Gears of Glory: Apex Ace – Singleplayer Game Modes

There has been much discussion over the past view days about the game modes planned for Gears of Glory: Apex Ace, especially given the ‘never seen before‘ time-shifted multiplayer of a racing game featured during this weeks Apple iPhone 5 keynote.

I’m not going to go into detail of what I think about the feature, or what past games had interactive ghosts/replays and how the affected gameplay. This post is about what Gears of Glory: Apex Ace offers.

The open beta releasing super-soon comes with several race modes:

Season Tier time-trial
In this mode, players race all of the season circuits. As they race, setting best laps and finding better lines to rise in the leaderboards, opponents appear alongside the players own best lap replay.

This is the first part of the Dynamic Opponent System at work – the opponent you face is usually the person directly above you in the leaderboards. As you progress, new opponents appear – and this happens on the fly.

So regardless of where you are, the singleplayer element revolves around racing other player laps, which have been raced at any time, and means you are always competing.

Player Race
This mode is very simple – when you view the Season Tier leaderboards, you can browse the ranking, and race any lap on the boards. Any. If your friend is above you in the standings and you just can’t find the time to beat them via the season time-trial, race directly against them and check out where they find time on the lap. If your friend is below you, view his lap and offer advice of where he can improve.

Player Challenge
This mode is very difficult, and successful players receive many trophies (the XP/score unit in the game). It is exactly as the Player race, apart from the fact the replay you are racing against is not a ghost but an interactive, collidable, entity.

To beat their lap, you need to find and maintain space to overtake. You can jostle, however, the game does not let you influence the lap time of the other player. If you try to ram, or jostle to an unacceptable level, you will crash and be left with a bad lap. Because of the trophy reward associated with this, only players around or above your current ranking can be raced. You cannot play the system by challenging the player last on the boards.

The three modes above is what’s shipping in the open beta. The next game mode is something I am quite excited about, and extends the dynamic opponents system.

Championship mode
In this mode, it is set out similar to racing games players already understand – circuits raced in a calendar style, progressing to different classes of car and larger, more challenging circuits. However, Gears of Glory: Apex Ace does not have different classes of car – only different classes of racers.

As you race, your position in the rankings is again measured. A grid of opponents is created, dynamically, from other players on the leaderboards around your position. Depending on the difficulty you play at, these players may be far ahead of you in the standings, or directly around you. You race a series of laps, but not in a time trial fashion – this is your standard, lap-bound, first to the finish race. You must maintain competitive, consistent lap times to progress. As you progress, the field around you changes to reflect your standings, making you compete against a different class of racer.

There is no AI at all in this mode. There is no AI in the game at all. If you see another racecar in Gears of Glory: Apex Ace, it is another player. That player does not need to be online for you to race their laps. Their best laps are all stored and retrieved from the OnlineServices.

I’ll keep everyone up to date on the progress for this mode, I obviously think it’s great 😉

Now, I need help from you. If you can find another racer that has a feature similar to this championship mode description, please tell me, I want to know! I’ve not seen any, but there are so many games out there.

So there we have it. The race modes of Gears of Glory: Apex Ace. If you have any questions, feel free to comment, either here or on facebook. You can contact me directly instead if you’d like, at @domipheus.

Leaderboard Ordering

Gears of Glory: Apex Ace makes extensive use of leaderboards. Not just a measure of skill, they are used in Apex Ace as a competitive gameplay device by generating challenges and news stories by tracking how the standings change over time.

If you end up lower in the rankings due to being overtaken whilst not playing, a challenge to retake that position may be generated the next time you play. This is one of the points in the game for which gameplay scenarios are expanded: players get awarded extra trophies for completing the challenge, as well as being higher in the ranks for all to see. In the same way, the challenge can be generated whilst actually playing – and an in-game notice will alert players that they have fallen in the rankings, and what to do to rectify that situation – usually by shaving a few hundredths off a lap.

Leaderboards in which scores can go on and on – endurance titles – are ideal for this sort of challenge based gameplay. Games which have a natural score ceiling, however, such as racing lap times (as they approach the perfect racing line) have the problem that leaderboards can become saturated with page after page of the same time – at which point the ordering of players in the leaderboard who have identical scores becomes really important.

Here is an example; Player A is currently in P1 with a score of 10. Player B is in P2, with 12 and Player C in P3 with 13.

  1. Player A: 10
  2. Player B: 12
  3. Player C: 13

If Player D comes along and scores 12 also – what position should they be in?

  1. Player A: 10
  2. Player D: 12
  3. Player B: 12
  4. Player C: 13
  1. Player A: 10
  2. Player B: 12
  3. Player D: 12
  4. Player C: 13

I asked this question on twitter, and got many responses. My own view is that, for Apex Ace, and for my challenge system to work well, newer scores must be higher in the ranks than previous scores. The leaderboard must be fluid towards the top, player ranks changing and generating challenges/news regardless of lap times themselves being better.

Note that, technically, both Player D and Player B are in P2. In this scenario there is an assumption that only one player can hold a unique position – so either of them can be in P2 or P3, depending on leaderboard ordering where scores are equal.

There were too many responses to list here, so sorry if I have not used your quote!

Most of the responses seemed to agree with my desired method as being more of a challenge;

However @flaxed’s point is quite valid. It can be seen as unfair too – there were plenty of replies who mentioned the first player to gain a score should remain higher on the list:

My (possibly harsh) opinion of the fairness point is that if you can’t race the lap at the same time again you probably don’t deserve to hold onto your spot.

Of course, a way of keeping the boards active yet keeping the ‘fair’ aspect would be to have boards periodically reset – pointed out by @jwatte.

Resetting of the boards is something I considered early on, and created a poll for it on the facebook group. The results, whilst consisting of only a handful of replies, showed resetting was not a feature with much support.

At the moment my favoured method of sorting the leaderboards is not supported by my publishing platform: IndieCity. I could migrate to my own leaderboard system – but this would mean achievements and leaderboards being on different portals, and isn’t a route i’d like to go down. Hopefully I can convince IndieCity of the benefits of having different leaderboard orderings and get it added to their development roadmap – it’s something I certainly want for Apex Ace, and feel other people could make use of.

Finally; there were some other interesting responses, most of them along these lines:

Interesting (and slightly cheeky 😉 ), but I need the listings to have the same positions across the board for generated news stories – even though it would make players feel better! The ranks can be viewed online also, so the ordering needs support at the level of the platform rather than the client.

Thanks to all who replied to my question!