"All CJ Games' titles have to uphold our three core principles: They have to be fun, they have to be easy to learn, and they have to have depth," Merriex starts off in his introduction to District 187. "The reason I like to talk about District 187 is that it clearly embodies all of these principles."
As Merriex boots up an alpha build of the game to show us, it becomes clear that there is no question about what we are dealing with here: a purebred shooter. We see several menus pop up, through which players are able to customise weapons, edit load-outs, and review character stats. Then we see what looks like a matchmaking lobby, and we are confused. Isn't District 187 supposed to be an MMO? "Actually," Merriex jumps in, "it's something of an MMO/lobby-based shooter-hybrid."
There will be no open world featured in District 187. What it does have is a mode called Street Fight, in which clans vie for control over territories within a city. If you've ever played Global Agenda, this might sound familiar. These fights for territory will take place at set times and dates and will provide clans a chance to show what they have in store. District 187 has a strong focus on clan-based warfare. The Street Fight system is designed around clans; competing in tournaments with your clan provide the best possible rewards.
So how about personal progression? "We've ensured that people can level up by killing other players all the way to level 10," says Merriex. "After this, only the top 1,000 people will be able to progress further. This cap, level 15, can be held by only two people in the entire world at one time!" Should you attain this rank, don't think your bragging rights will last forever: You will gradually fall in level rank if you don't continue to compete or if you perform badly.
New players might be scared off by such hardcore game modes. "Like I said before, we wanted District 187 to be fun for everyone," he reminds us. "That is why we've created different environments for people of different skill levels. One of the ways we try to achieve this is by having a so-called Training Server. Here, players are allowed to get used to the game and improve their skill without much of a penalty. Once you've outgrown the Training Server (players beyond rank 5 or with a kill/death ratio above 0.5), you'll be ready to participate in the real deal."
The next game up, Monarch, takes a bit more time to understand. What seems to be a regular, skill-based MMORPG turns out to have some surprises up its sleeve. "What Monarch has that other MMORPGs don't is what we call the Troops system," Merriex explains. "This means that each player controls up to 12 troops alongside his own character. These troops can be customised with armour, weapons, and special skills; they also gain experience of their own and level up."
It's not possible to directly control these troops, but it's absolutely possible to nudge them in the right direction. "For instance, you can point them toward a wall of an enemy keep and order them to destroy it," says Merriex. Walls? Enemy Keeps? "A big part of Monarch's gameplay revolves around Castle Siege. There are a number of regions around the world, and each region has a castle. In Monarch, it is very usual for around 200 players to engage in attacking or defending a castle at any given time. Now imagine each of those players bringing 12 troops to fight alongside him," he suggests. For the sake of sparing our feeble minds, we'd rather not, but we get the point.
"Also, the castles you attack or defend are fully destructible," Merriex tells us. "Should you be defending the castle, if things are looking grim, you could make the decision to burn down the place, leaving nothing for the victors. Now, that might not be a good idea, since the castle's owners might increase taxes in order to rebuild it."
In order to unlock troops, players are encouraged to participate in PvE content and do some questing. Troops will join your ranks when you have completed tasks for them or saved them from danger. Questing won't be the only way to add troops to your ranks, though. Regardless of how you obtain them, some troops will be more coveted than others. "Each troop you unlock will have its own set of skills, and if you buy them from an NPC, their attributes are randomised," Merriex explains. "An Archer with high dexterity will be more desired than others." Think: trading card games and booster packs. Some troops will be rarer than others. One of Merriex's favorite troops is a huge Ogre that has the ability to rampage across the battlefield and inspire fear in the hearts of your opponents. Neat!
Hounds is a survival-based MMOTPS set in a world fallen into chaos at the hands of a virus outbreak, a world where the majority of the population has turned into grotesque monsters. Players are part of an elite fighting force called Hounds, tasked with rescuing survivors while eliminating as much of the infected in the process.
"The story unfolds in a city-by-city fashion. As you progress, more cities will be unlocked," Merriex reveals. "Each city has eight to ten storymode missions for players to progress through." These missions are tackled in a four-player co-op mode, but the game will also feature three to five PvP maps, four player dungeons, and 16 player raids.
"It is essentially a lobby-based game," Merriex elaborates, "but it also has all of these MMO elements people have come to expect. It has a working economy, crafting, and even player housing. It has all of these things, but it's still a shooter." Hounds is based on the same engine as District 187, so it's easy to find the overlap between the two. "The big difference is gameplay (Hounds is a pure survival co-op game), but there's also the target audience. District 187 appeals to a wider audience, while Hounds definitely has a 'mature' label."
Hounds will feature both lobby-based gameplay and an open world, though Merriex cautions that we shouldn't expect to find any open-world PvP: "We've separated PvP and PvE for a reason. Because of the classless, customisable nature of the game, it would be hard to balance any world PvP taking place. With this separation of systems, we were able to create different variables for PvP and PvE gameplay." Like a true MMO, Hounds will feature raid encounters for large groups of people to take on. Merriex tells us, "I playtested a raid a little while ago, and I must say it's starting to take on some serious shape. Expect positional gameplay and coordination to play a heavy role in successfully completing these challenges."
District 187: Sin Streets is slated for release later this year, with closed beta starting in September. Expect Monarch and Hounds somewhere in 2013.
Every summer, the gaming industry descends on Cologne, Germany, for Gamescom, the world's largest trade fair for interactive games and entertainment. Massively's on the scene in 2012, bringing you all the best scoops, impressions, and interviews from the MMOs at the show!