Hero: 108 Online Preview
Based in Taiwan, Gamania is a developer and publisher that boasts over 1,300 employees with a youthful average age of 30. Despite its gargantuan size, Gamania retains a personal touch: it's the only MMORPG company that we know of that provides walk-in customer service.
Hero:108 Online is based on one of the freshest concepts airing on Cartoon Network.
Gamania's latest project is Hero: 108 Online, a co-venture with Cartoon Network and French animation company Moonscoop. Hero: 108 Online is based on a colorful character-filled cartoon series of the same name that just began airing on Cartoon Network in the United States at the beginning of March. Since the series was done entirely in Flash, Gamania was able to use assets directly from the series to create what Project Director Kevin Crawford called "a seamless experience." Crawford also hinted at possible tie-ins to the show, and "multi-platform" crossovers is child's play given the game's free-to-play price tag and microtransaction-driven "premium store."
In my thirty minutes with the game concept, it was clear that Moonscoop had made good use of their creativity in designing the cartoon's characters. The archvillain, High Roller, has turned the animals against the people of the Hidden Lands, and it's up to the players to restore relations with the different animal kingdoms. For the lore attuned, Crawford related that the series is loosely based on the 13th century Chinese novel The Water Margin.
And while players are limited to the characters portrayed in the two squads featured in the series, given the kinds of characters and the rampant customization options available to players, players will probably find this limiation a luxury. Mighty Ray, for example, is a tank whose powerful DPS abilities are fueled by bananas. The problem: he absolutely hates bananas; they make him gag. Mystique Sonya is all warrior and "all girl". In the series, any character who tells her "I love you" three times turns into her pet- insert couples joke here. The character I chose in the hands-on gameplay video on page 2, Mr. No Hands, is a support healer and, in the series, the nominal leader of the first squad. Crawford noted that the character does have hands, but keeps them hidden for a reason that players will have to discover for themselves.
Screenshots from Hero: 108 Online.
Combat was fast-paced and enjoyable, but perhaps the most innovative feature of Hero: 108 Online combat is its mouse-free design. While clicks are necessary for NPC interaction, combat is all about the keystrokes. The standard WASD movement was in place, and while the hotbar uses the number keys like most any other MMORPG, you can also highlight a hotbar slot with the U and O keys and use the J, K, and L keys to activate your abilities and default attacks. No targeting involved, you damage, debuff, heal, or empower what you're facing. The upshot is you can fire off abilities without taking your fingers off the movement keys, and it makes for very smooth gameplay.
Two other innovations definitely worth mentioning is the game's quest system, which features an open library of every quest available in the game plus optional red arrows to guide players to each quest objective, and the instant instancing system, which allows players to pick a different instance at any time (dubbed "channels" - e.g. "meet me on channel 5" - perfect for a cartoon MMOG) to, for example, find a less crowded quest mob. Another nicety - players can send and receive mail at any time, no mailbox needed.
Martial arts master Lin Chung is one of Hero: 108 Online's colorful characters.
Hero: 108 Online also features a pretty flat level curve. Kevin noted that to get through the 15 levels of the opening area would take an average gamer about 45 minutes. But at higher levels, Hero: 108 Online doesn't shy away from the sorts of features not often found in teen-oriented MMORPGs such as large scale raids (which have no player cap - loot is the only limit... how's that for old school?), consensual PvP, and guild interaction. Parents may worry about Hero: 108 Online loosens the fetters on chat (language filters are still in place), but Crawford noted that the game will feature a very active GM staff, a novel reporting feature (as seen in the video below), and COPPA compliance for the registration process (you must be 13 or older to play).
The graphics, art direction, and animation are novel as well. Hero: 108 Online features a built-from-scratch engine that's somewhere between a 2.5D scroller and a fully 3D experience, and what I particularly loved was how the game messed with player perspective. The screen zooms in on an attack, a lead-up to a powerful ability blacks out the screen with the character freeze-framed in a bodybuilder pose, fenceposts and pillars sweep by in the foreground as your character moves. Add in some solid anime kitsch in a game that's serious enough to not take itself seriously, and you've got one novel visual experience in Hero: 108 Online.[video]http://video.tentonhammer.com/Misc/Hero108_GDC10.flv[/video]
I'd say Hero: 108 Online looks like the perfect game for parents to play with their tweens and teens, but in all honesty I'm looking forward to playing more of the game myself. If you'd like to see more about the game, check out the trailer and gameplay footage filmed live at GDC 2010 below, and we'll have more coverage of Hero: 108 Online in the coming weeks.