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All Points Bulletin

Bullet time

After the critical success of Crackdown, expectations are high for All Points Bulletin aka "APB". This game takes the Realtime Worlds open environment expertise and combines it with Massively Multiplayer gameplay. David Jones the man behind the original Grand Theft Auto games brings to the project the expertise to suggest they might just pull it off.

EJ Mooreland, Project Director, gave us a behind closed doors walk through of APB's key design features. The devil is really in the detail here - the more I understood their ambitions the more excited I got.

The game, which should arrive on PC by March next year, is built around three pillars each conveniently beginning with the letter c: customisation, conflict and (appropriately for E3) celebrity.

We started our session by looking at customisation. Mooreland described the ability to give your character their particular look, feel and style. He talked about this being fundamental to the game. APB relies on the player's connection to their on-screen self to ensure progress is both meaningful when they succeed and costly when they fail.

The customisation system was perhaps one of the most comprehensive we have seen. The player has complete freedom to control every aspect of their avatar and car. The former looks to outdo even EA Sports' player customisation while the later looks close to Forza's decal system. The icing on the cake is the ability to compose little theme tunes for your player, that signify either their presence in the game to other players or are played to people you kill.

Although this is often window dressing in other games, here it is used to create an environment where players can be identified from the crowd and even build their own in game band.

This led onto talk about the motivation to play the game. This primarily comes from the player's celebrity profile in the online world. Your progress is measured not just in terms of score and equipment but also through your notoriety in the community.

Although we have yet to see how this works on the ground, the game tracks the player's various activities so it can categorise and promote them in the game world. They may become known for leading a successful enforcement group, creating the greatest looking customised characters or even more negative aspects such as dying the most.

Along with customisation and celebrity, being successfully involved in conflicts is the third and final pillar. The conflict system aims to provide a detailed world in which individuals can choose to be either Enforcement (those who protect the structure of the game) or Criminals (those who destabilise the game). This then naturally splits the 100 or so players in each region into two sides.

As players move through the game it is constantly on the look out for groups to match into encounters. If for instance an Enforcement clan is walking through a downtown area when a Criminal group accidentally set off a car alarm, they will all be matched into an encounter. This means that players can simply get on with their respective tasks while the game seamlessly serves up meaningful and balanced conflicts.

A nice feature that comes out of these conflicts is the enforcers option of detaining rather than killing. Whereas you respawn five or six seconds after dying normally, you get a penalty of 30 seconds if you are caught and put in cuffs. This is another intelligently simple way to incentivise appropriate behaviour from each side. Once a player is cuffed, this potentially sets up another encounter where other Criminals in the area can come to try and free them.

The closed door presentation was wrapped up and the audience were palpably impressed. The whole experience has obviously had a lot of time, thought and money spent on it already - and the results are clear. In a similar way to games like Counter Strike, Realtime Worlds aren't forcibly creating community and celebrity in their game. Instead they provide players with organic opportunities for creativity and performance so that it's the gamers themselves who are generating the experience.

"Be somebody or be nobody" is their motto for the game, and suitably so. Whether you choose to be "somebody" good, bad, indifferent or just someone very well styled, there will be a bucket-load of fun along the way.

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