Most massively multiplayer online games tend to be role-playing games, such as World of Warcraft, which let you romp around a fantasy world armed with swords and sorcery to battle monsters and other players. But you're out of luck if you want to pull up at half-court and drain a three in an MMO game. That changes next month, when Sierra Online launches Freestyle Street Basketball, a massively multiplayer online basketball game that has no subscription fee. No, you won't be playing in games that have hundreds of players on the court because the matches are limited to three-on-three at the most. However, you will be able to create a persistent character, improve that character over time through the addition of new skills and items, and take your game online against other players.
Freestyle Street Basketball will also ship with a rich soundtrack that features noted rapper Lloyd Banks, a platinum-selling recording artist and a member of G-Unit. Lloyd Banks is providing the game's theme song, "Go Hard or Go Home." But you don't have to wait until May 15, when Freestyle Street Basketball launches, to hear the song because GameSpot and MP3.com have the exclusive debut of "Go Hard or Go Home." Listen to it on MP3.com! Meanwhile, you can look forward to an open beta test of Freestyle Street Basketball to begin on Thursday, April 19. And to learn more about the game, read on for a Q&A with Leo Olebe, the senior global brand manager at Sierra Online.
GameSpot: Freestyle Street Basketball seems hard to describe because it's not exactly a traditional basketball game. How would you describe it to new players?
Leo Olebe: Truthfully, it depends on the audience.
When talking to gamers, the easiest way to describe it is to say that it is a massively multiplayer online basketball game. You have a persistent character; millions of ways to customize that character using items and skills; a role-playing-game-style attribute system that grows with you throughout 45 levels of gameplay; and it has online player-versus-player gameplay all day, every day. Combine that with no monthly subscription fee and being able to play for free until you decide to upgrade to a full account for just $20. What's not to like?
For the more casual audience, I let them know that Freestyle is a fun online basketball game with simple controls, cool customization, no subscription fee, and you are able to play for free until you decide to upgrade to a full account for just $20.
By the way, did I mention that if you can run Windows XP, you can play this game? Also, you don't need any fancy video card; any onboard "it came with my eMachine" chipset will do.
GS: So the game won't require a subscription, and it's free to play, but the game has a microtransaction model. Could you go over the details of the free and the for-pay systems?
LO: Anyone can download and play Freestyle for free for as long as he or she wants. However, if you want to progress beyond level 15, add "bills" to your account, or be able to gift items to other players, then you only need to pay $20 to upgrade to the full account. When you upgrade to a full account, we will give you $10 worth of Freestyle in-game currency--"bills"--to go and spend on your character.
The microtransaction element comes into play when users use bills to buy in-game items and skills. After you have used up the $10 worth of bills that you receive after you upgrade to a full account, you will be able to acquire more bills by purchasing a prepaid card at retail or buying them online.
I'd like to stress that it's not necessary to engage in microtransactions in order to do well in this game. Most items can also be purchased for game points, of which you start with 10,000 and earn more of as you complete each game.
GS: How many different characters will you be able to keep per account? Can you create a huge stable of characters to cover different positions? Or will you be limited to two or three characters?
LO: When you first start the game, you will have one available character slot. For 1,250 bills, you can buy an extra character slot. When you do, you'll receive 3,000 game points back.
GS: Why go for a three-on-three (maximum) gameplay structure in the game? Why not the traditional five-on-five?
LO: Three-on-three is perfect for the half-court game. Also, it is a good structure for a 5-minute gameplay experience. You can also play two-on-two and one-on-one for 4-minute and 3-minute games. There is even a practice mode, where you can go out on the court at anytime to practice your skills. Why not five-on-five? Hey, we have to leave some room for an expansion, right?
GS: The game has a fairly deep skill system and players can unlock a huge variety of skills and special moves, called freestyles. However, it seems that players can only "equip" five skills and five freestyles at any time, so hitting the court seems like preparing a "deck" in a collectible card game. How large is the skill system? And what are some of the cooler skills in the game?
LO: The skills system is pretty expansive and includes training, skills, and freestyles. At certain levels in the game, you can acquire training to improve your base attributes. Each time you level up, your attributes also increase. There are a separate set of skills and a separate set of freestyles for centers, forwards, and guards. After level 15, you even get customized skills and freestyles sets for small forwards, power forwards, shooting guards, and point guards. Though you are limited to five skills and five freestyles when you first start the game, we do provide you with an option to buy additional skills and freestyle slots either for a limited time or even permanently.
