Games modes - who needs em?
Let's talk a moment about the fundamental concept of APB, and how it is NOT like a multi-player Grand Theft Auto game (aka how it is NOT "GTA Online"), at least not yet.
When the team designed APB back in the day it appears one of the goals for the game was truly to create a Grand Theft Auto "Online" inspired game with two opposing sides duking it out for supremacy. No problem with that in theory. Except that a multi-player GTA clone that preserves any semblance of story progression (or Red Dead Redemption clone for that matter) is a really hard thing to pull off for one basic reason; people on the "opposing" side will never do anything that resembles "story-line-reenactment," and more fundamentally, the whole GTA concept, while open world-ish in nature, is still at its core a story-driven progression with a logical beginning and end. The great stories themselves is really what make the GTA games brilliant on their own (after all, how many old ladies can you run over before you want to put the rampage behind you and start experiencing some story progression?). As an aside, I am still a bit confused about the story-value of the Zombies in RDR's Zombie update after the brilliant first act of RDR - but that's a whole different discussion.
So to put it in perspective, imagine yourself being one of the NPC characters in one of the GTA games, ie - not playing a protagonist like Niko Bellic in GTA 4 or Claude Speed in GTA 2, but instead playing the guy who works with Governor Johnny Rotten, or working for Jerkov in the Russian Mob. If you in fact PLAYED that character, you would basically sit around and do nothing 99% of the time, while waiting for your "scene" to occur, at which point you would add your cool flavor to the game and then get shot. No sane gamer would actually want to act out that role (it would be like a really boring version of a Civil War reenactment). But that kind of single-player progression design is what makes those games brilliant from the protagonist's point of view (and duds for the NPCs). One of the complaints about APB was the fact that sometimes one side in a conflict were basically asked to act as story progression for the other side, and that didn't always seem to work out very well.
On the opposite side of story driven games are the hard-core Player vs. Player games that basically throw away the story. Counterstrike, Team Fortress 2, Unreal Tournament 2004 even our own War Rock and to some extent Knight Online. Is there a story in any of those games in their primary game modes (ie the mode that 99% of players use daily while whacking away at each other with guns or swords)? Neh. Not really. Sure there are some allusions to a world out there (what's the Tournament thing in UT anyway?, and why is the Spy in TF2 French? and what's the "War Rock" meteor that apparently crashed to earth from the heavens? - who cares?), so basically the storyline is almost completely irrelevant to the core game play and the core fun. But those are all still brilliant games, thanks to tight level design and the ability for players to have a completely new game experience with each respawn and by focusing on fast-action strategy, the game becomes more akin to chess on steroids (you know the board, but you don't know what your opponent will do), rather than a cinematic story progression.
That creates a dilemma for the current incarnation of APB. Because it tried combining what is really two separate types of games into one game mode (story plus PvP; where PVE style NPCs give you orders to do stuff that lead to PvP confrontations), the game originally felt like it hadn't quite made up it's mind yet on what type of gamer interaction it expected (either the ultra-detailed player-and-team-control demanded by PvP, or the progression driven feel of story-focused PvE?) .
APB actually has the beginnings of a lot of the elements that will make it a really successful game in the long term, and could in theory exploit (maybe "complete") both types of interactions; there is ACTUALLY a giant back-story to the entire city (100+ pages of it), there are deep anthologies of the various factions in the city, and there is even the foundation for a single-player mission mode, which would in essence turn one of the training missions into something more akin to GTA. And if we were to go further in that direction, then there is really nothing stopping us from going "Law and Order" on the whole thing (ie - episodic story-driven content meant to be experienced either by an individual in single-player mode, OR by groups of people in a more traditional PVE/collaborative mode where teams or clans go "raiding" together and battle AI opponents that do more things than just run away like the current inhabitants in the city).
On the other hand, there is no reason the PvP fighting shouldn't also be extended to it's logical conclusion, and we are considering starting a new mode where we hand back direct control to the player, a la Counterstrike. Potentially we would call that "Session Mode," "Clan Mode" or "Team Mode" or something similar. Of course this type of mode risks breaking the design-continuity between the Social Districts and Action Districts, but fundamentally, there is no good reason you should not be able to have more of a lobby-type function where your clan can take on a competing clan (even Crims on Crims), and have a show-down in a new (presumably smaller) map until one clan or team stands victorious. It would be like challenging someone to a duel at dawn, posse vs posse. And if you don't yet have a clan, what better method to find future clan mates than by permitting a more user-controlled joining process that enables short, fast paced game instances that can be completed in ten to twenty minutes.
There is even a third design philosophy; PvE collaborative mode using fast-paced (minimal-story) PvP mechanics. The closest here would be a Zombie style mode (hah - didn't I just question Zombies earlier?). The idea would be that you and some buddies should be able to show up at a building in the Social District, and upon entering you descend into a Resident Evil style nightmare clearing Zombies (and not a whole lot of story progression beyond shooting). This third mode is really just a PvE event with minimal story line, but would be something that provides more variety for the gamers, since it's a really great "introductory" collaborative mode mechanic (everyone is a winner, except the dead zombies who are all losers).
Our end goal is clear - we want people to become so engaged in the activities we will make available in San Paro that gamers want to "hang out" in some part of the city almost all the time. There should be a huge variety of interactions (PvP, PvE, collaborative, single-player, storylines, social interactions etc.) and players should really drive what modes we spend our time expanding and increasing in size (and what modes we abandon).
For the first release we will clearly not have had a chance yet to implement much, if any, of the above philosophies, however, this type of expanded game play is what we are planning out for the next 12 months.
Next week there will be no Blog Update (since it is Christmas week after all), but I will pen a short New Years update, and then we are planning to publicly release the first official launch schedule during the first week of January, as well as giving you more details of what will be in the various CB, OB and Live releases.