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APB: Reloaded Interviews: Interview with EJ Moreland

By Angie Webb on June 14, 2010

MMORPG.com:

After the news from GDC and PAX, could you talk about some of the new information that has been released since then?

EJ Moreland:

I’m trying to think what we actually announced at PAX and GDC, I don’t think we talked about the business model. Basically the business model is the biggest new thing … and open beta starting basically about a week to a week-and-a-half from now (ed. interview was on June 2nd) That’s what the current plan is. It’s moved a little bit, but somewhere within the next few weeks ... and our release date being June 29th for the US and July 1st/2nd for EU/UK.

MMORPG.com:

For someone who’s not familiar with APB can you kind of sum it up?

EJ Moreland:

APB is an online action game at its heart. That’s really the kind of core experience that we expect people to walk to the shelf and buy it for. I kind of relate it more to “paintball online”. We don’t do locational damage. It’s meant to be an easier transition then say Modern Warfare or Counterstrike, and it’s not akin to those games. I’ve played those games quite a bit. I think there’s a bigger audience out there that enjoys player-to-player competition. It just can be so free formed that they get overwhelmed. I think with the structure we have and what we are trying to do, that there is a big enough audience out there that just really going to enjoy the game. If you like paintball, I think you’re going to like APB.

MMORPG.com:

Can you talk about the customization a little bit?

EJ Moreland:

Sure. So, you know, that was one of the first things we actually got right. The customization R&D was going on before I got to the company, and was pretty much mature by the time I got there. What we spent a lot of time on the last two, two-and-a-half years, was actually getting the editors to a consumer-usable form, and what we really wanted to do was give you the broad range. I mean, everyone looks at Forza’s and goes “That’s really cool”, so we looked at Forza and went “OK, I want to do clothes like that” and “I’m going to do my body like that".  

So that’s where we started: car, clothing, person. And then later we added in the music as our audio team came online and started bringing those ideas. We wanted to have a customization that lets you create whatever you want. We don’t tie functional advancement to the visual. It’s not like a situation in an RPG where everyone wears the same armor. You know you really can make whatever you want. And then we added the movie capture and the screen shots so that the story (yeah, there’s a story about San Paro): we reveal it slowly. But there’s no overarching kind of protagonist/antagonist that you’re a part of.

Really what we think is, and this is from my experience as well as Dave’s (Jones), when you go on a lot of MMOs, you go and you raid, you do your groups, you get your loot, but really what you remember at the end of the day is, not what the quest was about or what the raid was about, it’s how much fun you had with the people. It’s the funny situations; the screw-ups; the last-minute victories. And so for us, we put all these tools together to let you really create what you want to look like in a really fun approachable action game, and then let you record that and tell your story.

We have movie capture built into the game – the “Awesome Button”, which you can set up with a decently good machine, which always buffers the last 30 seconds. So when you hit the button, it writes that 30 seconds and starts capturing from where you’re at. So you never miss that moment, even if it’s gone past. As long as it’s been in the last 30 seconds, you can still capture it. It brings in the last 30 seconds it’s been buffering and starts recording so you actually get that whole ability. So we really think we have a game here in which you can tell a funny story or a cool story, or you can remake a movie scene if you want to. Our QA team has remade quite a few movies.

And, you know, it's this big fun sandbox. It has a fun action game to it that’s not going to appeal to everyone. But that’s the first step. We have a really ambitious long-range plan for this. And obviously, the success or failure of first release is going to impact that. But we see the future in things. I talk about the player housing; doing the social 2O, where we’ll be able to do things like “Am I Hot or Not?”; fashion shows; car shows; movie sets where you can create real movies. Because you can make the costumes, you can record the dialog, you can capture the movie, now you just need a customizable set. So I see customization going into housing. I see customization going into map customization at some point. But none of that’s tomorrow and none of that’s six months after release. But it’s a big construction kit to us, and we’re a bunch of big kids that enjoy it and so, for the first step, it’s: look like you want; capture the moment you want; and have this really fun, not-simplistic but approachable action game to it.

 

MMORPG.com:

Pet classes are kind of important to some people. Is there anything in the future? K-9 units for Enforcers maybe?

