Over the last few weeks, excitement has been building concerning
style="font-style: italic;">Champions Online, the
latest massively-multiplayer online game (MMOG) by Cryptic Studios style="font-style: italic;">. style="font-style: italic;">Champions Online
be a superhero-oriented game with a new twist on
the old combat system by eliminating the "hit-a-button-and-wait"
mentality that still rests with
many older MMOGs. To learn more about Cryptic will achieve that plan,
Hammer is proud to present a Cryptic-organized Q&A with Geoff
Tuffli, Combat Systems Designer for style="font-style: italic;">Champions Online.
Geoff Tuffli, Combat
Q: What do you do as a combat systems designer on Champions
The combat systems team is responsible for most
aspects of player character development as well as the vast majority of
abilities, effects or powers that affect any character or critter in
the game. We are responsible for the moment-to-moment gameplay feel of
We adjust overall balance tables, build player and critter
design and implement the mechanics for customizing players and their
powers, set up critters and put together environment effects. On top of
all this, we design PvP mechanics and handle all the generic combat
A great deal of our work crosses over to other areas of development
our balance work causes us to work with QA, setting up powers requires
that we coordinate with art to hook up the correct assets with the
correct timing, linking AI to critters means cooperating with the
Software and Content teams, and so on.
At the moment, most of my time is divided between removing any
roadblocks for my team, maintaining lines of communication between the
combat systems team and the other teams, and designing and building
Q: How long have you been
working in the gaming industry, and what did you do before working on
I have been working in the industry for about
five years now. Before that, I was in web development in various roles
first as a web designer, then later as a technical writer. I even
managed a professional services group for a couple of years.
Before Champions Online, I led an
internal balance assessment team for City of Villains,
which involved a great deal of datamining and statistics-crunching,
along with more subjective methodologies. Before I joined Cryptic, I
was a producer at a mobile game app developer, and I worked at Sony up
in Foster City.
Q: How does someone get from majoring in Aztec Cultural
Linguistics to making videogames?
When I graduated from college I realized that
major, while providing unparalleled dinner table conversation on topics
such as glyphic representations of cannibalism in the context of
various Mesoamerican tributary empires, was less useful when finding a
job. For some reason, there are not a lot of job openings in the field
I decided I wanted to do interesting things with this
everyone was talking about, write professionally in some capacity, or
Since that point, I have worked professionally in the web application
industry, as a technical writer, and then I managed to land a job at
Sony doing quality assurance (QA). From there, the rest, as they say,
Q: What aspect of Champions Online
are you most excited about working on?
This would have to be a toss-up between player customization and PvP.
Player customization is something that most MMORPGs shy away
with good reason it's expensive, very difficult to balance, and
creates entirely new challenges for almost every other system in the
game. That being said, it is also the aspect of a game that can be most
personally felt by a player and give a player the greatest feeling of
investment in a game.
PvP, on the other hand, when designed correctly offers constantly
changing and evolving gameplay that can provide some incredibly
memorable encounters. There are PvP encounters I still remember five
years or more after the fact. What I like about Cryptic's approach to
PvP in Champions Online
is that instead of being afraid of it, we're leveraging it where it
makes sense to make a better game for those who choose to participate
Q: Who is your favorite Champions
Foxbat, of course.
Online could feature laser swords!
Q: You have said you're big into PvP. What kind of
characters do you like to play in PvP? Any favorite tactics?
Proven builds and specs bore me. I tend to
gravitate toward the builds and specs that other people insist can't
work in PvP, and then find a way to make them work.
I played PvP Masterminds in City of Villains
until my fingers bled, a Melee Priest in Shadowbane,
a Survival Hunter in World of Warcraft, and
innumerable other "impossible" builds in every game I have tried.
Q: What do you like to do in your free time?
Twice a week I head up to a gym in Foster City
and train with the German longsword and Italian sidesword, as well as
some occasional English billhook and halberd practice when I can swing
I also write incessantly. Some of what I write is fiction,
science fiction and fantasy. Some of what I write is non-fiction
mostly research on memetics and sociodynamics with some philosophy
thrown in occasionally to spice things up.
And finally, I play games. A lot. Not just MMORPGs, but also RTS, RPGs,
even board games.
Q: Who are your favorite authors?
The traditional favorites like George R. R. Martin
and S. M. Stirling are of course on my list, but there are others a bit
less common there as well Steve Brust, Christopher Hinz, John Varley,
Steven Boyett and C. S. Friedman.
Q: What videogames do you think have amazing combat?
I still have a soft spot in my wrinkled black heart for both Soulreaver
Q: What is an interesting
fact about you that players would be surprised to know?
Despite my love of PvP and sharp, pointy things in
real life, I almost always play the "good cop" in interviews, meetings
and other social situations.
Q: What are three things you would take on a desert
A GPS device, a satellite phone, and a notebook so
that my plans for world domination could continue to be developed while
I awaited rescue.
Q: What advice do you have for someone who wants to be a
Game design is an incredibly competitive field,
and even when you finally break in, it will almost always involve a lot
of time implementing other people's ideas before you get much input at
all into the design process. That being said, the ultimate rewards are
almost impossible to match with any other job if you are a ruthlessly
systemic creative thinker.
Play games, but also try to train yourself to think of a game
designer. What is fun? Why is it fun? What would you better? What don't
you like? How could it be improved? What are the problems and risks
with each approach?
While it isn't impossible to get a job out of the gate as a game
designer, it is about as common as getting a job as an entry-level
corporate vice president. Expect and look for jobs in QA and
customer service, as well as any other kind of job that will put you in
contact with development. If you have talent as a programmer or artist,
try getting a job doing that first, and then work your way laterally
It will usually require persistence, patience and being in the right
place at the right time. When the opportunity does present itself, show
that you are as practical as you are creative and know how to check
your ego at the door in favor of the success of the product. If you can
do that, you'll have a much easier time cracking into the industry.
Q: Do you have anything
else to add?
Cryptic is aggressively trying to push what we can do in a number of
different areas for Champions Online,
and combat is a part of that. As we get closer to release and more
details emerge, I expect the debates and discussion to heat up. Thus
far, I have been very heartened and encouraged by the overall level of
maturity and civility among the fans of the game, and I think we have
the opportunity to create one of the best player communities in the
To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our Champions Online Game Page.