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We Invade NCSoft!

Richard Cox Posted:
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Reception area, receptionist at desk...

Assorted life-size figures on the balcony overlooking the reception area.

Another figure overlooking the reception area.

Looking up into the QA offices from the reception area.

Life-size figure based on a City of Heroes character.

Pann, the AA Community Manager, and members of the QA team

Life-size figure from a game which was cancelled before it ever really got far.

A couple members of the GM team.

Life-size figure of Statesman from City of Heroes.

Pann's (AA Community Manager) Office

More of Pann's Office

By now I'm sure you all know who NCsoft is. I can't imagine anyone seriously following the MMORPG genre and not knowing who they are. With several big name titles under their belt so far (Lineage, Lineage 2, City of Heroes) and a couple more big names in development (Auto Assault, Tabula Rasa, Guild Wars) NCsoft is turning into a serious contender in the MMORPG wars. Not that there's a clear champ or anything, everyone has their own opinion on who makes the best games; and all that is beside the point anyway as we're not here to discuss who is the best, we're here to discuss my recent trip to the NCsoft Austin offices.

I spent countless hours growing up playing the Steve Jackson PnP game Car Wars. Me and my little gaming group played the game so much we wrote our own expansions for it, created new maps, anything we could think of to extend the game's life and enjoyability. When it was all said and done I swear we probably had a good ten expansion packs worth of material. So all that being said, naturally when I heard Netdevil was making a game called Auto Assault built around the same general concept my interest was more than just a little piqued. The more I read about it, the more hyped I became. These days I can easily say it's by far on the top of my "Most Anticipated" list.

In case you haven't heard of Auto Assault I'll give you a brief rundown on it. Follow me if you will through a path of enlightenment. Think back to those great movies like Mad Max, Roadwarrior, and Deathrace 2000 etc. Picture a post apocalyptic world of the future where three surviving "races" (for lack of a better term) fight for much needed resources and territory. Vehicles of all sorts decked out with any kind of weapon you can imagine tearing up the desolate wastelands, mowing down pedestrians like they were running over dandelions. The smell of burning rubber and gasoline heavy in the air as you chase an enemy faction member down the highway; honestly now, what could be better than all of that?

So where was I? Oh yeah, so this game has really gotten my interest up and I'm super hyped about it; well luckily for me I'm in a position that if I want more information I can go straight to the source. So now we go back in time a bit. Waaayyyy back in October or so was when I first approached Pann about me coming up to visit the NCsoft offices and getting a first-hand look at Auto Assault. She was thrilled by the idea, I was obviously thrilled that she was thrilled, Craig was thrilled by the prospect of the article I'd be writing on the trip (this very one you're reading now); lots of people thrilled over one little idea, how could it possibly go wrong?

Well just sit back and let me tell you how it could (and did) go wrong. The first delay was caused by my trip to the EQ Fan Faire at the end of October. So, we push it back to November. Only a couple of weeks delayed, not too big of a deal right? Then in November I started all of my major dental work. For those of you who weren't around back then, I had about $12,000 worth of major dental work done and was laid out for the most part of November through mid January or so. It was about the middle of January when I finished all of that and was good to go again. How's the saying go? If not for bad luck I'd have no luck at all? Well, I can't really say the next delay was bad luck. I found a house we really liked and we decided to move. Now we fast forward through the last two weeks of January and the first two weeks of February, since with all the moving I barely had time to sleep much less take a trip to Austin. So now I'm done moving and done with the dental work and everything else stopping me from going.

Woot! Time to hit the road right? Wrongo! Now the bad luck really hits, my wife loses her job. I swear by this point it seemed like the gods themselves were going out of their way to prevent me from getting a first-hand look at Auto Assault. But I'm determined and hard-headed if nothing else. So after weathering the most recent storm of bad luck we finally get a date locked down; March 4th. After only about two hours of having the date "locked" in it gets bumped back a week to March 11th. But that's it! Final, set in stone, good to go, I'm going to Austin on March 11th!

March 11th being a Friday I decided to drive down on Thursday afternoon, crash in a hotel and wake up Friday morning to do the tour and interview and such. I'm getting a little old to do the ten hour round trip in one day. So Thursday around noon after dropping the kids off at the sitter and kissing the wife goodbye I set off for Austin. I live in Beaumont Texas, a little town (about 112k people) in southeast Texas, about 90 miles outside of Houston. By all accounts from everyone I asked it was a five hour drive to Austin. I must have caught a good tailwind or something because I made it in three hours and forty five minutes. After checking into my hotel I pretty much just relaxed for the night, nothing exciting really. I have a bad back, so sitting in one place for an extended time is pretty bad on me; I didn't feel much like doing anything that night other than popping a couple muscle relaxers and chilling for the night.

