last few days leading up to a major MMOG launch is an exciting time
for the developers and fans alike, and href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/co" target="_blank"> style="font-style: italic;">Champions Online
is no exception. Ten Ton Hammer recently had the opportunity to sit
down with Bill Roper to discuss the end of the open beta, the
importance of player feedback and what kind of content updates players
can look forward to once the game officially launches on September 1st,
including a sneak peak at the Blood Moon event coming this October
(Hellgate London fans may recognize the name Blood Moon from the
infamous “Not a Fit Night Out” achievement).
Ton Hammer: How are things at Cryptic on the last few days before the
Roper: Things are good
– we’re wrapping up the beta and trying to push for
some last minute fixes. It’s been really good especially from
the standpoint that we’ll have a lot of stuff based on the
things we’ve done this week since the open beta started
– there’s been lots of good feedback.
We’re finding lots of bugs that we couldn’t find
without having the concurrencies of 10 or 15 thousand people. You test
a lot of stuff with bots but then once you get live players on it
always causes aberrant behavior.
And then there’s some balance related things too. We
weren’t really able, even in the closed beta, to get
significant statistical numbers at different level ranges, such as
being able to look at the XP curves. We knew it wasn’t right
but when we got all the people on in open beta that was when it became
apparent that it was really broken.
Whenever you do testing and you make changes, you tend to swing the
wheel far over for course corrections. I think that’s one
thing that a lot of people don’t realize is that you have to
do that. People will ask, “why not make just little
changes?” If you think about sailing a ship it’s
kind of like you’re going really far to starboard, so you
need to swing the wheel hard to port to make a big course correction.
Then you can say, OK we went too far, let’s move it back
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Ton Hammer: Hitting those two extremes seems like it would be the most
helpful for data collection at this point too.
Roper: Yep, and it is. You do
have to really kick over hard in one direction. That’s what
we recently did with experience. We knew that players are grossly
outstripping content, to the point where players were able to basically
skip entire zones, so it was really broken. We decided to swing hard in
the other direction so it’s like now there isn’t
enough content for levels, so we really made a big adjustment but we
could tell we were close. From there we know we can go back in the
other direction and ease off of those changes.
The goal is so that players are definitely above the par. We like
people being above the curve so it’s not like you have to
complete every shred of mission content to be able to hit level cap.
It’s OK if somebody skips missions or doesn’t find
some of the discovery missions and things like that – they
should still be able to level without having to grind.
It definitely caused a big panic and furor with some people in the
forums, so we had to explain that this was just a course correction.
Amongst a few people in every game that I’ve ever worked on
they love to ring that panic gong where it’s like,
“it’s the end of the world!” It seems
like that happens in every game ever made. I think the thing
that’s interesting about MMOs is that you see it happen; even
single player games do that, but it’s all done internally.
You’ll make a big change like that and it gets kicked out to
your internal test group and QA people, and you’ll get the
same panicked feedback from your QA guys, so that even happens
internally and you’ll have to let them know,
“don’t worry, we’ll fix it.” In
the MMO space you’re doing that, but for a lot of people.
But you really have to do that tuning, or move that dial one way or the
other before you can fine tune it.
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Ton Hammer: And as you mentioned, a lot of players might not key into
the idea that during the closed beta there simply weren’t the
same numbers of concurrent users to allow you to get the right kind of
Roper: Yea, and there were a
lot of things we style="font-style: italic;">were
able to get data on like load testing, finding bugs and getting
feedback on powers – the closed beta was awesome for that.
With the open beta it’s a matter of sheer numbers of players,
and even using bots won’t find certain things. When you get
that many live players on, it always makes things crop up that you
didn’t even know might happen.
Another great example is the PvP queue server. We got people in, it was
fine and we had people playing it and having a good time, but literally
on the first day of open beta we had 1,000 people queue for PvP. We
were like, “wow, that many people are excited to check out
PvP” and this was with low level characters even.
That’s when we found that there was actually a bug in the
queuing software where it was basically stacking queues wrong.
The best way to describe it would be that it was doing it vertically
instead of horizontally. Basically one match would have to fill and
launch before the next one could fill and launch which made for these
really, really, really long queues. Think of going to a concert but
they only had one door open, forcing everyone to get in through that
one door as opposed to opening up 5 doors. There are still a lot of
people trying to get in, but at least they can go in through 5
different entrances instead. That was something that we never saw with
our earlier concurrencies simply because we never had that number of
people queuing up to play PvP, so you just wouldn’t notice
it. When there are only a few people standing in line you
don’t notice it, but then suddenly 1,000 people show up and
you realize you need to open up more doors.
So we just checked that and fixed it, but that’s another
example of how you don’t see that kind of stuff happen until
something like this occurs.
Ton Hammer: How has the open beta been otherwise from your perspective?
Roper: It’s been
great! We’re running our end of beta event –
that’s actually running until about 5PM today –
where we’ve got some giant Mega-Destroids cruising around
Millennium City. We even have what we call Dev Suits, so if you see
something that’s called a Cryptonaut that’s
actually one of us. So it’s been pretty fun. I think players
really like kicking down the devs.
