Anarchy Online: Alien Invasion
There Are certain unwritten rules within this games industry of ours, one of which states that expansion packs for popular games should never outshine the original title. A few extra maps, a couple of new weapons, maybe a graphics upgrade if the original was old enough. But just so long as the original game retains its allure and doesn't get outfoxed by the younger upstart.
Trouble is, nobody told Funcom. Anarchy Online: Shadowlands was such a monster of a game expansion that most observers took it for a full-on new game in its own right. Which naturally means that any subsequent expansion for the popular sci-fi MMOG might end up suffering.
I think Shadowlands raised the bar considerably, admits Marius Enge, director of the project. It wasn't just about more of the same', it was definitely a 'take it to the next level' endeavour. With all the additions, both in terms of gameplay and character development, Shadowlands far exceeded anything I've seen from other MMOG expansions."
Girl From Mars
So how can the latest expansion, Alien Invasion, possibly hope to live up to the expectations Funcom has inadvertently made for itself? Enge doesn't seem perturbed. Shadowlands is a metaphysical universe and the aliens don't have access to this universe, at least not yet, he points out. The scale of Shadowlands was one of the reasons we didn't feel we needed to add more land areas with monsters and so on into the game. We felt that the players had enormous areas still to explore and were very conscious of the scale. I'm confident we made the right choices in designing Alien Invasion in relation to this.
You already know all about the content of Alien Invasion (if not, where have you been)? A quick summary: a mystery alien race invading planet Rubi-ka, all inhabitants under fire regardless of affiliation, player cities that can now be built to fend them off and add to the feelings of community', all new combat, skills, perks and rewards up for grabs, plus new clothes. What's not yet been made clear is where the concepts have all originated. Another unwritten rule is that expansion packs are usually a depository for all the rough ideas and half-baked plans that wouldn't fit into the game at the time of release. Enge, on the other hand, is insistent that Alien Invasion has been planned from the off. The story aspects and the reason the aliens are coming is something we've planned for a very long time. There will always, of course, be some additional twists and turns we haven't initially thought of, but the high goal and happenings of the story is planned out many years in advance."
What excites Enge more though, is where Alien Invasion will take AO in the future. What turn storywise-AO will take after Alien Invasion is something that's mainly left to the players," he says. Will the different factions of Clans and Omnis work together against the mutual threat or will they still continue to fight each other? This is something I'm excited about - the player reactions to this. What happens here determines what will happen in the AO universe to a large extent.
That future will certainly be revolving around the aliens for the foreseeable future at any rate. Alien Invasion isn't being set up as a simple shot of temporary adrenalin until another Shadowlands arrives. It will definitely be a permanent addition to AO" confirms Enge. The aliens will keep attacking as long as the players build and use houses. Alien Invasion will probably evolve later on though. It just doesn't make sense having aliens attacking day out and day in for several years. As with all MMOGs, Alien Invasion and Anarchy Online will still continue to evolve."
It's this evolutionary nature that's made Anarchy Online the game that was celebrating a third anniversary a month ago. Quite an achievement when you consider that these days, it's a struggle to even get a decent MMOG launched. I think AO has changed tremendously since the initial blueprint, explains Enge of the game's appeal. It's evolved like a good MMOG should and is a more fun game to play as a result. During the three years AO has been live, we've always taken pride in listening to the player base for their feedback and suggestions, and there have been some major parts of AO that have been heavily influenced. We expected the majority of the changes and planned for them on the grand-scale, but players continue to add things to their wishlist that were not expected.
Meanwhile, the Norwegian team is busy planning out the content to follow Alien Invasion - the live' team work about a year ahead in terms of expansions. Enge admits that of this content, about 70 per cent is tightly planned, while the remaining 30 per cent evolves organically as the game world continues to grow. Quite what will happen to that ratio once the aliens arrive is anyone's guess, but the good money is on controlled chaos of the highest and most entertaining order. Watch the skies at the start of September to find out.
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Game Features:Single game mode