Realtime Worlds in Dundee, Scotland. A second office is located in Boulder, Colorado.
APB, a cops-and-robbers MMO based on the engine used in Realtime’s critically acclaimed sandbox shooter Crackdown, is a PC-only title set to make its debut in Fall 2009. Realtime VP of Business Development Ray Miller and Audio Lead Roland Peddie joined us for a quick interview shortly after Realtime’s partnership with Vivox for integrated voicechat was announced this week. We then caught up with Vivox founder Monty Sharma for his thoughts on what makes APB a perfect fit for Vivox technology.
Ten Ton Hammer - We’re really glad that APB is back on the air, so to speak. Could you update us on the launch plans? Is there any truth to the rumors that APB will be cross-platform?
Ray Miller, Realtime Worlds VP of Business Development - Our commercial launch will be PC at first, that’s not to say we won’t do console at some point, but when we launch it will be PC. We’ve been pretty under-the-radar for a while; we’ve shown just a couple glimpses of the game at last year’s GDC and I think, come E3, you’ll see a much more visible presence because we’re getting closer to launch in late Fall.
Ten Ton Hammer - The core gameplay of APB - and correct me if I’m wrong - is that when criminals begin pulling off a caper, an APB goes out and the enforcers are alerted. If the criminals make a clean getaway, they’re rewarded, but if the criminals are caught, the enforcers are rewarded.
Ray - Absolutely.
Ten Ton Hammer - Walk us through how Vivox ties in with that core gameplay, if you would. Is it purely a communication tool?
Roland Peddie, Realtime Worlds Audio Lead - There is definitely the gang communication side of it, where you can work out tactics and that sort of thing., as if you were talking on walkie-talkies with you fellow gang member. But the positional 3-D aspect of it also comes into play where you can talk to anyone standing near you, so you could be talking to the opposition or overhearing the opposition talking to each other. It’s quite a natural sort of experience; you’re talking and people nearby can hear you. Beyond that, we haven’t gotten into any additional gameplay tie-ins with the voicechat system so far.
Ten Ton Hammer - I was going to ask whether you might be able to have a dispatcher role for the enforcers, if the criminals might have a rooftop observer to pinpoint roadblocks or if they might have a scanner monitoring the enforcers, but I imagine that’s all yet to be decided?
Roland - Yea, those sort of things we’d love to investigate and we’ll see what happens.
Ten Ton Hammer - Customizability of characters through clothing and kit seems to be very important in APB. Are you planning to use any of the more avant-garde features of Vivox, like voice fonts?
Ray - One of the things that we’re definitely offering the users is the ability to use voice fonts; that’s a feature that we’re going to extend to them. I really think that disguising your voice will be something that people will have a lot of fun with.
Ten Ton Hammer: In Second Life, Vivox and Linden Labs have implemented telephone booths to make outside calls and do text messages to allow real-world communication from in-game. Are there plans to create anything like this, or put purely social features in the game, like a GTA 4-style cellphone to call other players, for example, or is it all about the gameplay?
Ray - There’ll absolutely be social options for players. APB really has two distinct districts, there’s an action district where the hardcore gameplay takes place and a social district. I believe the users will absolutely use the Vivox client in that space just to kind of chat at a club or stuff like that. Getting back to your question about - will we allow players to call each other in-game or SMS each other in or out of the game, I think for launch, we won’t be supporting those features, but we certainly like them and think they’re cool. We just want to make sure we don’t put too much on the table; we want to make sure we’re ready to launch when we get there.
Ten Ton Hammer - How did the Vivox partnership come about? What makes Vivox a good fit for APB?
Ray - For us, we met them at a Virtual Worlds conference and we’d been looking at some competing technologies and hadn’t really been aware of their solution. We realized that technically, having that type of 3-D voice over IP integrated into a game, it just made perfect sense. Right from the first time we started looking at and evaluating the solution, I think everyone knew this had the potential to be a real winner for APB.
I also liked the fact that, in the case of Vivox, you really let them take care of all the infrastructure. So it really saved us a whole part of the infrastructure build where we’d be responsible for providing the bandwidth and the additional server. So the business model for their solution just really makes sense for us in terms of bringing our game online.
