City of Too Many Heroes

Superheros are exciting and cool because they are special, relatively rare, and interesting in a meaningful way. An MMO where everyone can be a superhero completely destroys each of those points: superheros become plentiful, mundane, and end up performing repetitive tasks.

Andrew has an entirely valid point. This is, however, a sub-genre of superhero stories. You do not see them often, and far less often well thought through, but you do see Astro City and others that take the notion of having a city of superheroes. I wish I could remember more, but my reading of comic book deconstructions is way behind. There have been comics about the equivalent of superhero internal affairs and the clean-up crews that deal with all these heroes. Other comics occasionally toy with the idea, like Silver Age stories where there are entire cities of Supermen or JLA Rock of Ages.

I will cite this last for how it is hard to do well, because while Rock of Ages was a great story arc, the DC universe then politely ignored the social implications of literal angels appearing on Earth or temporarily granting the entire planet superpowers. Or even what happened in those hours of ubiquitous demipowers.

: Zubon

The Two-Button Phase

I understand why your game goes through the two-button phase. It gives new players a moment to learn things before adding complexity. Maybe it is comforting for people on their first MMO. You have a little/auto-attack and a bigger attack. Maybe it is a melee attack and a ranged attack. Whatever it is, when you are in the tutorial, you have two things you can do other than moving around.

It is very important for your game to get past this phase as soon as possible. The longer I sit there with just two buttons, killing three flavors of rat ten times each, the less likely I am to think that anything awesome lies behind it all. Giving me something non-interactive next is fine. Armor, a defense, a buff or heal that I will not need in the intro, fine. Very soon after, give me something shiny to hit things with. If I am still in the two-button phase ten minutes into things, I am probably logging off and never coming back.

: Zubon


Advice for future Champions Online players:

The name you choose for your forum name is what becomes your @name. Do not use your account name for that would be stupid. A friend of mine did that and now he has to wait for them to change it for me. I mean for him. Right.

– Ethic

Champions Online: One Night

Go, play through the tutorial. It is worth seeing the character builder and basic implementation, although it may not be worth the download time.

You will first notice that the game is classless. Class roles come in later, but pick whatever you want at the start. That is positive, although it makes it look as though the entire game is just slightly different flavors of a few attacks. The front could use more “and you have this to look forward to.”

I have said enough about how the graphics are horrible. Just terrible. It is as though they maintained art quality by restraining their better artists rather than working on the worse ones. Just wait until you see the running animation that does not match movement speed.

The character builder has some improvements. Continue reading Champions Online: One Night

The Jacobs Test: Champions Online and Aion

Amidst first impressions and “reviews” let us not forget the simple, yet elegant point system disclosed by Mark Jacobs in deciding whether to buy Champions Online or Aion Online.  Champions Online dropped the NDA August 17 which was less than three full weeks away from the September 4th release date.  Mark Jacobs obviously thinks that Champions Online is “okay but not great.”  Aion Online, on the other hand, dropped the North American NDA over 14 weeks out from launch.  I believe I heard Mark Jacobs say Aion Online was “nirvana.”  Of course one must take in to consideration that Aion Online was unfairly released in Korea almost a year ago.  In retort, it seems that there really was no NDA throughout Korean Aion testing at all.  So take that, point system.  Got anything higher than nirvana?

oh well, whatever, nevermind

Champions Online: The Tragedy of First Impressions (A Lack of Review)

I have already said that my first impressions of Champions Online were negative. But that kept stacking, early problem on early problem, such that I made it through the tutorial once after four starts. For all I know, it is problematic turtles all the way down, or perfection lies just beyond the knee-high fence that stops yet another video game character.

When I first tried the closed beta, it was a mess. I started on a night when a mid-level zone was being tested, so I skipped past what would have been a couple dozen levels of learning what all these buttons do and how to build a character. Some of the powers did not work, there were graphics glitches, the handling was odd, the quick start guide was wrong about what some keys did, and I was unclear on the stuff to test for the evening. It is confusing when you do not know what is broken and what is yet to be implemented. I surely could have puzzled it all out with an hour or three on the forums… or I could log and do something else.

Meanwhile, the graphics were horrible. Continue reading Champions Online: The Tragedy of First Impressions (A Lack of Review)

Why You Should Not Listen to Me About Champions Online

I have a shelf of Champions books from my youth. In my mind, the 3rd 4th edition Big Blue Book is one of the foundational PnP RPG books, a strong attempt at a system that strove for mechanical perfection while leaving the flavor entirely flexible. The standard example is the power Energy Blast. It covers all energy attacks, and whether that is fire, ice, or gamma beams is just a special effect. Give it an area of effect if you want a fireball or cone of cold. Take the cone, make it fire damage, and remove the range to make a flamethrower. Add “no normal defense” to make it poison gas or a monomolecular needle. Add “variable special effects” if you want the one power to be able to shoot fire, electricity, darkness, whatever.

If you ever used the Hero Games system, you know that it rewarded planning and math, two areas where I do well. It also was often painful to use in practice, with a lot of dice and math flying around for every turn of combat. As a superhero game, Champions made it even harder to track by going 3D, with flying, burrowing, and phasing characters that make your miniatures difficult to use. Long before there were MMOs, I thought that this was exactly the kind of problem that computers could solve, tracking locations and doing all the complicated math while letting the players play.

You can imagine how I reacted when Cryptic took the standard example, briefly explained the Champions PnP system, then said they were not going to use that. You probably saw similar reactions from Tolkien fans when The Lord of the Rings Online™ announced each of its fireball-chucking classes. “You took the game I have been waiting most of my life to play and did what?!” Maybe the marketing plan looked better with fifty different energy blasts, rather than one with ten damage types times five shapes.

In terms of whether it is a good game, never trust the views of the people who actually care about the setting. I am surprised to see people who play World of Warcraft without having played any of the Warcraft RTS games, but I also trust their view of WoW qua game not to be clouded with baggage about how Illidan was retconned. When a Champions review seems to take Foxbat personally, or objects that this is not the “real” Doctor Destroyer, stop reading there.

: Zubon

Unless they are mentioning that there are fake Doctor Destroyers, like how Dr. Doom has his Doombots. That’s okay.

More Pricing Innovations

Champions Online is following The Lord of the Rings Online™ in offering a lifetime subscription, along with a discounted long-term subscription. As with Wizard 101, I favor trying more pricing options. The monthly subscriptions appeal to me as someone who binges madly on everything, but the long-term plans help me play more casually, without “must get my money’s worth” building atop “must consume new pleasure.” But that is not the innovation.

Champions Online is offering this option for one month, while the NDA is still up. And planning to have a microtransactions shop. Seriously? $200, sight unseen, and you already know it is going to change after release, and there will be other plans to generate revenue from lifetime subscribers (see again: The Lord of the Rings Online™). That is some chutzpah.

: Zubon


Champions Online will be almost as similar to Champions as Dungeons and Dragons Online is to Dungeons and Dragons. Which is to say, they are keeping the names and using an entirely different set of mechanics.

To compare this system to others, there is no such thing as a “Dark Blast” or an “Ice Blast” in the HERO System. Mechanically, everything is just an Energy Blast, but with different advantages and even limitations applied. … We are using systems that are essentially the same, but fit the MMORPG genre somewhat better. In Champions Online, we will have Dark Blast, Ice Blast, etc.

: Zubon