Communication in APB will mostly be through voice chat, Realtime assuming that there won't be time to type in most situations. It's partnered with Vivox on a 3D positional voice chat system that will place your barked commands in exclamations in the game's soundscape - Realtime played an impressively atmospheric and hectic-sounding clip of a gun battle from one of its internal tests - although there will of course be a private channel if you need it.
Players' ability to make their mark on the soundscape as well as the visual representation of the game is hugely important to Realtime, and it's gone to some extraordinary lengths to pursue it. A deal with last.fm allows you to project music from your car stereos into the game world; the software will select something suitable from the internet or your own collection according to specific or general settings such as "always project heavy rock". A full MIDI music creation suite is included, and you'll be able to set a "death tune" that vanquished players will hear every time you kill them.
That's just the start of Realtime's commitment to user-created content in APB. You can see some of the rest in this recording of a show-floor E3 presentation. The game's 30 or so vehicles can be customised with an editor that humbles Forza Motorsport's, spannig paint, decals, body parts, wheels, the interior and even the stereo system.
Even more impressive is the character creator, used by Realtime's own artists to create all the NPCs in the game. The models are extremely detailed, and as well as changing features and body type you can shape hair yourself, design tattoos and body paint; you can change the material, layering and texturing of clothing and customise its zips, buttons and collars. Everything save your features and physical attributes can be changed at will, although gradual physical change might be possible, as might plastic surgery (for a price).
"This is what we call our crafting," says the developer, and just like the action, it's based on skill and creativity rather than set challenges or time investment. Realtime expects some players will be content to become virtual fashion designers, selling their work to others - and given Microsoft's experience with the Forza car market, that's not a stretch at all. As far as MMOs are concerned, APB proposes an exciting new form of player-driven economy.
Exciting is an apt description for almost everything about APB. There's nothing else in development quite like it: perhaps the first true combination of the ethos of offline, open-world, sandbox games with an internet connection. Realtime's willingness to step back from the design and put technology in the hands of players is an extremely bold experiment in a conservative sector of a conservative industry. But it is just that - an experiment. It's hard for anyone to tell whether or not it will work, especially with the scant information we currently have on the game's brass-tacks mechanics. But it's going to be fascinating finding out.