The original design of Cryptic’s original game, City of Heroes, was supposed to have open power choices, but the design fell through and we ended up with the archetype and power set system. What do you think was learned from that first outing that allowed Champion’s character system to be a success? Does the character progression in CO draw from any other games?
The open power system is incredibly flexible and players can create the hero of their imagining without feeling “locked in” to a specific class or set of powers. While the Custom Framework option can be somewhat overwhelming in sheer number of options, we’ve tried to make it more user-friendly by organizing the powers into sets. We’ve continued to work to make it more comprehensible and easier to use through tips and better descriptions and we’ll continue to tune this to make it easier to understand and navigate.
When you look at the powers in Champions Online in terms of balance and fun, what three powers really hit the mark and why is that? Now, what three powers miss the mark and need work?
I went straight to the powers team with this question so you’d get the pure, unfiltered answers. They’re crawling through every power in the game a second time right now looking at just these issues, so here we go!
Powers that Worked
It looks great. It hits hard. It’s incredibly expensive unless you play its internal schtick and use it in conjunction with a field power, in which case it’s a great and efficient engine of destruction. It’s a bit complicated to use, but the reward of getting it right was sufficient that players experimented, figured it out, and bought into it. Overall it’s a win. Gigabolt is very similar, but I’m happier with Force Cascade.
Secondary Energy Mechanics
Killer Instinct, Thermal Reverberation, and the other similar powers worked out well, I think. They’re a cheap investment that reward and incentivize otherwise different game play. I feel like they’re beefy enough that many players are happy they have them, but not so overpowering that they’re “must haves” or limit your valid options.
Uppercut / Haymaker
Melee has its issues, and having a long charge up get wasted because your opponent moved out of range at the last second is frustrating. That being said, though, the risk vs. reward on these attacks is great, and when you can get off a full charge, the visceral impact is amazing and rewarding.
In a game where encounter groups are four or five at a time, a passive that lets you do MORE overkill versus a single target doesn’t feel nearly as useful as a power that provides substantial protection versus all enemies you’re facing simultaneously.
An idea we’ve discussed is having all of the offensive passives grant a bit less bonus damage per attack, but add a small AoE component to all of your attacks. This would help the value against large spawns, where powers like Electric Form feel weakest.
Most other powers do more damage when they’re charged. Chain Lightning doesn’t; when charged, it instead hits progressively more targets for the same amount of damage. In theory, this makes it a great bread and butter power – when taking on a large group, full charge for the pull and then just tap for rapid DPS. In practice, players always do full charges, even against single targets, because that’s what the other powers teach them is the “right” way to use them.
In the future, we’re probably going to make the damage versus the primary target scale up slightly as the power is charged, so that charging the power is no longer a “strictly worse” choice.
Rituals of Summoning
One of the people on our team (Antiproton) summarized the problem with these well during a playtest a few weeks ago: “You mean I have to sit here, just standing in this circle, watching while my pet runs off and get to play the game and have all the fun? That’s lame!” Champions is an extremely mobile game, and we’re very happy and proud that it is so. None the less, we know that some players may not appreciate all the frantic run and gun elements. The Sorcery tree, in theory, was supposed to be for them; it rewarded you (significantly) for picking a spot, standing there, and making the rest of the world come to you. I think the set, as a whole, succeeded well enough at rewarding you with power for standing still, but it completely fails to make the enemies come to you, and this issue is most pronounced, I think, with the summons.
First, Pets in general need a review. The ones summoned by Rituals don’t have any benefits to offset their drawback (that you have to stay in the circle). Second, Sorcery needs better techniques to “herd” and control enemies, bringing them into your reach, but keeping them from standing on your head. Finally, they need to be faster to create; it can’t feel like a chore to bring them out.
Regarding the infamous Launch-Day Nerf, I think a lot of people believe the changes were necessary for the good of the game, but many others are skeptical about the timing. Was the possible impact on preorders and lifetime subs a factor in the timing of the nerfs? What is your take away from the players’ reaction to the changes?
The conspiracy theories that have found their way into the gaming space can be pretty amazing. There was no element of “timing” the difficulty and experience curve other we saw the game had become trivially easy and we needed to address that before we had all of our players online. Unfortunately this didn’t come to light during the beta and we only really saw it happen with the numbers of players we got during the head-start period. Interestingly, anyone not in the head-start period didn’t come in and complain about the game being too hard, and once the initial shock of the shift subsided (less than a day) the vast majority of head-start players even said the game felt better. The biggest impact was that there was a lot of outcry when it happened and this leaked into reviews – even from editors that never played in the head-start time period. It was something we had to do for the good and longevity of the game, but trust us – with Star Trek we’ll have a LOT more people in the beta near the end to better test the global experience and difficulty curves.
