We spoke about the challenges of creating zones for open-ended gameplay, such as you'd typically find in an MMORPG. "It's all about the 360," Serdar commented, meaning degrees rather than the summertime console prone to red rings of death. He explaining that by creating your own toolset, you can design it to consider every possible angle, nook, and cranny as potentially significant. The design toolset is built for collaborative use, so you have artists and designers working in "layers" on an environment that can be tested for occlusion, dynamic lighting, and much more at any given moment.
To demonstrate the dynamic lighting, Nick sped through a day / night cycle to show how ambient light hit objects and structures. The effect was similar to what I'd seen at GDC 2007 with HeroEngine, and Thomas added that other visual aspects, fog, "mood" lighting, etc. could be tested in this manner as well.
Cryptic enjoys a significant time savings with their speedy toolset as well, which ultimately results in lower development costs and less frustration. Less frustration necessarily leads to higher quality games, as artists and designers spend less time waiting for builds to load and assets to be passed back and forth, and more time realizing their vision for the game.
I asked why so little had been done with fundamental aspects of nature like water and gravity. "Water's probably the hardest thing," Sardur said, and the group offered examples of games where they believed water had been done well. The conversation turned to gravity, and Thomas then raised the importance of going "Hollywood" with gravity effects, rather than "physicsy." He related that the average human has a 3 foot vertical jump. In a game setting, a 3-foot jump would feel stunted, so in City of Heroes, for example, apart from any super ability, a character has a 12 foot vertical jump. While I was moreso asking why specific gravity remained the same whether I was on a moon of Endor or inside the halls of Luclin (the Super Mario Bros. water levels are the closest I've gotten to a Neil Armstrong-style moonwalk), I got Thomas's point. It's all about supporting the play experience.
As cool as "Cryptic AR" sounded, I wondered aloud if what I was seeing also had an interesting working title. The three gents looked at each other with a collective furled brow and laughed that the project indeed had no fancy catchname, being designed solely for in-house use. No fancy moniker is needed, however, if the toolset delivers half of what we talked about to Cryptic's existing and upcoming MMORPGs.
My special thanks to Thomas Foss, Serdar Copur, Nick Duguid, and Vic Wachter for allowing me to briefly look behind the Cryptic curtain. Feel free to discuss what you've read here in the Ten Ton Hammer City of Villains / City of Heroes forum.