During GDC, the Epic corporate room was really busy, running press events every couple of hours throughout the entire event. However, on Wednesday afternoon, at the end of an Unreal-hosted presentation that featured tech-heavy talks about "deformable surface textures" and "spline deformation tools", I managed to get a close-up look at APB ... and it looked good.
Why the Realtime Worlds team decided to reveal APB (for the first time in US) at the tail end of a presentation that showed off a bunch of new features of the Unreal engine is anyone's guess, but the thirty-minute live demo that followed answered a lot of questions about the upcoming "cops 'n' robbers" MMO.
Introducing the demo was Dave Jones, the veteran developer and founder of Realtime Worlds. (Dave has worked on loads of games and was instrumental in creating the classic Lemmings, the Grand Theft Auto franchise, and Crackdown.) In conjunction with a group of developers playing along in Dundee and Colorado, Dave took the audience through a whirlwind tour of the APB universe.
Skipping over the already-revealed character-customization system, Dave logged a character (a spiffy spiky-haired blonde chick decked out in a designer basque, headband and leather pants) into the game, and headed first into the Social District. This area is where your character goes to access all of their social and customization options. The Social District is a fully realized 3D space (not a UI lobby) that's been dressed up to look like a swanky condo development with a nice seafront view. Here is where players can come to chat, hang out, form clans, and listen to music. It's also where budding artisans can design outfits, trick out vehicles, and compose music.
Player outfits are completely customizable. Developers have created a large selection of basic clothing, which players can then take and modify: For example, by changing its colors, textures, patterns, adding designs, changing the "cuts", etc. Dave stressed that players will be able to sell/trade "anything" that's been customized, making it possible to make a living as a fashion designer.
In addition to modifying and designing outfits, players will also be able to modify vehicles. Again, the customization options for vehicles are impressive, and follow the same principles as for clothing: Developers create lots of different "blank-slate" cars and then players go nuts modifying them. Kind of like, "Pimp my Ride", but with guns. The goal is to make it trivial for players to ensure that all vehicles look unique. And to allow the really good car designers to make some in-game cash by selling tricked-out vehicles to other players.
But the customization doesn't stop there. Players can also create their own audio tracks. Fancy having your own theme song? How about a jingle that plays whenever you die? No problem. You can. And, any music you create, you can play in your car.
The Social District also includes a "full auction house" where players can sell anything they've designed. Dave also teased that there will be night clubs (that play player-created music) and cinemas (?!?).
Dave interacted with a nearby NPC and brought up a player-customization UI screen. All the options that have been reported previously were here. I'm not going to go into the myriad of options that the player has at their fingertips in this article, except to say that APB has the most robust character-creation system I've ever seen. It was unclear whether players will be able to re-access these options at this NPC for free or whether "plastic surgery" will have an in-game cost.
Running around this area, we passed several statues. Dave pointed out that these were statues of actual players. He whizzed by too quickly for me to make out what each statue's player had actually achieved, but the statues were quite detailed -- not just a blobby Oscar-like representation of a player.
Dave also mentioned that the Social District contains lots of "display points" - places where players can show off their stuff. While there will definitely be display points for vehicles (kind of like a car dealership), I'm not sure whether they exist for clothing or music too.
As our brief tour of the Social District came to a close, Dave stressed that one of the goals of APB is to make it possible to visually recognize someone by their appearance alone and to ensure that everyone in the world looks unique. From the tools shown in the Social District, I would say that Realtime Worlds have nailed that particular goal.
Next up: the Financial District - a.k.a. Where the Crime Happens. As Dave's avatar logged into this zone, we got our first look at the play environment. The Financial District is a fairly open area filled with lots of city blocks comprised of multistory buildings, and peopled with lots of NPCs, most of whom are just ordinary citizens going about their business. Dave's character started out under the entrance to a parking garage staring across a street into a small park. Rows of parked cars lined the street around the park. It all looked very tranquil.
Suddenly, one of the parked-car's windshield shattered. Tracer rounds whizzed by, pinging into the car, causing further damage. Then, screaming into view skidded an SUV, which plowed into the car, causing both vehicles to explode. No-one got out. A, now panic-stricken, NPC pedestrian stood stunned at the nearby intersection. Seconds later, another chatter of automatic gunfire broke the silence. One of the rounds hit the pedestrian in the head, and the NPC crumpled to the ground. Awesome!
Dave seemed nonplussed by the wanton carnage that had just erupted - his character was a "criminal" (not an enforcer) after all. He headed back into a nearby underground garage looking for a criminal "contact". These NPC contacts are where players pick up quests, and they can also be vendors. Both criminals and enforcers have contacts that can offer quests, and both sides can start a mission. However, after interacting with a contact and briefly showing a mission window, Dave didn't accept it, and headed back outside to perform some criminal acts instead.