One week later and GDC is over. Hallelujah! I had a blast with Drand, NaviFairy, Nugget and Henshin A Go Joe, but after a few days one does reach a video game saturation point. Crazy talk, I know, but it does happen. There was too much going on during GDC for me to sit down and write much of anything proper, but now that I've had a weekend of relaxation and Jägermeister I'm ready to share with y'all the wonderful and not-so-wonderful things that were on display in San Francisco this past week, starting with some titles that will be coming from Korea.
One of the great things about GDC is that it's not just the big boys who get to hog the spotlight. A lot of the smaller studios, indie or otherwise, hold summits, appointments, and interviews with the press to get the word out about the titles they're working on, and they get to do it in an environment that's not dependent on a massive ad budget with booth babes and overly-loud demos to attract attention. I attended an appointment with one of these small studios, the South Korea-based JoyMax. Though they and their partner company Dragonfly are well-established in South Korea, they merged with WeMade to try and establish a foothold in North America, so they took the time to show off a few of the titles that they're working on.
The first, and briefest, presentation was for a fantasy MMO that they're working on called NED. It's still in very early development, so all that they had to show me was a rather pretty prerendered trailer. They did go into some detail about the gameplay itself, and it seems that the game will have a heavy focus on pets. They have to be caught, trained and raised, and they can eventually be used as allies and mounts in battle. Additionally, you will gain the ability to have multiple pets at once, and the ones that you don't take into battle will stay at your home and perform tasks there. It's kinda like everyone has some of a hunter class and your extra pets act like your house moogle in FFXI. It's an interesting idea, so it'll be interesting to see how it develops over time and whether it becomes and engaging mechanic or a silly gimmick.
The first thought that ran through my mind with the trailer for Petz was, "OMG it's Animal Crossing!" In a good way. I got to see both the trailer and some demo gameplay and the result is a strange hybrid of Animal Crossing, Harvest Moon or Populous, and a dash of FarmVille minus the evil. It's completely browser-based and in addition to playing on your PC, the game will be made compatible with iOS. I didn't catch whether this meant it could be played in Safari or in a dedicated app, but either way the resulting game is impressive considering most browser-based titles are cheap flash affairs, not 3D society-builders.
Something else to make note of is that the game is cute. SUPER cute. Play too long and it'll rot your teeth out cute. The current "pets" for your town are cats, and hopefully that'll expand over time given the name of the game, but even if it doesn't you're still in for a saccharine affair.
Animal Crossing with cute cat avatars that can be played anytime on the go? Wootini might have a new addiction on the horizon.
Acting as the sequel to Digimon Battle, Digimon Masters ventures into the MMO world with real-time action not unlike the .hack series and some impressive cel-shaded graphics. The art is most definitely the strong point as the digi-critters are very faithful to their anime counterparts and are well-rendered. Gameplay looks smooth and action-heavy, and some of the mechanics such as making your digimon digivolve and managing its attributes that can act as bonuses or liabilities seem to have some promise. I feel that this game is going to act as more of a service to dedicated fans instead of bringing in a new audience, but if it's quality fun for the gamers and makes a profit for the devs then it's all good.
Karma Online (working title)
Of all the titles shown to me, Karma Online was the only one that had zero appeal, and unfortunately was the only one that the JoyMax reps were able to give a working demonstration of. It's a team-based online FPS with some minor tech tree/RPG elements thrown in as your character advances. Set in World War II. Yawn. The game was dishwater brown through and through with no real way that I could see to distinguish between friend and foe save for the text color of their handle. It's Counter Strike with a WW2 skin.
JoyMax gets bonus points for having such a wide variety of games to show off that they're developing for the online world. It's a shame that there's not more information available at the moment, but a few of their titles look like they have some promise, so I'll be watching to see how things develop over the next year.