Cryptic were of course, until recently, working with Marvel to create Marvel Universe Online. With this project cancelled, Cryptic have wasted no time in picking up a new license to develop, which they say they'll self-publish. It's safe to say it's at the opposite end of the fame scale. Hero Games' pen and paper RPG, Champions, began in 1981. Cryptic explain if only you'd superclick.
"Champions was one of the first roleplaying games to forgo the traditional dice-rolling system of character generation in favor of a point-based system. The player would spend character points to determine exactly what kind of character they would be, what superpowers they would possess, the precise personal characteristics of their hero and even what disadvantages their do-gooder alter-ego would be forced to overcome."
This is the approach they intend to take with Champions Online. The big emphasis is on character customisation - something in fact that City of Heroes still does better than any MMOs that have appeared in the four years since its release. But this time they seem to be taking it much further.
"Choose from hundreds of different costume pieces, colors and body types to create your character's one-of-a-kind costume and look. There are billions of possible combinations, and in a universe brimming with the fantastic and the unforgettable, you can still be completely unique!"
It doesn't stop there. The powers are similarly to be tweaked, letting you choose how your powers appear, their colour, their special effects, their design. And being a superhero, you need an archenemy. Which you'll also being designing during character creation. Cryptic explain, "In Champions Online, you design your character's supreme adversary, choosing a name, powers and costume for a superpowered foe to bedevil your hero throughout his or her career."
The other advantage of the license is the location freedom. So while things appear that they will begin in a more familiar setting, skyscraper-filled Millennium City, you'll be able to visit other dimensions, underwater cities, the Moon, and most excitingly of all, Canada.
The usual promise that's made at the beginning of every MMO's development appears here too. The combat will be fast and dynamic, like offline action games. This is a promise that's been broken every time, as every team realises how impossibly hard that is to do in a shared online space. But still, Cryptic seem certain, and it's the subject of their first posted article on the site. They're certainly confident. In critiquing the standards of current MMO combat, poster "Kestrel" says,
"Auto-attack is so common that players have even come up with a nickname for this gameplay: click "A" and pray. Yawn. This all changes with the debut of Champions Online! Players instantly leap into action as soon as they hit a button. Once an animation completes, the player can attack again. There are no lengthy recharge times, and no boring auto attack. Instead, Champions Online has the fast-paced gameplay normally found only in fighting or action games."
Concerns? Well, obviously this sounds like it bears an awful lot of similarity with City of Heroes. Is it CoH2, or something completely fresh and distinct? Hang on - CoH2 would be excellent! Forget I worried. The other thought would be their character customisation. CoH's is utterly fantastic, but saw them in court for years with Marvel, of all people, trying to sue them for the game's ability to generate characters too similar to their own IP (in a case somewhat akin to suing Crayola for their crayon's ability to draw the Incredible Hulk). Now, let's take the sensible assumption that the code behind Champions Online might just have something in common with the code behind the cancelled Marvel Universe Online - are we going to see the comics behemoth swinging its moneycock around again if they make something even more sophisticated?
There's an absolutely huge amount of information on the brand new website, so be sure to plough through it all. Cryptic have a habit of being remarkably frank on their site, so it'll be somewhere to keep checking back on over the next year until the planned Spring 2009 release. We certainly will be.