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PAX 2009: Massively's first look at gameplay in All Points Bulletin

Kyle Horner

All Points Bulletin was representing at PAX and while the game wasn't playable I did manage to see a very cool PAX-only gameplay video presentation. Epic Games' Mark Rein and Realtime Worlds' community officer Chris Collins – you know, that dashing gentlemen in all those cool video podcasts – played a bunch of the game and edited it into a nicely narrated sample of what playing the game is like.

What I ended up seeing was a game that by all accounts looks very ready for launch, so I wasn't surprised to be told beta was "a few weeks" away and not months. And while that date is still a little ways off, most other attendees who saw the video seemed to agree that launch day couldn't come soon enough.

Watching All Points Bulletin being played, one thing that constantly jumped out at me was the dynamic mission system. Enforcers aren't cops, but they still have to wait for a Criminal to actually commit a crime before bringing down the heat. Yes, chaos ruleset servers do exist. They circumvent the standard PvP ruleset as you would expect, but in my opinion that ruleset is central to the core of APB's fun – gotta have that cat and mouse experience.

The first example of the dynamic mission system was when Chris and Mark followed a Criminal into a back alley – all the while staying far enough behind him that they didn't attract attention – and waited a very short while, until the Criminal began jacking a car. Just to be clear, when you begin a mission you'll never know when your opposition will get involved. Many of these missions have multiple parts depending on their challenge level. So this Criminal player could have hopped into the car and gotten halfway to his destination before running into some opposition.

However, Chris and Mark were already watching him, so they immediately exited their ride and promptly introduced him to the ground. Interestingly enough, Enforcers can gun down a Criminal to take them out of the game for five or ten seconds or they can arrest them at gunpoint – which takes longer to do – and remove them from the action for 20 to 30 seconds. As a sidenote to that, the respawn system always puts you at a certain distance from whatever action you were involved in so that everything continues to move along.

This easy in, easy out and uncluttered design philosophy is most definitely embodied by the user interface as well. APB features a no nonsense kind of user interface that prefers elegant function over frilly fanciness. It's got an almost vector graphics appearance, with transparency here and there to keep it from blocking your view too much.

A good example is the waypoint system for missions. When wheeling around town on a mission you'll never have the need to open a screen-stealing map. Instead, the UI has a 2D arrow that moves around your screen and communications with you in a three-dimensional manner. After observing the arrow system in action you'll find mission objectives so well it'll almost seem as though you've always lived in this virtual city. Chris Collins assured us that there is in fact a city map, although I didn't get the chance to see it.

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