By John Walker on February 22nd, 2008 at 4:10 pm.
When you find out Dave Jones is making a game, there are three steps one must take:
1) Sit up.
2) Read everything.
This is why:
Crucially, Jones explained in his GDC speech, that he’s interested in moving away from two themes of the MMO. The association with a fantasy setting, and that first M, prefering to call his game a MOG (the term I always hoped would catch on rather than MMO), a Multiplayer Online Game. It’s got cars in it! In fact, it has a real GTA/Crackdown vibe. Well, have a look for yourself.
He assures the crowds that APB will be, “replacing geek with chic.” The mantra represents an attempt to make the MOG (it’ll catch on) something as accessible as the GTA series, or Crackdown, appealing to a wider audience by escaping from the in-crowd terms and approach so many online games have adopted. (Clearly it hasn’t exactly hurt WoW’s sales, but it has very much limited its appeal to large numbers of gamers). A real-world setting featuring recognisable tools and weapons.
The character creator is getting a lot of attention. Jones showed this off by creating a recognisable gang consisting of Peter Molyneux, Richard Garriott, Warren Spector, and Shigeru Miyamoto, stood in front of their gang’s “GEEK SQUAD” emblazened car. It really is quite remarkable. Also much plugged is the deal with Last.FM to let players hear tunes in-car.
You can pick a side, either gangster or enforcement, which Jones stresses doesn’t equate to evil vs good. Then once you’ve started, things are immediately very different. Gone, for instance, is levelling. This is a brave move, and one that other MOGs have touted early in development, and then quietly doubled back on (Warhammer, I’m looking at you). Instead players are hoped to be motivated to progress by their character’s appearance – their clothing, and adornments. A risky move. Personalisation replacing improved stats obviously caters for the vast paper-doll crowd, but is it enough of a reason to feel driven to make progress?
The mission design holds a lot of exciting promise. Say your gang of gangsters is required to steal a van and bring it back to base. The game’s “dynamic matchmaking” will then issue forth a team of player enforcers to thwart this crime, the opposing sides battling for success in the quest. And in a fascinating move, these won’t always be balanced. In the videos above, you can see Jones demonstrating a scenario where four new players think they have a strong chance of success, taking on a single opposing character, unaware that his experience has equipped him with a rocket launcher, and thus a rather powerful hand to play.
Whereas so many MOG developers (see how casually I use the phrase now?) have bandied around ideas about freedom for players, and escaping the grind, they usually capitulate in fear at not being enough like WoW. It looks like Jones will stick to the pledge, creating an online world that’s actually is, thank the shiny stars above, different from the rest. He’s the man to get it right.