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Champions Online

Bill Roper talks Champions Online

We got the chance to ask Bill Roper, formerly of Blizzard North and Flagship Studios, about the latest game he is working on - Champions Online.

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Bill Roper joined the Champions Online team at Cryptic Studios late during the development cycle after his company Flagship Studios closed down operation.

Besides the fact that it stars superheroes, what will separate Champions Online from other MMOs on the market gameplay-wise?

Apart from the nuances and mechanics that every MMO shares, there are some very big differences between Champions Online and other games. Here's a few off the top of my head:

The Nemesis System is an incredible way for players to create custom content and share it with others. Just as you can make the hero of your dreams, you can also create their arch-enemy - their Nemesis. Using the same detailed tools as they built their hero with, players can craft the ultimate villain. And this isn't just the costume and thematic power set, but also the minions and personality of their Nemesis. The ultimate challenge is the one you make for yourself.

In Champions Online, we break you free of the gray confines of the city setting. While heroes commonly have their roots in major cities, they also go to the ends of the Earth to fight for justice. From the frozen tundra of Canada to the wilds of Monster Island to the irradiated wastes of the Desert to the undersea kingdom of Lemuria, heroes can explore and fight in more varied locations than ever before. And, of course, they can always return to the biggest, brightest, and most dangerous metropolis in the world - Millennium City.

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And perhaps most importantly, is the concept of customization. From the look of your hero to what powers and how they function are all up to you. This is an amazing leap beyond what players are able to do in City of Heroes / Villains and is designed to bring four-color comics to life. Whatever hero you envision, we work to make real in the Champions universe.

A lot of people loved/hated City of Heroes/Villains because it didn't have the grinding elements of other MMO's and no collecting element, whereas you work for 500 hours to collect a set of items, but was more casual and approachable in the gameplay. Is this something that you have embraced in Champions Online, or will you move towards more traditional MMO-elements, i.e. include items? What will separate the game from City of Heroes?

Character progression is very mission-based, meaning that there should be little to no grinding required to get to the initial level cap. With over 900 missions available at launch, there's an amazing amount of story to go through and things to accomplish. Even though our combat is more action-oriented, we're definitely providing a deep, rich MMORPG experience for our heroes.

However, we know that many players love collecting and spending a lot of time building to a long-term goal. There are a large variety of rewards for characters as they grow in experience. Hundreds of new areas to discover and explore, new powers and associated advantages, hundreds of perks / achievements, origins and talents, items, crafting, super stats, PvP game types and rankings, and of course the Nemesis system - and on and on. Some of the longest-term perks have fabulous rewards but will take players many hours to achieve, so we're hoping we have something for both the casual and hardcore player.

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Having worked on games like Diablo and Warcraft, is the fame you gained from these titles a hindrance or a help when making new games? I mean, do you feel that the stamp "FROM THE CREATOR OF DIABLO" create unrealistic expectations from titles you work on? Would you rather have a clean slate and have journalists stop relating what you do to your past work when making new games?

Having such an impressive pedigree as Flagship did at a new studio may very well have set expectations we could have never met as a start-up. Ultimately our game didn't live up to what players wanted, but there are numerous reasons for that - including that we simply tried to do too much with not enough time. I've talked several times about the mistakes we made. They serve as experiences I can touch on in what I am doing now. As for having preferring to have a clean slate with the press and gamers, I embrace and try to grow from my successes as well as my failures, and all of them make me the developer I am today. I just hope that gamers can look at every project in its own light and have realistic expectations about every game they play.

Hellgate: London had some great elements, but didn't get the reception you were hoping for. Have you learned anything particular from the Hellgate-experience that you've brought with you to Champions Online? Any particular traps that you fell into with Hellgate that you'll avoid with Champions Online?

As I touched on a little already, success teaches us many things, but there are so many more lessons to be learned from our failures. Something comes up each week where I draw upon both what has and has not worked in my past games. Perhaps the biggest lesson learned is maintaining a focus on what's vital to the game. With Hellgate: London we simply tried to do too much and spread ourselves (and our ability to properly test and balance the game) too thin. Also making sure to have a solid base of social and community features is vital - as is constantly staying in contact with our players.

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Finally, looking at what works both in terms of games and the business aspects of the game and building off of those as opposed to trying a slew of entirely new ideas without regard to how it all fits together is a big lesson learned. This doesn't mean we won't be doing some amazing new things for our players. We're just setting those goals in reality.

City of Heroes got into trouble with Marvel because users could generate superheroes very similar to Marvel Characters. With DC Universe Online being developed alongside Champions Online, isn't there a danger that players can create heroes in your game that looks like Superman and SoE and DC will take action against you? Are you doing anything to prevent the player from creating characters looking like Marvel/DC-characters, or is the creation process even more free than in City of Heroes?

We‘ve been excited to see the huge level of creativity in our beta community, and this is based off of the massive amount of options available in both the costume and powers systems. It's just so much more than the hundreds of different costume pieces - there are just SO many WAYS for players to continue to customize their heroes, its staggering. In terms of appearance, every new power you gain can be tweaked and tuned in terms of either hue, emanation point, or both. You can also always visit a tailor to change the look of your costume, or create entirely new ones as you unlock more costume slots. We think that our players are going to be far more interested in building the heroes they see in their minds eyes than those made by someone else.

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I know you guys hate to talk about your competition, but DC Universe will have a big universe of familiar heroes and villains known from comics and movies distributed worldwide, while your game is based on a relatively obscure (in Europe anyway) tabletop RPG-licence. Why should players pick your game instead of DC Universe?

Champions has been around since 1981. We literally have decades of the world, characters, and game mechanics that have been played and refined by hundreds of thousands of players at our disposal. The Champions universe is every bit as rich and detailed as any you'd see from traditional comics, with the added advantage of it being a game from the very beginning.

Also, the core essence of the Champions universe is customization. Being able to create the hero that you envision is more than using our amazing costume creator. Players can take customization to the next level by being able to build their heroes by using and combining all of the powers in the game as opposed to being locked down to a class or theme. They can even choose the emanation point of the power! Lightning bolts don't just have to come from their hero's hands. They could come from the eyes, or chest, for example. All of this is designed to allow players to be the hero they want to be.

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Who is your favorite superhero?

I have so many that I love, so this can always change at the drop of a hat. Being in somewhat of a silly mood today, I have to choose The Tick! Gigantic, muscular, blue, nigh-invulnerable, and his powers increase whenever it's dramatically appropriate for them to do so. How can you NOT love him? SPOOOOOOON!

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