EJ Moreland:

We’ve talked about it. AI in an Unreal-based game is tough. It really takes about the same resources as a player in some of the current implementations we’ve seen. We’re going to spend a lot of time looking at it. We certainly want to introduce a real AI, not just a simulated population. We’ve certainly talked about guard dogs. It’s a natural activated character upgrade, just like the animal supply tank. It’s cool. It’s fun. And you get something else you have to worry about. But when it happens, I’d like it to happen sooner rather than later, but I wouldn’t expect to see that for quite a few months probably. Probably for at least the first year I wouldn’t expect that. I think the first year is going to be focused on new rule-sets to appeal to different players, and then a couple of new maps here and there.

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MMORPG.com:

Dave, at GDC during the Unreal presentation, mentioned cinemas and night clubs.

EJ Moreland:

Yep. So we have the cinemas and nightclubs in, but we don’t have them fully really utilized quite to the level of freedom that we’re eventually going to have. Right now, each of the factions has their own faction-specific nightclub, and only that faction can get through the door. Right now it’s really pretty much up to the players how they utilize those. It’s a set. There’s really not a lot of game functionality associated with that.

MMORPG.com:

Are these in the Social District?

EJ Moreland:

Yeah. When you go into the Social District, there’s obviously the big RTW building that has a bunch of editors and stuff in it, and then there’s the red building and the blue building, for the red and blue factions. And those are the kind of nightclub we’ve been building. They are faction specific right now, but the idea is that we want to use that as a basis to kind of see what players want to do there. Once we know, or once we get some feedback, we are going to start adding functionality to let that happen.

MMORPG.com:

Will the cinemas play player-generated movies?

EJ Moreland:

I wouldn’t be surprised if you hear talk about what we’re call APB TV at some point in the near future, but it’s probably not going to happen for at least a few months. The reason we wanted to build it ahead of time is to kind of mark out space in the Social District. But eventually you’re going to be able to, I suspect, be able to put movies in there and watch movies: player movies, not our movies. Again, it’s just like the story. Everyone goes “Why don’t you have really hand-crafted quests with lots of narrative?” It’s because I think the majority of players care about their own stories more than they care about ours. And while there are certainly other companies out there that disagree with me, and are putting all their eggs in that basket, I think maybe we are being a little radical about it, but I think it’s the way to go.

MMORPG.com:

What have the beta players enjoyed the most?

EJ Moreland:

So, what’s interesting is we’ve had a group of beta players in since last October in Europe, and since about January in the States. There’s really two distinct groups. There’s the group that really wants to just go in there and play a real hard-core action game, and I think they enjoy the diversity of our action game, but they are still a little frustrated about things like the fact that we don’t have head shots. They want a little more than “paintball online”. And then there’s the group that just think that the customization is amazing.

Watching those guys blend with these guys ... we’ve done movies where we’ve shown customized groups and people think that’s us doing that. We’ve actually stolen off the beta players. There’s one specific movie that came out at PAX East which showed a bunch of guys in these vans and cars lined up that were all yellow, and their guys were in yellow. That’s a player clan: Bruteforce . That’s their thing.

Another thing that I see a lot of players doing is they get into what they create. We have the San Paro Sheriff’s Department in the game that’s a player-run clan, and they treat it just like real cops. They signal when they turn. They don’t hit pedestrians. They read people their rights once they arrest them. I mean they just get into it. And with the voice chat, that’s definitely been a double-edged sword. It makes for some great conversations and great times, but you get the occasional guy that thinks it’s Xbox Live and wants to just annoy everybody. We have ways to deal with that: players can immune specific people’s voice chat, and we’re going to stop people from really disrupting the servers. But I think it’s the mix. Everyone walks into it expecting one of two things; they expect “GTA Online”, or they expect “cops and robbers”. And when they get in and realize it’s not either one of those things, the immediate reaction is negative. It’s like “Oh, the driving part is not GTA: it sucks”. It’s like, “give it a chance!”, and every person I’ve watched actually give it a chance comes out at the end quite happy. That’s not to say we don’t have negative feedback as well as positive feedback. You know, beta’s beta.

You never have perfect beta feedback. And I’ve been there on both sides of that coin as the angry beta player and the developer just shaking his head, but I think overall the thing everyone really likes is freedom, and we really provide that as much as possible. So, long-winded answer: “freedom”.

