Chris, Clive, Joseph, and several other extremely helpful ngmofos spent quite a bit of time this evening at the ngmoco event answering my endless array of questions about their in-development FPS game tentatively named LiveFire.
In the demo I saw today, four players sat around a set of iPod Touches all playing online via the hotel's WiFi. Since all the games in LiveFire are played online through ngmoco's matchmaking servers, Chris was directing people when to start their game to guarantee everyone got matched. After a lively countdown the players were thrown in to a heavily modified Quake 3 engine to play one of the most impressive online multiplayer experiences I've seen for the iDevice platform which according to ngmoco works equally well when played over either 3G or WiFi.
The controls for LiveFire are so intuitive I had already figured out how everything worked before they even started explaining it to me. They call it a "touch anywhere" control scheme, where the right half of the screen regardless of where you're touching controls your aiming and the left half controls your movement. Since they're working with a limited set of input methods, firing is handled automatically. If you get someone in your crosshairs, you automatically start shooting.
The gameplay is very similar to the old Quake II Lithium mod. There are six weapons, a whole set of power ups, and even a grappling hook. Having played more hours of Quake II Lithium than I'd care to admit, this really grew on me quickly. The maps are small and perfectly tailored for playing with four people. There was never much time where I was ever without someone to shoot at, and respawn timers are quick when you die.
The genius in LiveFire is the online ranking and matchmaking system. ngmoco has an algorithm which they wouldn't disclose too much of which basically tracks your performance to compute your overall ranking using how well you've done against whatever ranking the opponents you're playing against are and some other ngmoco magic. Also, there will be XBOX Live! Halo-style player groups, so you can play with your friends and an online friends list which will be a part of their "Plus" online system which they were also reluctant to talk about until it's all ready.
As you rank up, you will have access to different colored armor, so people will instantly be aware that you're a skilled player when you join the game. Overall, the entire ranking system I think will lead to a highly competitive community of gamers at the top, while allowing a comfortable level of play for casual gamers at the bottom.
Players will be able to choose from several armor types, and depending on which you choose you will have slightly different abilities. For instance, the heavy armor obviously gives you better defenses and the flight armor gives you the ability to jump farther. These armor types are cleverly tied in to the story of the game, in which you play a live human test subject for Arsenal Megacorp. It is an extremely amusing premise for a game, and I highly recommend reading the memo from the CEO on the LiveFire site.
I know in the past due to the downloadable content demonstration, players have been apprehensive about LiveFire due to the stigma of being nickle and dimed in being forced to buy weapons or other key components to gameplay. When I asked Joseph, the co-founder and COO of ngmoco about this he assured me that nothing that in any way would upset game balance is going to be sold as an addon. You will not be able to get any kind of advantage over other players by buying anything. He wouldn't say for sure what they were planning, but it sounds like cosmetic addons like skins and other personalization options above what is included in the game may be coming.
I asked several of the other ngmoco people at the event about their plans with DLC and every one of them assured me that if they do it, they're going to do it right, and provide a good value for gamers. Overall I walked away with a really good vibe from the event, and an intense anticipation for all the games exhibited.