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Africa E3 2006 Preview

Sean Dahlberg Posted:
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Africa won the award for most innovative concept , find out why

While attending E3 2006 this year, I had the pleasure of having a sit down with none other than Tracy Spaight, the Vice President of Research and Development at Rapid Reality, LLC. While currently more known for their upcoming title The Chronicle , Rapid Reality has also been working on a design for a new massively multiplayer online roleplaying game (MMORPG) entitled Africa.

So, who is Tracy Spaight? Well, aside from being the VP of R&D, he is also a historian by training and a teacher by profession. Tracy studied history at Santa Clara University, took courses at UC Berkeley, and even went through most of a PhD program at Cornell University. In addition to that, he taught world history for five years, to include African cultures. More importantly, he’s a gamer. Tracy has played on a Commodore, participated in a variety of text-based multi-user dungeons (MUD), and even played on the Great Lakes shard of Ultima Online. He was even a member of the guild Covenant of Swords in Ubisoft’s MMO Shadowbane, which obviously earns him some brownie points with me at least.

Now that we know a little about Tracy, what is this game that he is currently crafting? Africa, as the title suggests, is based on the continent of Africa around the 13th century. The goal is to draw upon the rich folklore, mythology, and history of the African continent and create a virtual world for thousands of players to enjoy. When I asked Tracy what his number one goal is in creating such a game, he said one word: Fun. While that might sound like a no-brainer to many out there, it is indeed something that is missing from a variety of games on the shelves today.

One of the things I truly enjoyed about my conversation with Tracy was the fact that Africa will be using a skill-based advancement system instead of the status quo of class-based systems in today’s MMOs. With that said, there will be templates that players can (but do not have to) follow when crafting their characters. To advance in a skill, a player solely has to use that skill. There is no class or level-based restrictions in advancement although, at higher levels, players will need to study under a master.

Another question I definitely had to ask was about Player-vs.-Player (PvP) combat and yes, it will be there. The exact specifics of how PvP will work are still being debated but more than likely it will not include Free For All (FFA) PvP. Players will be able to fight members of other kingdoms, though, and may be able to declare war on other factions within their kingdoms. More information on this is forthcoming and, as always, subject to change.

While talking about PvP combat, Tracy quickly made the point that one of the goals of Africa is to have strategic warfare. Combat isn’t there just to hack and slash at each other; there are a variety of goals and accomplishments that can be attributed to PvE and PvP combat. For example, areas will have strategic capture points. These points in the game world help govern numerous things such as giving the victors control over trade routes, taxes in that region, and economic and political power in the global game.

Having a strong Shadowbane background, I brought up the question of what will happen if a large guild comes in and exerts a large area of influence against other players, basically becoming the dominant force of that world? Tracy explained that one way to combat this behavior is that their Non-Player Characters (NPCs) will actually be smart! When I asked what exactly he meant by that, he explained they would be using a dynamic artificial intelligence and that NPC kingdoms can (and will) use real-time strategies against player guilds! When I tried to dig a little deeper into the technical jargon, though, Tracy told me I would have to talk to Adam Ghetti, the Senior Creative Director and Co-Founder of Rapid Reality. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to corner him for details.

One of the systems I really liked hearing about was the “magic” system. Let’s face it, in MMOs players practically demand either Magic or Guns… and some want both! Africa will have magic but it will not be in the form of lightning bolts and fireballs hurling from the hands of clothed casters. Instead, there will be two systems that are defined by regions. In the north, magic users will use protective charms and spells while the southern part of the continent will actually use musical instruments and dances to create magic. There was also talk of possibly using warpaints and tattoos to help enhance (read “buff”) characters, too.

The music and dancing caught my attention so I had to prod Tracy for more information. The current plan is to bring authentic African dancers into a motion capture studio and record the various moves and motions they perform. They are also setting out to capturing genuine African music using a variety of instruments. The end goal is to allow players to craft their own music by allowing them to adjust the patterns, pitch, and rhythm of this music.

One of the last things I asked is what players should expect to be their initial experience when trying out Africa for the first time. Tracy said they will avoid the “rat bashing” syndrome. They want first-time players to be able to go out and explore the world instead of “grinding”. The environments will not only be beautiful but fun to walk around and see. This touched on the ecology of the world and Tracy explained that the animals will react appropriately. Animals may actually run away if they feel threatened, will wander in herds, may be more vicious if they are hungry, or protect their young when they normally might run.

There are so many things I could go into with Africa. Personally, I think it is one of the most innovated games scheduled to come out. And I am quite confident it will make it to the market. One of the nice things is they will be sharing most of the technology used in Rapid Reality’s other MMO title “The Chronicle”. In addition, Africa has a lot of buzz and not just in the MMO community; the global community. John Sarpong, the grandson of Ashanti king Prampeh of Ghana, is a firm supporter of the project. Sarpong has spent years running Africast Global Media, Inc., a company that acquires and distributes a variety of Africa-focused media content which is commercially viable, informative, and entertaining. Recently, Africa was also featured on none other than MTv in their Video Games News Story entitled “How Do You Teach People About Africa? Make A Video Game”. And, of course, there is the trailer that is circulating all over the place (which you can download from the Africa website by clicking here).

Currently there is no official date as to when Africa might launch, which is a good thing because dates are evil in the MMO industry! Rapid Reality does hope to have their closed beta begin within a year or so, though.

For more information on Africa, visit their website at http://www.africammo.com/.

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Sean Dahlberg