So here we are, a couple pages later and several months worth of stories told before we're finally at the only part of the story you probably care about. Unfortunately this part is probably going to be a lot shorter than you were hoping it would be. I can't really talk too much about exact game details that I saw and all of that, you all should know how NDAs work and unfortunately they even apply to me. Unfortunately I didn't get to actually play the game but I did spend a good bit of time watching Pann demonstrate it for me and giving guidance on different aspects I wanted to see. I also got a chance to talk a bit with Piza on the phone and get some questions answer for you guys. I know there weren't many questions this time around, but with E3 coming up soon expect tons of more information to come out then.

Although it is still early in development and most of the options aren't active yet, the character creation system looks like it will be very nicely done upon completion. Since before you can get into the game and blow stuff up you're going to have to decide how your character looks, if you're like me you want to have enough options and combinations available to make sure you don't look like every fifth Joe Blow you come across. Even though the game is primarily centered on your vehicle and vehicular combat, your actual character's appearance is still important. There will be times when you're outside of your vehicle and whenever someone clicks on you or selects you they'll see a picture of your face as your icon, not a picture of your car. And the fact you can "collect" cars just adds further emphasis on you being your character, not your car.

Graphically the game looks amazing, even at this early stage in development. The graphics look nice enough to make those more concerned with eye-candy happy while not being so over the top as to exclude the people with low-mid range systems. Gameplay is very smooth and fast paced even with everything going on around you. The environment is very nicely done as well, particularly for something that can and more than likely will be blown to smithereens as often as possible. That's right, for all you out there with a destructive side everything in the world is destroyable. Don't feel like driving around that building? Then don't! Blow it up and drive right through the wreckage! Just make sure to keep your eye out for loot as you drive through.

Speaking of loot, Auto Assault uses a randomly generated loot system, which means it's very unlikely you'll have the exact same armaments or other gear as other players. It might be very similar, but where theirs has a +5 to a stat yours might have a +6 for example. Also available are non-functional items which can be added to your vehicle called Tricks and Trim. There are several pieces in a "set" for this and you can either collect a whole set or mix and match different pieces from different sets to make your car all that much more unique. Basically the sets consist of around eight pieces each and might be anything from a big spiky bumper to steel railing down the side of the car, etc. Overall they're just little cosmetic accessories to help you make your vehicle stand out from the pack.

Did someone mention vehicles? Oh, yeah, that was me, only about 500 times now I'm sure. There will be a virtual plethora of vehicles in the game for your choosing. But of course said choice will be limited by your class. The four classes available will have very distinct roles to play in the game and therefore have a very distinct selection of vehicles to choose from. The Ranger for example drives the small and light vehicles and tends to be more specialized in long range attacks. Commandoes, for lack of a better term, are your typical tanks. They drive the big powerhouse vehicles (tanks for example, pun fully intended) and tend to be able to take massive amounts of damage, therefore filling the typical meat shield role in a group. Engineers represent your typical healing class, except in this case they're not casting spells and magically healing wounds or using bandages and potions to keep you alive to fight. Imagine if you will your own personal pit-crew, out there working its tail off doing field repairs on your vehicle to keep it in running order so you can keep driving and fighting. Last but not least we have the Officers, which would be Auto Assault's equivalent of the summoning class. While four classes may not seem like a lot to pick from you also have to keep in mind there are three races as well. A Mutant Engineer is going to be a far different playing experience than a Biomek Engineer.

Although I wish I would have been able to actually get my grubby little mitts on the game itself I definitely had a blast getting a first-hand tour of both Auto Assault and the NCsoft Offices. Unfortunately I didn't get a peak at Tabula Rasa, but we'll save that for another trip. I wasn't even allowed on the floor of the building where Tabula Rasa was being worked on, that's how secretive it is; they didn't want me to even see the artwork on the walls. All in all I think Auto Assault has some great potential to be a great game, both in its own right and as an example that a great MMORPG doesn't have to include elves and swords and magic to succeed these days. From what I saw of the game while I was there I'd pay to play it as it stands now; but unfortunately we'll all just have to wait a bit long until we can hopefully get into the beta and then even better, release!

I would like to thank Pann and everyone on the Auto Assault team for letting me come up and roam through their offices snatching all the swag I could get my hands on and taking pictures of everything; BIG BIG thanks goes out to Pann for tolerating my eleventy billion questions about the game and everything else I could think of. And last, but by NO means least, a HUGE thanks to Richard "Lord British" Garriot for taking time out of his unspeakably busy schedule to come down and meet me in person and explain to me what was going on with Tabula Rasa and why I couldn't go up to take a peek at it. Ok, enough sappy thank yous from me, except to thank all of you members for reading another of my articles.


Richard Cox