APB: The Fashion Parade

By Kieron Gillen on June 12th, 2008 at 8:05 pm.

It's like the inside of Jamie McKelvie's head.
Kotaku had a good day yesterday with me. But while I’m actually still trying to get to the new bits in the Rose & Camellia sequel, their news that Real-Time World’s incredibly exciting MMO-GTA APB is what got my thoughts really racing. Not that they’ll be a Beta – which is lovely, clearly – but specifically a snippet of footage in the comments thread from Dave Jones’ GDC demonstration which I hadn’t watched yet. Somehow, despite being obsessed by other snippets from the same speech.

It’s of the APB character generator, and is probably the best example of the sort I’ve ever seen. And I’m going to rant about why that’s ace beneath the cut. At length. Yes.

Okay, first of all, here’s the video.

Okay – highlights if you want to skip around:
00:14 – Just absolutely basic facial modeling. When I say “basic”, I mean “enormously naturalistic and flexible”.
00:35 – They start playing around the hair.
01:00 – A minute in, and they’ve got a really interesting dude in a East-Asian Gangster sort of way.
01:02 – Man in his pants!
01:17 – They’re starting to play around with Tattoos, showing that you can scale and colour the designs.
01:20 – Now we drop it on the body. Which is nifty. But immediately, it becomes much niftier than just a design – they show that they can move it to different places on the body.
01:25 – At which point you realise it’s not just on some set places. It’s able to moved anywhere on your body, wrapping itself onto the point appropriately. Then they drop another tattoo on there, just to show that you can do it.
02:00 – And then we move onto clothes, which seems fairly standard, if more fashionable and genre-appropriate than most games you’ll face.
02:30 – Amusing face-gear, which always works for me. Oh – and I notice there’s a colour palette on the left to completely customise everything.
03:20 – We move onto cars, which shows that a similar process to the tattoo application can move designs all over the body of your vehicles, including making it smaller or larger.
03:22 – Okay. Now I’m completely convinced we’ve got the freedom to make pretty much any cool character we choose. Except Jones’ demonstration takes a left turn sharply, and shows us an impressively accurate Peter Molyneux, complete with with Lionhead symbol on his jacket and a I HEART FABLE badge. This is followed by Warren Spector, Richard Garriott and Shigeru Miyamoto. In his pants.
04:32 – And the Geek Squad, in game, posturing amusingly with machineguns. Awesome!

Something stereotypical about bling or something

Now, in every thread I’ve seen of APB, there’s been some curious responses – some entirely justifiable, and some which make me scratch my head a little. Over in the Kotaku thread, thanks to the new art, there’s a bit of an OMFG! EMO! response. When we first posted about it, there were a few people – presumably inspired by John’s choice of character art – which immediately went for a response which I’ll unfairly characterise as a “But I don’t want to be black!”.

(Don’t bother following that link through – the most obnoxious ones have been deleted by one of the RPS peeps at some point or another)

In some ways, the character creator actually makes things tricky for the development team. If you can be anyone, what do you show? Take a browse through the artwork section of the site. Sure, you’ve got examples of every major urban youth subgroup from the last decade or so, rendered in an over-the-top style… but you’ve also got relatively charismatic cops, riot police and more credible options. It’s just a mass of interesting looking, if a little self-conciously cool, people.

Except as the video shows, that’s not the whole thing either. No matter what it’s reputation, GTA – Real Time Worlds are DMA/Rockstar North veterans – is pretty fucking goofy. The stupidity is at least part of its charm – the broad comedy, the hyperbrutal slapstick.

(Hell, if there’s one thing the fourth incarnation perhaps has stepped back from, it’s that. It’s certainly the one thing its hordes of charmless clones miss almost entirely)

What the video shows is that the world of APB is going to be exactly like GTA at its best, magnified by a mass of human mind’s imagination. Sure, there’s going to hyperdefined poseurs – but, put in the context of people dressed only in their awesome underwear, the universe is going to feel surprising every time you turn a corner. Anyone trying to be cool is entirely undermined, which – of course – probably makes the game even cooler, y’know?

Hey Punka!

I’m a big fan of completely meaningless customisation in games. Sure, proper feedback from your decisions is a great thing too – but completely surface level changes can be deeply compelling, especially in a world where you get to show off these meaningless decisions.

When I played a lot of City of Heroes, simply moving to any other shared world was a depressing experience. Especially a traditional fantasy MMO, where inevitably players move through garments as if they were a gig-bought band T-shirt which dissolves after a single wash, there was no character to anyone. Anyone displaying their actual personality was doing so in a way which made them be playing the game – at best – less effectively, and most likely, not playing it at all. Sure, I enjoyed watching Tim Edwards strip to his underwear in World of Warcraft and silently stalk people… but that’s not the game. That’s an entertaining perversion of a game, like talking your partner into dressing up as your favourite teacher and assigning you homework. And oral.

