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All Points Bulletin: E3 2009 Preview

The inventor of Grand Theft Auto presents APB, a game that brings the criminal mayhem online.

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Every so often, a game comes along that doesn’t just push the technical boundaries, but takes all those theoretical ideas and bundles them into one title. All Points Bulletin (APB) looks like it’s going to be that kind of game.

Developed by Realtime Worlds out of Scotland, APB is the brainchild of the same guy who invented Grand Theft Auto, David Jones. Unlike the original top-down, low tech mayhem maker, APB isn’t holding anything back technologically.

This game features character and car customization that is absolutely unparalleled, quite the feat given that every game at E3 claims their customization is just that. APB seems to have delivered. Jones ran us through the system at E3 and demonstrated its flexibility.

The staples are all there. People can morph the face and body with dozens of sliders. Aside from the sheer quality of the system, what really sets it apart is how they treat textures. People can quickly paint and apply patterns and decals to clothing or skin and create totally asymmetrical characters. For example, if you want your bad girl to wear one knee high sock, go for it!

This gets even cooler on cars. In the demonstration, they added custom paint jobs. These were quickly slapped onto the car, which then automatically sensed where to apply it and where not to. For example, the system automatically cut out around windows. Then, once applied, it looked not like a sticker on a car, but rather something painted on in real life, complete with the underlying metallic sheen.

To demonstrate the full flexibility, the video behind Jones then showed off a creepy digital Barrack Obama as put together with their in-game tools.

Each player should be able to easily make a character that is completely original to the APB world and the game will never force people to change how they look just because they want to upgrade their character.

They didn’t stop pushing technical boundaries there, either. APB pushes the borders of audio in a range of ways as well:

The game doesn’t just feature fully integrated VOIP, but for the first time, incorporates totally directional 3D sound. In the demonstration, a character could hear a gun battle and went to check it out. As she walked up, she saw two sides in full combat, yelling instructions to each other. As one gunman passed by the character, you literally could hear him coming and passing by.

They also wanted players to “know” who killed them. So, they tossed in an in-game music creation tool that lets people quickly compose their own audio “kill songs.” Shoot someone in APB and they’ll hear the song you put together. It’s kind of a signature.

Finally, through a deal with Last.fm, players are able to import all of their music into the game. As they drive around, they can play it from the radio in their car and, using 3D directional audio, people will hear each other coming as they blast their favorite songs. What Last.fm enables is a real time matching system. It compares the guy playing the song’s library with those of people on the street and if both have the song in their library, they both hear it. If the other guy doesn’t, he’ll hear the closest possible match to that song. That gets around legal entanglements and still lets groups, or gangs, play iconic music as a warning to others.

All of these achievements, combined with absolutely off the charts cities, cars and characters likely means absurdly high system requirements when this game eventually makes it to market. That’s a decision that could ultimately limit their audience, especially since for the initial launch, the game will be PC only (Xbox 360 is likely to follow). It will be a tough balancing act to break new technical ground in a way that is practical to all users.

What none of these achievements tell anyone, though, is what the game itself is about. Jones obviously talked about that too.

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