Champions Online VIP Interview - Cryptic Bucks, PvP Update, and More

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You asked your Champions Online questions, and we got you your Champions Online answers straight from the mouth of Bill Roper! It’s been awhile since we ran our last VIP interview, so we thought it’d be good to start back up with some question on the upcoming super hero MMO. You definitely had some tough questions, but Bill was game enough to answer them all. We cover everything from new player experiences to player housing to PvP content, so sit back and enjoy!

[Editor's Note: Some of the following questions may be paraphrased for ease of reading. The general point of all the questions remains the same.]

Ten Ton Hammer: How accessible will the game be for the MMO newcomer? Are you going for a control scheme along the standards we’re expecting these days, or are you bringing something new to the table? Also, what kind of customization and/or personalization are we looking at for the UI? (McMental)

Bill Roper: I believe our game is really accessible for people that are new to the MMO space. The visual elements of the UI aren’t customizable, but the actual hot key presets you can go in and choose from various options that include types for the classic fantasy MMO player, which is a lot like the WoW control scheme. Or you can go in – if you’re a big City of… player – and you can choose an option that maps your keys like what you find in the City of… games.

You can obviously also go in and set your keybinds for everything in the game. In fact, you can even have a left-handed keybind set. We have a really awesome UI lead for the game, and at Cryptic the UI has really become one of our core technologies. There’s stuff that’s absolutely game specific – there has to be – but the core technologies are going to span all of our products.

We pay a lot of attention to making sure that the game, from a UI standpoint, is very accessible. Things appear on the screen when players need a hint or need some encouragement on what to do next. There’s also a tutorial that covers a lot of the core mechanics of an MMO for players that aren’t familiar with this sort of gameplay. That said, we really put in front of our designers this challenge of making a tutorial that you could play through once, learn all of the basics, and never have to go through again.

So we ended up with this tutorial that is like something that [the movie director] Michael Bay might have come up with. There’s big explosions and aliens, and you have to go through and help take down this massive mothership that has been terrorizing the city. From moment one in the game, you’re not only learning how to play but also playing a part in this fun and exciting set-up.

Ten Ton Hammer: Can you change your alignment? (cause sometimes heroes have midlife crisis too) At launch can we expect more than just Good/Bad/Neutral alignments? (ZeroMerc)

Roper: There isn’t really such a thing as “alignment” in Champions Online. There isn’t that sort of component in the game, so players can really be anything that they want to be. That said players are creating heroes and heroic characters, and that was one of the biggest pieces of feedback we’ve been receiving from beta testers, that players wanted to feel more heroic. Like they were doing something that was important. And that’s what we’re striving to give them.

The Champions universe has been around since 1981, so the background is really rich. There’s actually a whole sourcebook out there called Dark Champions, which explores this sort of gray zone, morally influencable type of heroes. That’s something we might introduce later, but we already see players in beta that have built heroes that have that dark look and feel to them. They use the darkness power set or munitions and have an ex-military sort of guy that’s on the edge. He might be out fighting crime, but he’s not a nice guy.

Players really tend to roleplay that out with the powers that they choose and the costume that they create. While there isn’t necessarily an alignment system built into the game, we find that players who get into super hero MMOs tend to be really big roleplayers naturally. The players have really carved out their own sense of alignment without us having to put that into the game for them.

Ten Ton Hammer: And some of the power sets definitely tend to lend themselves towards building up that sort of character like darkness and even sorcery.

Roper: Definitely.

Ten Ton Hammer: How much focus is there going to be on PvP? And is the PvP going to be arena type PvP? (LightningSC)

Roper: The great thing about PvP for us is that Champions had already devised a method of giving ways for heroes to fight each other.  The took that system and put them under the umbrella of “Hero Games,” which is actually a tribute to the company that created Champions back in the early 80s.

The Hero Games are both sanctioned and unsanctioned super hero fights. Right now, we’ll be launching with three different types of PvP, basically. There’s “Bash” which are unsanctioned fights between heroes that is a free-for-all, and the setting is the streets of West Side, which is one of the neighborhoods in Millennium City. It’s kind of a gangland in the city, so it makes a great area for players to really just throw-down in a free-for-all fashion.

There’s also the UTC – the Ultimate Tournament of Champions – which is five on five arena fights. There are different arenas that you can unlock as you go through gameplay. Each of those arenas have their own particular layouts and challenges and bonuses. Our PvP guys here are really, really into this style of gaming, and so they’ve put a lot of effort into making sure players can’t do things like “spawn camp” and  then also utilize things in the environment for offensive and defensive purposes.

