Contemplating Champions

As you may have heard, Cryptic is making Champions into an MMO. Cryptic, in case you don’t know, made City of Heroes, now owned and run by NCSoft. They also were making the Marvel MMO before it was cancelled. I presume that most of the code was recycled into Champions, which will get content and appear in 2009ish. For me, this is exciting, because Champions is basically what I wanted City of Heroes to be. I still love my big blue book, although I could see how a player might want a computer to do all the math for the game. Viola, MMOs solve that problem.

To explain the appeal of Champions, it is a generic system (Hero Games). It recognizes that damage is damage, and whether it is a club or a fireball is just a special effect. It becomes a fireball because you declare it to be fire damage, you bought an AE effect, and maybe you also bought a small DoT or having the enemies blinded by the flash. It simplifies so much of the game when the crunch and fluff are explicitly severable. Haktar has a flamethrower, Dul’kash is a fire-breathing demon, and Torchy McTorcherson is a mutant, but you don’t need three sets of rules for energy blast (8d6, cone, special effect: fire). Champions is also (character) skill-based rather than class based, so I pictured its in-game character sheets being something like Asheron’s Call or EVE, where you assign points to whatever categories you want.

I usually describe City of Villains as what City of Heroes would have been if they had another year to develop it. Really, publishing CoH one year later would not have yielded CoV, because it also shows confidence in getting away from the standard MMO holy trinity. I expect Champions Online to be what City of Heroes would look like starting from scratch with the experience of having made City of Heroes. Which is pretty much what happened. Big things like moving away from classes (though I am told they will still exist; I have yet to research much myself), smaller things like letting you have purple fireballs. Of course, if you prefer the direction that CoX has taken under the new lead developer, you might not want to see the Vision made flesh. But my sparse Champions reading does show things from the original CoH plan that were missing from the published game; perhaps Champions’ class system will be like the original origin plan.

In a way, this is a sequel. To a game they sold to what will be a competitor. I expect many similarities between the two games, and it feels odd to me. If it were an explicit sequel, no worries, lift as much as you like. Since NCSoft now has City of Heroes, it feels kind of like plagiarism to re-use chunks. Wait, no, that’s stupid, every MMO looks a lot like other MMOs, so it does not matter that WoW and The Lord of the Rings Online™: Shadows of Angmar™ have rather similar character creation screens. But that costume designer in CoH is a big selling point… but how can you rip off the game that you made? I have many buts here. Toss in your thoughts. We have a long time to discuss.

: Zubon

Lest we forget, “The Orcs [in Middle Earth] were obviously stolen from PC game maker Blizzard and its Warcraft series. Too bad Blizzard is apparently too scared to sue New Line over it.” Let’s not even get into how AE Mythic is ripping off Blizzard.

11 thoughts on “Contemplating Champions”

  1. I love Ripoffs, and i cannot see why so many people take it to have such a negative feel. I want new games to take as many old featureswhich did prove to be useful and smart as possible and mix them with a few more experimental new features. Put all that in a new context, a new world, keep it dynamic feed us some new twists once in a while and we gamers are happy usually.

  2. From what information was made available through the red-names at CoX, it seems that City of Heroes was pretty heavily inspired by Champions, although mechanically it’s more similar to d20 systems.

    I’d expect Champions Online to end up being pretty similar. It’s nice to think about really and vastly customizable powers and classes, but Emmert already found out exactly how badly that could end. CoH tried both, and the results were the enhancement diversification and the archetype system, respectively.

    I think it’s hard to say much before there’s at least a some detailed information or beta available, and it may be up to a year before then. There are a lot of games out there with experienced developers and grand visions, but that didn’t stop Garriot from making Tabula Rasa. Concept matters a lot. Gameplay and fun factor matter so much more than it’s hard to compare the two.

  3. How does that second paragraph work, gattsuru? ED was, he notes, the single thing that lost the most subscriptions. In the long run, it was probably a good change for game balance, but I’m not sure how “vastly customizable” it was before or after. Before, you slotted a power 1 acc, 5 dam; after, you slot a power 1 acc, 3 dam, 1 end, 1 rech. There is wiggle room at the margins, but there is not much customization going on there.

    And archetypes have been there since beta, so there was no attempt to move away from a class structure, apart from the pool powers that everyone can take.

    The (character) skill-based elements in CoX are extremely small. Each class has two menus of nine powers, plus the standard pools. You take five to nine from each menu, and every character will take the same ones plus or minus one or two. Ideal slotting can be calculated easily, and the game conveniently color-codes which IOs to buy to get the highest values in each slot.

    I will consider there to be vastly customizable powers when I can make energy blast (8d6, cone, special effect: fire). CoX’s degree of customization is how many d6s go in each power.

  4. Not quite, Zubon. CoX’s degree of customization determines how many d7s go into each power, how many squares the power covers (range enhancers), how often the power could be used, what the cost of using the power was, how accurate the power was. If the power had any secondary effects, you likewise could alter how significant those were.

    It wasn’t amazing, Hero System-level customization. That’s my point. It was also impossible to balance; the sort of performance difference between munchkin and the average build was so vast that ED actually seemed like a good idea to these idiots. It wasn’t much customization at all, and the developer still couldn’t keep everything straight.

    Same goes for the pre-archetype system. We’ve been told that the best class-less system the could could up with let you select a variety of powersets (the number being based on what your origin was). Amazingly, the end result was a massive difference between the min/maxers and normal players, too large to be accounted for.

    Jack Emmert is no genius, but he’s not an idiot, either. I don’t see him proudly jumping his new baby into the exact same issues that he ran into with the last one.

