APB – Overly Complex

This article is a continuation of my APB article where I detailed some of my thoughts on APB. Before I begin, this isn’t a new problem unique to APB. It is something that is quite common in MMOs and can be very off putting to new players to the genre. What I want to talk about is about systems that are put in place that simply overly complicate things through a lack of cohesion as well as clear definition and purpose. However I am going to focus on APB as it is a game that I am very familiar with and also a great example.

APB was a very complex game, understandably so given the many genres it looked to cross. However it made very little attempt to simplify this for the user. To avoid being too gamey certain decisions were made to make actions have more context and everything became very segregated. There were a lot of various levels in a game, particularly for one with no “standard levelling system”. Due to the vast quantity of information to be absorbed, a vast quantity of messages were provided to the player. What I’d like to look at is was this required and what could have been done to simplify it?

First I’ll address UIs, in particular looking at the purchasing and equipping of items. When the beta started purchasing and equipping a weapon required you to head to a Contact to purchase the weapons, which stored it in your Locker. Players were able to view the contents of their Locker at any time. You then had to head to an Ammo Vending machine to equip it through your Inventory (different UI to the Locker). This was obviously very confusing as players quit the Contact screen and were then wondering what happened to their weapon. To simplify this we did make the Inventory accessible at locations such as Contacts and Mailboxes, but why did we have so many UIs for managing your items? It was so confusing and convoluted. Instead I’d propose having one UI that deals with all item related business. You can then split it up into loadout, locker/storage and vending as well as seperating out the key categories of weapons, character & vehicles. When interacting with the Contact you could receive a dialog asking whether you are after the mission:

That would then present you with the buy tab of the new all in one inventory / items UI. Accessing it from a place such as an ammo vending machine where you could change weapons but not buy things would give you the following:

Obviously I don’t think this is an ideal and finished solution (and the mockups in Paint are awful ^_^) but the general principle I feel is something APB needed. Bringing things together, wrapping them into one. Rather than splitting different needs indo different menus, try to integrate things together. Having to go through several different menus to sort out your gear is time consuming and also requires the player to learn many different menus. One port of call, as above, simplifies this somewhat! Also if something is restricted, make it clear and provide instruction on how to resolve it. Mouse overs are handy but something big and clear can be so much better!

Looking at progression is another confusing area. In APB you have Threat (win / loss ratio, used for matchmaking), Roles (0-15 grindable activities), Achievements (one off reward that required you to complete more difficult activities multiple times), Contact Standing (earnt through doing missions for Contacts), Organisational Standing (earnt through combat, open world and doing missions for maxed Contacts), Rating (increased every time you gained a progression level) and Notoriety / Prestige (which I’ll talk about in a sec). Thats a lot. However what I feel makes these more confusing is the lack of clarity within the game. It was hard to tell what actions directly affected what level. Each served a purpose too, meaning that scrapping one wasn’t all that easy at the later stages of the project. For an experienced player, this wasn’t too bad but it is for new players where I have the concern. Even in reviews the names were all jumbled up with people misunderstanding what everything meant.

So how would I address this? Well for starters I’d look at achievements and turn them into one off activities that are quite abstract rather than repeatable things that you achieve through general play. Threat should be hidden from the player as it can cause bother with players over-reacting to seeing someone in a match with a higher threat than them, or someone with a lower threat joining their group. Lets leave matchmaking to behind the scenes. Notoriety and Prestige is by far the most confusing. The main thing that this does is for both factions is have an impact on rewards and for Criminals affect when they can get matched. For Enforcers it increases by doing well in missions & combat and decreased by poor performance as well as killing peds. For Criminals the combat/performance works the same and it is also increased by committing crimes and being witnessed. These changes tend to be very minimal and even intentionally running over a lot of peds as an Enforcer can take several minutes to drop a level. Hitting Level 5 caused a bounty to be placed on your head (the same term as a type of mission…) and you were PvP unlocked with everyone. This usually resulted in your mission being trashed as randoms turn around and shoot you. It was also quite confusing when a random Level 5 shot you as it was all too easy to ignore them going by.

Aside from the achievement of hitting Level 5 being an annoyance, what else was wrong? Well it was hard, or impossible, to play stealthy as a Criminal. Getting bounty missions on you as a Criminal was just annoying, although post launch this was addressed. Other than that it had little influence and was just a frequently changing level that bared little influence. My suggestion would be to change it to more of a “streak” tracker. Have it ramp up very quickly from kills, wins, arrests and as a criminal, being witnessed for committing crimes. Dying, losing and so forth should provide a negative effect, as well as it dwingling over time. For Enforcers committing crimes would also have a negative effect. Hitting the peak should affect matchmaking so more people are sent after you as well as providing major bonuses on kills and so forth. Reduce it in the UI to just stars so it effectively monitors how “hot” you are. No more messaging every time it changes and no more bounties being placed on you. This, combined with the long term threat, could provide the matchmaking system where a hot streak results in harder matches. Alternative, axe the whole N/P system.

The final system that I’d like to talk about is scoring. Whilst in a single player game you can get by with showing a random reward at the end of a mission but APB shows you everyone’s scores. As such you can’t help but look at everyone else’s score and compare. The scoring in APB is quite confusing. It shows the cash and standing earnt which is a combination of rewards earnt during the mission for kills, objectives etc as well as the reward for winning / losing a mission. This number is based on the result, the difficulty of your mission, your current Notoriety/Prestige, the difference in threat ratings and whoever got the MVP. A lot of the time this makes absolutely no sense! Whilst it does provide the fairest possible rewards, trying to understand it is a pain in the arse! A break down screen could be provided but that is a lot of information. Instead you should see only your rewards with a basic breakdown and keep the calculation fairly simple.

Expecting your userbase to have a good statistical mathematics ability is a little much and not showing them anything is just going to lead to players declaring a system “broken” when they get less than someone else. One thing we did actually explore in relation to rewards is Call of Duty / BFBC2 reward style HUD messages (kill – 50 xp), however this isn’t viable in APB. Why? Because of the complex scoring. Rewards are in cash and organisational standing with N/P multipliers. Try fitting that in a clear and snappy message… So thats my little rant on the overly complex systems. Some of it comes from trying to be too clever (scoring) and some for focusing on providing the best context for a variety of actions, rather than looking to provide a smooth and apparent process between the two (purchasing & equipping an item). Some times it is providing a system that just has no real fit in the game at all (Achievements, Notoriety & Prestige).

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