This week Zak (aka "Qwentle") our designer will give an overview of design changes to expect in the Closed Beta. I have asked the team to be very open and honest about a lot of the things we are working on, so hopefully you guys will enjoy this week's read.
Bjorn / TechMech
Hey guys, for those that haven’t come across me yet, I’m Zak "Qwentle" Littwin, now the Designer for APB Reloaded (and previously the Development QA Lead at Realtime Worlds). I’ve been asked by Bjorn to talk about some of the changes we will be testing during Closed Beta. This is going to be a fairly long post, so you may want to get a cup of tea and some biccies. Even so, this is only Part 1 of many posts about the upcoming game changes (and probably these design posts will occur quite frequently as we progress toward the renewed live service).
First; let me be clear – in today’s post we are ONLY talking about the TWEAKS that are present in the Closed Beta (these are items we are actually testing out in this first release round, along with extensive system and server tests), and I will NOT be talking about the much more extensive changes we are planning to implement in the Open Beta and especially for Live Service. So without giving too much away, one of the key changes for a future release (again NOT for Closed Beta nor in this post) is the expansion of game modes (especially the addition of “Chaos” and the creation of the completely new mode called “Turf Wars’) as well as the release of a whole new district (the “Asylum” expansion) which we are working on to turn in to an awesome map, and which will drastically alter how players can engage each other, and potentially will alter (for the better) the whole idea of missions, while leaving in place some of the ideas behind the original game play from the original districts.
These future changes will truly change the game play of APB and will make the game much more sustainable (imagine defending areas in the Asylum in a team vs team or even Clan vs Clan setup). But to be clear – today’s post is NOT about those changes. So forget this little teaser. Instead today’s post ONLY talks about the things that in fact will be in the Closed Beta.
Closed Beta Changes (ie - things we need our Closed Beta players to test)
Integrated Cheat DetectionFirst; yes – we have enabled PunkBuster in the closed beta. Not directly a gameplay change, but we think this will improve the gameplay experience quite a bit. This is a significant code change and will require a lot of testing (see Aphadon’s post from last week). So there will be a lot of technical changes as part of this update of which some have been mentioned in previous posts. Death to Cheaters!
Over in the Gameplay department, during Closed Beta the first thing you will notice is the change to weapon implementations. While previously the game was fairly well balanced (apart from a couple of weapons), the combat model wasn’t particularly fun in a lot of situations, with weapons not feeling very meaty (though the recoil addition in 1.4.1 helped somewhat). In Closed Beta to fix this, we’ve upped initial damage on all weapons, adjusted recoil for most weapons, and changed accuracy so the weapon very quickly blooms out to its minimum accuracy, but regains it very quickly once you stop firing. These are fairly major changes, and will likely affect balance initially, and it is something we need to try out extensively. This change also gives some advantage to single-shot type weapons. We’ll be testing these balance changes extensively during the beta to see what you guys think. In our internal initial playtests the changes make the combat feel a lot more fun (which after all is the whole purpose of the game).
General gameplay changes (marksmanship, witnessing, camera)
Other gameplay changes include the following items; marksmanship will not disable when you fall short distances, teammates will now show accurately on your personal radar screen, the arrest exploit has been fixed and a few other minor changes across various systems. Witnessing has been completely removed for the time being (the ready system kind of broke it), but we plan to reintroduce it in a near future build in a much improved fashion, as it is intregal to the open world experience. The default camera position has also been moved out slightly so that your head doesn’t obscure the centre of screen when the player runs to the right.
Core Game Progression Change
We’ve done a lot of work with changing the progression system ahead of Closed Beta. Progression was really convoluted before, with rewards at seemingly random points, and it had some strange mechanics that needed a lot of explaining by game prompts. Additionally in-game money pricing structure on some of the game items resulted in massive run-away economy problems. While there are other areas of the game that are higher priority to fix (for example spawning, matchmaking and missions), progression is something that is a lot harder to change once we are in live service, so it made sense for us to look at it now and create the new Progression System to be tested in Closed Beta.
The first thing we did was remove organisation standing. It was a fairly obtuse mechanic that didn’t really fit into the game very well. Then we adjusted the contacts so they each fall under the category of either Weapons contacts or Vehicle contacts. As the names suggest – vehicle contacts unlock new vehicles, vehicle upgrades, and vehicle components, while weapons contacts now unlock preset weapons and character upgrades. All contacts unlock preset and customisable clothing options. Since the presets are now properly named you will now be able to tell which items and combinations are actually meant to be worn together (an annoying missing item in the original release).
Open slot weapons and weapon upgrades are unlocked through specific roles that are levelled through using that weapon class (so shotguns and SMGs are all unlocked through the Pointman role, along with upgrades such as Magazine Pull and Reflex Sight), while higher level equipment is unlocked through performing the activity that relates to it (for example Performing Arsons unlocks better Petrol Cans). One thing that helps a lot is the new ability to see how much progress you have made in a certain role or for a certain achievement. While progress bars couldn’t be added before Closed Beta due to some current technical constraints of how the UI works, we have added a numerical readout (ie. 5/12) so you can see how close you are to actually reaching the next level (making levelling something that now matters a lot more, and has more impact).
All Symbols and some pieces of clothing are now rewarded through random rewards at the end of a mission. Players have a very high chance (50%, modified by mission performance) to unlock one at the end of each mission, with different contacts unlocking different symbols.
High level vehicles are now using a slightly different unlock system. You unlock the base vehicles and presets through vehicle contacts at high levels, with kits and open slot versions gained through completing time trials around the districts with those vehicles (this bit’s not in yet, so open slot versions of the high-level cars, along with their kits, won’t initially be available in the first beta. We’ll be working on getting this in ASAP though).
