View Full Version : GenCon '09 - Champions Online Interview with Jack Emmert

08-24-2009, 01:28 AM
With Champions Online (http://www.champions-online.com/) soon to release on September 1st, Cryptic Studios was out in force at GenCon this year, showing off their latest MMO. Jack Emmert, Chief Creative Officer for Cryptic Studios, was kind enough to give me a quick demo and talk to me a little bit about how it came to be and what we can expect from this dazzling, new game.


As he fired up the game and started running around Millennium City, my nitpicky side immediately zeroed in on the flat green textured patch of grass in the park we were running around in -- no tufts of grass poking out, no flowers swaying in the wind, just a simple repeating texture. However, the rest of the city and especially the characters themselves looked fantastic. The comic shading (http://championsonlinedailynews.com/what-is-comic-shading-and-outlining) style definitely adds a very visually appealing and distinctive effect.

Jack ran his character through a couple of slugfests, demonstrating some of the visual cues that you can see when an opponent is about to use a major power on you. This is an important tip because your character will have abilities that will allow you to block or avoid damage, thus making combat a little more than just mashing auto-attack and sipping on your latte.

After a couple of fights, his character zoomed off on a flying chunk of earth using an ability called Earth Flight. This is a really nice touch. Unlike City of Heroes, there is a lot more variation between movement powers. In fact, there are about a dozen movement abilities including things like tunneling, flame flight, jet boots, super speed, and more. Besides the cool factor, each one has its own set of unique advantages and disadvantages, and that is just the sort of distinctiveness between powers that I really like.

But, the most impressive part -- and I can see why he saved it for last -- was the character creator. The number of options that are available to customize your character are mind boggling. You could spend literally hours trying on different looks for your super persona if you wanted. There are a number of basic prebuilt configurations for facial and body types, but if you really want to tinker, you can drill down to a level of detail that I have never seen in any game before -- including things like exact nose placement, the size of your characters eyes, hands, feet, and the dimensions of virtually every other part of your character avatar. Throw in the vast array of costume options and it is almost certain that you will put together a character that is truly unique in the Champions universe.

The customization doesn't stop with how your character looks either. Although the game presents you with eighteen prebuilt power sets, it allows you to mix and match powers from different sets to build something suited to your character concept. Want to be a gun-slinging mentalist or a power-armor wearing martial artist? Not a problem. To see exactly what I mean check out this video on character generation in Champions Online.

YouTube - Champions Online - Character Creation with Bill Roper

As to the engine itself, Champions Online is not a direct translation of the roleplaying game itself. Cryptic did retain a lot of the terminology though, and Champions players are certain to already be familiar with many of the terms. The biggest change by far is that Champions Online is a level based system ranging from level one to forty. Although the Hero system is point based, this is very standard format in MMOs.

I still had a number of questions, so after wowing me with the character builder, Jack and I stepped aside to give the throng of eager gamers a chance to check out the new game while we chatted.

RH: What is it that you think Champions (the Roleplaying Game) did well?
Jack: It was the first character creation system that allowed you to make anything you wanted and that was ultimate flexibility. Back in '81, D&D was dominant, but that provided the character class straight up route. We as an MMO company like to think that we are also all about the customization. So it is a nice resonance.

RH: How much did you take from the Champions Universe?
Jack: Everything. Mechanon ... Dr. Destroyer, Foxbat, it's all in there.

RH: What made Champions itself, other than being an available intellectual property very attractive to do as an MMO?
Jack: Well I think personally because I have been playing Champions since '81 that as much as I love Marvel and DC, I love Champions. It's just another comic universe that I knew just as intimately and just as well as the others. And so, why not bring that alive? It had a fan base and it had been alive. And unlike Marvel and DC -- and I think this is a theme I am going to follow on -- is that Champions has changed over the years. Events have changed the world and the characters, and it hasn't remained static. It is just a few of the very same characters. And I think that is something that we need to capitalize on in the MMO too.

