Dave Jones Discusses APB

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.

3) Want.

Yo homes.

This is the guy who has brought us Lemmings, Grand Theft Auto and Crackdown. You know, that’s all. And now he’s turning his studio, Realtime Worlds, to the MMO. APB. And why should you be interested?

This is why:

Power Point will save us all

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.

and

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.

apb concept art 1

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?

apb concept art 2

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.

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68 Comments »

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  1. Stromko says:

    It’s an interesting thought to compare Counterstrike’s gameplay with a gambling mechanism. I feel that’s kind of what its economy added, people could choose to either save up money and go into a fight under-equipped, or spend it all in the hopes of increasing their chances of surviving the round and keeping it all (plus making extra cash for all those kills).

    This kind of broke down when the skill of the two teams was too different. One team would always lose everything because they’d always lose, the other team could go for broke and since their team would never lose they’d almost certainly be making constant profit.

    This actually makes me hopeful based on what APB is promising, specifically what they promised in the ‘be Shaft’ video. Tracking stats, kill ratios, all that so that teams are asymetrically balanced by skill.

    Going up against a whole team of grossly superior CS players is NOT fun for me, I’ll be schooled so severely that I have no chance of learning and improving. But if it’s 2 or 3 or 4 against one elite player? I might just have a chance of getting through alive, allowing for a deeper and more meaningful experience.

    The matchmaking system should also help in that by its nature, you’re going up against a given group of folks just once. If you lose big-time, you’ll be up against a weaker team next time. If you do really well, you’ll be up against a stronger team next time. It’s kind of like switching to a different server without leaving such a defeatist taste in your mouth.

    If they’re really planning for CS-style balance then I would think that rocket launcher in the Shaft video wasn’t really necessary. If that guy was so good, what really made the difference was his good use of cover, good weapons handling, good tactics and choices overall. (edit) Or I should say, that’s ideally how it should be, IMO.

  2. malkav11 says:

    Graphics look good, and a high level of appearance customization is always nice (look at City of Heroes), but no progression? Nonononono NO. Wrong move. Bad. Badbadbad.

    And gear won’t cut it – that’s not that much of a reward for me, especially if it takes the path of giving me a dozen different makes and models of the same basic type of gun and makes me crunch stat-minutiae to see which one I want to use at the moment. Major, immediately observable differences in effect or I just don’t care that much, y’know?

    Also much, much prefer cooperative player vs AI to player vs player, especially if it’s going to be asymmetric.

    I haven’t played Counterstrike, because nothing I’ve heard about it makes me want to. That’s also not a promising thing to invoke.

    So basically, they’re pushing all the wrong buttons for me. Still, we’ll see what they come up with…

  3. Stromko says:

    Not much is known about APB yet. I would hope that there are some player vs NPC missions to add a bit of variety.

    I have to disagree with you about a lack of power-progression or a lack of inherent advantage for players who’ve put more time in (IE, levels) being a bad thing. While I do suspect they /will/ end up putting that in to some extent, I’d much rather they let your /own/ skill at the game be what sets you apart for the time you’ve put in.

    On the one hand, people kind of expect a leveling mechanic from an MMO at this point. On the other hand, it can be frustrating to enter a game where everybody is just inherently better than you. It probably won’t make you compete directly with higher-power characters, sure, but you’ll see them and know you can’t do sh*t to them because they have a Kevlar vest +5 and you’ve only got the standard newbie hot-pink tube-top +1.

    They claim that they aren’t going to make the game like that, but we’ll just have to see.

  4. Dorian Cornelius Jasper says:

    I’m a little sad no-one’s called me out on the “the platypus isn’t a marsupial, it’s a monotreme” thing yet.

    Well, I looked at the site, and there’s definitely a Korean-influenced art style going on, but I still can’t shake the feeling that the choice of general design is definitely “GTA Online,” which I find disappointing partly because, as Ixis put it… it feels insincere.