Another major change to progression is leagues. We felt that leagues were not providing their original purpose, and instead were just causing players to exploit game systems, or ‘Zerg’ things in order to compete. As such we’ve removed them completely in the short term, though we plan to add back Leagues at some point, potentially along with the revised (and more meaningful) Clan mechanics which are used in other games as well.
Finally the "in-game" or "earned money" cost for most items has been drastically increased. It’s better for players to have a load of stuff they want and have to work to get the money together to buy them, rather than be able to buy everything right away and have a ton of money left over (something that had made the original money system strangely unbalanced). These changes are something that will need a lot of testing in Closed Beta to get to the right values, so we’re expecting a lot of analysis of user behaviour in this area. It also ties in to the roll-out of Premium vs. Free accounts (something we will be dealing with before and during Open Beta in greater detail).
We have also done some work on the Upgrade system. We’ve moved all upgrades into groups, so you can only use one of each type (we’ve also renamed them to fit with each system). I’ve also removed a couple of mods that either didn’t fit or were duplicates (Savage is gone, and Monolith has also been removed as it was functionally identical to Survivor). Going forward we plan on upping the difference that upgrades make, but adding substantial negative modifiers also, meaning players will specialise within roles rather than just increase stats. To facilitate this, we’ve also allowed the removal of upgrades without destruction. Initially this was added as a cash sink, but we found from both internal testing and live that it only served to stifle player choice, as players made a decision and never changed or explored other options along the way.
During Closed Beta most vehicles have not changed dramatically, though a few vehicles have changed significantly. The biggest change is the removal of the “Han Cellente,” ie. the starting vehicle. We thought it looked pretty awful and handled terribly, leading many to concludes that cars sucked in general (when in fact, they had just been given a really badly behaved one to start with). Instead we have inserted another vehicle as the starter car that looks a lot nicer, and that has pretty decent handling. We have modified how this new starter vehicle operates and with a couple of tweaks we’re left with a cute little 2-door coupe that handles well, is stable and responsive, but not too fast (maybe not a very macho car, but that's why you will be upgrading at some point). So this should now be a really good vehicle to learn the vehicle system on.
Other changes include the G20 Vegas, which has been given massively increased acceleration and torque from scratch (just enough to make the front wheels lift off the ground if you slam your foot down on the pedal). It’s a nice little effect but if it turns out to cause significant problems in Closed Beta testing we can tone it down a little. But heck – why not go over the top in Closed Beta with a few things, it's the best time to try crazy stuff that might work?
The Fresno has had its weight and power increased (so no change in handling, but better ramming potential). We want it to feel like an old steel chassis vehicle when compared to it's lightweight contemporaries. The Mikro/Vaquero now grip the road a lot better and both them and the Bishada/Jericho have had their health reduced in order to put them just below average hp.
The largest change to an existing vehicle is the Balkan Kolva (Dump Truck). We have made it rarer in the game, and massively increased the weight and torque, while lowering the turning speed and initial acceleration. Combined with much higher health (it is a fully loaded dump truck filled with tons and tons of sand after all), we’re left with a lumbering vehicle that needs a run up to get speed, but packs a rather insane punch if it manages to hit something. Ideally the really low acceleration from scratch will stop it from being a griefing tool (it can’t really change direction to block someone in a pinch), but we’ll have to wait till beta to see whether it works in a large scale environment.
The idea behind these vehicle changes, and more changes we will be making in the future, is to give each vehicle a lot of individual personality and specialisation and unique benefits, rather than everyone rushing straight to the Cisco/Bishada/Jericho/T25.
The Premium Quandary
The last thing I was originally going to talk about was premium accounts and leased weapons since that's another big change for the new version of the game. In short, we want to make premiums highly desirable purchases, but not something that crushes Free2Play players. Our goal is to ensure everyone has fun in the game, while simultaneously encouraging premium activities, since that ensures we can stick around and pay for the costs of running and expanding the game over the next several years. We are also in the middle of creating weapons that can be leased that aren't necessarily better than the ones you earn, just different, more specialized or has some other specific benefits. However, seeing how we are running out of blog space (cough...), we are planning to share all the information about premium/free and earned/leased breakdowns as we get closer to launch. And just another teaser - you might be able to spot some of these new weapons in the images below (and it just means you will have to stick around for the future post where we will dig in to the new weapons in great detail).
So that’s what we’re initially putting into closed beta. All of the above is of course subject to change and a lot of future changes will based on both measuring behaviour as well as reviewing feedback during the beta (since sometimes people request one thing, but actually acts in a completely different way when we measure their actions).
In a future post I will discuss subsequent changes planned for Open Beta and Live (the maps and complete game system changes I hinted at in the top of the post – since THAT will be truly revolutionary to the overall game play for the entire game), but for now I’ll leave you with some screenshots of the updated game highlighting a couple of the weather changes we have added (plus some of the new weapons we're adding).
Qwentle / your Designer
Weather updates in updated game (with some teaser weapons)
Let's all thank Qwentle for sharing a lot of Closed Beta change details in this "Part 1 of Many" series outlining design changes the game will be going through over the next several months. Clearly there are four big "teases" in this post alone; the exact leased weapon configurations, what you actually get for being "premium," the new game modes/engagement modes and finally the actual details about the new world/map (other than the fact that it will be called "Asylum" we know very little). Nice. I hope this has whet your appetite a little bit for our future posts, so we will hopefully see you back here next week!