CHAMPIONS ONLINE PRESS DAY
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Invited to the Cryptic Studios Press Day, the first thing one notices when walking into the offices is….big. The studio is huge and is housed in what was originally a Netflix complex. Climbing stairs and wandering through vast spaces, one quickly realizes that Cryptic developers do everything BIG and it shows.

BIG DREAM

Cryptic’s CEO John Needham set the mood for the day with a short talk which, in typical Cryptic fashion, wasn’t just a small thing. Even in his five minutes with us, Needham dropped a few unexpected nuggets of information:

” Cryptic is now partnered with publisher 2K Games
” Champions is the first natively developed game for both PC and Xbox 360
” Developer tools will be released for fans to create content to be hosted on Cryptic servers
” Champions Online is ~one year away

The big ‘Cryptic dream’ was fleshed out by Jack Emmert who took us on a nostalgic look back at the pen and paper Champions. First hitting the scene in 1981, Emmert played and loved the campaign so much that the property was purchased. That’s right: Cryptic Studios owns Champions lock, stock and barrel. Because of this, the online world and the print product are moving along together. The print editions will mirror the game content and expand it in the future.

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Emmert shared his belief that the world of the PnP game and the world of the computer game can share existing space and move along together. The dream, in Emmert’s opinion, can easily become a reality.

Monster Island

Taking a breather from the discussion, Emmert took us on a “walking tour” of Monster Island. Monster Island, like most things Cryptic, is a huge place with gargantuan denizens. Monsters are stored here and our first look was at creatures such as a fire gorilla and a mechanized dinosaur.

Other things noticed during the Monster Island tour:

” The world plays like a comic book, a goal that Champions developers constantly keep in mind. Players are treated to powerfully rendered characters and creatures with the rest of the world being less distinct.
” It is obvious that Champions is being developed for both PC and the XB360. While a game controller is a necessity on the Xbox, PC players will have the option to use their keyboard/mouse combo or a peripheral game controller if desired. Character movement is fluid and natural and a 360 view is offered along with other camera angles to suit the player.
” “Minimalist” UI

Obviously such a tour generated questions from the group that generated several interesting answers:

” Cryptic is hoping to develop a native voice chat program to facilitate communication between PC and console players
” The technology exists to allow PC and console players to coexist on the same servers.
” Players can complete ~90% the game alone though there are dungeons that can -only- be played in groups.
” Guilds will have focused tasks and things to do.
” PvP will yield experience, faction points, and equipment drops.
” PvP will be in at launch.
” Crafting and the economy will allow players to invent things
” Transportation will include planes, boats, rockets from hub areas to other places in the game.
” Achievement badges called perks will be included
” System specifications will be tailored along the “mid-range” to allow access to as many players as possible.
” Champions will not be ported to Macs.
” Emmert ended his portion of the discussion with this quote, worthy of inclusion: “Our goal is ‘zero to hero in five minutes’.”

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BIG WORLD

After Jack Emmert’s portion of the day, Lead artist and Champions artistic director Shayne Herrera took over. We were treated to a look behind the scenes of the artistry involved in Champions Online.

Herrera outlined the artistic scope for Champions Online. Herrera’s vision, he indicated, is to create a vivid, clean, vibrant style that gives players a sense of, to quote, “bad assery”. He seems to have a good handle on that angle. Here’s how Herrera and his team have gotten there:

” To reach the goal of bringing a comic book world to life, textures are flat with a 2D feel, comic shading.
” Things are outlined to give them more of a ‘comic’ edge.
” Artists use color wheels to keep things consistent.
” Environments are subdued. Characters have more brightness with powers having the most vibrant coloring.
” Powers stand out vividly.
” Currently thirteen sets of powers are finished
” Artists strive to bring ‘mood’ to the game with the world’s time of day changing, sky variations, bloom and screen effects.
” Characters have powerful proportions with small heads, big shoulders, feet and hands. Herrera said that the animation style is a hybrid between anime and western comic art.

One of the most exciting things that Herrera revealed is the nearly total character customization that players will have at their fingertips. Costume changes will show up immediately. Variables such as height, weight, mass, muscle mass, shoes, hands, etc. will all be customized to a player’s idea of what their character should look like. Additionally, players will be able to customize certain non-combat stances (idle, jump, run, etc.) on order to give their characters personality.

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Another terrific looking feature Herrera spotlighted was the full facial animations of characters. “Toons” have sad, angry, silly expressions among others and those are customizable as well. The player will have nearly total control of their character’s individual look.

Herrera then spent time talking about the world in general. The style is designed to be massive and over the top. A comic book look is definitely an artistic goal.

When exploring any given area of the world, there is always a central point (such as a building, statue, mountain, etc.) visible from anywhere in that area. Players then have a frame of reference to help navigate the area. Within that zone, there are constant surprises and much to explore. Points of interest are available everywhere and finding enough will yield a reward in the long run.

Herrera’s world is shaping up to be exactly what he and his team envision. It is huge, varied, interesting and “bad ass”.

BIG VISION

The last of the day’s speakers was community manager Victor “Sporkfire” Wachter. Wachter has a challenging job but one that he is ready and willing to engage head on. Here are the goals of the community relations team for the fans:

” Teach the community about Champions Online and engage them in its development.
” Spotlight fans and guilds.
” Provide tools and toys to the community.
” Provide guild management tools.
” Allow players to show off their characters with signatures, badges, etc.
” Open communication between developers and the fans.
” Consistent and open communication with the community.
” Meeting with the community for feedback.

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In addition to all that Wachter’s team wants to accomplish for the fans, he has equally challenging and rewarding things in store for the Cryptic team as well. The regular “Meet the Team” developer spotlight features are a good example of what he has in mind.

The Cryptic vision is a huge one that involves a constantly changing world, publication of printed tabletop campaigns that ‘dovetail’ with the online world, the republication of tabletop source material, action figures, novelization, hosted custom content – in short, a laudable and long list of goals that seem within reach of this team.

Cryptic has dreamed big, created a big world and has a big vision for the future. The studio wants, maybe even needs, to be all things to their fans. It will remain to be seen next year how close they come to succeeding. For this writer’s money, they will.

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