    [I’ll have you know that, no matter how forcefully one such as myself might type them, disjointed ramblings are never strong arguments. Though I appreciate the nod to consideration. Maybe “understandable opinions” would be a better way to put it.]

    Which to tie into something I mentioned earlier, one reason this bugs me is because the entire subcultural aesthetic reminds me of rampant childhood poseurism, as well as a calculated attempt to cash in on a market based on superficial appeal–which wouldn’t be as bad if there weren’t a propped up media culture saturating society with like appeal.

    Echoing above comments: There’s a lot more in “real life” to make a game out of where they could avoid the pitfalls of stereotypical fantasy/sci-fi. Heck, there’s even a lot more in “not even close to real life.” Instead, the devs chose GTA online while trying to spin it as a sincere alternative to stereotype.

    The look isn’t edgy, it’s as stale and overused (albeit, in different genres) as the stereotypes they’re marketing as opposed to. While a small complaint, relatively, it’s a peeve that’s hard not to take a shot at.

    [And that’s the best I can do while being objective about it. Just like how it’s hard for me to be objective about Oblivion, either game design or art direction–or lack thereof, frankly. It’s befuddling to think that people would want to look forward to an Elder Scrolls MMO. At least Fallout looks distinctive compared to other post-apocalyptic properties. The only thing about Elder Scrolls that strikes me is that they manage to make elves look uglier than orcs. Which, in its own way, deserves some kudos, I guess.]

    Oh, there I go again. This isn’t even the right post to make that sort of comment in–though obviously I’ll leave it in, seeing as it’s tangentially related to the topic. I’ll get back on track.

    About Counterstrike: Well, saying they’re “inspired” by Counterstrike isn’t nearly as bad as saying they’re taking wholesale pages out of its books. I suppose. But it’s hard to sift the fun memories from the frustrating when CS is involved, LAN or online. (Especially when a chunk of one’s “buddies” like to occasionally bring out the worst in you by pushing all of your frustration buttons. For kicks. But those memories are long passed–which also makes objective judgment difficult.)

    I suppose I shouldn’t mentally associate the words “bunny hop” with Counterstrike, seeing as it’s a far from exclusive problem. But, damnit, if you say you’re inspired by Counterstrike, you’re gonna stir up bad memories from people. And those who don’t have said memories will probably be biased thanks to word of mouth by people who do.

    (See above comments.)

    I blame whoever thought up that bullet point.

    The only good thing I can say about CS is that it’s the first multiplayer FPS I played that didn’t have you looking for floating health kits or better weapons hidden throughout nonsensically designed environments. For example, if they had said they were influenced by UT, they’d might as well have shooted themselves and dieded. But, obviously, this is an MMO we’re talking about, so of course pre-loadouts would be the norm.

    Now that my initial knee-jerk reaction has faded, I’ll admit APB sounds interesting. Then again, the choices made in its marketing and design aesthetic thing prevents me from stirring up the same sort of enthusiasm that the RPS-borg seems to be displaying. Though if there’s a monthly fee, then the game will have to be Zeus’ gift to PC gaming for me to give it a shot.

    (One last ramble: I didn’t mention this before, but I’ll say it here before the concrete dries. Everything about Gunz: The Duel just rubs me the wrong way. Everything. And not just the name, either. Better hope APB goes along the “more options” route as opposed to “better equipment” route where advancement is concerned.)

  5. Kieron Gillen says:

    “RPS-borg”: Be careful. Undermine others opinions in such a way, and your posts have left a lot of easy shots for people trying to unfairly dismiss yours, man.

    On topic… something people may try and think about is the audience who Dave Jones is talking to. These aren’t gamers. These are primarily Game Developers. You don’t get many Game Developers slagging off enormously successful games, because they’re too interested in analysing why they worked and what their appeal is. In this case, the note is that CS has been played for a decade based on an increasingly streamlined mechanic. Its millions of players played without any progression, just because it was so good. Could we make an MMO which worked in the same way? Who knows – because no-one has tried.

