Neon: All Points Bulletin Presentation

When you think about the great gaming cities of the world, neon blade runner cityscapes leap to mind. The gadget haven of Akihabra, LA being taken over by E3 or visiting the Nintendo HQ in Kyoto. If I were to add Dundee to that list I’m guessing that I’d get funny looks, followed by a white jacket and a padded cell to call my own, but Dundee has had one of the most unique impacts on gaming of all the cities in the UK.

Dundee was where the original Spectrum was manufactured. DMA Designs was founded here and went on to give me, possibly our, most cherished childhood game: Lemmings… oh along with Grand Theft Auto. Today it’s the home of everything from the casual game geniuses at Denki Games, Tag Games and Cobra Mobile to the critically acclaimed Realtime Worlds who of course gave us Crackdown.

Despite this wealth of gaming pedigree it was not enough to wake me up on my 5am start as 5 trains awaited me on my way to Dundee for the NEON Digital Arts Festival. Curling up on the train with a copy of GamesTM and a podcast, I wondered what awaited me across the Forth Rail Bridge. The potential was there for a fascinating day in the Scottish gaming industry in a fantastic city, but I make it a rule never to underestimate how disappointing Scottish events can be when you compare them to the wider world. So with no expectations and bags under my eyes I arrived at the venue to find it crammed with Scottish gamers, spotting a few friends and grabbing a glass of orange juice we were ushered into a lecture theatre and the day began in earnest.
Being a digital arts festival and not a gaming festival, understandably the talks did not centre around our favourite hobby, but that’s not to say we weren’t catered for. The first talk of the day came from a little known Scottish developer called Realtime Worlds founded by some bloke called Dave Jones who made some Xbox 360 game called Crackdown. Needless to say I was a little excited waiting for the talk to start. Sadly Dave couldn’t make it for personal reasons, but Colin MacDonald of Realtime Worlds came out and chatted about Dave’s history in gaming and how it’s affected the design rules Realtime Worlds follow. From his days in his bedroom coding Amiga games to the exploration of open world titles with Body Harvest, five basic design principals emerged: attention to detail, simplicity, contemporary, humour and innovation. As Colin put it, forging a genre. It was with this that he passed to his colleague, EJ Moreland to chat about the next AAA title to come out of the Dundee developer. All Points Bulletin (APB) is an MMO slated for release in early 2010 centred around the Ready-Up favourite, cops and crooks and as EJ said is based on three Cs: creativity, conflict and celebrity. The first striking thing was how different the game felt to other MMOs in the market at the moment. The game is divided into cities, with 100 players in each city at any given time. There are no lobbies and the game features something called dynamic matchmaking which we were lucky enough to get a peak of. What we saw were a couple of guys playing online and elsewhere in the city a cop in his car cruising waiting for “dynamic matchmaking”. The original two guys decided to steal a car, which set its alarm off. The video switched to the cops who received an all points bulletin and suddenly a game had started, with the car theft triggering the cop’s next mission. We were promised it will all be as seamless as the video showed and it certainly looked more interesting and dynamic than simply choosing pre-set missions.

Our very own Scott inadvertedly posing like an APB character… with obvious differences.

That’s conflict out of the way, onto creativity which is the area which brought the most gasps from the increasingly impressed audience. The thinking behind APB is that players are content themselves, both in what they create and simply how they look. EJ spoke of how other MMOs’ (cough-WoW-cough) basic problem with player design was that everyone moved to the same armour and weaponry because it was the best, APB sought to change this by handing creative design over to the player with tools which reminded me of the shapes and layers of Forza Motorsport. Videos were shown of how they can be used to create everything from gang tags (gangs being the clans of APB) to tattoos for your character. They can also be put onto clothes which is how the idea of player identity can be integrated into an MMO. We saw a female character model, very basic and bland looking. Normal clothes were then put on, leather jacket and jeans. The jeans were then coloured and had a few images placed on them, then a star tattoo was placed on her shoulder going down her left breast and finally a gang tag on the back of her jacket. It was subtle but looked fantastic, from a bland NPC we had a character you could envisage belonging to someone. The designs can be placed on vehicles too, so theoretically your gang can theme everything they use. Imagine the fear of seeing the Hello Kitty gang charge you with 4 pink fans with flowers on them!

We were then given a taste of the music, which was shown off to give us an idea of the amount of individuality they want your game to have. Instead of a soundtrack the game uses your own music library and plays that out of cars, jukeboxes, radios and anything with a speaker. The trick comes with how your music interacts with other gamers. We were shown another video, this time a player standing by the road with the hum of the city in the background, then another player drives by blaring music out of his car. We were then told that if both players own the same music track the games will then synchronise so both players are hearing the track at the exact same moment (all done through track data as they are unable to transmit the music for copyright reasons). If you don’t own the track APB will go onto, pull a similar track and play that so if you are a bad ass reggae gangster you will never be transmitting pop princess tracks. It’s all about image and creativity, making the kind of person you want with everything around them reinforcing that. That brings us back onto the third C, celebrity. The idea is that through artistic design and gangs getting reputation through gameplay, celebrities will emerge in the game world and be honoured in some way (they mentioned statues but it seemed to be up in the air how this would occur). Leagues to show high score and achievements would reinforce this idea of the player being central to the game and not the game world itself. We were then told that a fourth C emerged in development, creativity and this was the cornerstone of APB. As a game its aim is to be fun to play but it’s there to be a social platform for those who want to create and consume others’ creativity.

The talk finished with a trailer for APB being shown and everyone making a mental note to check their PC specs. The game seems to be following the Dave Jones philosophy and carving a new genre of a creative MMO, distancing itself from the likes of Guild Wars and WoW. There is a lot riding on the project (Crackdown despite being successful just broke even financially) but the amount of innovation and quality in APB can surely only make it a successful entry into the MMO for Realtime Worlds. After a joke question was raised asking if everyone at NEON could get entry into the beta, the first thing I did when I got back to Glasgow was put my name forward on their website, such was the level of hype I had for the game since seeing it in Dundee. I’ll be spending the time between the game launch and now designing my gang’s tag. I was thinking a circle with game pads in it… and wings. You guys in?







7 responses to “Neon: All Points Bulletin Presentation”

  1. Markatansky avatar

    Yes, please! Anyone fancy making a Fashion Police gang?

  2. Andy Griffiths avatar
    Andy Griffiths

    I cannot, I repeat, CANNOT wait for this game!

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