  5. Maybe I’m misinterpreting you here, but it sounds like you are saying that half-assed customization was a problem, so they are going to avoid any customization at all. Presumably, you give the illusion of customizability while preventing it from being meaningful. I mean, if you can’t get a system to work right when each power accepts a half-dozen enhancements, what are you going to do when you really can adjust how many squares the power covers (beyond the cone range enhancements; say, convert a single-target power to AE, fire breath to a PBAE, or enlarge fireball) or do something really fancy like a lavaball that hits for smashing damage with a fire DoT.

    And then we have EVE, which has demonstrated a flexible system based on character skills. That does not go all the way to allowing player-designed modules, but it does use a solution similar to ED: you can have millions of points of skills, but only so much can be brought to bear on a situation.

    The only way I see to avoid those same issues of customization is to do that illusory customization. “Look, you can do whatever you want with your costume.” And that will be enough for some people. But if that is all that matters to me, I can do that in Second Life, and I already have a superhero game that does that while also having three years’ worth of content under its belt. If you are selling your game as Champions, but are just recycling its IP with a re-written City of Heroes costume generator, you are not bringing anything new to the table. Chronicles of Spellborn is closer to Hero Games than that.

  6. I don’t mean to say that there’s no alternative to that. I just don’t see Champions-level customization being that likely. Even single-player games that tried for that level of variation end up having some significant balance issues because of it — The Elder Scrolls III and IV, for example, act like you’ve described and have a system that falls apart at higher levels.

    I don’t think EVE is that good of a comparison to a customizable skill system. I’ll admit that I haven’t played a vast amount of the game, but from what I did see, you could only use skills to increase damage, range, accuracy, or fire rate, but damage type and area of effect and base attributes seemed highly dependent on what weapons you slot in the first place.

    Jack may manage to put together a completely flexible system with no significant issues. It’s still a work in progress, he could literally pull a golden egg out of his hat. But what I’ve seen from City of Heroes discourages me from trying to judge the game against such a high step.

    If he manages to simply make City of Heroes with a re-written costume generator and a decent IP, while managing to make it as fun or more fun, that’s all he needs for a success. It may be a waste of the IP, but that’s not what makes or breaks the game for the 99.9% of the gaming populace who can’t figure out or never heard of the Hero System.

  7. I do recall that during CoH beta they allowed you to select your primary and secondary powerset from any possible powerset. What you ended up with then though were a bunch of tank mages – blaster damage set with tanker resistance set. So they changed to the archetype system.

    In my opinion however, the biggest problem that Champions will face is that Emmert is involved.

    While gattsuru asserts that he isn’t an idiot, IMO he certainly can’t design a game system for crap.

    Stupid mechanics like mez/stun where you are either fine or dead… who comes up with that amatuer crap? Who then doesn’t have the balls to change it when it is such a stupid mechanic.

    Then there is his pathological need to nerf the playerbase. You must play my game as I want!! You shouldn’t be able to kill a bunch of goons!!! You must not be superheroes!!!

    Gah, I would never play a game he has any control over.

  8. To be fair, winter, it was hist first game. In fact, for most of the staff, it was their first game, or at least their first MMO, and it shows: They had no idea what their numbers did in conjunction with each other, they QAd it from an “average player” standpoint instead of a uberl33t standpoint, and it came around and bit them in the ass later. As an example, the players, by Issue 1, had figured out how to make their tanks immune to the most prevalent types of damage 100% of the time. When it got its big pair of nerfs in Issues 5 and 6, it was absolutely insane what was possible. I, personally, had a pretty much unkillable Fire/Ice tank that would herd up entire maps, solo, and kill them in a dumpster. It was crazy, and the nerfs were needed. As it stands now, the average player at low levels can still take 3-4 minions at a time, up to maybe 6 or 8 with inspirations. At higher levels, my WP/Mace tank on test can handle two hazard zone spawns at the same time.

    Was the binary mez system a good idea? No, and they acknowledged that. One of the things they’ve said, IIRC, is that binary status effects will be very minor in CO. However, you say two sets of things here: 1) he had a pathological need to nerf players and 2) he didn’t nerf players enough in the ways you wanted. So which is it?

    I’m not saying I think it’ll be a good game. I am saying they’ve at least said what they learned from CoX, and seem to want to implement it. While I’m not sure they can, I’m willing to at least wait to pass judgment.

  9. hhmmm I didn’t see where I said that he didn’t nerf players enough in the ways I wanted…

    I wasn’t talking about PvP (I stopped playing just as the first arena things came out), I was talking about the Carnies or the Ritki or any of the other enemies whose goons could completely lock down your “hero”. It is so completely not fun to not even be able to do anything except watch your character die.

  10. “Still” take 3-4 minions at a time? It’s City of what now? It’s bad enough that minions scale with you so, no matter how powerful you get, you don’t really feel that way. It’s worse when many “heroes” can’t 1v1 a boss with any reasonable chance of survival.

  11. But that’s what I just said, Jezebeau. At low levels, you can take 3-4 minions. at higher levels, it’s possible to take on far more, depending on build and skill. Now, I mostly play tanks and scrappers, but I’ve seen blasters, defenders, and controllers all do this as well.

    Winter, sorry about that, I thought you were complaining about the mezzes in a pvp context. In PvE, I’m honestly not sure what they could have done. Short of changing to a gradual build mez system, which would have meant ripping the guts out of the curent onee and putting it back together, or simply shortening or chaning to sleeps all of the existing mezzes, which would require rebalancing in a lot of other aspects, or giving squishies some level of mez protection, which would also require rebalancing, I’m not sure what they could have done about it. It was just too entrenched in the system once it went live. As far as the nerfs, though, I stand by what I said: PCs were insanely overpowered at every level but the first 15 or 20 pre-Issue 5, and a lot of those nerfs needed to happen. Since then, there have been almost no nerfs to the characters, and a fair few buffs.

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