Our London-based agent Brendan Caldwell recently talked to the men who are responsible for the resurrection of ill-fated MMO-shooter, APB. Michael Boniface and Zak Littwin, who hail from the original Realtime Worlds team, had quite a lot to say about the current state of their project. Read on for Uzi lovin'.
RPS: Small talk time! How is everything up in Edinburgh?
Zak: Yeah, it’s good. Been pretty busy couple of weeks, we’ve got a couple of patches coming out this week and then we’ve got a Valentine’s Day event coming up so we’re just trying to get to get geared up for that. And also trying desperately to learn some Robbie Burns poems.
RPS: What kind of things are you doing for Valentine’s Day?
Zak: So, we’ll be giving all the players in the game some pink guns to use for the durations. Killing people with pink guns gets you points towards things that we’ll add... We’ve got some new symbols coming through, we’ve got a new pair of sunglasses that are heart shaped and in a slight nod to the Valentine’s Day massacre we’re also putting in a pink police hat and Tommy gun.
RPS: History. Nice. APB has its own history too. You’re not worried that people will have a prejudice against the game, based on the press and response it got when it was first released?
Michael: No, I don’t think so. We did a lot to try and engage the previous community – for example, if you’ve done a lot of character customisation originally you can carry it over to the new game – so we tried our best to reach out to that community and bring that with us. I mean, we’re coming up to a year and a half now since Realtime Worlds went down and I think that, no, it was never going to be a quick thing but people have played the game again and have seen the changes, seen what we’re doing . And I think the fact that we are so closely engaged with the community I don’t think anyone carries that prejudice over.
Zak: It’s still a little bit of an uphill battle to get players to play the game again but... we’ve changed a lot about how the game plays and feels. There’ll always be those who didn’t really like it but I guess it’s free. So as long as you can get people [to try].
Michael: Which is a good point. I think if we had tried to go for a boxed product again and said all right you need to buy another £29.99 box with a subscription, that wouldn’t work. But because it is free, what have they got to lose?
RPS: When you talk about the changes you’ve made, what sort of things have you tweaked?
Zak: Well, to start with the weapons, the vehicles all feel completely different. They’re a lot more flowing and visceral and fun to use. Progression has completely changed around, so you do have a proper list to see what you’ve got to do and where you need to go and such like. And you’ll see a lot of content. A lot of new weapons, vehicles.
Michael: And Fight Club.
Zak: Fight Club’s been added recently. We’re just putting challenges out and are testing them at the moment. Yeah, there have been quite a lot of changes.
RPS: How the vehicles handled were one of the biggest concerns in reviews. How exactly has that been fixed?
Zak: Well before, there was almost double latency. So you had the latency to the server from the client, which can’t be fixed because that’s purely down to connection speed. But also what happened is previously when you pressed a direction key, that would tell the character to start turning the wheel that way which would take a considerable amount of time to do. So you’d sort of have the duration before, between you telling the character – and telling the server – to turn the wheel and the wheels turning, which would take about another half second so you have a lot of delay there. We still keep that for some vehicles that we want to feel really heavy and sluggish, which is what all vehicles used to do. Now it’s just things like armoured vans and garbage disposal trucks that are really sluggish but a lot of the other ones are really fast and can nip about. I was really trying to get all the vehicles to fall into their own archetype and feeling like they should. In a lot of cases not how they would in real life but sort of Hollywood realism. So, driving a muscle car it’s going to go driving in a straight line insanely fast but you’re going to have to handbrake turn corners, that sort of stuff. The thought is that you can zip in and out of traffic fairly easy. It’s definitely one of the first things that someone who has played the original game will notice when they get into the new one. You get a vehicle and you can drive it. It’s actually a bigger problem in our beta – you’ve got a new vehicle as the starting vehicle and it’s really easy to drive, really responsive and nimble. Old players would jump in it and [not get it] at all because they’re turning a second and a half too fast. They’d try it, see a corner coming up and turn before they’d think they’d have to because they expect it to lag and they’d just crash into the wall before they hit the corner because we’ve taken a second off the turning time of most vehicles.
RPS: On the subject of balance, how do you ensure that new players aren’t getting trounced by veterans or people who have simply bought the higher-end guns?
