Electronic Arts has been trying to reproduce the success of Ultima Online ever since the behemoth was released onto the unsuspecting masses over a dozen years ago. The publisher has bankrolled numerous MMOs since, from space-faring expeditions to gear-head adventures, and alternate realities. Most of the games did not come close to meeting expectations. Electronic Arts hopes that APB (All Points Bulletin) will get the company back on track in 2010.
All Points Bulletin is being designed by David Jones and the company he founded, Realtime Worlds. You may not have heard of Mr. Jones – no, he didn’t strike up a conversation – but you’ve definitely heard of his games. Jones designed the original two Grand Theft Auto games, and, more recently his company created Crackdown (but not the upcoming sequel Crackdown 2). Even more fascinating is that he created Lemmings years before. Proving that his mind can work its magic across more than one genre.
The booth for APB at the PAX East was split in two, one side representing the criminals, and the other providing law and order in the GTA-style MMO. I gazed upon the relatively sparsely populated world (the game was being shown on the closed beta server) as Chris Collins, the APB Community Manager, launched his spiel about the game. He reiterated time and again that APB is being designed around three pillars, or the “three Cs” as players were told, Creativity, Conflict and Celebrity.
Creativity is the idea that each player will be able to customize their personal avatar to a ridiculous degree. That is bolded, underlined and italicized for a very good reason. Do you remember the Nintendo 64 tech demo where you could play with Mario’s face in 3D? You could spend hours just messing with his facial features. Stretching, pulling and prodding until your heart was content. After you finished your sibling would wipe the slate clean, do his or her dirty work, and come up with something vastly different. Extend this idea to the entire body, complete with different starting body types and you should be able to grasp the depth of APB’s creativity pillar.
Now, allow me to blow your mind. It extends far beyond the body type tweaking that most MMOs support. Clothes, tattoos, vehicles and player-created music are all creatable from scratch. Or if you’re like me, you can just chose some template (even music from LastFM), work from there, or, accept it, and be on your marry way.
The second pillar of APB is currently cornered by Paris Hilton (she’s still famous, right?), Celebrity. In essence, Celebrity is APB’s achievement system. Players that perform well, complete the most missions, take down the most good/bad guys and generally do notable things will be rewarded for their efforts. The mechanic isn’t some task to collect pointless numbers (sorry Juggynaut, but those 10,000 AP are pointless) but another mode of progression entirely.
Want to be a fashion, car, or tattoo designer? Then by all means, go ahead. If you’re good at the chosen craft you can make a living and gain fame and fortune in the universe. Of course, you can earn fame and fortune outside of creative endeavors as well. Players who manage to do “core” gameplay mechanics – missions, assassinations, bounty hunting, etc – will be rewarded with statues in areas local to their accomplishments. These items proclaim the epeen of its model for the world to see. That’s right, you’ll actually have hard proof of your epeen!
Conflict is the basic mission or quest structure of APB. You’ll notice Conflict is of the ‘c’ variety, meaning it’s the third pillar. How could the quest structure in an MMO be of such important that it’s the cornerstone of a game, you ask? Simple, you reinvent the way quests are doled out. Rather than seeing a ? floating above some NPC’s head, players give missions to each other. But you don’t politely ask for one. Instead, when a Criminal commits a crime, any crime, an APB is sent out to local Enforcers (pertinent details of the APB are displayed on screen) with the task to capture or kill the offender before they’ve skipped the area. The more crimes a criminal commits, the higher their threat, or star rating, becomes. This gives the Criminal more notoriety, but increases the amount of Enforcers that are tasked with taking down the evildoer. Max out the threat to five stars, and you’ll be visible on the map to most Enforcers in the area.
Sounds a bit like GTA right? Well, it doesn’t stop there. Your basic combat follows the multi-platinum franchise as well. There’s no spells, classes or actions to speak of, you just point and shoot. Weapons are plentiful, including small arms, heavy weapons and grenades. Ammunition is the only limiting factor. Luckily, Enforcers can always chose to arrest a criminal, rather than put them down. This more humane act lowers their need for ammunition and is likely to be seen as a humiliation kill on par with a knifing someone in an FPS.
APB is nothing short of an ambitious project. Running a virtual world that incorporates an empire of player-created content and progresses forward through player-driven action will be nothing short of a revolution in the genre. It’s no wonder why All Points Bulletin is arguably the most anticipated MMO of 2010.
Want to learn more about APB? Realtime Worlds has you covered with 18 vidcasts and counting.