Interview: Jack Emmert from Cryptic Studios


If you've spent any time on Destructoid today, you've probably noticed my preview of Cryptic Studios' latest offering, Champions Online. It is certainly an ambitious title for any studio, yet in the hands of the development team behind City of Heroes, I would have to say that Champions Online has a good chance of pulling off all that it promises.

One man in charge of making sure those promises come try is Chief Creative Officer of Cryptic studios. He's the go to man for the company as it decided whatfocus they wanted to have, and he's the one who helped spearhead the Campions IP. For fans of that Role-playing classic, you can thank this guy.

So in between rounds of PvP, as well as the insanity of Peelander-Z, Emmert and I went outside to the freesing-cold wind tunnel known as South San Francisco, and had a chat about Champions Online. Check it out after the jump.

Starting off, how long has this game been in development, and where did the inspiration for the entire process come about?

Jack Emmert: It's been in development since 2007, late 2007, and the inspiration for it came from the Champions Role Playing Game, the paper and pencil game that started back in 1981 and it's still going strong. It's a game I played when I was young, and really wanted to make that game that I played and loved when I was a teenager and bring it alive.

What are we going to see from the Champions universe? I mean, how is this game in relation to, you know, actually rolling the dice?

I would say that the actual rolling of the dice, yeah, not too similar cause what we wanted to do is create a console-like action game, but put it in the MMO. That's the sort of action, the fast-paced combat best suits the superhero genre. In terms of actual character creation, in terms of a lot of the way that certainly all of the storylines come right from the RPG. And certainly the way people build powers and create powers all come straight out of the Champions RPG.

You had mentioned in the presentation that there is 18 power, sort of group classes, that characters can start off with and then they can build their own and basically create a character with a power from every single class?

Yeah, you can create a power that's from every single framework, that's what we call them. We just gather them together into these things called frameworks, whether it's guns, flame, ice, or martial arts, and yeah, you can pick powers from anything you want. It's fine by us.

How are you going to prevent the creation of copyrighted characters and images?

So we created our costume creation system so that it doesn't have any of the IP pieces like symbols you would associate with Superman or Green Lantern or Captain America. The powers we made are also [the same]. We don't try to replicate Ironman's repulsor beams or Hawkeye's costume. We've done everything we can, obviously, learning from our experience to avoid that, cause those are DC and Marvel, Image, Dark Horse, and are great IPs, and we don't want to step on their toes at all.

We're not going to see a Superman-type character with one weakness?

[Laughs] Well, Champions characters, going back to the IP, all have weaknesses to go along with their strengths, and that is definitely true. Nobody is beyond reproach. If you are very powerful, well that means you have a lot of weaknesses.

I noticed when you had the presentation, there was a lot of soloing, a lot of single player type content. What's the group experience going to be like with this? Can you create an X-Men-type squad with a group of friends?

Most certainly. You can create a character...one of the interesting dynamics, which I don't think we touched on earlier, is the ability to choose a role. There are roles, support, offense, defense, you can change these on the fly even. And these different roles augment or enhance your powers in that particular area. So we can group together, and I can be the offensive guy, you can be the defensive guy, the tank, for instance. Or, in the next encounter, we can switch it around, and depending on which powers we have, we will be more or less effective in that particular role. We also have guilds, and we also have  large, in-depth instances called Lairs which groups can go into. We have open missions, where a whole bunch of people can work cooperatively in the persistent world. So in addition to soloing, we've obviously got a ton of group content for an MMO.

I don't know if you can talk about this too much, but can you describe the sort of cross compatibility with the 360 version, or anything related to the 360? Can you say anything at all?

I can tell you that our engine was designed with the 360 in mind, that it works just fine on that. As for any particular arrangements with Microsoft, I can't talk about anything yet.

It looks like you are making this game to be fairly beginner-friendly, in a way, as you are making concessions. I mean, you have to two hours designing your character, you can just hit random, and you can change the controls from a typical MMO to something that's more friendly, like a shooter or an action game. Where did this decision come about?

I think that started from City of Heroes. We wanted to make sure somebody can go from zero to hero in five minutes. We found that statistically, through a lot of studies that have been done, that the longer character creation lasts, the greater the chance of a character getting sick of it, so we wanted them to get in and have fun. That seemed to be the best recipe, and I think that we are going to do that with every game we do.


Describe the PvP. I know that you can go into arena areas, and you can create your own in the city. I know that in some point in the demo, they created this force field sphere in the sky for aerial battles, and...

That's dueling. Yeah, when you do a duel, this rocket comes down and projects a force field that limits the combat. When you get out of it, it breaks the dual, and you automatically lose, if you are the one that did it. So yeah, you expand it, and you fight in it, and that's pretty cool. That just happens, and you can watch that on the street. Then of course there's the Hero Games arena, which as you go up in level opens up different arenas. Then there's the apocalypse maps, which hopefully you'll get a chance to check out, where you'll be in a prison trying to take out the other guy's character.

Those tend to feel a little different, almost like a dungeon crawler, and it seems like you are going for a different feel with those modes.

We certainly are. With our special PvP maps, we want to go further and not just present a kill, which we have, in the arena stuff. The Apocalypse maps, as we call them, they are much more story based, there's objectives, there's a lot of interactivity that you can do.

There's a created character I noticed called Cryptoid, and on his chest he had the Cryptic Studios' logo. How, or are, players able to put images on their own creations in the game?

You know, funny you should ask, we just had a contest where people could submit emblems, and I think we took the, well, we were going to do the top ten, but there were so many, I think we took the top hundred. I don't know the details about that, but I figure we'll be doing that quite frequently, to be honest, because there was a lot of creativity and a lot of fun.

You had mentioned user created content. I'm not quite clear on what that's going to entail. What are we going to see from creator's on the PC, and hopefully 360 version.

Well, ideally we want to take versions of our own tools, make them more user friendly, and point them outwards.  Let people create their own missions, their own creatures, everything. That's some time down the line, that's not going to happen right away, but we are working on it right now.

I know it's a bit early, as the game has seven weeks before launch, but what are your long-term goals for Champions Online?

I definitely think that with Champions...continuing to increase the universe, expanding it outwards, to be able to incorporate different genres like Galactic Heroes,The Golden Age, being able to fight in World War II, I'd love to be able to do a companion game called Dark Champions which is more about anti-heroes. Those are just the top of my head of things we'd really like to do. You know, City of Heroes had a lot of plans, and we ended up doing it entirely differently.

One last thing, would you please describe the Nemesis, the arch enemy system you have in there. How's that going to impact the storyline, especially if you kill your enemy early on?

You can actually defeat your nemesis and create a new one. You can create up to like, 18, or you can keep the same one over and over again. It's really your choice. In a climactic battle you have against your nemesis, you can choose to resolve it, or you can let him continue on.

So you can be like Batman, who never seems to kill the Joker, you can do that same sort of thing?

You can be like Batman, or any other character who has a villain he can never get rid of.

Are you going to have some sort of good/bad system, sort of...

Currently, no. But we would love to do a true villain gameplay game, where villains are not just a different version, a different shade of the hero gameplay.

Awesome, well thank you very for talking to us.

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