A few posts ago I mentioned All Points Bulletin (APB) as one of the upcoming MMOs that I am most excited about. It takes a bit to get me excited about an MMO. I've slept through articles about WAR (oh hey, it's WoW only with all of the sense of humor sucked out), trying to play Eve Online actually conjures visible Z's over my head, and just can't bring myself to get excited about Free Realms (even as I applaud their courage in letting you play a fairy). But APB got my attention but good when it was announced last year, and after reading some previews about it from last week's E3, I'm getting genuinely excited.
At first glance, it looks like Grand Theft Auto: the MMO. Player characters roam a cityscape, armed and dangerous, having gang gunfights and carjacking everything in sight. But it's becoming more and more clear that the GTA similarities are just the tip of the iceberg: they share a setting, and maybe an aesthetic, but little else.
The first thing that's striking about this game, and makes me think it will be a runaway success, is the character creator. No, scratch that, the entire creativity suite. You don't just create a character. You control their physical features, clothing, and other accoutrements so completely that it puts the CoX creator to shame. There was a video from last year's E3 where the demonstrators used the character creator to make startlingly-accurate likenesses of famous game developers, such as Mario's daddy Shigeru Miyamoto.
It takes every detail to the next level: in CoX, you could put a lightning design on your legs, and change the color. In APB, you'll be able to resize the lightning, move it to and location on your body or clothing, and overlap it with other designs. I didn't really understand just how good this thing was until I watched this other video from last week.
I call it a "creativity suite" not just because of the overwhelming number of options, or the level of control (you can click and drag to change the length of different segments of your avatar's hair!), but because you can create your own tatoos or designs in a tool that appears to rival photoshop in its control, and then place it anywhere on your body or clothes or your car, and it will fit wherever you want, at any size and angle. Once you are done with that, why don't you follow it up by - I shit you not - composing a brief musical riff that your opponents will hear whenever you kill them.
The level of customizability makes me wonder if this is just a developer tool, or we'll actually see this thing go live. I actually think it will make release this way, mainly because the developers have said they intend to allow a community to build around using these tools better than other people do. The devs want every player to be "famous for something", and for some people that will be tatoo design or music composition. "Sure, xXK1ll3rXx may have the most headshots on the server, but everyone buys my tatoos."
And the customization feeds into the game itself. Servers will be limited to 100 players at a time, leaving room for everyone to be a celebrity, and everyone to be recognizable. Everyone's avatar should, in theory at least, look so unique that the game won't even bother displaying names over the player's heads. You should know on sight what player you are looking at. What remains to be seen is how they'll avoid having an entire server full of Neos chatting with half-naked Angelina Jolies.
The gameplay itself sounds pretty fun as well, with a very interesting organic matchmaking system driving PvP encounters. Players can choose to be Enforcers or Criminals. The example mission being batted around: as an Enforcer, you accept a job to guard an armored car full of cash. However, a few groups of Criminals in the area also hear about the car. They'll show up and try to steal the money, while you attempt to fend them off.
The key to making this work is a sort or ranked matchmaking algorithm for who gets notified. Maybe you have a ton of individual combat skill and a high-level character. Maybe it will send one or two other skilled players at you, or maybe it will notify a dozen lower-level characters, or a gang of 4-5 people who aren't very good players.
The whole thing sounds awesome, and the devs seem to have their hands on the pulse of what makes MMO's exciting for some audiences: being able to show off to other people how special/good/powerful you are. The game is all about creating a unique look and identity, and becoming notorious for something. It taps into a lot of common needs to feel special and recognized in front of others, and concentrates that experience. And to top it all off, it's undeniably cool. No Dungeons & Dragons references or geeky comic books here. Just good, old fashioned, mass-marketable crime and mayhem. More than anything else, I'd liken it to the Sims, and I think it will take off with aggressive people (mostly males) in the same stratspheric level that the Sims achieved with women.
If they can pull it off, that is. The game is still over a year out at least, so there's no telling how much of what we see now will actually make release. But here's hoping they keep going in this direction.