    KG

  6. Dorian Cornelius Jasper says:

    Now that you’ve responded, I can’t edit “RPS-borg” to something snazzier, like “RPS-zinger Z.” I only just now remembered the Star Trek connotations the suffix evokes. I was going for “cyborg,” because I mentally compare RPS to various forms of fighting robot, some flashier than others. I even have precedent on this point.

    Apologies if you took offense at the slip, I mean this sort of thing as a compliment. But I stand by the rest of my irrational and emotion-fueled ramblings because I can’t pretend they’re not what they are, and admit as much.

    And to add something more meaningful to the discussion, I’m worried about what will make the game good–the expectations for something MMOish are a bit different from a pick-up-and-play online match-up round. Even if the… MOG isn’t quite as massive as its persistent world peers, one wonders how the game will feel when there’s a lack of discrete “stop, breathe, switch out to other game modes/servers if you feel like it” downtime between bouts of killing your fellow players.

    From a more objective standpoint, I guess I’d like to see how they fill in that downtime. Will they try to make a “do whatever” sort of breadth of activity that one finds in GTA–and could they do so without making pure, unbridled chaos on any given server? Usually, MMOs have quests, travel, community, and all that stuff to keep players occupied.

    As the mechanics will be primarily skill-based, not stat-based, I’m growing more curious about these questions. Though, to be frank, I see CS’s lack of progression as a quality of its gamestyle and how it’s geared–not being persistent and all. And while progression isn’t as… dramatic in what we see and hear of APB compared to the market it means to compete with, it’s still progression of some sort.

    Because players do seem to like it, so long as it doesn’t screw up the barrier of entry too bad. “More options” as opposed to “better equipment,” again. I’m looking at the example of the asymmetric matchup between new players and a more established one. So it’s not a true progression-less MMO, but it’s an online game where progression isn’t as daunting as it is in an MMO-RPG-thingamajig.

    I recall another article mentioning “flattening the playing field” in MMOs not too long ago. And some responses mentioned that true flatness isn’t as appealing, or as interesting, as a generally level field with organic variations based on factors like, say, money, skill, and so forth.

    Also, CS was at least persistent within evenings, what with a night’s winnings, losses, and all. It’s not progress-flat like, say, TF2 is. Which, by all rights, is so good that flatness isn’t a liability, but rather a strength. Though, the length of a given TF2 match also tends to keep things interesting. Probably won’t see any Sudden Death matches in a persistent MO. Class variety and depth of team-wide strategy doesn’t hurt, either.

    Wait, no, now I’m just rambling.

  7. Kieron Gillen says:

    Nothing wrong with a good ramble, sir. It’s unlikely we’ll fill the internet up.

    KG

  8. Nick says:

    “If you’re sick of mmos it is because you think…”

    That would be better phrased as a question rather than a statement, you clearly don’t know what someone else is thinking or why they dislike something unless they specifically say so.

    I personally am just sick of MMOs because playing with huge amounts of other people no longer holds any interest for me. That and it seems a new one is being announced every week.

    I just don’t like the assumption that taking, for example, your favourite singleplayer game and suddenly sticking 1200 other people in its setting with you somehow makes it better. For me it just results in any lack of connection or immersion with a game.

  9. malkav11 says:

    I can understand wanting progression to be more or less horizontal. The expanding options rather than raising raw power setup. I think that I could live with that. But it didn’t sound like that was the goal. It sounded like the goal was to remove progression as a game element. And I will *always* favor a game with progression as an element over one without it, all other things being equal. It just makes it more interesting to me. Like I’m actually achieving something by playing instead of just puttering around randomly wasting my time.

    It’s significant that there are only two multiplayer shooters ever to capture my attention – Team Fortress 2, which primarily got me with its amazing style and distinctive class roles, and Call of Duty 4, because it has levelling and perks. (And even then, I tried TF2 only because it was included in my Orange Box purchase, at a price point of $25. I don’t own CoD4, so I can’t play multiplayer, and I’m not buying it for that at $50, or even $30, nosir.) TF2’s the sort of thing that many will no doubt try to emulate but few will achieve, if any. CoD4’s system, on the other hand…that’s the sort of thing that people can run with.

