Bill Roper has tasted what must be some of the highest highs and lowest lows in game development. At Blizzard he played a key role in the development of Warcraft, StarCraft and Diablo into the multi-million-selling franchises they became, working as a producer, project manager, director and ultimately vice president of the Blizzard North studio. Then he left to form Flagship Studios, a venture that eventually ended in financial collapse and the cancellation of its only operating game, the multiplayer RPG Hellgate: London.
Late last year, Atari-owned Cryptic Studios parachuted Roper in as design director and executive producer for its new superhero MMO, Champions Online. Due for release this spring, the game draws on Cryptic's work on the originator of the genre, NCsoft's City of Heroes, and Microsoft's cancelled Marvel Universe Online. It's also based on Champions, a long-running pen-and-paper role-playing game with its own cast of characters and universe, as well as a ruleset famed for the freedom it gives players.
As you can read in our previews, Champions Online offers all the familiar MMO trappings as well as unprecedented freedom in character-creation - not just of your own hero, but of the Nemesis you'll ulitamtely have to face. It's also been designed with console versions in mind - Cryptic said at last year's E3 that it had an Xbox 360 version up and running, and concept approval from Microsoft. Champions Online is currently in the early stages of beta testing.
We spoke with Roper on the phone to find out what's new with the game and how life after Hellgate is treating him.
Eurogamer: We last saw Champions Online at Games Convention in Leipzig last summer. What's changed since then?
Bill Roper: We've been doing complete revamps of all the powers, the combat system, the travel powers - we just put teleport into the beta - obviously a lot of different play areas including Strongholds [the game's "dungeons"], a lot of work on the Nemesis system, the list just goes on and on. Tons more options, including the ability to change the colours of your powers and choose the emanation point your powers are coming from, whether it's your hand, your eyes, your chest. The UI is completely changed.
Eurogamer: You mentioned the Nemesis system - that's something Cryptic wasn't saying much about last year. Can you tell us how that will work?
Bill Roper: Sure. When you get around the mid-game, you have the ability to create your Nemesis... It's built very much out of the same tools that you use to build your hero with, so you go in, design the costume, choose the powers, you choose his minions, choose what his minions use for weaponry, you pick his motivations.
Then you start going on these separate Nemesis missions - you'll start getting ambushed by the minions of your Nemesis, and eventually one of these minions will kind of break down, and say "oh no please don't, I'll tell you I'll you", and you get a clue off him. You go through a whole series of these very Nemesis-specific quests which revolve around the things you put in about your Nemesis, but it's not always the same path that you take, there's multiple story directions that you could be going through.
The first time you go through that, we really spread that through the gameplay so you're at your absolute best by the time you're fighting in the big showdown with your Nemesis. He's really been designed as the biggest solo challenge that we can give you.