The third type is what we call Apocalypse Maps. These are set up as scenarios where heroes take either one side or the other in a sort of “end of the world” experience.  The Apocalypse Map that we’re shipping the game with is called the Stronghold Map, which is the super villain prison in the world. Heroes on one side have taken the side of the villains – or maybe wrongfully accused super heroes – and are trying to escape the Stronghold. The other side are the heroes that are trying to quell the uprising and keep them inside Stronghold.

If you’ve ever played the DotA maps for Warcraft III, you’ll find that the Stronghold Map plays a lot like that. It’s really cool, and you’ve got heroes and villains that you can call in as reinforcements. There are emplacements that you’ll need to get past that are static, mounted weaponry, and NPCs that you’re fighting. You’re basically trying to take out the leaders on the other side, and it’s an absolute blast.

We’ll obviously be adding more to the game as time goes on, but those are the “core frameworks” of our PvP systems.  I didn’t mention it yet, but there’s also a whole reward system in place for these things as well. There are special costume and titles that you can only unlock through PvP. Players will also gain experience while playing through the PvP system as well, so you can level while you’re PvPing.

It takes a while, but you can do it. If you really want to leveling, you should be focusing on missions and that sort of thing.

Ten Ton Hammer: Will there be perks tied into the PvP?

Roper: Yup. We’ll definitely have those too.

Ten Ton Hammer: Will there be any large group content (2 or more groups) at launch, will we get more through content updates, and will we be looking at a tiered progression model versus static “anyone-can-do-it” content? (Chilidawg)

Roper: We definitely have that type of content in the game, with monsters that you’ll fight that can take anywhere from 10-20 people to take down. Some of those mobs are organic, in that you just go out and find them in the world, while others you’ll have to know where they are to go attack them.

There’s a lot of content that’s designed for smaller groups, like groups of five.

In terms of updates, we definitely are going to be focusing most of our attention of content oriented around large groups and single groups. So high-level monsters, lairs to go into that are five-person instances, and also seeing what our players are wanting as well. It’s been great during the beta period that we’ve had the sort of close interaction with our players and really focus on things before they make it out to the public. That said, we’ll continue to focus on polishing and creating new content post ship as well.

Ten Ton Hammer: Can you tell us more about player housing or guild bases if you are going to have them or not? (RawGutts)

Roper: That won’t be in at launch, but we definitely want to be able to add in things like headquarters and bases and things like that. We have some pretty cool ideas on making that not only an important thing that guild can do, but also building it around having guild level goals and being able to accomplish missions that you’ll need to complete in order to keep building on to your headquarters.

When we were building it, we realized that it’s a really neat system, but it’s also kinda complex so we couldn’t devote the sort of assets that we’d need to put there to get it done. As opposed to half-assing it, we wanted to make sure we got it done and had headquarters that people could really be proud to show off.

Ten Ton Hammer: And I’m sure you want to be consistent with the level of customization you have in the rest of the game.

Roper: Exactly! *laughs* That’s where you start getting into huge amounts of asset creation.

Ten Ton Hammer: Will you have digital distribution for CO? (RawGutts)

Roper: We’ll have both. I’m not positive who we’re doing digital distribution with, but players will be able to get the game through Cryptic’s website and Atari’s website for digital… or at the very least we’ll point you to where you can find it. We want to be sure that players who want to stay at home can, and we’re big fans of digital distribution. I buy almost everything I can that way.

Ten Ton Hammer: What the hell is a Cryptic Buck? (RawGutts)

Roper: As I mentioned earlier, Cryptic has a set of core technology that we build upon, and being able to  have digital distribution for things that are both inside and outside the game was very important to us. We wanted to have a system in place that allowed people to get stuff that way.

So we came up with these Cryptic Bucks, and you can use those to get anything inside or outside of the game. We basically wanted to allow players to have a denomination that can be used across everything that Cryptic does. It’s definitely something we’ve fleshed out as we look towards the future as well. We’ll have players that are bouncing between CO and Star Trek Online, so they can use those for either game. Or maybe they just want to get a hat.

As opposed to having to do billing for three different or four different solutions, we just made Cryptic bucks and are allowing players to use them wherever they want. It’s actually a model that gets used quite a bit in Asia, for those developers or publishers that have several different online games. You see that concept a little bit with US game cards, but traditionally that’s just used to pay off a subscription fee.

We’re trying to expand that out, so that if players get something with Cryptic bucks on it, they can go “Oh! I want pay for my subscriptions on these two games and buy this product from their store. “

Ten Ton Hammer: So more of a way to fully integrate the various aspects of you distribution?

Roper: Yup! We’re trying to make it easier for everybody; easier for the player and easier for the developers, because it’s always one point that it goes through.

Ten Ton Hammer: Thanks Bill, and we'll talk to you soon!
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