Richard Adams

Software developer

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APB Portfolio

I have a year's design experience with the online action title “All Points Bulletin”. Part of my many, taking responsibility of several systems such as player messaging, tutorials and multiple UI designs (including the underlying systems). Whilst much of this was restricted due to an impending launch, I was able to really delve into these areas, among others, later on for post launch material. Leading strike teams involving people from a wide range of disciplines was exciting as I found myself collaborating and liaising with a wider range of individuals as well as getting the freedom to innovate.

Prior to this I was a QA tester as part of the Development QA team. After a restructure I became a Senior Tester for the Publishing QA department where my roles included planning, writing test scripts, training new starts and co-coordinating a large team of testers among other duties.



Post Launch

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Because I joined the APB Design team at a relatively late stage I was unable to make a significant impact on gameplay before launch. However post launch I was involved in numerous strike teams, leading many of them, looking at improving APB and adding new content / features. This was the first real chance for me to get hands on experience with developing completely new content. Whilst I cannot discuss much of the details of these strike teams (which included completely new game types and systems), two were completed and were included in the 1.4.1 patch that went live in August 2010. These were Loading Screen Messages (see UI article) and a revamp of our combat messaging (see Player Messaging article).

Assist Kill Grenade Kill Kill Streak Loading Screen Tips

I was also involved in the combat balancing process and worked amongst team looking to make other improvements such as:

  • New objective based tutorial system.
  • Long term guided tutorial including "boot camp" style weapons training.
  • Changes to the Upgrade system to limit maximum benefit of functional upgrades. Early indications show that this will be implemented in APB: Reloaded.
  • Improved death screen including messaging changes. This was implemented but unfortunately not before APB closed. Expected in APB: Reloaded.
  • Rehaul of the group finder and social menu to make joining a group a more natural process.

Prior to APB's launch plans were also made to develop significant new features. I was involved in two strike teams. One feature was a radio system that would feed on in game events as well as using user generated content. The second was from a team led by myself to create a wanted system showing the top player along with open world quests. The original concept for the quests was to be side-tasks similar to killing X boars in WoW, however after much work we were able to pitch a series of exciting systems. Most Wanted gave the current top players a real sense of celebrity and the opportunity to earn great rewards with their face displayed on huge banners and a major district wide mission based around them should they dominate the server. Additionally we looked at the weak "bounty" system and looked to turn them into contracts put out on the top players. Finally we put together a "Challenges" system that would involve performing stunts or playing in unusual/innovative ways to complete tasks.  Unfortunately due to the low sales, all plans for new features was put on hold and never made it into prototyping.

Last Updated on Saturday, 10 September 2011 13:22
 

Player Messaging

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Player messaging was one of my main areas of responsibility. Within APB there was a large quantity of information that had to be conveyed to the player and much of this was communicated using messages. My responsibility was to take this immense stream of information & text and ensure that the player has the opportunity to process it correctly. A variety of messaging types were already present (Action HUD, Chat and standard HUD messages), however they all involved small text and proved too difficult to process. I pushed to have a more vibrant messaging style and Ceremony messages were introduced. As a result players never missed out on learning when something of high importance was happening to them. Additionally I looked to reduce the quantity of "fame" messages being sent as these were never particularly useful.

Whilst this wasn't a full or even ideal solution to communicating to players, lockdown prevented further improvements. There were still weaknesses in identifying when you were successful in combat or earned an assist so I utilised spare time such as lunch and out of hours to prototype improvements. Post launch I pushed to do a major overhaul including:

  • Revamp of the Action HUD to be in keeping with popular online TPS/FPS titles.
  • Kill, assist, arrest & stun notifications
  • Further reduction in text.

The new messaging was introduced in the 1.4.1 patch and proved highly popular.

[link to forum feedback]

Quote from another thread: "I actually <removed> in my pants when I saw this! It''s *AMAZING*! CS:S style "Player A -gun- Player B" stuff in the top right, and the "Killed" / "kill assist" info centre-screen is conveyed perfectly. Awesome addition!"

