Super Moderating Hero: Good afternoon, super readers! Bill Roper is with us now and we are nearly ready to begin. Keep those questions coming!
Cryptic Studios' star signing and industry veteran Bill Roper has been answering your questions about Champions Online this afternoon.
You asked him about server stability, launch-day patches, post-release content, whether Harry Potter is a superhero and if Cryptic Studios can really handle both Champions Online and Star Trek Online at the same time.
Thank you very much to Bill Roper to joining us, and thank
The full transcript of the interview follows, with the earliest questions and answers presented first.
Super Moderating Hero: I feel my title is quite apt for the task at hand.
Super Moderating Hero: Okay then, Bill Roper, let's begin! Please can you tell us about yourself and how you came to be so famous?
Bill Roper: I started at Blizzard Entertainment in 1994 doing music and voice over work as a contractor. After being hired on full-time in July of 1994, I immediately began work on Warcraft - Orcs and Humans where I created the Warcraft universe, wrote all the missions, did the manual, and so forth.
Over the following years I made my way up the ladder in development, eventually producing and designing on the Warcraft, StarCraft, and Diablo franchises.
I always did voice-over, though - it's a love of mine. And fortunately I was good enough to pass the auditions as we got bigger and bigger.
In 2003 I left Blizzard and formed Flagship Studios with several the Blizzard Executives.
And now I'm at Cryptic Studios, working on Champions Online!
What's the atmosphere like at Cryptic right now?
Bill Roper: Exciting! We're really happy to have the game out and have been getting great feedback overall. We're spending some late nights addressing the inevitable first week jitters any MMO sees on launch, but our service has been incredibly stable from a technology standpoint which is a pitfall many games fall into.
What are you doing with regards to server stability? The login server is down again it seems.
Bill Roper: Our downtimes have been very small, and I did see the emails this morning that indicate we had an issue with the Team Server that they're fixing right now. Estimated downtime is 45 minutes as they reset the database and determine if the issue is hardware or software related.
We work to address any issues that crop up as soon as possible and message to the community, but fortunately we haven't had the literally hours on end outages that we had when Diablo or WOW launched. Online games have literally huundreds of moving parts, so we have to stay vigilant and address things when they arise.
You must have used the (very excellent) character creator at one point. What did you make?
Bill Roper: TONS of different heroes. It's like a take off on the advertising slogan for crisps - you can't eat just one - you can't make just one. I have seven-foot tall, massive bruiser with Might powers; a Steampunk inventor with Electricity and Gadgeteering; a classic spandex hero with Telekenesis and Force powers; and last night I made a Monkey Robot Pirate character and saved off the costume until I can decide what powers to give him. The costume and powers customisation options are incredible, so for someone like me who loves making an playing alts - it's a dream come true.
What's the launch process like at Cryptic compared to that of Blizzard and WOW? Have things changed much - does it make you laugh?
Bill Roper: The biggest difference is experience in launching an MMO. City of Heroes was Cryptic's first MMO, so there was a massive learning curve there. Now, the executives and leads on all parts of the game (development, the online service, customer support, community) have done this before and have a good idea of what can happen and how to prepare for it.
Of course, we still can get surprised by the unexpected - but we have a much better idea of what can go wrong and how to respond to it. It's a huge leap from where we all started.
Why did you drastically change the game rules in a surprise patch during release day with no warning at all?
Bill Roper: The lack of warning was poor messaging on our part and wasn't intentional. This was a case of us still getting all the gears turning together, and we have revamped the patch notes / community messaging process between development and OCR because of it. As for the reasoning behind it - game balance.
Some players found ways to exploit the game during the early start program that we didn't see during beta, and we had to rush to fix it before the launch. We made decisive, global balance changes and it was more the shock of not preparing the community for them more than the actual drastic nature of the changes that upset our players.
Since we've made them, response has been positive in terms of the game experience. Some early start players are asking for a free retcon for their characters, and we'll have some new, hopefully happy-making messaging on that up on our site this morning about that.
In City of Heroes you were able to beat 10 minions at once, like a superhero should. And this is something Star Wars: The Old Republic wants to infuse from the getgo. But after the launch day patch I feel weedy, like Superman near Kryptonite, and I struggle to best three baddies of similar power. Is that right? Shouldn't I feel more super?
Bill Roper: Well, I certainly feel more super than having to try and kill one rat at a time with a stick that has a nail in it, so I suppose it depends on your perspective. It also depends on the powers you've chose for your character. With my Might-based character, I regularly take on four-to-six henchmen and feel awesome doing it.
This is also something we're going to continue to look at as we have more and more data. Right now the game feels good for the majority of players as they can take on full encounter groups of villains. And being a superhero is more than just how many people you can beat up at one time.
I know I felt very heroic pulling citizens from beneath rubble or helping save Millennium City from an alien invasion - and that was within the first five levels of the game!
What's your response to players who feel that respecs (retcons) are too expensive at the moment? It's hard to to get power sets right first time. And can we assume from your earlier comment that players nerfed are getting free respecs?
Bill Roper: The game is not designed to let you play a character for a few levels, completely retcon, play another level or two, completely retcon again and so forth. We DO let you try out powers before you lock them into your character in the Powerhouse and retcon those choices for free as much as you want. Cleaning the slate for your level 20 character isn't a trivial expense, and that is by design.
We are continuing to monitor the overall economy numbers, and if we need to adjust pricing of several areas, we will. As for the issue of retcons for our early start characters, I encourage players to keep an eye on our website. I'm not going to pre-announce in front of the OCR team. That's part of us trying to get the gears in sync.
Is Harry Potter a superhero?
