50% lumber jack, 50% comic book nerd. 100% nice guy to interview. When I get to meet Bill Roper for a second time the bearded game developer is as talkative as ever about his upcoming game, but in a good way. The last time I met Bill he showed me an early build of Hellgate: London, not exactly a successful endeavour for the former Blizzard man. Today, however, he's telling me about Champions Online. I cut to the chase directly and ask him what will make the game stand out from all the other MMO:s.
- The amount of customization is really unique. I mean, it's very deep. And it's not just the look of your character but also the many changes you can do to your character. Say you want a super hero with ice powers. You can just choose ice powers in general and be happy with that, or tweak them to your liking. If you for instance want all of your powers to come out of your character's eye, you can.
And what's interesting is that Bill Ropers words are based in reality. It's always easy to spend a lot of time with a good character editor, but the one in Champions Online really stands out. When I get to try out the game I devote a lot of time to my first super hero, a tall and lanky bearded guy with magic powers, similar to Gandalf, but in white tights that I decorate with knee pads and gauntlets. "Gank-dalf" then gets a halo, a cool tattoo in his forehead and a fireballish attack power, with a flaming colour that I get to decide (white).
When I glance at the computers next to me to see what the other journalists are creating I notice that the variety is huge. The guy on the left of me has put together a burlesque, tail-wearing super woman in pink leather clothes, and the girl to my right has made a robot-like, fire-loving shaman that barely can stand up straight (there's a separate setting for your character's stance). The amount of customization is huge and that is crucial; the last thing a super hero needs is to be another face in the crowd.
30 minutes in the character editor whiz by and I'm ready to jump in to the game. I find myself in Milennium City, one of the five major worlds/zones that Champions Online has to offer. The city is under attack by the Qualaar, a particulary pesky race of aliens. The police have put up road blocks, the mayor is consulting his advisers in a temporary HQ on the street and chaos reigns. Gank-dalf is welcomed and I feel ready to get my hands dirty with a quest.
- The missions are distributed in a number of ways, Bill Roper explains to me. Sure, there are guys with exclamation points over their heads, but they are also accessible through objects you find, from the many crime computers and from people running up to you on the streets.
There will be over 900 missions in Champions Online and they all link to 6 major, story arcs. The stories deals with alien attacks, new technology that affect the world and events you find in your average comic book.
In my first missions in Milennium City I have to do some simpler things like destroying alien eggs and find the mayors lost briefcase. Basic things, but at least I don't have to pick mushrooms or shoot 234345 boars; I've been placed in a context where my efforts mean something and where the surroundings are in chaos. A smart move, and even if I don't reach a higher level than 3 in my test run, everyone treats me like a super hero. All the areas that we will visit in Champions Online will have a similar crisis like the alien attack in Milennium City, and the world around us will change as we complete missions.
The zones have expanded a lot in comparison with City of Heroes and City of Villains, and this time we get to visit a huge desert, the frozen tundras of Canada, the secluded and forgotten Monster Island and the underwater world of Lemuria. All these worlds have sub sections so the amount of land will be huge. To get about you can use classical super powers like flight and Bill Roper also showed be a pair of jet boots, a hookshot a la Bionic Commando and Mole, a cartoony movement under ground.
Every super hero needs his nemesis, a powerful protagonist to fight, and interestingly enough we get to design this enemy ourselves. Is your nemesis going to fight with fire or ice? What kind of minions will he have? What motivation for world domination does he have? All this is up to you. Our nemesis will then appear in different missions, culminating in a big showdown, and if we win that the bad guy goes to jail and we get to design a new one. You will not be able to cheat your way to an easily defeated nemesis though:
- Your nemesis has access to a talent tree and you can't choose in detail how good or bad he will be. Even if you have a super hero with fire powers and you choose ice for your nemesis he will still be a challenge, Bill Roper tells me.
Champions Online has an appealing, cel-shaded design and there's no question that we're playing a comic. Everything from speech bubbles and fonts to the bold outline of enemies and our heroes really breathes well read Marvel or DC comics. When I've learned to navigate through buttons for super powers, missions and inventory the interface feels logical and easy to access.
Trying a MMORPG without Elves, Dwarfs and Orchs is always refreshing and Champions Online is shaping up to be an entertaining option with both a familiar world and a distinct personality of its own. My Gank-dalf may have disappeared in one of Cryptics demo computers, but I'm looking forward to creating a new hero. Grimli, I shall call him. A short bastard, specialising in melee combat.