If you are wondering what freestyles are, I like to describe them as the "magic moments" of the game. Basically they are special moves that are activated at just the right time. Need that monster two-handed slam to destroy the opposing center and tie the game with 2 seconds left? That's when you'll use a freestyle.
The more you play, the more you'll be able to understand what skills to bring into a game based on your teammates and opponents. You'll even want to adjust your equipped skills based on your own play style. Like to drain three-pointers? You better get the "back dribble" skill to set up your shot. Combine that with the "fade away 3-pointer" skill and you'll be tough to stop. Maybe dunking is more your thing? Then focus on becoming a power forward and grab the "one-handed power slam." Do you want to crush people in the paint and under the basket? Become a center and make sure your player is as tall as he or she can be. The "tip-in shot" will come in handy, as will the "reverse two-handed slam."
Finally, don't forget that in Freestyle you can also add attributes to your clothing items. This takes the customization options and skill system dynamism to a whole different level. You can add attributes like "jump+5," "speed+6," or even "block+7" to your tops, bottoms, and shoes. Again, depending on your opponent and your playing style, not only will you want to change gear so you look cool, you will also want to make sure that you are getting all the right bonuses in all the right places.
Go Hard or Go Home
GS: You can customize your character any number of ways, such as changing his appearance and clothing. Have you nailed down the manufacturer licenses yet? What sort of gear can you use when the game launches? Nike? Reebok?
LO: We just announced that we are partnering with Mark Ecko Enterprises to put *ecko Unltd, Ecko Red, G-Unit Clothing, Avirex, and Zoo York in the game. With this partnership, gamers will have the ability to outfit their characters with branded collectible shirts, hoodies, jackets, button-ups, denim, shoes, warm-up gear, and a variety of other items. We have some unannounced partners in the works as well.
GS:The game will feature rap artist Lloyd Banks, whose new song is premiering on MP3.com. But what else can you tell us about the game's soundtrack? Are you looking to feature a large stable of other artists or any custom-made music?
LO: We'll also be featuring a track from G-Units artist Young Hot Rod (whose first single, "Be Easy," featured Mary J. Blige) and beats/background music from producer Sha Money XL. Sha's producing credits include 50 cent, Tupac, and Lloyd Banks, in addition to his making the scores for 50 Cent: Bulletproof and The Fast & Furious: Tokyo Drift.
As the game continues to grow and evolve, we'll be adding new, exclusive tracks from other UMG artists every few months. We definitely understand that music goes hand in hand with a cool streetball experience, so we constantly want to keep things fresh. And that doesn't mean that hip-hop is the only thing that you'll be hearing in Freestyle. I'd definitely consider pretty much any genre of music for this game. Remember, MMO games are all about creating a personal, customizable experience for players, and not everyone has the same music preferences. The more options that we have, the happier our players will be.
GS: Did you collaborate with Banks on the song in the game? What was that process like? What were you looking for in the song? Any other exciting artist collaborations for original music made specifically for the game?
LO: We took the opportunity to show Banks the game and discuss the tone and flavor of the experience that we were trying to create. Banks and producer Sha Money XL then collaborated to come up with the beat and the lyrics. I'll tell you right now, it is amazing what they do. On this track, they put together exactly what we wanted on basically the first cut.
Not only is this track perfect for the game, but I think it could easily find a home in the playlist of people everywhere. It's great hip-hop and just great music. I mean how many songs you know have lyrics like:
I got my heart from the street, learn how to hustle in dirty concrete
When you get your hands dirty you don't get to sleep
And if you don't go hard you don't get to eat
Alongside lyrics like:
He's a top seed like eighties who would know
Like Shady with the flow like McGrady on the go
My name ring like M-80's when it blow
GS: Finally, because it's an online game, what are the postlaunch plans for Freestyle Street Basketball? What kind of regular updates are planned? Content, balance tweaks, new skills, new clothes?
LO: Postlaunch, you can expect new items in the game every few weeks. We also have a community team that will be putting tournaments every month--log on to our Web site for new updates. As I mentioned earlier, we are adding new and exciting music as time goes by. Throughout the rest of the year, you can expect that we'll roll out a few major content updates that could include things like new courts, community features, and gameplay modes. Of course, because it's an MMO game, we'll constantly be tweaking and balancing it.
GS: Thank you.