Screenshots as of 1.4.1 patch (includes post-release updates):

Assist Kill Grenade Kill Kill Streak
Last Updated on Friday, 11 November 2016 12:12
 

Tutorials

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Tutorials are always a key part of any game. Given the complexities of APB's systems such as purchasing & equipping a weapon and statistics (Threat, Prestige/Notoriety, Rating, Contact Standing, Organizational Standing, Roles and Achievements), there is a lot to be explained. When handed to me, APB's tutorial system involved a series of standard looking HUD messages. I looked to improve the visual styling of these to make them more apparent as well as providing a means to view them via the chat system. A tutorial district was introduced where players got to learn in a safe environment whilst still having aspect to the various features APB offers. A few other improvements were made, however I never felt that this was significant enough. Despite my concerns, we had to push ahead for time reasons.

Post launch a lot of effort was put into devising a much stronger tutorial with the aim of having two new approaches, working in conjunction with each other. I cannot comment on what these were as they may yet be approved and implemented. However from my research and learning experience I have developed a very strong understanding of what makes a good tutorial. First of all, you want to hide that it is a tutorial. Put the player in a learning situation with context to the game and they will engage with it much more. It is also imperative that a tutorial is kept short. Even a disguised tutorial set in context can be seen as "just a tutorial" and players want to get into the thick of the action.

I prefer it when games take a longer "initial user experience" approach where they are introduced to gameplay concepts one step at a time during normal missions & progression, rather than putting the player through a strict tutorial. This helps lessen the learning curve and also builds. However this would never be viable in APB. For this to be successful the structure and progression of player learning must be planned at an early stage. As tutorials was handed to me as after thought it would require a major restructure of the game. Additionally APB is a fully online game and as such new players and experienced players are mixed in together. Segregation leads to other issues as well such as friends wanting to play together.

Last Updated on Friday, 11 November 2016 12:12
 

User Interface Design

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I was responsible for the redesign of several user interfaces within APB. Additionally I would be responsible for the underlying functionality, such as owning the Music Playback UI meant I was responsible how music was played back from vehicles. When redesigning a UI I was typically given little rdirection, often just the inclusion of one new feature. I would then analyse the issues with the current UI, consider QA's suggestions and create a quick mockup of how this could be improved. A meeting would then be held with the appropriate programmer(s) to establish whether the changes were feasible and discuss the underlying systems. From that a more detailed mockup and full design document was written and passed on to my Lead as well as the Lead UX Designer. After iterating on feedback, further meetings with code and UI art were held to confirm the design and hand it off to be implemented. Once implemented I would test the system to ensure it functioned as expected, flagging any issues that arose.

Below is an outline of some of the core UIs & underlying systems that I have worked on.

Contact Vending

Contact Vending This was the first UI that I was responsible for. The task was to allow players to purchase from Contacts (NPCs) within the game. I worked closely with the Lead UX Designer to incorporate this into our existing Contact UI and also looked to improve the previous sections of the UI to make them much more useful. The most significant was to include information on what items could be unlocked via progression with the Contact. Unfortunately whilst the design was welcomed from all involved parties, aside from the implementation of Vending other work was deferred for time reasons.

Grouping & Friends

This was my second UI and the third system under my ownership. Within APB a public group system was implemented so that players can join groups to participate in the more enjoyable group based PvP combat and my task was to incorporate this into our existing "Social UI". This presented me with the opportunity to also improve the look and feel of the user interface as well as improving the functionality. I was also responsible for the underlying systems for the ignore, friends and elements of the team & group systems. Unfortunately at time of writing a limited amount of changes are present in game. Post launch we planned a massive improvement to the presentation of grouping which was schedule for implementation at a later date.

Leagues

APB features a vast quantity of leagues under different categories (Arrests, Damage, Kills etc), scopes (faction-specific, World, District) and time periods (daily, weekly & monthly). In order to provide players with the ability to check who the current league leaders there was a UI available. Originally this was a mess of nested tabs, however I quickly moved to restructure this into a much simpler and more intuitive layout. I also looked to provide players with feedback on their own progress and provided a link to the Leagues history within the in-game browser. Unfortunately due to complications cuts were made and this UI was never implemented as fully intended.

