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.

Gears of Glory: Apex Ace status update

Hi folks, Colin / @domipheus here.

It’s been quite a hectic couple of months. As you will have seen, Gears of Glory: Apex Ace is not available – even though it’s July, and the releases all said coming May 2012.

Well, to put it bluntly, I screwed up on the timing. I’ve certainly learned something from this experience, in that it seems journalists don’t seem too bothered by launch dates. This is the opposite of what I expected – I thought having a launch date would give some credibility to Domipheus Labs as an unknown entity for journalists to draw on when trying to get some press coverage. Turns out if you have an interesting story to tell, they will cover it regardless.

I’ve had less free time to work on the game lately – mainly due to becoming a dad for the first time. This is one of the reasons I don’t like the ‘indie’ label – I am very much a hobby developer, who takes his work seriously. I have not quit my day job in search of some far-fetched indie bliss.

The new plan stretches out the release, but I think it offers the best chance available to make Gears of Glory: Apex Ace a game I can be proud of.

Domipheus Labs Online Services

Previously, Gears of Glory: Apex Ace was an IndieCity only title, using its fabulous game framework. They offer an amazing percentage of the cost price (85% to the developer if they integrate leaderboards/achievements). However, for me, I needed more fine grained control of the leaderboards. Like in my Leaderboard Ordering post, I wanted ordering control, and other smaller things I may talk about in later posts.

In addition to this, it quickly became clear that I was going to need to roll out distinct game versions for each distributor I was looking at, and that these would then have disjoint leaderboards. For the amount of units I intend to ship, I really do not want a fragmented userbase.

So, Domipheus Labs Online Services was born.

Online Services, for the lack of a better name at the moment, is a fully-fledged RESTful web service for game licence checking, leaderboards and achievements. I did look for available 3rd party platforms, but most did not cater for small ‘indie’ player sets, or looked as though they were awash with too many features. Still my leaderboard ordering problem was left unfixed, despite them offering way more more in terms of features.

With Domipheus Labs Online Services, Gears of Glory: Apex Ace will ship on far more distribution platforms than before – and the playerbase will remain one, single universe with everyone connected into the same world and championship standings.

Also, as a developer, the cost of developing the Online Services component was far cheaper than having many different builds of the game for the various distribution channels, and having to test and support each one. For me, it’s a win-win.

There are greater things destined for the Online Services platform in due course. The user management, and licensing aspects of the service are incredibly valuable to indies which are often overlooked by the larger ‘Game Service’ providers as being too small. I have spoken to some indies personally and they have expressed an interest in learning more about the service and how it can help them. If you are interested in learning more, get in contact.

So, Domipheus Labs Online Services will launch alongside Gears of Glory: Apex Ace, and power all of the games online features, including user licensing, management, analytics, leaderboards and achievements. It is expected to be opened up to other indies in due course, with a range of affordable pricing options, from free up to a few coffees a month.

Open beta releases

Back to the main Gears of Glory: Apex Ace release schedule. It’s now moved from a fixed release date, to having no release date with features being rolled into several beta releases.

Release One will feature the Season Circuits. These are racetracks which ship with the game, and each one has a global leaderboard in which player standings are calculated, and challenges sought. Leaderboards contain not only the lap time of the entry, but are tagged with the actual recording of that players lap. So whilst the game is Single Player at this point, you will be racing ‘against’ other players in the game world.

Release Two will feature the Track Builder. The track builder is pretty much feature complete in terms of how it fits into the game, however, the facilities to share these tracks with people do not exist at present. This will be discussed and developed into a ‘shopfront’ of the most popular user tracks, with people being able to publish creations to it. At the moment there are no plans for this to come with In App Purchasing.

Release Three will feature Multiplayer. Multiplayer has been a real struggle to implement, not because of the engine or actual game mechanics, but because of the way in which the internet works now with everyone behind routers. For a game to really be multiplayer, we need master lobby and NAT introduction servers, and this is something again Domipheus Labs Online Services may help with. I have always said I don’t want users to need to go and open router network ports, which seems to be what most smaller indie developers do. This really is not a good user experience, especially in a pick-up-and-play title like Gears of Glory: Apex Ace.

Release Four will be the full, non-beta, release. The beta releases will all be priced cheaply, with the purchase of a user license granting access to all future beta and main releases of the game. After Release Four the price of the game will increase to reflect it’s complete state.

At the moment, I am gearing up Release One to happen in late August.

I really hope this has cleared up the state of development currently. I know it’s been very quiet lately. But development is going full throttle. The game is currently playing nicely – as long as you like technical racers, that is!

Lastly, Launch Platforms.

Gears of Glory: Apex Ace will become available on the following platforms:

  • IndieCity
  • Desura
  • Indievania
  • Direct from Developer
  • Steam Greenlight

This has been a very long post, so finally – please tell your race fanatic friends about the game. The game needs an active leaderboard community to be fun. You can keep up to date at by liking the facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/gearsofglory.

Thanks for reading, you will all get the chance to play the game soon!

Colin

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!