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Champions Online Q&A Decoded

Featured post 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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Kieron Gillen

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Kieron Gillen is robo-crazy.

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