The obvious question for many of our readers is simple: is APB really an MMO? Yes, and no. It all depends on someone’s definition. In the purely traditional sense, 100 man “districts” are a bit small to call it an MMO (there are 10,000 person cities, which are composed of multiple districts and more akin to a server in a traditional MMO). However, the game features persistent character progression, persistent worlds, guilds, no lobbies and all the other hallmarks. The line continues to blur between online games and MMOs, but this has more than enough of the core hallmarks that it looks and feels like one. That’s good enough for us.
The gameplay itself is match based, but there are no lobbies at all. Instead, players hang out in persistent “districts” and their actions within that common area automatically generate matches on the fly.
“There really is no overarching story in APB,” Jones noted. He wants the players to be the content and drive it themselves.
It works something like this: A criminal player sees a nice car and decides to steal it. They do so. If they are seen by an NPC or trip an alarm, etc., then the game immediately matches them against others in the area and seamlessly a match begins. A really good criminal might get three Forcers (Law Enforcement) pitted against them as the police chase begins.
It doesn’t stop there. If the criminal or criminals dodge those first three, the game automatically escalates the encounter. More and more players will receive the “APB” and be sent to hunt down the criminal. Just like in Grand Theft Auto, when a simple police chase eventually leads to helicopters and rocket launchers, APB simulates the same thing; the only difference is that everyone on both sides is a real person.
“We’ve replaced AI with players as content,” said Jones. So where do the NPCs fit in? They tend to act as the inciting force. Run over a guy on the road? That’s a crime. Stealing a car and a passer by “sees you?” That’s likely to generate an encounter. They wander around and react as they do in GTA, but largely are the fodder for the PvP war.
Encounters work the other way too. Sometimes law enforcement players will get missions, for example “protect this truck as it delivers money from one bank to the other.” Of course, criminals get a mutually exclusive mission and mayhem begins.
While the game employs 100 person districts, the only limit on players is that they stay within their cluster of districts (or city). In fact, on a casual night, players can just tell the system to place them in an appropriate area. Or, if they prefer, they can keep track so they can jump in with their friends or gang-mates and try to carve out their own area.
While each city is a replication of the next, don’t expect them all to be the same. Jones expects player run gangs to take root in some cities and wants to allow them to really have a strong effect on the game world. Players can graffiti walls, buy real-estate and even earn full bronze statues of themselves. He wants players to become famous, or infamous.
As it is likely that criminals will be more popular, APB will also feature criminal vs. criminal content. Not only will criminal gangs need to fight the cops, but they’ll also have to watch out for each other.
The rewards of a good gang, though, can be huge. At launch, there will be NPC gangs and enforcement agencies that hand out a lot of the missions and content. Jones believes that over time, player gangs and groups will grow and eventually be able to hand out missions and generate content for other players.
Progression in APB is more about options. More experienced players will have access to bigger guns and other advantages, but the difference is more like 15% to 20% of a veteran player vs. a new player. A shot to the face kills, no matter who holds the gun.
The game features two ways to track progress. There is the threat rating, which tracks how good the player is. A personal rating tracks how much of the game’s content the player has consumed. Both will be measured and should provide players plenty of ways to compare rap sheets.
They also have plans to avoid mass chaos. People cannot just steal each other’s really beautifully crafted cars, instead they need to feed off NPCs. They also cannot just wander around firing shots at each other on the street all the time. Most of the combat will be session based, which basically means one side needs to take a mission and is aware of what they’re getting into, while the other side has to pursue. Although, Jones did indicate they have plans for a chaos server where all the rules are out the window.
APB has signed a distribution deal with EA and Jones said the game is due out early in 2010.