From gamers’ point of view, there have been aspects of the launch that have gone smoothly, and other aspects that have been pretty ugly. In your mind and the minds of your team, how has the launch gone? Is there anything to the negativity on the forums and in the press and what can Cryptic do to turn that around?
We definitely needed more time on balancing the game overall, and that bit us when we had to do a large shift in the experience / difficulty curve after the head start program ran. We had the experience curve very close to where we wanted it by the time the game launched wide, but this definitely caused some of our early adopters to be upset that the game play changed after it went live. We also should have done a better job with balancing powers before launch. We’ve been chasing this ever since, and have made strides to making it much better, but this will be an ongoing project as with any MMO. Finally, after adjusting the experience curve, we had some content holes that we had to fill. This didn’t take us long, but it did mean that the game launched with very thin content.
As for what went right, the game was incredibly stable. The only real down time we had was one 8-hour period due to human error on our end. The game servers never had a catastrophic failure, we never lost character data, and we really breezed through a lot of the technical issues. We also had a wide variety of systems in place a solid foundation on which to build moving forward – an open power system, vast customization, Nemesis, PvP, Open Mission, Crisis Zones, and Lairs.
When City of Heroes came out, it had the advantage that it was the only game in the superhero MMO space. Champions Online was launched with established competition, and more coming relatively soon with DCUO. Does that competition change how your game is managed and how it is developed? For instance, is there a need to match features with CoX, or a plan to have x number of updates before DCUO releases?
We’re in a very different market than it was 5 years ago when City of Heroes launched. MMO players are educated and discerning set of gamers now. Our biggest challenge was in getting in a solid, broad foundation that we could build upon while still delivering a solid, quality game. We delivered in some areas and fell short in others, but no matter what you do you’re going to be compared to games that people are playing right now, no matter when they came out. Obviously a game with several years in post-launch development is impossible to equal, so while it does affect our development strategies, it’s more about making sure gamers know we’re able and willing to keep growing the game just like those games did after they launched.
Certainly CO has room for expansion with regards to new powersets and missions, but are there any more “killer features” coming down the pike? Also, are there any features that needed to be cut from the original release that you feel have to get in at some point?
We’ve added quite a bit into the game that is far beyond just new missions and power sets, although we added those, as well. Crossover Missions allow players to share any mission with another person, even if their character isn’t eligible for that mission. As opposed to the helper getting the same Primary version of the missions, they get a special Crossover version that has all the same goals, but a different reward scale. This gives them incentive past just being a good person to help out someone, even if they have already completed the mission in question.
Next week we’re opening the doors to the Nemesis Confrontation lair that combines the UNITY and Nemesis systems. Top level players will be able to get a UNITY mission that end up with a team of 5 heroes battling against their Nemeses and a villain powerful enough to draw such a conglomerate of evil together. We always wanted to be able to have multiple Nemeses in a fight against the heroes that created them, and now we have it.
In December, we’re going to be launching some new technology that allows players of any level to fight side-by-side against a common enemy. This is huge because it allows us to balance an encounter for a number of heroes regardless of their level.
Moving forward, we have a few systems on the drawing board that will allow players to investigate and find their own crimes to combat, as well as a few other surprises to really extend the life and fun of the game.
We see a lot of MMO companies talk about how “data mining” helps them determine what is going on in their game. How does Cryptic use data mining in CO? What types of data do you gather and how does the data affect your decision-making? What types of information does data mining fail to get you and how do you fill that gap?
We have some amazing tools to gather and sift through the massive amounts of data generated in the game. This is everything from player leveling curves to various levels of enemies defeated to heat maps that show where players congregate in each zone and on and on. All of these data points can be used to better tune the game. For example, we can see how many heroes use what powers and for how long. This allows us to investigate powers that may be over or, more importantly, under-powered.
There are some things that we’ll never get form data-mining. It’s impossible for us to pick up combinations of powers that result in unexpectedly high damage or over-heightened defenses just by looking at numbers. This is where our forums and community feedback come into play as our gamers let us know the issues so we can get them into the correct parameters.
One knock against Cryptic is that when it is time to take out the nerf bat, you guys pull out the nerf BFG 2000 and crush the offending power into uselessness, perhaps buffing it back over time. Is this a fair criticism? Is the harsh nerf/buff slowly a deliberate design decision, or is it the result of mistaken over-nerfs?
I don’t think this is fair as a global statement, but it sure sounds like what you get from forum posters. We did take some grossly over-powered powers and push them down pretty hard, but that ignores the very slight modifications we’ve made or, more importantly, the large number of power increases we’ve made. The only large nerfs we do are against egregious aberrations, and if you really pour through the powers and items section of our forums, many of these changes are at the behest of our players who are smart enough to know when something is simply so good it’s obviously broken.