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Happy Hour Report #1

Laura Genender Posted:
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Laura Geneder reports on the first of several weekly teleconferences

EDITOR'S NOTE: Every week for the next little while Laura will attend a teleconference with representatives of NetDevil's Auto Assault. Each Monday, she will file her report.

Last June I had the pleasure of attending the AutoAssault Roadhouse, a series of four teleconferences where NCSoft and NetDevil representatives revealed information about the upcoming AutoAssault. Now, six months later, NCSoft and NetDevil are hosting the sequel event: The Roadhouse Happy Hour.

The topic for this first week’s teleconference was the extension of the beta — you can stop picketing preorderers, it will be worth the extra wait. While everyone hates waiting while release dates are pushed back, a late but awesome game is far preferable to the other option: a timely release filled with bugs and poor game play. For this teleconference we were joined by NetDevil’s Ryan Seabury (Design Director) and Scott Brown (President), and of course, NCSoft’s Valerie “Pann” Massey (Community Manager).

So, why did NetDevil extend the beta?

“We didn’t think the game was everything it could be,” started Scott. “We wanted to spend some more time and really make it great.”

Feedback from beta testers tagged the game as repetitive and uniformed. For example, the first Biomek zone was a rocky mountain setting, with a little bit of snow in parts but mostly uniformed from the snowy top to the temperate bottom. To fix this, NetDevil approached the zone in smaller segments (though it is still all one zone); when you come out of Fort Logon it’s muddy and wet, with a storm ahead. As you progress through the zone you made your way uphill and into an exciting blizzard, with blasts of winds, AI that hides in the snow, frosty textures, and more. And as you go through and explore the world you unlock stuff on the world map instead of it all being open originally.

Not only does this make the game more immersive, but it means better player coordination. In the past, when you wanted to meet up with someone but not group with them, you could say “I’m near a truck stop by some swampy area” and this could describe one of many areas on the map. With the revamping, players will definitely know where they are on a map at any given point.

All the changes to the AutoAssault zones are being made by “strike force teams,” small teams of designers, artists and programmers. Each team takes a segment of the game and says, “what is unique and cool about this part of the game?” This is not restricted to terrain and environment, but also the weather, AI, what tactics are necessary to flourish, etc. The lead designers for each race make sure that all of the strike teams are communicating.

The changes are recognizable even in character creation. More options have been added to customize avatars, and NetDevil still plans to add more. The character customization is not in the league of, say, City of Heroes, but AutoAssault’s focus is more on the vehicle and building it up over time. Speaking of vehicles, players will also get to make some small customizations to their starter vehicle such as paint color, hubcaps, and can even name the vehicle.

One of the downsides of having different lead content designers for the different races is that things sometimes just don’t match up. This was one of a few problems with the tutorial to the game — one of the races might have a 30 minute tutorial that explained controls and gave a little background, while another might have a tutorial that takes 1 ½ hours and gives you an in depth racial background. During this time players would be alone in the instanced tutorial and have no one to group with, ask questions of, or just talk to.

Tutorials now take 5 to 10 minutes and just cover the basics. As soon as you are done with the tutorial you are brought to a mini-highway with other new players where you can learn more advanced skills and more about your race while in the company of other players. Even if you don’t want to read the storyline text, players will get some sense of their racial identity by the tasks they are given and the environment they are in.

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Laura Genender