Exclusive Serpent Lantern Interview with Champions Online Executive Producer Shannon Posniewski
The Serpent Lantern update launched in June, 2010 bringing a host of new content to Champions Online and the new "Difficulty Slider" feature, which allows players to customize the difficulty of their adventures. Ten Ton Hammer recently caught up to Champions Online Executive Producer Shannon Posniewski to learn a little more about the new content and what plans Cryptic has in store for the future of the superhero-based MMOG.
Ten Ton Hammer: The upgrades to the Viper minions are a welcome change in the Serpent Lantern. Was this a conscious decision from the very beginning of the design phase or was it decided upon later to add that extra punch?
The VIPER upgrade will make enemies more powerful.
Shannon Posniewski: The VIPER upgrade was something we wanted to do in general, and Serpent Lantern gave us the opportunity to do so in the best way. Although adventure packs are standalone, we always mix in other changes that benefit the whole game as well.
In the case of VIPER, players were finding that its henchmen were pretty easy to take on and were a bit boring. Since VIPER is found throughout Champions, we felt that giving them a boost would be good for the whole game. Serpent Lantern was also being developed, and its story allowed us to showcase the new VIPER. So, the two worked hand in hand.
Ten Ton Hammer: Has focusing on a specific theme and group (Viper) in the Serpent Lantern helped the design process creating the adventure pack?
Shannon Posniewski: I think a strong focus always helps a design. Having a smaller space to play in reduces the number of options you have. It may be counterintuitive, but this actually allows you to be more creative in that space. I think it leads to more interesting stories and situations for players to play through.
What's nice is that we have a huge amount of lore from the Champions universe to pull from. It gives us fantastic and diverse starting points, but we can then focus on one event or aspect of the universe. For example, our next adventure pack, The Demonflame (scheduled for late Sep/early Oct), continues the story of a nearly cataclysmic event that takes place in Champions lore. Players have a showdown with an old and well-known (to those who have played the Champions pen and paper game) adversary. Instead of replaying a past event, it extends the narrative of the Champions universe.
Ten Ton Hammer: Getting rid of the perk store in the Serpent Lantern adventure pack makes collecting your perks as a player much easier. Was this a direct result of player feedback?
The difficulty slider allows players to scale difficulty to accomodate their solo or group playstyle.
Shannon Posniewski: It was definitely a result of feedback, but we already knew it was a little weird.
We initially had this idea that you would spend your points to buy cool "perks" from a store. Though you'd be able to choose from a whole gamut of things, you couldn't just choose anything. You'd need to unlock items by finishing missions or whatnot. But then it didn't seem fair that you couldn't simply get the thing you "earned". So, we always gave you enough perk points to buy the thing you earned.
Well, that ended up being silly, and players were confused by it. If we give you enough points to buy everything, then what's the point of making players choose in the store? So, we streamlined that whole experience and simply give you the perk reward when you complete the perk. It's simple, easy to understand, and more fun.
Ten Ton Hammer: How hard was it to design missions to be used with the difficulty slider in the Serpent Lantern? Allowing players to play a mission from level 11 to 40 and from solo to a full group is no small feat.
Shannon Posniewski: It's not easy! A good percentage of the time we spent building the pack was on figuring out how to scale the mission. It's not as simple as giving critters more hit points. More complicated and more robust critters come in at higher levels and with more players. We increase the number of critter groups you encounter. Bosses have more buddies to keep you occupied, and so on.
In the future, we hope to do even more than that. We'd like to actually change the structure of the maps (adding more rooms for bigger teams, for example) and even provide special ultra-evil Bosses for the highest difficultly level.
Ten Ton Hammer: Will content updates to CO be in the form of adventure packs like the Serpent Lantern?
Shannon Posniewski: Our headline content updates are currently planned to be adventure packs. That said, we are always fixing and adding things throughout the game flow. For example, we'll probably try to fill in some of the thinner sections of our content in the 20s with new missions.
Cryptic hopes to add more features to the difficulty slider in the future.
Ten Ton Hammer: How long did it take to create the Serpent Lantern adventure pack? Will the time period used in creating the adventure pack correspond roughly to future adventure pack releases?
Shannon Posniewski: It takes just over two calendar months of development to build an adventure pack to the point where it's ready for QA and wider playtesting. We'll spend a few weeks playtesting and fixing, and then it's ready to get put up on our test shard. Once there, we listen to feedback from players (and fix bugs) for as long as it takes to shake out; usually three weeks to a month. The total is a bit over four months from start to going to the Live server.
That's longer than the time between adventure pack updates by a little bit. We handle this by having two teams working at the same time on different packs. This also explains why we know a lot about the next one coming up in a couple months even though we just launched Serpent Lantern.
In addition to the content of the adventure pack, of course, we have the normal maintenance and improvements that we do. We update power frameworks (such as the massive rework of melee and supernatural powers we've done, and the big pet changes that are on the way for the Summer Update scheduled for the end of Aug). We add new things to the environment (like the new Renaissance Center). New features are added or improved with each update (such as the difficulty slider in Serpent Lantern, and the upcoming improvements to Supergroups). And, of course, we're always fixing bugs.