Zak: So, with the first weapon you get [now], the Star 556, you switch from a slow-firing, accurate marksman weapon to a fast-firing assault rifle. It’s a pretty – it’s as good as any other gun in the game actually. A lot of people never really go past that point. I know our QA tester Adam only uses that gun. The trick was to try and make the first one you get into a fun, jack-of-all-trades, good weapon... If there’s a better player close to you with a shotgun, you’re still going to get dropped. Same with the sniper rifle from long range but you’re better than most weapons outside your niche and you’ve got your own niche as well. On top of that, we’ve made it so that you can unlock all the basic weapons apart from explosives within about a half hour of starting the game. You’ll get extra modification slots later because we changed the upgrades to mods, so they all have upsides and downsides, it’s all about making it [so that] everything balances out. So as you play through the game you get more specialised but you don’t get ‘better’. There’s no such thing as a plus nine percent damage mod, which is what we had in standard APB. There’s still a plus nine percent rate of fire mod but it also heavily reduces accuracy and shotgun spread – it makes your gun kick around a bit.
RPS: As far as pricing goes for the higher end weapons in the Armas store, it costs as much as £10 (or £15) for some guns but that’s only to ‘lease’ them for 30 days. And if you want to buy them permanently it costs more, sometimes upwards of £30 (or $50). Do you think that’s a good pricing plan? Especially considering the cheapest deal is basically for renting a gun?
Michael: So, there’s a broad range of pricing for different items. You know, sometimes it reflects the amount of work that has to go into making the items. The problem is that because the game is free to play it really is player choice, so yeah, there’s a spectrum of pricing. We do lots of different deals and offer weapons that are higher price but you’ll find with discounts at certain times. There’s the leased or permanent sort of stuff as well and we’ve been looking at doing trial weapons and things like that. Yeah, I think the pricing is vague – it does change quite a lot. It’s a constantly evolving thing for us, we’re always looking at how we work with pricing and what works best but at the end of the day the game is not pay to win. So, you can go into the free trial with the initial weapon and get through all the content and have the same experience or a good experience. So I think it’s just down to player choice, if people want to try the different weapons, if they want to lease or buy... The lease option is quite good because you’re not hitting the higher spend.
Zak: At the same time, Michael’s mentioned trials which you just hand out to players and let them try the weapon for free, and that’ll be updating twice a week in the near future so even if you don’t want to spend anything... you can try those weapons out and have a play with them. We’re also adding in the future – near future actually – the ability to use in-game special currency to get Armas weapons for a limited duration, so if you don’t want to pay cash and if you play a lot then you can [level up that way].
RPS: You can still buy things off the NPCs using in-game currency that you earn, is that right?
Zak: There are a couple of weapons that are unique to Armas and we’re definitely making sure that they are not over-powered, that they’re just different in a few ways. So the spread of the shotgun blast, damage of the sniper rifle – that sort of thing. So the sniper rifle you get in Armas – actually most weapons you get in Armas – are much lower in damage than the ones you [earn] in-game. But they tend to be more specialised. So, you can sprint with the [Armas] sniper rifle, the sub-machine gun is silenced, the assault rifle has a scope on it so it has longer range but is far less accurate than the real one.
Michael: It is just all about balance. Like Zak pointed out, no weapon is particularly better than another weapon – they’re just different in different ways.
Zak: And if they are better accidentally we’ll find it pretty fast and give it a tweak. There will be balance issues as we add things but you often find out pretty fast.
RPS: Do you feel like you salvaged something from what was originally a very difficult launch and that APB can go on to be as successful as possible?
Michael: I think – well, this is how I feel, [Zak] might feel differently and other guys may feel differently – but for me personally what we’ve managed to achieve is that we’ve actually finished the project that we all started. There’s a great sense of achievement for all of us. In that sense, the Realtime Worlds thing was horrible – it still is horrible – it was a horrible time for everyone involved. But at the end of the day we wanted to get the product to market. Turning it free-to-play actually has turned out to be the best way to do that and I think we’re all happy with that.
Zak: I think as far as saving it, yeah, pretty much. A lot of the stuff we’ve actually added has been on the list of things we need to do since far before Realtime Worlds collapsed, it’s just we never got round to it. And I’ve actually talked to a lot of the people from Realtime Worlds since I’ve been working here and they’ve been like, ‘Yeah, I’m glad that finally got in the game’. And we’re still getting there. Turf Wars I think is the big one that has constantly been mentioned for the last five or six years that we’ve always meant to do and we’re finally getting to start that as well.
Michael: There was an interview with one of Realtime’s execs just before it went down and the question was asked: ‘It’s been a bit of a soft launch, how do you feel about that?’ and he said, ‘Well, the great thing about MMOs is you can always keep fixing them as you go on. So really it is just an extension and we had to just address the issues that players had originally. And we’ll continue to do so, by no means are we saying the job’s done.
RPS: Thanks for your time.
Expect our APB WIT tomorrow.