Earlier today I had the opportunity to visit Disney Online at the International Toy Fair in New York City and got a preview at Disney’s newest massively multiplayer online (MMO) game, The World of Cars in addition to some of the new and not-yet-released enhancements to Disney Online’s other worlds.
Sharing a lot in common with the Club Penguin model, the World of Cars is completely Adobe Flash-based. This means there are no downloads required aside from the common plug-in that most folks should already have. Although I probably should know better than to be impressed to how the game has been implemented inside the Flash engine, I still am. The game looks very appealing with a great heads-up display (HUD) loaded with information and controls while still leaving plenty of room for the actual gameplay.
As you might imagine, you will assume the role of a car in Radiator Springs. The action in the game takes place after the first movie — Lightning returns to the sleepy town after winning the Piston Cup and has set up shop in the middle of Downtown Radiator Springs. Throughout the game, you’ll encounter all of your favorite characters from the film with all new original dialogue as recorded by the original actors with exception to Owen Wilson (Lightning), Paul Newman (Doc Hudson) and George Carlin (Fillmore), the latter two having passed away prior to the studio work. For those three, Disney has brought in soundalikes who do a really good job at filling in some rather large tires.
Meeting the characters, who are non-player characters (NPCs), meaning they’re automatic and interaction is quite limited, you’ll often find a yellow exclamation point over their heads. This means they want to talk to you and might even have a job for you. Performing jobs for the characters will yield you rewards, often being money and additional jobs.
Naturally to meet these characters and to interact with the environment, you’ll need to drive. Driving is pretty simple, although slightly imperfect (although it could have been the wireless mouse I was using, either way, slightly imperfect is probably even better). Somewhere between point-and-click and clicking-and-dragging, it’s quite easy to pick up on steering your character around. Alternatively you can use the cursor/arrow keys on the keyboard which has the added ‘benefit’ of allowing you to drive in reverse, although there’s usually no real need for it.
Like Club Penguin, each character has its own garage. The garage is your home and the lawn can be decorated with items you purchase with the in-game money system. You can choose to make your garage private or share it with others so that they can come visit your setup and likewise, you can visit the garages of others who choose to share them.
As in the movie, you can visit the various shops and locales to further interact with the characters and/or to purchase items. At the Cozy Cone, you can buy merchandise for your garage such as fountains. At Ramone’s Paint and Body Art, you can completely customize your character which includes modifying the shape/length of the car, changing the paint color, adding decals, buying hardware upgrades (which at this time do not actually influence the character’s performance, it’s merely aesthetic) and more. There’s even a try it/preview option so you can see how your car will look with a modification before committing money to it. Most of the car colors are standard, but it appears that there will be special seasonal colors that will only be available for limited periods of time.
Over at Lightning’s place, there’s a little arcade mini-game you can play called Lightning Storm which is a virtual clone of the old Defender arcade game, so it’s pretty simple in play (I didn’t actually get to play it, but I did see it in action). There’s another sort of mini-game you can play in the fields, another section in the World of Cars (currently only Downtown and the Fields are available, but there’s obvious room for expansion in terms of new lands). In the fields, you get to go.. ready for this? Tractor tipping. Simple and full of disgusting giggling-inducing noises, simply drive up to a tractor, beep your horn and watch the fun begin. It’s not all fun and games, however, as Frank is always on the prowl and if he finds you, you’ll go for a little trip.
But what every car really dreams of doing is winning the Piston Cup and to do that, you need to practice race, practice race, practice race! You can race either in single mode (you race against NPCs) or in multi-player mode where you’ll race against other players. The objective is pretty simple: win. Winning will yield you money and points. You’ll want to rack up enough points so you’ll eventually be able to select a sponsor and compete for the Piston Cup. To help you in your quest, you’ll be able to obtain hazards such as oil slicks that you can deploy during the race to hinder your competition (although you’re susceptible to your own deployed hazards as well).
To keep the competitive spirit alive, the game features leaderboards for all time, daily and just among your group of friends. Speaking of friends, because it is an MMO and interaction with other players is a key aspect, there are all sorts of ways to communicate with your fellow Radiator Springs residents. Of course there’s free type chat for those whose parents allow it (Disney Online’s free chat is closely monitored and goes through automatic filters to keep chat clean and private information private) as well as Speed Chat which is an extensive menu of quick pre-programmed messages that are available to everyone. The game also features several emotes which allow your character to visually interact with other characters, such as lifting up one of the front tires and wiggling it to say hi. Even the NPCs will occasionally get into the act with Disney Online employees being able to control the Cars characters and interact with the players.
Like the rest of the Disney Online worlds, World of Cars will be free to play, but some features such as decorating your lawn will be available only to subscribers (or Sponsors as they’re called here).
There is no official launch date set, but it is expected to launch later this year. Much sooner (although it’s not clear how much), the game will go into open beta for which all players will receive a special in-game item available only to beta testers.
Overall, my impression is the game still has quite a ways to go before it’s really sponsorship worthy, but they’re definitely on the right track.
In other news, I got a sneak peek at a new feature coming soon to Pixie Hollow Online: animal friends. Within the next few weeks, players will be able to adopt and name their own friend (choice of lightning bug, ladybug, hummingbird, etc, each of varying colors) who will tag along with them throughout the game. Players will want to monitor their animal friend’s hunger, health and mood to help them grow healthy and strong. Elixa will help players take care of their friends’ health or, when the time is right, release the friend to the Mainland (permanently) and a new animal friend can be adopted.
Club Penguin has received a few enhancements over the past few months including a new stage for acting out plays as well as a new members-only version of Card-Jitsu that works with up to four players at a time instead of just 2 players. Coming up is an in-game event, the Puffle Party, which I didn’t get to see any part of, but I’m assured it will be a very welcome treat for attendees.
I also got an introduction to two games I must admit I have never played before but will soon have to change that: Toontown Online and Pirates of the Caribbean. The first being as wacky (and clever) as it sounds and featuring Fab Five characters and the second being even more epic than it sounds. POTC is unique in that it allows subscribers to optionally play in 3D (they get the red/blue glasses mailed to them) and it looks REALLY cool. Taking place between the first and second films, it allows for battles on both land and sea where you can even take your ship into a designated area and battle other players. Although POTC requires a separate client download, Disney Online has recently added the ability to launch the game directly in a browser window (although you can elect to play full screen as well).