But, in City of Heroes, you walk into any meeting point, and you’re suddenly and immediately aware that these are people playing this game. Not just in the abstract way you are in most games. In most situations, a bot program could be controlling them all as some sinister ruse and you’ll never now. But, in City of Heroes, even if they’re bot controlled now, the sign that a human was involved in their creation is as clear as the spandex on their skin. In a real way, that by the decisions of how they wanted to present themselves to the world shows their personality. We never talk, but my life is better by having seen them, and it makes me happier to share a world with them.

And, perhaps there’s some irony that the game that seems most following in City of Heroes footsteps is the one with abstractly the most realistic setting. But I applaud it, and add it to the list of reasons why APB is the MMO I’m most looking forward to.

Hell, perhaps ever.

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37 Comments »

  1. zanbowser says:

    I’m with Kieron on this one. The character creator (fav. is still City of…) for a game is almost the endgame for me, properly done. I certainly spent more time making individual Sims than I did watching them live their little sim-lives.

    Looks like I’d have a good hour or three poking and prodding a dude or dudette into perfect shape, if not more. Much though I’m loath to include myself in anything remotely “rap culture,” APB looks like it will definitely pull from my vanishingly small amount of free time.

  2. cyrenic says:

    The character creation looks great. What I’m worried about is how they’re going to make the proposed player vs. player missions work. If a mission gets generated, what’s going to stop one of the sides from ignoring it? You can punish a person if they accept a mission but ignore it, but how do you discern between that and a person just failing a mission?

    The mission system they described at (I think) GDC just seems ripe for apathy and abuse. That said, if they pull this game off right it could leapfrog WoW just like WoW leapfrogged the MMO’s before it. Especially if they’re able to do all of this without a subscription fee.

  3. Shon says:

    I have to say that the character creator for City of Heroes kept me playing the game far longer than I normally would have. The ability to make robot, or a demon, or 70′s martial artist or anything else I was in the mood for, kept me playing . I would happily do the same missions for the 100th time if it meant I got to do it with a Ninja this time.

  4. Robin says:

    I’ll be picking up APB for the character editor alone.

  5. roBurky says:

    Oooh, instant interest. I was initially put off by the gangster/crime theme of this. But the power of that character creator suggests that we can have clowns and off-duty teletubbies shooting policemen, which is ace.

  6. Ian says:

    Influenced by Counter Strike: check.
    Ability to play as an heroic games developer: check.
    Guns: check.

    Do want.

    But can I play as Andrew Braybrook or Jeff Minter?

  7. AbyssUK says:

    I’ll only play this game is I can make Eddie Murphy and have “Axel Foley” as a custom siren on my cop car.

  8. Andthensobecause says:

    That was really impressive. Is this the deepest character creator yet? It seems like it anyhow.

    This looks amazing, so much so that I want to find something to dislike about it, to critique, but can’t.

  9. Seb Potter says:

    I didn’t realise it until I saw this video, but if Dave Jones can pull this off (and it sure looks like it) then I doubt I’ll need another MMO for a long time. Kieron’s absolutely right about CoH/CoV – about the only reason I played it as long as I did was because I could choose how my characters looked and keep them that way.

    In other MMOs, nothing ruins the illusion of immersion for me quite so much as looking exactly the same as the people who are doing exactly the same thing as me, for months and months at a time.

  10. Marcin says:

    700 hours logged in CoH long after the missions wore off their novelty, largely in part due to making characters, inventing background stories for them, and imagining their progress to power (first costume would be raggedy and amateurish, second more serious and functional, and third otherworldly :).

    So they got that part down and one copy sold on that alone. Hopefully the rest of the game is as good.

  11. Fat Zombie says:

    Ooooh. Character customisation? Awesome. I may well get this, if just for the chance to create my nerdy likeness ingame.

  12. Bogulmon says:

    One thing. It must have top hats. Then it will be perfect. A game where I can run around and beat cops up, whilst dressing snappily, is my sort of game.

  13. Jonathan says:

    But I don’t want to be Peter Molyneux. He’s mean to his dog (@ 3:15 and 3:48 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mlrW331H1qA).

  14. Cigol says:

    The most fun I had playing ‘EVE online’ was with the initial character generator. I was amazed the first time I loaded it up, and I spent what felt like ages tweaking my perfect avatar.

    Of course I didn’t like the game in the end, so it was all for nothing, but I do look back fondly on that particular part of the game.