RH: Will Champions Online feature scripted events?
Jack: Oh yeah, there are scripted events all throughout the city that we just saw. These are open missions -- things that occur where players can come together and cooperate. They're staged. Warhammer Online has a system similar to this -- we love that. We put them all over the place.

RH: How much of the game is solo versus group play?
Jack: We want to make sure that there is always soloable content, and there is optional group content.

RH: What about massive team-ups that you sometimes see in comics?
Jack: Yeah, to take on the giant monkey [Qwyjibo (http://www.champions-online.com/node/75870)] you saw in the picture, you're going to need a big team-up of players to bring that down. A lot of giant monsters are like that on Monster Island.

RH: Do you have the typical raid configurations that we are already familiar with from other MMOs?
Jack: Yes.

RH: How many supers would you suspect you would need to take down this big, bad monkey you mentioned?
Jack: Twenty-Five.

RH: Would twenty-five be the limit, and do you set any maximums for the raids?
Jack: No. More can jump in, it just makes it easier.

RH: Will the world change over time? Will it have that feel that you get from a roleplaying game, Where the world doesn't stay static, it continues to change. Maybe Millennium City gets invaded by aliens... ?
Jack: What we tried to do is provide that feel currently with the open mission system so that there are dynamic events that admittedly never go away, but there is a beginning a middle and a end, and then they disappear for a time and restart up. That's a touch. But we also have a much more robust event system which GMs will be doing. And eventually we want to provide user generated content so that players are providing content for one-another. That has been something that has been a stated goal for a while now.

RH: Overall the world won't change that much then?
Jack: No. We can't destroy a zone. The biggest problem is that when you spend that much time and money into making assets, you don't want to then make them irrelevant. However, the longer that you are out, the easier it is to do things like that.

RH: The missions in City of Heroes all seemed very similar. There were basic archetypes to the missions, but once you had done them, they all felt the same, it was just a different configuration for your map--
Jack: Well that is all it was. We used spreadsheets that we said it is this type of mission and this type of map to generate it.

RH: How different is Champions Online going to be from this format?
Well, There are going to be kill missions, collect missions, find missions, but there are lots of other things too that are far more involved and hand tweaked. In CoH, we just tried to pump out a lot of content. With Champions, I think, we are looking at a much faster XP rate and it isn't four hundred hours to get to max level. Instead we try to put that energy into creating some unique game play experiences to get missions out of the ordinary.

RH: So you will rapidly get to the upper levels?
Jack: As fast as [World of Warcraft].

RH: What kind of options will there be for advancement once your character has leveled up to maximum?
Jack: What we have is a MEGA system where you spend points to get stuff when you reach max level. Omega is when you accomplish Omega level threats. You're defeating big, bad monsters or villains that are threatening the very existence of earth. So, unlike City of Heroes, we have an end game.

RH: Is there anything else you'd like to get out there about Champions Online?
Up to September 1st, sixth month subscriptions for $60, lifetime for $199. Best deals you're going to get before September 1st!

RH: Yeah, I was going to ask you about the $199 deal. That's going away then?
September 1st, the price is going to go up.

RH: Do you know how much yet?
Jack: I have a good guess, but it is going to go up, and people ought to take advantage of it before it ends!

My thanks to Jack Emmert for taking the time to showcase the new game for our members here at P&PG. Since this interview, I loaded up the beta at home and resurrected the very first super hero I ever made -- Zero, a character I first played in a Marvel Superheroes RPG back in high school. I've been enjoying the hell out of playing him again, and wouldn't you know that the very first thing that happens in the introduction mission is that Millennium City gets invaded by aliens?


08-24-2009, 09:02 AM
that seems super nifty. Too bad I don't have the capital to spend $200 for a lifetime subscription.

08-24-2009, 11:08 AM
Been playing in the open beta and have enjoyed the game for the most part. There seems to be more polishing that they need to do before release as I kept falling through the ground sometimes while playing.

The character would end up popping up and down in and out of the ground, and then it would stop and be back to normal. That and some issues with items rendering on the screen, but they'll hopefully get that all taken care of before go live.