Champions Online Q&A Decoded

By Kieron Gillen on May 7th, 2008 at 4:15 pm.

She's no Warwych, that's for sure.

There’s one sort of press-release which we don’t tend to do anything with – the standardized Q&A. Reposting someone else’s questions? Pur-lease. However, when Champions Online’s Q&A came through the pipe, including some of the first real information about Cryptic’s new superhero MMO it left 3/4 of RPS completely befuddled. Because – like most gamers – they don’t have the Champions-Pen-and-paper-RPG specific knowledge which a lot of these assume. So I thought doing a little directors commentary on them may be somewhat useful. So I did. Yes.

When you say that any character can pick any powers the phrase “jack of many master of none” comes to mind. My question is if I choose a power outside of my “archetype” (for lack of a better word) will it just be a waste of points because I’ll be spending at a premium to get a substandard version of a power? Or will my brick’s fire blast be just as good as the energy projector’s? (Shofu)

Randy Mosiondz : Good question, Shofu. Choosing an “archetype” gives you bonuses with certain categories of powers, not just powers listed under your archetype. For example, if you choose Brick as your focus, any defensive powers you choose are more effective because you’re a Brick. Using your fire blast example, Bricks are just as effective as Mentalists when it comes to fire blasts, but Energy Projectors gain a bonus when using them because that’s their focus.

The best way to look at it is that a player can select any power framework – they just get bonuses with certain types of powers depending on what type of archetypical hero they choose to be. Bricks are better at soaking up damage, Energy Projectors and Martial Artists are better at dishing out damage, etc. That doesn’t mean Bricks never take offensive powers or Energy Projectors never take defensive powers – just that a player can’t be the best at everything.

The “archetype” abilities aren’t set in stone yet as we still have a lot of balancing and testing to do, but this should give you a general idea of what we’re looking at in terms of bonuses granted by a chosen archetype.

[And this is about as far as I imagine most of RPS read before starting to blink and getting back to their determined solitary onanism and tea drinking. All of this is reliant on what's actually important about the Champions License...

Champions, in RPG history, is important for one reason. It pioneered the use of a points-system for designing your character. So - and these are really abstract numbers not related to the real game, which I've never actually played - if you spent 100 of your 500 points in superstrength you'd be able to twat twice as hard as someone who spent 50 points. This applies across the whole game and its range of abilities - so you could buy a laser-zap power for 50 points and it's be a third as zappy as someone who lobbed 150 into it. And so on, across the whole spectrum of abilities.

I reiterate, this is the absolute key part of the Champions licence. Players doing the maths on all their characters abilities to try and maximise what they can do, is a key appeal. It's the design-your-hero approach that City of Heroes took, but applied to their actual function rather than just aesthetics. This is a fundamental difference to the traditional D&D way of making characters, with effectively every character in a class of one.

What keeps this balanced? What's to stop you spending all 500 points in a single super-zap ability? Well, various things in the system, but traditionally, the gamesmaster's fiat plays a part. If someone's clearly taking the piss, they stepped in. One of the main problem facing Champions Online is building that GM's fiat into the actual game - which is almost as big a problem as trying to create a system so players aren't overwhelmed by the options they have and, generally speaking, create characters who are actually useful.

(One main problem with my hypothetical 500point zapper is that they'd have literally no defences whatsoever, for example)

Returning to this question, it seems a way which they're looking at creating characters which work in some kind of party is some kind of "archetype", giving you an ability boost in those areas. So if someone chooses a Brick, their defensive powers will be a bit better than someone who just chose that power separately. I suspect there's more to just this though - they'll be some manner of thing which forces players to take a minimum of "useful" powers so you don't end up with someone who can't actually attack or similar. But then again, trying to create a purely defensive brick who just soaks up attention and damage while someone else deals with the hurtage certainly would be within the Champions-design-your-character theory...

As they say though, there will be lots of balancing here.]

He's no Entymologist, that's for sure.

Will you be able to add an advantage and/or limitation to a power at first level? (HeroArkham)

Randy Mosiondz : Advantages and limitations are introduced relatively early in the game so players who want to start min-maxing their powers won’t have too long to wait! But we won’t be throwing power advantages/limitations at players at first level; there are a lot of concepts we’re going to be introducing to players at character creation and we don’t want to overwhelm them with too many choices.