  15. Jives says:

    any word on how much you change your characters body shape, will i be able to make a skinny tall person like myself or will it be like AOC where im constrained to making rugged (ugly) manly men who are built like tanks

  16. Robin says:

    The only concern I have with APB is how much of an MMO it’s actually going to be. Is it just going to be a 32-player team-based action game with some persistent stats and a lobby tacked on a la PSO?

    I mean, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that but I’m not sure if I’d pay a subscription for it.

  17. Ging says:

    *sigh* watching this video really makes me wish that I’d actually applied for one of the designer roles open at RTW for APB rather than staying on as a part time bum in Lincoln for another year…

  18. Phil White says:

    GTA IV does make me question the viability of a third-person sandbox MMO. That said, if it allows us to hear other people’s custom soundtracks when in their cars, I’m in.

    It was the minor touches that GTA missed; the fun of old, basically. I hope you can create a batch of characters, playing them in rotation depending on your mood.

  19. malkav11 says:

    I really want this level of character customization in, like, all of my singleplayer games where I play a player-defined role. And all of my non-PvP MMOs. APB still doesn’t interest me.

  20. The Fanciest Of Pants says:

    I’m gobsmacked. My already very high interest in APB is aproaching premature fanboyism O_o

    Character customization is king!

  21. Dorian Cornelius Jasper says:

    You people have somehow managed to make me stop grumbling pessimistically about this game.

    Maybe it’s because uzi-girl is cuter than gangsta-boy.

  22. Dorian Cornelius Jasper says:

    Ah, sorry for the double post. I missed the edit window, and I had the best idea for a Criminal character ever.

    He will resemble a Chinese man from near the end of the Qing Dynasty, but like unto a thing of nakedness. Save for his underpants. He will specialize in close combat weapons, and melee if there’s any option for it. (Especially a one-hit kill like the good ol’ BF/CoD4 knife.)

    His name will be The Boxer Rebellion and he will stick it to the man.

  23. Kadayi says:

    Can’t say I’d been aware of this game before. But having watched the video it’s got my full attention now. Character creation detail is unprecedented, but it appears to make the same mistake as everything that’s come before it in lacking asymmetrical sliders (even super models don’t have symmetrical features). Neat stuff though. Maxis should be watching this.

  24. Jochen Scheisse says:

    Very nice! Is that Richard Garriot or Will Wright doing the cribwalk?

    Also, will I be able to model giant cocks?

  25. Dishwasher says:

    Sims 3 has just pretty much become obsolete. Unless Maxis really ramps up what we’ve seen so far. Because, as others said before: character creation = most fun part of the whole game.

  26. Ginger says:

    Now that *IS* interesting. It’ll be good to get my hands on the beta and try out a few of the missions to see how well they integrate PVP – the main key to this is often getting the incentives right.

    /wanders off to find out more

  27. R. says:

    Sold. Great character creators are a thing of beauty.

  28. mujadaddy says:

    Uhhh… Seconded on the “never heard of it — looks wildly, fantastically intricate & cool” front.

  29. Stu says:

    Looks great, and hopefully it’ll make Realtime Worlds lots of money — lots and lots of money!

  30. The Shed says:

    It’ll be interesting to see how the customization controls are handled in the console versions of the game. Also has there been any mention of cross-compatibility in APB? As usual, I’m going to have to get the 360 version simply because I don’t have the money/ time to beef up my computer.

    I can’t wait to make Richard Fell as my character. If this has the capacity to make the tattoo on his neck, I would die from ecstasy.

    EDIT: @Cyrenic: As far as I understood it, to initiate a mission you must enter ‘matchmaking’, as made famous by Halo 2 et al. The players who enter matchmaking are matched up by experience balancing on both sides (3 inexperienced players against 3 inexperienced players, or 5 inexperienced players against 1 very experienced player, etc), so missions should always be balanced, as long as good judgement goes into the code behind it. Once the teams are all set up, objectives are set, and once the crime has begun, the ‘authorities’ are alerted. I don’t think anyone would enter matchmaking, then just ignore the mission they have been allocated. I also don’t see how this has potential for apathy and abuse? There could be a chance of agreements between the cops and the criminals I suppose… But wouldn’t that just be realistic? ;)

  31. LionsPhil says:

    I love the way this has got a bunch of grown men interested in, effectively, playing high-tech dress-up with dollies. ;)

    As to creating Jeff Minter: hell yes.

  32. Tom says:

    You can follow apb at : http://www.apb-evolved.com

    they have a question & answer coming back soon from what i see on the forums

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  37. maya (psp) says:

    the only thing apb doesnt have on the sims is how theres outfits for nighttime, morning etc. if we have the option for normal everyday n on duty that would be great. also, they should have a third neutral class that can choose to be good or bad.

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