GTA creator opens up on APB

DEVELOP '09: Realtime Worlds' Dave Jones uses keynote to discuss origins of forthcoming cops-vs.-criminals MMOG, suggests sci-fi settings limit audience size.

Grand Theft Auto

BRIGHTON, UK--As the creator of Lemmings, Grand Theft Auto, and Crackdown, Dave Jones is well positioned to talk about innovation and shaping the future of the industry. Nevertheless, this is the first time that the Dundee native has ever attended the Brighton Develop conference, let alone spoke at it. To mark the occasion of his first keynote at the show, Jones focused on the development of a 100 percent online game, with his upcoming action title All Points Bulletin at the centre.

Dave Jones at Develop 09.

The highlight of the talk was a 10-minute expose of APB, which launches in early 2010. The game is designed around the concept of "creativity, celebrity, and conflict." In terms of creativity, the game will offer an in-depth avatar creator, which also stretches to vehicles.

Some of the most interesting customisation in APB looks to come from the audio side. Jones confirmed the integration of music-streaming service (which is owned by GameSpot's parent company CBS) for the game, so when players link their APB accounts to the service, they will be able to enjoy their favourite music in the game. There's also a simple music composition tool included in the game, and Jones showed how users will be able to compose "Another One Bites the Dust" or the theme from Super Mario Bros. These customs sound clips can then be cued up to in-game events, for example, playing whenever the gamer kills someone. "You could become the Mario assassin," joked Jones.

On the technical side, Jones said that his new favourite piece of technology was the server that APB will run from. "There will be no lobbies in our game," said Jones. "There will be asymmetrical matchmaking, looking at your skill level and bringing in lots of players or just two depending on the situation. APB will also be a truly persistent world--GTA and Crackdown were not." He then showed how the game world is alive even when players aren't on the server, with AI cars and people going about their business in the city.

Jones also found time to talk about his previous game, Crackdown on the Xbox 360. "Crackdown sold 1.5 million copies, which was just enough to break even," he said. "You have to be top 10 these days," he claimed, talking about retail charts. He specifically bemoaned used game sales--often a favourite complaint from speakers at Brighton--as well as the difficulty in selling a new IP.

Jones also had plenty of advice to give from the lessons he's learned over his 20-year career. When he set up DMA Design, which would go on to make Lemmings and GTA, Jones was a student and received £0.75 ($1.20 at today's exchange rates) per game he sold. "I plagiarised and that's fine--it's OK to learn from the masters," he said. "Actually, a lot of people said GTA1 was a lot like Pac Man, and it was." Jones added he was amazed at how similar game development is now, with the advent of the iPhone, in terms of production and royalties for development teams.

Jones also talked about his design principles, listed in order of importance: attention to detail; simple building blocks, compound effects; great training; keep it contemporary; humour; innovate, forge a genre. Attention to detail is the most important facet of design according to Jones, but his most interesting, and potentially controversial, advice was on keeping games contemporary. "If you want to break down barriers, reach the biggest audience, [then] keep it contemporary," he said. While he acknowledged their place in the industry, he railed against sci-fi games in particular, which he feels have too many barriers to entry.

He also talked about looking at developing for other platforms. "We looked at Wii, and it's great for Nintendo, but I like to make games that I play and so does our team," said Jones. "iPhone is also interesting, but I think it's for the up-and-coming guys--a great one for students to cut their teeth in."

Eventually, the team settled on an online game. "Online has huge scope for innovation," he elaborated. "If you look at Gears of War and Halo, then you see [online] is truly where players spend their time." There are also selfish reasons, he admits. "Client piracy is not an issue, and the economics are more favourable to developers."

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