Why APB could change the face of gaming forever
Though still not officially coming to the PS3, yesterday marked a particular milestone in the constantly evolving landscape of gaming.
It wasn’t a grandiose statement, a price-cut or yet another exclusive jumping from one console to the other; in fact, if anything, it was almost underplayed.
During a twenty minute presentation from Dave Jones at Develop09 on the upcoming crime-caper APB, we witnessed a game that could potentially revolutionise how we play games in the future – and on what hardware.
The reasons why ABP is so monumentally important? It runs on a server, offers a level of customisation that is unheard of in any other game out at the moment and actually delivers what many other games claim to but ultimately never really achieve – a fully persistent online world.
A lot has been made of the virtues of OnLive and Gaikai but, in general, server-side gaming is still little more than the latest catch-phrase thrown around the internet to most people. With little actually tangible, pessimists are quick to hark on about the known challenges with the service; namely the lack of broadband penetration and adequate speeds available – along with other technical issues like latency – to swiftly dispel the bugbear of playing a game that is running elsewhere and only rendered on your screen through a PC or console. However, with this twenty minutes of footage, we actually get an idea of what this gaming experience will be like. And though it’s true that a fully operational online version of the game was not demoed at Develop09 this week, we can at least now see why this forward step in technology is set to possibly introduce a sea-change in how we game.
Quoted as being a potential “GTA killer”, APB has been in development for sometime now and has already burned its way through $30 million in development costs. But why as PS3 gamers should we be interested in what is right now a PC-only game? Well, as voyeurs on the wonderful world of gaming, we here at PS3 Attitude see a lot of things that both impresses and astounds us (and a lot that doesn’t). When we first saw LittleBigPlanet for example, we knew we were on the cusp of something new and exciting; an infinite frontier where user created content was coming to the forefront of gaming, knocking on the door and refusing to be ignored. And when we saw this footage ourselves first hand at Develop09, a similar feeling; not unlike those very same emotions evoked when Sackboy first emerged on the scene a couple of years ago, came rushing back. Similar because, once again, a game designer is taking a chance and investing in the unknown factor of “you”, the player. Just like LittleBigPlanet, the cornerstone of a new game was not its fancy graphics or convoluted story but the limitless possibilities it presents to its players.
In APB you can create a character that is instantly recognisable. With a level of customisation that is literally infinite, you can generate an avatar that will be unique and identifiable within the game-space, which – despite some valiant attempts in the past – has never really been possible. Watching Dave talk over the footage where characters are morphing into new and completely varied beings in the background was somewhat chilling. We actually tingled in anticipated.
You can create tattoos, merge them, stretch or spin them and then move them to wherever you want. You can add fat and change skin tone. Not colour – actual tone with attributes such as translucency and texture. Such changes will also affect moles, wrinkles, freckles, everything. You can literally re-create any character that has ever lived. You only have to look at the fidelity of the President Obama avatar generated to realise that there are no limits.
But these characters are not the only element that is totally unique; so is the world they live in. With 100 people per server, APB presents the first truly persistent world of its kind in gaming. As Dave accurately states, the likes of Crackdown and GTA do not offer persistent worlds simply because the PS3 and 360 just does not have enough memory to remember where every car and pedestrian is. It’s faux-persistence; the illusion of co-existing in a vibrant and organic world that is, in fact, a clever construct of programming that pulls the wool over your eyes.
In the demo you will see a couple of characters literally drop into a persistent world. This environment exists even when the characters are not present, a virtual Matrix in a box churning happily along just waiting for actors to play out their roles. This is only possible through the use of serious hardware; a marvel only realised by the power of the server-side model.
But APB is not all customisation and the wizardry of online persistance. With a pedigree that includes the first GTA and years of industry experience, Dave Jones knows what makes a good game tick. The combat is frentic with a traditional Cops Vs Robbers dynamic played out on a giant scale. With players choosing to be an enforcer or a member of the criminal fraternity, each server will see grand scale confrontations play out as players go head-to-head through the use of dynamic and asynchronous match-making. Dave also quotes Counter-Strike as an influence and the fact that there are no lobbies – everything is dynamic with interaction between players both fluid and engaging.
The level of creativity shown on the demo doesn’t stop at custom characters and cars with a dynamic world to play around in. Audio is also taken to the next level with 3D Voip and custom death jingles other players will hear upon biting your particular bullet. The game also interfaces with the music on your hard-drive so, when you’re playing a track and then interact with another player, that song (or a song as close to it in terms of style or genre) can be heard through the other’s speakers.
We can’t recommend watching the demonstration enough as ABP is quite honestly one of the most exciting games in development right now and you owe it to yourself to get a glimpse of what is surely one of the next big things in gaming. This is not hyperbole and we’re not talking this game up just because it looks like an insane amount of fun. We highlight its importance because of what this could mean to the future of gaming in general. Of course, we’re not saying the PS3 will become redundant because of this new technology. Far from it. In fact, we’re thinking server-side technology and the PS3 can go hand-in-hand. There’s nothing stopping APB from working on a PS3.
We are on the edge of something monumental. If GTA was one important milestone in the transformation of our favourite past-time from a children’s hobby to a multi-billion dollar industry, APB, and games of its ilk, might just be the next logical step.