Bill Roper: He certainly could be. Modern fantasy is probably how he would be classified by generalists, but there's no reason you couldn't think of him as a superhero. He even has a Nemesis!
The game now is in serious need of more content, with most people unable to level up due to the lack of missions at several key levels. Do you plan to add more low and mid-level content in the near future to solve the problem?
Bill Roper: We are aware of a couple of content holes and are already creating new content to fill them. There is a short timeline to get this out to players so they won't have to gain experience just from defeating enemies in the open world. Not all players face this issue, interestingly enough.
Nemesis, for example, fills in those holes for some players, as does doing alternate missions in other areas of the world. As for the experience change, we reduced mission bonus experience by ~10% while increasing the experience for defeating enemies by the same amount to provide another bonus to players that help others on missions and to boost the EXP gained by beating enemies in the open world.
This actually reduces the time you're waiting between missions where we have content gaps, while not altering the amount of total experience you gain while on a mission. Again, our message on this was incomplete to players, but has been addressed moving forward in terms of communication.
How much is there to keep players involved at the endgame? There doesn't seem to be a lot at the moment.
Bill Roper: We have several areas of the game that have endgame content and are set up to be launching pads for more. Missions, Crafting, Nemesis, PvP, and Perks all have content that unlocks and extends past the level cap. And we're already making more that players will see as early as our first free update called Blood Moon which launches in October.
But I am happy with the amount we got in, and especially that these are systems that are extensible and can be built on as well as allowing us to create new areas of endgame play.
So, when is the server coming back up?
Bill Roper: Since I'm not actually in the office right now (jumped online from home for the early AM interview), all of my information is coming through work-in-progress emails. It wouldn't be accurate for me to try and give you live-time streaming estimates since they keep changing as they debug the situation.
I am seeing emails from about six different people, so we have a ton of folks on it and it will be as soon as possible.
Is the 360 game a straightforward port that plays the same, and have you had any issues with producing a console MMO-style game? When's the 360 version out, mate?
Bill Roper: Since we have always been developing with the Xbox 360 in mind, I hesitate to use the word "port" to describe the development. The game plays exceptionally well on a controller (some of our PC players prefer it that way) and the changes we'll be making for the console is mainly in UI and communications.
The gameplay will be extremely similar, if not identical, and we don't anticipate having to make huge changes.
Super Moderating Hero: Can you give us an idea of when to expect the Xbox 360 version? This year?
Bill Roper: I don't have a time estimate on the Xbox 360 version because Atari and Microsoft have not yet finalised business agreements. We are actively working on the game for the console, but delivery time-lines are honestly out of development's hands right now.
As a lifetime subscriber, I'd like an idea as to what plans Cryptic has for the longevity of Champions. I understand you can't go into specific detail, but I'd like some reassurance that my lifetime sub has good potential! Can you tell us what sort of update cycle you'll fall into?
Bill Roper: Well, we've already announced Blood Moon, our first free update for the game. This will be out near the end of October. We already have plans for more updates during the year, and basically we want players to always know there's something right around the corner that we're working on and that will be out.
We're dedicated to the long life and continual support of the game. The best part of an MMO is that we get to keep growing and altering the game as time goes by, and the tools we have allow us to do some very rapid development. The team is excited at the opportunity to make the game bigger and better as time goes by, so I think players are going to be happy with what we're doing.
With another major MMO (with a bigger fan base) on the boil, how much extra content is Champions going to get going forward ? Does Cryptic have the resources to balance the two?
Bill Roper: Champions Online and Star Trek Online have completely separate teams. We've grown a great deal over the past year, so we we have plenty of developers for both projects.
What sort of player influx can you realistically deal with at the moment?
Bill Roper: We've tested our shards up to a very large number of concurrent players, so we can deal with a huge influx of players. Come on in, everyone!
Is there anything being done to remedy the lack of communication with players by Cryptic in terms of changes being made to the game, server down-times, etc.? Any specifics?
Bill Roper: As I said before, we're working on constantly increasing our communication with the players. As soon as we have answers, we get them out there. The OCR team is now on every major interaction between development and operations so that they can push information out to the players as soon as we have something real to say.
I think the community team has been working incredibly hard to keep players informed - and as with any system, the more we do it, the smoother it will get.
Super Moderating Hero: What subscriber or active user number represents success? What's the golden milestone for Champions Online? When can you all go home to bed?
Bill Roper: We never get to simply brush our hands off and just be done, regardless of our player base. We have a live game with gamers who want communication and new content, and that doesn't change when you get up to a certain number of subscribers. If we're going to be successful, it's because we don't just call it done.
We know we'll be working hard for hopefully a long time to come - but I do expect more sleep hours once we've gotten past the bumps in the road of launching the game.
Super Moderating Hero: But what's the golden number, Bill Roper? 1 million?
Bill Roper: No game should ever make that a measure of required success. No one would be upset with that many subscribers, but if that's anyone's baseline expectations of what's required to be a successful game, they will be disappointed. Basing expectations off of WOW's numbers is like saying if your albums don't sell like the Beatles, you're a failure.
Super Moderating Hero: Very quickly (I'm not Columbo I promise) - would you rather have lasers for eyes or be able to turn invisible - in real-life. And why?
Bill Roper: Having lasers for eyes seems incredibly difficult to manage since it sounds like it's an "always on" state. Invisibility has it's inherent dangers (a car can't swerve to miss you since it can't see you) but since it seems like I could turn that on and off. I'll take invisibility.
Super Moderating Hero: Thanks, Bill Roper!
Bill Roper: My pleasure - thanks for the chance to talk to your readers!