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Leading The Design of APB


June 26, 2009 Article Start Page 1 of 5 Next
 

Lead designer EJ Moreland comes to Scottish developer Realtime Worlds with a background in MMOs, having worked on titles such as Ultima Online and EverQuest II. But that background isn't the whole story.

The concept behind much-anticipated PC (and later, Xbox 360) online game All Points Bulletin (APB) is more accretive in nature, taking in action games, console and PC innovations, and coming up with its own solutions to gameplay questions.

Here, he talks about the process, the dangers and opportunites in creating an contemporary urban online game outside the typical MMO territory, and working with Dave Jones, the Grand Theft Auto creator who has talked passionately to Gamasutra about the opportunities online gaming offers on multiple occasions.

The interview, conducted at this month's E3 Expo in Los Angeles, is essential reading for those who would consider breaking the rather staid boundaries of the MMO genre, and also provides a window into the design process for developers who have spent their time working on very disparate genres until this point -- and now are trying to marry them.

One of the most elaborate elements of APB, highlighted extensively in the game's behind-closed-doors E3 presentation, is its customization options. Amateur designers will be able to use a complex set of tools to customize clothes, cars, tattoos, and logo designs -- and then, in view of the game designers, be able to trade or sell those designs to the wider player audience.

It's the urban virtual Etsy, in other words, and has the potential to open up the game to entirely different audiences than the shooter-loving online gamers who you'd expect to pick it up.

You talked about supporting the APB marketplace with design -- enabling people to design clothing, cars, and stuff like that -- and we've seen that kind of thing in games like Forza Motorsport. Attracting and maintaining the sort of audience who wants that experience is an entirely different proposition than it is for the people who just want to shoot each other.

EJ: It's a bit schizophrenic. We have a different, diverse skill set on our design team. We have people that come from an online background, such as myself; we have people that come from a very heavy action game background, and we actually have a component of the team that we call our "creative team", that comes from that more social background.

That comes from being able to... take their inspiration from a wide variety of applications out there. Things like IMVU, and other types of really social apps. And they're the people that are driving how that's going to work, along with our business team. So we actually work with the guys that handle the business side and look for ways to really try to pull to those goals of being able to support the creator, versus the game.

From that perspective, it's also going to require not just having robust and intelligently designed systems, but also the people who would be attracted to them may not be paying attention to APB.

EJ: For us, APB's release is the beginning, not the end.

We needed something to really crystallize the base concept, and Dave's always been a fan of contemporary action. I mean, obviously, as the creator of GTA, this is kind of a natural step for him. So it started out being, "OK, let's make this really believable city with a cool action game." As we layered the customization, as more and more people got involved, we took a look at it and realized, "Hey, wait a minute... This is a whole separate product in and of itself."

But we really don't want to dedicate the resources to completely flesh it out both ways, to start with. So what we've done is we've said, "We want to use this to support this great action game -- this really different online type of game -- and then, once the game releases, based on what the players' feedback is, we're going to go in every direction we can." We're looking at much more horizontal expansion than reproducing the same content.

So APB is the action district; the conflict of the city is one part that we'll continue to support after release. But we're looking at things like racing districts, fashion shows, private housing -- you know, everything in between. It's just which way the player base wants us to take it, and which bases we want to attract after that.

So we realize that the game has -- it's not what I would call a "narrow" focus, but it has a very narrow initial potential. But we want to make sure people understand that there's much more to it. We really expect there to be a pretty good portion of our base, even from the initial part, that are just early adopters of just that expression, and customization, and that social aspect.


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