[And now we hit one of the other main ideas in the Champions P&P game. You're able to add advantages and limitations to your powers, which reduce (or increase) the effective cost. So, to choose another hypothetical advantage, to turn your 50point Zappy-power into an area effect Zappy Power may double the cost. However, if you made the power only be able to fire a third as often, it may half the cost. Combine the two and you'll have a slow-firing area-zappy power which costs the same 50 points.

By way of comparison, most of the ranged attack powers in City of Heroes would be simulated by a single Zappy power. Warwych would have a range of zap powers, each customised in their own way. Generic powers, customised - that's Champion's P&P approach.

So this answer means that while they'll have them - and it also admits the process is a key part of the game's appeal - it won't drop them immediately on the players lap. I suspect this will end up applying to many aspects of the game. Any points-spending character generation system is much more intensive than a simple dice-rolling one, and they'll need to spread it out a little to sink in.]

How varied will the inhuman (beast-man, alien, etc.) costume piece/character looks options be in CO? (Amadaeus)

Randy Mosiondz : The amount of “inhuman” costume pieces and customization options is really impressive already! So far I’ve seen various beast-man heads (rats, cats, bears, wolves, stag), insect heads (with different mandible and antennae options), and various monster heads (undead/alien/demon with different sizing, horn/bone options, etc.). Additionally there are a number of different “stances” players can choose from (bestial stance, for example) to complete their “inhuman” look.

[Cryptic still into character visual customisation stuff.]

What about overweight characters? (Allison)

Randy Mosiondz : Scaling will allow you to make “chunky” characters, but nothing on a massive (Blob-level) scale. There’s a limit on what looks good in body scaling without adding a lot of additional costume parts to support the variance.

[The Blob's a Marvel Superhero who basically has super-fat. Bar that, self explanatory.]

He's probably a better healer than Nitefall though.

Will there be any “in-house” resource for the players to showcase our characters and their backgrounds, and perhaps superteams, bases, and so on? Something similar to the CREY threat pages, or the City Vault that NCsoft is planning? Can we get a larger amount of space (character limit) for in-game character background/biography? (Starhammer)

Victor Wachter.: Hey, Starhammer. We’re currently making plans for our web integration with the game. We’re looking at the best features from previous MMORPGs, community-driven data sites, social networking apps and anything else that’s cool online, and we’re putting together a plan to combine those features to create a useful and fun site where you can connect with your friends and show off everything you do in Champions Online.

We’re planning to have everything you’ve come to expect from an online game’s web presence, and then some. Character pages, superteam sites, game info – it will all be here! We will start rolling out these features throughout the game’s beta phases, so people will have a chance to check them out and suggest what they want to see.

[Well, seems that only the first two questions could have lost people. Er... nice weather, yeah?]

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18 Comments »

  1. Bobsy says:

    So long as I can recreate Victorian London’s finest patriotic working-class super-powered gentlelad, the CRIMEA COMET, I shall be content. Oh, and all the above stuff too, natch.

  2. Shon says:

    It looks like they are using City of Heroes as a frame for the power balance. CoH would give different classes the same powers, but give a boost to the class that was specialized in the power.

    In other words, Blasterguy and Defendergirl both have fireball. Blasterguy does 100% damage with his fiireball while Defendergirl only does 80% with the exact same power.

    The main thing that bothers me about the classes listed is they look an awful lot like City of Heroes classes. If they are funneling characters into those classes, then making something really neat and original is a lot harder.

  3. nihohit says:

    Basically, freedom force did it good enough for me.

  4. mujadaddy says:

    @Shon:

    You have made the same logical fallacy that people who claim that the Warhammer MMO is copying the Warcraft MMO.

    Champions came out in 1983, for fuck’s sake.

  5. Zuffox says:

    Hope these guys unlike the City of Heroes team release a standalone hero generator. That would be like awesome.

    Messing around with the South Korean City of Heroes hero generator to get it working is hardly worth the effort. And it doesn’t even have an export feature, if I recall.