  10. Butler` says:

    *makes a sweeping generalisation about CS and WoW because of their popularity*

    zzzzzzzzzz

  11. Stromko says:

    Hey, Gunz Online isn’t insanely popular and I /still/ want to pile more crap on it. ;)

    I have to second Dorian, who sorta seconded me so fair enough. Gunz Online drew me in promising that I could build whatever character I like and jump into this great shooter game, but instead just.. ick. There is no choice of how your character looks, you only unlock a new clothing and weapon item every five levels and if you want to continue to advance you must constantly upgrade to the most optimal equipment.

    It’s certainly relevant to mention it here. If the developers of APB mess up, or their publisher pressures them, they could fall into the exact same trap. A sea of customization and equipment options, subsumed and ruined by a grindathon leveling mechanic.

    I’d far sooner see APB borrow every feature good and bad from CS, than see it turn into another grindariffic torture session of a game. Thus, in the end, I’m not that worried by that bulletpoint.

    I am worried at the lack of support that Webzen is giving to its products though. Neither APB nor Huxley have official sites of their own, it lists their official websites as N/A, but used to say ‘Coming Soon’. Additional, Webzen’s site still lists both of them as coming out in 2007, which clearly is not even remotely true.

    Webzen doesn’t seem to have any publishing legacy in the U.S., and the games that have been published (mostly in Korea only) are either incredibly derivative or obviously and exclusively casual-focused or family-focused.

    It really makes me wonder if we’re going to look back at this situation in a year, and say, “Webzen is where good games go to die.”, or, if this signals a hands-off approach that will leave the burden on developers to make great games or wilt on their own. APB looks golden now because they’ve just released impressive gameplay vids, but Huxley did the same thing years ago and now? Still no official website, no marketing, no sign at all it’s coming out anytime in the foreseeable future.

    Bad sign. Even Atriarch Online had a more active and supported community than this. Hell, it probably /still/ does.

  12. soviet_ says:

    Personally, for quite a while I thought there should be an FPS game in an open world where its Police vs Criminals, kind of like CSS but in an open city. Talked about how cool it would be with friends on ventrilo many a night.

    As a criminal you do missions like robbing a small store, earn some money, buy better equipment so you can try your hand at a bank heist. Police side, obviously you try and stop this from happening, you can go to the police station, arrest people, stop bank robberies etc. All in glorious 1st person too, imagine recreating the HEAT robbery.

    Now this comes along and has really got my attention. It may be 3rd person and have the cliche “look at me, I’m a gangsta” element to it, but it’s a start

  13. Tom says:

    nice article, I dont know if you have seen this fansite but its pretty good. Seems to be the only one out there, but they are widely supported by Realtime

    http://www.apb-evolved.com

  14. Kong says:

    Could be my first MOG after Ultima Online.
    IF the city is big enough to make a heist without having ten cops waiting at every streetcorner…or ten thousand batboy-vigilantes with RPGs per city block.

  15. Kong says:

    The site has some answers (thx Tom)
    http://www.apb-evolved.com
    >Servers will hold 100 players maximum and there are considered “districts” of the city. Half can be cops, half can be robbers, or depending on skill level, higher ranked players can fight in smaller numbers against greater hordes of opposition. Players can also design their own graffiti to put up around the district. Also, they will be able to trade custom designs with others.<
    Ahm hooked.

  16. Erlam says:

    I was up for it until I saw the gameplay. How can you say you’re looking at how Counter-strike did things, and then have some bizarre, OTS, auto-aim style shooting. CS was about being better at aiming, controlling recoil, and movement than the other player.

    This… isn’t.

  17. apb sucks says:

    abp sucks there is no other way to say it……its to unstable and laggy to play atm since they turned on punkbuster.which every one dont fucking work……then lets not for get this lil gem here….http://www.vg247.com/2010/07/02/some-people-had-too-high-expectations-for-apb-says-jones/