MMORPG.com:

The game takes place in San Paro. Can you explain a little about the city, and what we’ll see location wise and activity wise?

EJ Moreland:

Sure. So San Paro is basically inspired as a Pacific Rim city. Originally, when we were doing the game both as an Asian and Western releaseback in 2004/2005, we wanted it to feel like something that was approachable by all those cultures. So San Paro is located fictionally somewhere in the Pacific, so either island or coastal, and it’s a mix of Caucasian culture, Korean culture, and Hispanic culture. So you get people speaking all three languages. All the contacts do speak English, though they do have accents. The living city will speak in all three of those languages. You’ll have living- city guys cursing you out in Korean as much as you will in regular English. The current mayor, Jane Darren, her father was assassinated and he was the great hope for cleaning up the city and stopping crime. He got assassinated on his inaugural day. So fifteen years later, she comes back as an adult, runs, wins, and is facing an ever-present kind of destabilization by this huge criminal population that’s rising up. It’s anarchy. And she, instead of relying on the overwhelmed police force, creates what’s called the City Security Act, where anyone who wants to can become a licensed vigilante. As long as they sign up, they can wear a badge and carry a gun. So the idea is that really, the Enforcers are gangs with guns, but they are trying to protect the city, whereas the Criminals may not necessarily be trying to destroy the city, but they want their version of the city to erupt. So the game takes place right at the flash point, when that all hits the fan. The intro kinda goes through that a little bit. But the idea is that this is ten minutes into the future in a real-world city, and there’s been an ongoing couple years of corruption and decline until eventually this firebrand mayor comes in and introduces this Act (this is probably three or four months later). The city’s in chaos. Both sides are pretty militant; both sides are fighting each other; and the city is caught in the middle.

MMORPG.com:

So what steps have you taken to make sure that the population of the Criminals and Enforcers stays the same? Or does it matter?

EJ Moreland:

Originally we were really afraid that everyone would be Criminal, so one of the first things we did was to decide that Criminals could fight Criminals. You can’t fight anyone in your own group, but you can certainly match against people in your own clan. The second step is we have some background logic going on that, when you join districts, we try to balance it out, things like that. Ultimately, what we’ve seen in the beta is it’s been pretty much 50:50. We have just as many Enforcers as we do Criminals. Generally slightly less Enforcers than Criminals, but not by much. The only real danger the game has is, if we are just completely dominated by Enforcers, we’re going to rethink whether or not Enforcers can fight Enforcers. And that’s totally a logical choice, not a technical choice. We can turn that on at pretty much any point.

MMORPG.com:

Can APB run on a PC with modest system requirements, or does it need a higher-end machine?

EJ Moreland:

I decided to go out a couple weeks ago and actually spec a machine at minimum spec and see how much it would cost. And a computer today you can buy for less than about $500 can play our game. It’s basically what I would consider modest today. The big difference is, it can’t be played using integrated video cards. So really low-end PCs, or basic laptops that have those Intel GMA or Nvidia Ion cards in them, are just not capable.

MMORPG.com:

So you’d need to up your video card?

EJ Moreland:

You just can’t in a laptop. In a desktop, yeah. You just go out and buy a GeForce 7800 or ATI 38 … whatever 48 or 58. I’d say they are pretty modest. You need basically core 2 duo, about 2 gHz, which you can buy these days for nothing; 2 gigs of ram; put in one of the 7800 GT Nvidia discrete cards, which is about $70; and that’s pretty much it. So if you needed to upgrade your computer, you could upgrade to a 2 year-old base machine now for under $300 easily. And you can buy a new machine from Gateway that will play it just fine for under $400. But it still is pretty stiff. I mean, one of the things we see is a lot of people that have had machines for three years, or they bought machines because they were cheap that had integrated graphics and then they go “Why can’t I play this game? I had all the specs.” Well it’s supposed to be a shader 2.0 graphics card, but it’s sharing memory with your system and it’s slower. So a discrete video card is really the only big key for most people, I think, today.

MMORPG.com:

There’s a growing trend with MMOs to release an app, for a phone or for a Facebook game, that compliments the game. Does Realtime Worlds have an App that they are considering?