  6. James T says:

    Please; strictly group onanism for me, thank you.

  7. Shon says:

    @mujadaddy I think I started playing Champions in 1991. I really liked the math and free form nature of the characters. I loved making gadgeteers and would make pages and pages of gimmicky gadget pools. Do not get me started on what I used to do with multipowers.

    What bugged me about this Q and A is that I know that Cryptic made City of Heroes before making this game. Any comparisons between the two is fair. I’m not saying Champions is ripping off City of Heroes, I’m saying I have already played City of Heroes, please don’t remake it and call it Champions.

    The use of archetypes bothers me because I don’t want to be pushed into class choices like they did in City of Heroes. Let me make my own hybrids. If I want a full on Brick with Energy Blast who can’t lift a car, let me. If I want a martial artist who has a crapload of gadgets, let me. Don’t tell me that ideally I should use their blueprint because the point of Champions was making your own glorious or disastrous characters.

  8. Sp4rkR4t says:

    @Zuffox, These guys ARE the CoH team.

  9. 18Rabbit says:

    I think they’re doing the archetype system to make it easier for people to get into. If you just throw people into a character generator and give them too many choices to make they’ll get frustrated without knowing enough of what to do. I remember spending hours and hours making Champions characters just because there was so much freedom (and I’m a min/maxer by nature).
    The champions system had some cool features like the advantages/disadvantages system to allow you to tweak and fine tune your character. I wonder if they’ll incorporate the killing damage concept (my guess is no). Most damage only did damage towards knocking you or an opponent out but you could get killing attacks that were lethal (mainly only used by villains).

  10. Alex Hopkinson says:

    Not very much of it, Sp4rkR4t. Most of the core CoH team are still working on CoH, just not at Cryptic.

  11. Evets says:

    Actually Alex, a very good chunk of the initial designers from CoH moved over to this project after CoV hit. the people who are at CoH now are the “core team” in the sense that they have been responsible for the last two years of content. Lots of the people who were there for the first two years are still at Cryptic and now on Champions.

  12. MaW says:

    Given that the last two years of CoH have seen some of the best additions that have ever been, this makes me worried about CO. Jake Emmert’s lead designer as he was for CoH, and it was a lot of his design ideas (hiding the numbers, the ‘power ten’ enhancements, his vision of what game balance looks like which disagreed with every single player’s vision of what game balance looks like) which caused the most frustration in the game.

    Many of which have since been gently reversed. CoH appears to be getting significantly better in its new studio, so unless CO does something really really good – like an amazing freeform character system, which seems unlikely – I won’t be moving.

    Of course it helps that the hook to keep me playing CoH works perfectly. I’ve got 45 months of veteran rewards, after all.

  13. MPK says:

    So are we more likely or less likely to have a thousand Wolverine/Hulk clones? I must admit that I’m intrigued by the possibilities of the points system, but the class bonues (bonii?) sound analagous to EVE’s ship bonus system.

  14. mujadaddy says:

    @Shon:

    #1: I apologize. It seems I colored your comments with my own prejudices.

    #2: However, in an online world, the GM (“Initial Development Team”) has to make SOME rules structure so pointfuckers like ourselves can’t get away with murder. Therefore, I’m not too upset. The Champions team could have a WORSE paper to copy from than CoH.

  15. nick says:

    @Alex Hopkinson: More than you think…

    Cryptic reduced the CoH team from 60 to 15 people sometime after the launch of Villains. Those people were likely transferred to Marvel or other projects (including this one). NCNorCal is in the process of restaffing and ramping back up their production stuff.

  16. malkav11 says:

    I was going to talk about how Champions was originally handled, but then I realized that when I played Champions it was, I think, 3rd or at most 4th edition and the game’s had a couple of major releases since then that I didn’t bother with. I expect they’re using the latest version of the rules.

  17. Colinmarc says:

    Champions sounds a lot like Green Ronin’s Mutants and Masterminds.

  18. Guaranteed Website Traffic says:

    It seemed they are using City of Heroes as a frame for the power balance. It’s cool. Champions sound to be the most awesome game ever. Keep it up.

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