skill – while the game doesn’t have levels, per say, it has some sort of tracking system which keeps track of your ability.

You might be matched up 1 v 1 against someone of similar ability, or 1 v 4 against 4 newbies. As David put it, this means everyone ends up happy: the 4 newbies have a chance because they only have to face one guy, and the one guy gets to be a badass and take on 4 people by himself.

From there, it’s up to the players – you can have a car chase or a shoot down; you can use pistols and accuracy or make big ‘splosions with a rocket launcher. Because of the dynamic match up system, no two missions are the same.

You can watch more about that here and here.

Conclusions

Keith, Jon, and even Evan spent a fair share of time trying to shake me out of my hype, but I’m not going to let them rain on my parade. Even if APB doesn’t pan out, it’s representative of a new and much needed shock to the MMO world: APB is a well funded, well made attempt at something unique and innovative. And hopefully we’ll see more, similar attempts by developers in the years to come – if you kiss enough frogs, you’re bound to find a prince!

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