So that’ll get wrapped up today and probably around the last
hour or so things are going to get style="font-style: italic;">crazy.
In fact, I need to go make my special character for 4 o’clock
in just a bit here.
Ton Hammer: There’s been some really solid feedback from the
beta so far; I’ve been able to see some of the genuine impact
it’s had on gameplay improvements over the past number of
months. How integral do you feel player feedback is moving forward
Roper: Easily as much as it
was in beta, and once you go live
it becomes even more important. There was a time basically during the
beta where we decided that we needed to start treating everything like
it’s live, and we’re actually servicing the game as
though we’d launched. I think what you’ve seen
through the beta – for us – it was also kind of a
beta for how we’re treating our players moving forward.
So we’ll maintain a lot of responsiveness, we’ll
keep track of what player concerns are and what they really want. I
think it’s a back and forth. There have definitely been ideas
that have come from the forums or have been inspired by discussions
that we’ve seen. A lot of times too, one of the things that
we have to do is not necessarily take the solution offered by players,
but try to discern what the real issue is behind it. A lot of players
don’t make games and they don’t necessarily know
all the numbers behind everything, so they’ll say things
like, “all you need to do is style="font-style: italic;">this
and it’ll fix it!” A lot of times you
can’t look at the “this” to fix it,
instead you have to take a look at what is it that they want fixed, and
how can we address that. But that feedback is something
that’s essential and will continue to be a part of our plans
and desires moving forward.
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Ton Hammer: Speaking of moving forward then, how would you describe
your long term strategy for things like content updates or possible
Roper: You definitely have to
start planning that stuff out in advance. We’ve already got
an event planned for the end of October…
Ton Hammer: Would that be the mysterious “Blood
Moon” I just saw mentioned…
Roper: In my latest state of
the game discussion? *laughter* Yea, I did put that in there.
We’ll be putting something official up on the site about that
hopefully by launch. One of the things we really want to be able to do
is communicate to players, so even if they get the game on day one
they’ll already know we’re working on the next
content that they’ll be getting. I think that’s a
really important thing to put out there. I know that as a player of
MMOs I like knowing not only that devs are working on something, but
that they’re working on something they can tell me about.
So we’ve been getting some concept assets over to the
marketing team so they can put together some pages that can get put up
hopefully by the time the game goes live on the 1st. And that will talk
about the Blood Moon event and what players are going to be getting. So
that will be the first big free update that we do.
The upside is being able to get a good head start on that, especially
with the art since the artists typically finish fist. By us having a
longer beta period, that really allowed them to start working on new
stuff in design and things like that. So the content guys, as
we’ve been able to peel people off when their areas are done
we’ve been able to move them over to do some different
things. You always have to keep enough people on to fix the bugs and
get corrections done, but as we were able to actually peel people off
when they were completed – and art is a good example since
they’re always the first done – we can get them to
start working on some new things.
It’s a real balancing act, a lot of juggling where
you’ll look at things like, “this is what
we’d style="font-style: italic;">like
to get done, so how can we schedule that?” But you always
have to work on what style="font-style: italic;">needs
to get done first. And this is the hardest time, because not only are
you trying to plan for the future so there’s a good stream of
content coming up for the players, but at the same time
you’re actually finishing the core game. As I’ve
had to assure all the devs, it actually gets easier once the game is
out. You’re still always working and always making stuff,
responding to players and fixing bugs but at the same time
you’re not “finishing” the core game.
But yes, there are definitely plans for updates and ways that
we’re going to expand the universe moving forward.
Ton Hammer: As far as the core game is concerned, we’ve
already covered quite a few of the major gameplay components in our
interviews so far, though we haven’t really touched upon
crafting as of yet. How essential would you say the crafting system
will be for overall character advancement?
Roper: I don’t know
that I’d necessarily say that it’s style="font-style: italic;">essential.
You certainly could go through the entire game without crafting or
getting an item that was crafted, but I think the way crafting helps
the most and style="font-style: italic;">can
become an essential component is if you’re doing really
interesting hybrid builds. All the crafting schools have different
stats they focus on, so at the high end they tend to focus on a trio of
stats. So you’ll find high end items that care about three
different stats predominantly.
The reason I bring that up is that when you really get into some more
advanced mechanics of character building, you’ll notice that
at the basic level there two main stats that each power set cares about
which you can then take a look at when you start mixing and matching.
For example I made a character that was a mix of Might and Darkness.
Might cares about Strength and Constitution, and Darkness cares about
Constitution and Endurance. So by mixing the two I end up with three
main stats that I’ll care about, and crafting is the place
where I’ll have the best chance of getting items that focus
on all three.
I could more than likely find some random, algorithmically generated
items that could fall off of an enemy, but with crafting I can pick a
school or specialization that specifically cares about those three
stats. So if I’m getting into that advanced gameplay of
creating characters focused on certain stats or characteristics,
crafting is the best place to go to specifically get items that cover
that end of things.