EJ Moreland:

We don’t have a solid existing committed plan yet, but we have a whole bunch of people that want to see something from inside the company. I would be honestly shocked if there wasn’t something within the first quarter to quarter-and-a-half after the game’s release that has some benefit in that way. Whether that’s a web app, or iPhone app, or a Facebook app, or whatever, we have people that deal with social media all the time. We have our community team; we have alot of our technology guys and, myself even, that believe, certainly, that we should support our game in those methods. I think all of it really comes down to how release is. If release gives us the bandwidth and capabilities to do those things, we’ll absolutely do those. There’s no doubt about it in my mind we’ll do those things.

MMORPG.com:

And along the same lines, I noticed that you guys have Twitter accounts and a Facebook fanpage. Do you plan on using that to accentuate the gaming experience for players in any way?

EJ Moreland:

I think the ones we have right now will be communication based. They will be from the community team “to” the community, and we will also have forums set up. I would expect to see other ways of outreach in that way, using Twitter and Facebook, etc.; being able to do things like broadcast who are the top ten guys on this server; who’re the superstars. One of the things that’s kind of our core philosophy is the three Cs: conflict, creativity, and celebrity. Celebrity isn’t just how we’re going to do it in game, it’s going to be how we do it out of game. So, yeah, I fully expect to see quite a few things like that. I will say, just for clarity, that we don’t have a production schedule for that just at this moment. So it’s not in writing, but it’s certainly a huge desire from the top down.

MMORPG.com:

Dave Jones is the creative force behind all this. What is he like work with?

EJ Moreland:

So, I’m going to be candid here, because I want to get this across. I’ve worked in the industry for fifteen years now, thirteen of that as a designer. I’ve worked for Origin Systems under visionaries like Richard Garriot. I’ve worked for Sony Online under Brad McQuaid, under John Smedley. Nearly worked for Mythic under Mark Jacobs – didn’t quite. Worked for paper-game guys like Richard Garfield and Jordan Weisman (of Shadowrun fame). Dave is the first visionary that I would absolutely keep working for, and that’s not a slam on those other guys. It’s just Dave is the most unassuming, easy-to-work-with guy I’ve ever met at that position. He’s passionate. He plays the game I guarantee you more than the beta players do. I’d love to get a stat of his clocked hours in beta. He approaches these things with the desire to make a fun game. Now certainly he wants to make money, we all do, but I think the business model represents the kind of desires he has. He’s a consumers’ advocate more than he is a business man in that regard. He wants something that players feel is valuable. He doesn’t want to pull the wool over peoples eyes. So he’s the most genuine kind of visionary that I’ve worked for like that. I’m still at the company because of him. It’s a tough thing. I lived in Dundee in Scotland for three and a half years, and that’s a tough place to live as an American, for me, especially. My wife stayed here, and the reason I did it is because I enjoyed working for him. Still do. I have nothing but nice things to say and that’s not because he’s my boss. He’s a genuine good guy.

MMORPG.com:

Last question. I’m a girl gamer. What kind of things does APB offer someone like me that maybe isn’t completely into slinging a gun?

EJ Moreland:

I think, obviously, the easy answer there, and to play to the stereotype, is the customization. I mean, it’s dress up. I think that appeals to both men and women. But certainly it appeals strongly to women. If you’re not a big action-game person, I think right now, with the product we’re releasing, it’s going to be the customization and the mix. Our game is the strongest and most compelling when you have three other people that you know and that you enjoy playing games with. Walking into a game like this (the action game part) by yourself with no other support network, with no one else you know, is an incredibly daunting experience. I think if a female gamer has any desire to play paintball, then she’s gonna like our game. And the fact that she can make herself look like anything she wants, and express herself more than any game out there, just adds to it. I really think this game is as gender neutral as a game has been. Certainly it has big guns and things that appeal to the 17-34 male, but we allow you to make whatever you want. It’s not about us anymore: it’s about whoever’s playing.

MMORPG.com:

Could you make a living doing a lot of customization in the game?

EJ Moreland:

Yeah. Selling things for APB Cash and RTW Points, you’re always going to be able to sustain whatever you want in the game. If you’re creative and any good at it at all, either musically or visually, you’re going to have a specialization there or you’re going to have a market there. If you like the action game at all, eventually you’re going to get items you’re going to want to sell from that as well.

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