Another Opening Of Another Show

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NCSoft Brings Villains To Europe

Well another British summer heads into the twilight of its years, as we edge
into September, heralding another attempt at London hosting a trade show for the games industry. This year the British effort comes under the moniker Games Market Europe. It has to be said it’s a very low key affair, but it’s a definite improvement on the sad, faded glory that was ECTS.

GME is nowhere near the scale of EGN or even ECTS, GME doesn’t have much to say for itself, but those who attended seem to have enjoyed the event. There’s not much present to pique your interest dear playchums, but it wouldn’t be the last week in August without me reporting from the show floor in London now would it.

With a last minute invitation to talk to the guys at NCsoft, of City of Heroes fame, how could I resist!? So here I am getting the lowdown on the people behind City of Heroes, Guild Wars and the forthcoming Auto Assault and City of Villains.

NCsoft pretty much stands alone as the only publisher dedicated to online games and so far it’s doing a pretty good job. Being a dedicated City of Heroes player I could be biased, but this is an OPINION column, so what the heck.

I took a moment to talk to Dirk Metzger, marketing director, together with Stephen Reid, content and community manager for NCsoft Europe.

NCsoft is a major force for innovation within the MMO market, breaking new
boundaries and introducing new genres. Although Guild Wars and Lineage take their lead from the Tolkein inspired goblins and sword swinging genres that dominate most MMOGs, NCsoft has also taken the brave step of trying new things.

In hindsight it all makes sense. Why do MMOGs have to feature elves and trolls? The answer according to NCsoft is they don’t.

"We want to create different titles and different pricing models, giving people more choices," says Dirk Metzger, marketing director, NCsoft Europe. "At NCsoft we are exploring new genres. More people are playing online games than ever, so it makes sense to make games that appeal to more people and that means not all our games have swords and dragons in. Auto Assault doesn’t have any goblins at all." (laughs)

Auto Assault is the latest from NCsoft, due to be released in ‘early 2006’,
having slipped from a 2005 release. But the big news is that it’s a driving game! Yes, that’s right. Described as ‘vehicular combat’, Auto Assault is set to attract a new kind of MMO player. Customizable vehicles and all kinds of automobile inspired carnage means the MMO is definitely moving in a new direction. All part of NCsoft’s drive to appeal to more people, Auto Assault offers something other than orc-baiting.

The reason for the delayed release is initial feedback on the Beta test. Stephen Reid, content and community manager, NCsoft Europe, explains, "The US Beta has been going for about two months now and the feedback has been good. But the team feels they can use the feedback to make an even better game.

"It needs some tweaking and it'll be quite different when it's finally released next year. The game concept will be the same, but there will be more stuff for gamers to enjoy. We just want to push the boundaries further."

As well as exploring new genres, NCsoft is offering gamers different pricing models. Guild Wars has no monthly subscription fee, just unlimited free play.

"We will be offering new chapters for Guild Wars at retail stores," Metzger adds. "These will provide new areas, content and missions, but gamers will not have to buy it if they don't want to.

"They may want to skip Chapter Two and decide to pay for Chapter Three, or just stick to Chapter One. The choice is theirs and won't affect their ability to play and enjoy the game."

In addition, NCsoft is in the process of producing time cards, allowing gamers to purchase gaming time on all of their games. Cards will be bought for set periods such as 30 or 60 days, allowing gamers without a credit card to play. Credit card ownership is much lower in mainland Europe than it is in the UK, especially in Eastern Europe, making this an important step in increasing accessibility to NCsoft games.

City of Heroes was the game that broke the MMO mould. No orcs, no elves and no hint of days of yore. Nope CoH is pure Americana, pure 20th century pop culture. And now City of Villains is on its way.

Speaking to the creator, it's all sounding and looking good. There will be more archetypes and powers to tinker with. And as villains are rather single-minded, soloing is going to be easier in Villains. But more than just a sequel, Villains also works as a sort of expansion pack for Heroes. It works as a standalone game for those who don't have Heroes, but for those that do; they can embark on PVP missions in special zones. Yes, that's heroes versus villains – and yes that's pant-wettingly exciting!

City of Villains allows super groups to build up ‘prestige' points during missions together. Gather enough prestige and it's time to build a base. An evil lair no less! This is a great addition, which encourages super groups to play together, rather than just saying hello and doing their own thing.

The additions to City of Villains alone are enough to get me in a lather, but NCsoft's whole approach to MMOs is also an exciting prospect. Let's just hope more publishers/developers follow suit.

"For me a super hero MMO was a no-brainer, but we took it to numerous publishers who just didn't see it. Then we met with NCsoft," said Jack Emmert, Lead Designer of Cryptic Studios.

GME might not have had much in the way to offer in way of a hustling, bustling show report, but it gave me a chance to see the future of MMOs that appeal to more than just cyber-goths and Tolkein aficionados.

Most played: Killer 7

Most wanted: City of Villains

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