E3 2002: Horizons impressions

We take an up-close look at Artifact Entertainment's fantasy-themed online role-playing game.

We visited Artifact Entertainment's E3 booth and got a good look at the current state of Horizons, the massively multiplayer fantasy role-playing game from Artifact Entertainment. The game had been announced some years ago, and the developer had originally proposed some extremely ambitious features for the game, like having a third of the game take place underwater and be inhabited by playable water-breathing races. This and other features have been removed--the developer is making sure not to promise more than it can show, and it's showing relatively little. For instance, one of Horizons' most interesting features is that it will let you play dragon characters, and though we were able to see a dragon player character flying in the distance, Artifact made sure we didn't get a close look.

Horizons' game engine will let you customize your character's appearance with a considerable amount of detail. In addition to choosing your character's race, gender, hair color, and facial features, you can choose to morph your existing character models to make him or her taller, shorter, fatter, or thinner. The game's engine also provides for texture layering that will let you add about 10 different layers of clothing and armor to your characters in real time, as well as tint their clothes different colors.

Horizons will attempt to improve upon the way fighting and magic both look in online role-playing games. For instance, instead of having nothing but colorful particle effects for magic spells, the game will emphasize what the developers call "secondary geometry"--actual polygonal objects that you can summon with magic spells, like a wall of crumbling rock or a huge tornado that will darken the sky. In addition, the game will have fully choreographed animation for fights that will actually show characters and players scoring hits on each other, rather than swinging at the air near each other. Characters and monsters will sway to the side, hop over attacks, and be staggered by blows during a fight. To defend yourself, you will be able to queue up as many as five special abilities, which could include magic spells, melee attacks, and other options to play out over the next rounds of combat.

Horizons will also have a player crafting system that will let you create your own housing, villages, crafted items, and even your own shops. What's more, craftsmen players will be able to mark their shops with floating icons to help direct players to their businesses. Trade skills will require resources to create items, and you will be able to seek out resources and use your skills to harvest them. We watched a character hunt down a vein of magical mithril ore and then harvest it with her pickax. The developers plan to make Horizons' resources dynamic within the world--if the ore supply in an area is exhausted, it won't automatically respawn. The game's administrators will keep a close eye on how plentiful the different resources are throughout the world to make sure the economy remains balanced.

Horizons is currently scheduled for release next year. We'll have more information as it becomes available.

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