One of the other cool things with crafting is that each of the
specializations has two unique action figures they can make, so for
players that are into the collectible aspect of Champions I believe
there are a total of 18 different action figures you can get through
crafting. Even though we weren’t dropping the action figures
during the beta, I know that a lot of players are really excited about
that collectible aspect.
When we were at GenCon we were talking to some people who really love
that kind of thing, and they were saying things like, “I
really love getting all the badges in the ‘City of’
games, and these are like visible badges!” So they were
making that kind of interesting comparisons. I know that I love
collecting stuff in a game, so I think it’s a neat, fun
extension of that. And we really do treat them like little action
Overall I think crafting is not a requirement, but it’s cool
to do and you can make some really specialized stuff. I think that for
players that get more into the mechanics of the system that can become
something that will really augment their character well.
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Ton Hammer: What if a player decides that maybe they don’t
want to jump into crafting right away, but then decides to go back to
it at a higher level; is the system easy to dive into later on?
Roper: It definitely is.
There are two ways that you’re gaining skill points in
crafting. One of the ways - if you want to use sort of a generic MMO
term – is by finding resource nodes. In other words there are
things you can find out in the world to investigate, but you gain the
vast majority of skill points by deconstructing items.
The way our crafting system is designed, there is Research and
Development. Research is actually taking things apart and looking at
what they’re made of. With most fantasy MMO crafting
you’re making a mountain of short swords before you can go up
to the next level to make cutlasses or whatever. We wanted to make it
so that the vast majority of your points come from tearing things apart
to see how it works, so that you’re learning from the way it
We do a double duty with that, where if you have an item upgrade that
can be taken apart, when you deconstruct those to do development you
not only gain points from that in terms of learning how it was made but
it will also give you the component parts that you can then use to make
other items. You do get a little bit of skill from making things, but
the system is definitely not designed to focus on that as the way
you’ll be gaining levels.
So as a high level player, any items that are dropping for me are going
to be a lot faster for me to skill up on, or I can always go to the
marketplace and buy a bunch of cheap items from other players to
deconstruct. Or it would also be really easy for me to fly, Superspeed
or Superjump around the lower level zones and get resources.
Having done a lot of crafting in other MMOs, I find it’s not
– I don’t know if “grindy” is
the right term – but I don’t style="font-style: italic;">have
to do a ton of travel. Using WoW as an example, if I decide to take
mining I’ve got to go and start looking for copper in the
newbie zones even if I’m level 50. That was the only thing
that frustrated me actually about making a Death Knight. I wanted to
start crafting but I realized I’d either have to buy all the
stuff or I’d have to go and find all of it. So for something
like herbalism you have to go find wild flowers and pick them to gain
levels, and you really can’t do anything else to achieve
that. It was like, “I’m starting at level 65, I
can’t believe I have to do this” you know?
Ton Hammer: Oh I know. I think I’d just hit level
62 on my
Death Knight when I got the bright idea to pick up mining and
blacksmithing and then realized what a grind it would be to get both of
them up to my current level.
Roper: The cool thing with
our system is the fact that you’re basically just
deconstructing stuff that’s really simple to go out and get.
So I think it’s a really nice system; it’s
definitely very different. You can make specific items, or you can even
make algorithmically generated items where you’re basically
deciding on certain parameters and telling the system that you want it
to care about three specific things and it can make you a random item.
Then there are also blueprints for exact items that you can get.
So it’s a nice system, it’s pretty deep and I think
it can be easily picked up. You can definitely dive into crafting
fairly easily at a higher level if you decide not to start with it
until later on in your character career and it won’t be super
Ton Hammer: One final thing that I wanted to touch on that was
addressed briefly as Champions transitioned into open beta is the push
towards getting more polished support for gamepads in for launch.
Roper: What we have in now,
the way I’ve kind of looked at it is that we have combat
controller support in. We’re not quite yet
“officially” supporting the controller because
there’s a lot of stuff that it doesn’t do yet such
as certain menus that it won’t go through since
we’ve recently gone back through a lot of the menu structures
and things like that. But one of our programmers went in and wanted to
get all the combat controls in and working.
So you can’t play 100% with style="font-style: italic;">just
the controller. Every now and then it will be easier to go to your
mouse and keyboard; you style="font-style: italic;">can
navigate some of the current menus but it’s not really
supported well quite yet. But the combat is really pretty fun with the
controller, so we’ll be putting up a thread on how combat
works with one.
As an example of something that isn’t quite supported yet,
you can choose what mission reward you want to get, but that
doesn’t give you the mouse-over text since that’s
currently triggered off of a mouse action in the system. The controller
doesn’t send the same message, so you can still go in and
choose an item, but you won’t really know what they are
unless you actually mouse over it. But for just cruising around the
world and fighting it definitely works for all the combat.
Ton Hammer: Thanks for taking the time to talk, and good luck with the
Roper: Thanks, we are stoked!
Things have been going great, we’ve been getting great
feedback from people and we’re really looking forward to
getting in with our early start people on the 28th and then everyone on
the 1st. It’s been an awesome ride to get to where we are
now, and we’re looking forward to continuing our interactions
with our players and just continuing to make the game better and better.
To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our Champions Online Game Page.