Music Player

The music player, and underlying music playback system, was the most enjoyable UI to work on. I looked to create a modern media player as well as ensuring that the complexities of our music playback system (of which there were many!) were customisable and easy to understand. Further details can be read in the full article on the Music Player.

Video Recording

APB supported video recording not only so that you could record in a similar manner to Fraps but there was a "Quick Capture" functionality (internally referred to as the Awesome Button) that buffered the last X seconds, allowing players to save them to save those immense "out of nowhere" moments to their hard drive. I updated the UI & HUD element to this and worked with both tech & UI code to implement the strongest recording system possible.

Loading Screen Messages

Loading Screen Messages

Tips and hints on loading screens are a great way to provide passive learning as well as something to read during long loading screens. I put together a design for this before launch however it wasn't until post launch when I was able to get it approved. Working with a UI coder, Creative Design and the Localisation Producer we were able to design and implement the system along with over 100 tips for the first content patch. Whilst this may appear like a basic system, display a random tip on load, we worked to ensure that the selected tips were appropriate to the player based upon their experience, faction and the district that they were entering. We also planned to include a "hot tip" retrieved from a web server allowing the community team a great means to inform the community of important events, patches or just handy information. Unfortunately this didn't make the final 1.4.1 patch.

Additional UI Support

Last Updated on Friday, 11 November 2016 12:12
 

Other APB Design Experience

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In addition to my three key areas (player messaging, tutorials & UI), I was keen to take on any opportunity to learn new techniques and build experience in areas out of my assigned areas.

Play Testing

This was a key role for all members of the Gameplay Design team (comprised of Systems & Content teams). We regularly held playtests to assess changes to weapon balancing, vehicle handling, new mission types, matchmaking and also my key area, player messaging. After each playtest we would provide feedback, either via a wiki or for small playtests via email or verbal communication. In addition to attending playtests I organised several, both within just the Design team and including the entire APB team.

User Experience Testing

I was able to attend multiple sessions organised by the UX team in conjunction with the University of Abertay where students were observed playing the game. We observed play patterns, interaction with the game and each other and also collected feedback on several key sections. The data collected with UX, along with my feedback, was brought together and presented to management and the design leads. This provided a very hands on opportunity to learn how where our players struggled, were frustrated and identified other weaknesses in the game.

Strike Teams

I spearheaded multiple strike teams to further develop APB post launch. This involved coordinating with individuals across a wide range of disciplines, organising meetings and pitching to managment. I was very confident in this role and thoroughly enjoyed it. In addition to leading these teams, I found the work as part of a strike team in planning and designing new content to be my most enjoyable experience as part of the APB Design team. I thoroughly look forward to new opportunities to work on new systems. For details on the post launch content, check out the Post Launch article.

Missions

Taken on as a hobby I explored the mission tools to create several missions. Some were used just by myself for testing purposes whilst others were simply to experiment and expand my knowledge set. Missions in APB are procedurally generated based upon a set of stage & objective constraints set by design. This provides a real challenge to create exciting and well designed missions. To try and create a sense of purpose behind the objectives I researched the back story in relation to locations within the District and set constraints to be as closely defined as possible so that targets were selected in a location that backed the story of the mission. Additionally I aimed to used the strongest combat based locations possible. Using my knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of our PvP & mission stage types, I selected only the most enjoyable stages / objectives with a strong emphasis on providing an objective to both sides other than "attack / defend". This was to limit the opportunities for stages to amount to nothing more than "Go here and press 'F' whilst the opposition camps the objective", a criticism that APB has received a lot.

Progression & Items

My work with Player Messaging meant that I was often involved in dealing with the item tables and was also involved in bug fixing this area, along with progression, to assist another member of my team with their workload. My time within QA also helped me learn about how a progression system is structured as I was given the task of planning a full test of progression for QA members to complete which was then compared against the progression charts.

GamesCom

I was fortunate enough to attend GamesCom '09 presenting APB. For the first few days I was within the business area demonstrating the game to the press, EA and others. Later I joined the main stand and was involved in presenting a video displayed to the public. Viva Cologne! Podcast

Last Updated on Friday, 11 November 2016 12:12
 
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