Ten Ton Hammer - Was positional audio, the infrastructure, or some other feature of Vivox (voice fonts, sound quality, etc.) the thing that jumped out at you when you considered it?
Ray - It’s funny, it’s one of those things that when you read it on paper, it sounds cool for sure. But when you actually experience it in game, it really adds a whole other dimension. We already know that people have developed strategies of hiding and going behind corners and listening to other gangs in the game.
Roland - Something I was always really interested to see was how the 3-D features would work. Once we put it in, it was really cool, especially at unexpected moments. In the game you can run someone over. Once we put it in, it was really cool, especially at unexpected moments. In the game currently you can run over other players in your car. To hear the reactions when people get run over unexpectedly is quite funny. (laughter)
Ten Ton Hammer - One of the usual concerns with positional audio is that in a crowded space, it can be difficult to separate the conversation you want to hear from those you don’t. I was wondering if I could get your take on that issue.
Roland - There’s a lot that can be done on the visual side of things to help sort things out. With a sandbox style game, it’s difficult to account for every kind of situation that can occur, but it’s not really something that’s shown to be a massive problem so far in our testing. At least not the kind of problem we don’t think we can resolve. We’ll probably be doing things like adjusting the distance sound travels to get around some of those situations where there’s a lot of people in a small area.
Ten Ton Hammer - I like what you said about visual cues to show who’s talking. You mentioned testing it out - you already have the Vivox client working in the testbed of your game?
Roland - Yea, that’s right, we’ve had it integrated for quite a while now in a fairly limited prototype form that we’re continuing to work on, but yea.
Ray - We’re in the friends and family stage of testing right now; we’re having a lot of fun with it.
Ten Ton Hammer - Glad to hear. Is there anything else you wanted to share about what’s going on with APB and Vivox at the moment?
Ray - They’re just a really great team to work with at every level. On the business side, on the technical side, they’ve been great at supporting Roland and his team in Scotland. Just a really great team to work with.
Roland - It’s pretty amazing how easy it’s been to get Vivox integrated and working. I think it would have been a lot trickier had we not gone with Vivox. They’re very prompt at replying, you get direct contact with people over the phone when you want it. You couldn’t really ask for anything else.
Vivox's Monty Sharma, no relation to the Bollywood composer.
Ten Ton Hammer: What’s the Vivox perspective on this deal? What does APB bring to the table that maybe you haven’t worked with before?
Vivox Founder / VP of Business Development and Marketing Monty Sharma: I think there’s two things. One: the concept’s unique, in particular APB is set in the modern era. A lot of the stuff that we do doesn’t make sense in other games - ‘should we really be able to talk to someone that far away?’ No, you shouldn’t, but you need to, so get over it. (laughter) In APB, no one’s concerned about metaphors. Also, this is one of the first MMOs that will launch with Vivox built-in from the beginning, and we think that that will have an interesting impact on the game.
Ten Ton Hammer: The Realtime Worlds folks mentioned that they are definitely planning to use voice fonts and positional audio in the game.
Monty: And they’ve been digging into that stuff harder and earlier than anybody I’ve ever dealt with.
Ten Ton Hammer: One thing we’ve discussed in previous interviews was how the look of your character - broader chest, larger head, nose placement - would impact the voice of your character. Is that something being considered as well?
Monty: It’s part of what goes into it. The thing that we’re finding is that when people start messing with the voice fonts, there’s the mixture of reality and fantasy. They want something that’s giving you a feel of the size of the character but there’s also the ‘this guy’s a little weasily and I want a weasily undertone to it.’
Ten Ton Hammer: So you have a starting point for your voice font with your character, and you can customize it from there?
Monty: Yea. Nobody likes to hear their own recorded voice, so players are going to want to tweak their voice in various ways, make it a little brighter, sharper, that’ll be interesting.
While APB isn’t yet slated to go cross-platform, Monty explained that Vivox is way ahead of the multi-console curve. This week at GDC, the Vivox booth will feature a PC, a PS3, a phone, and a webpage all connected to the same channel at extremely high quality. “There’s a lot of moving parts!” Monty joked.
Ten Ton Hammer thanks Ray Miller and Roland Peddie along with Vivox’s Monty Sharma for taking time to talk to us during this very busy GDC week.
To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our APB: Reloaded Game Page.