WC: So we've been watching some of the general feedback on the game, and of course there's lots of concern about balance, particularly in PvP. Care to talk about the post-launch nerfs and/or buffs?
Roper: We had a head-start time frame of three days. During that time was when we had our single biggest concurrency numbers, so we were watching a lot of players. We found some really aberrant issues, exploits, and problems with power balances ... it was dramatic enough that we HAD to do a big patch on Day One. When you're thinking of balance as a meta concept, you want it to be fun and challenging. The game was very trivialized those first three days. People were making invulnerable characters and taking on groups of five or six enemies that were four or five levels above them. There were literally "Win Buttons." Pushing them is fun for a while - I won, whoooo! - but there needs to be a challenge. We want players to feel like they won because they played well, because they made a good decision or used a good tactic. So we patched those defensive powers.
What we've tried to do since then is to find the exploitive powers and knock them down, and push the weaker ones up. Balance is a huge and difficult task, and since we don't have character classes - we have this open power system, that compounds it. We'll be working on the balance for months, gradually changing less and less and less, and even the changes we make now aren't as dramatic as the first ones we had to make. It's all emerging gameplay, where you take this balanced power and that balanced power and throw them together, and then "WOW! Look at the crazy!" We don't want to trivialize the game.
I think that the Day One head start people had a lot of uproar over the changes, but by the end of that first day, the consensus was, "It's not like it's THAT much harder. Yeah, I had to change my tactics but I see why they did this." We tried to do a lot of things, and gave out a free Retcon for the players. So if you built the character around these powers since they were way overpowered, but they don't work anymore? Here, you can basically reroll your character.
Anytime we roll out a systemic change, where you alter characters, we don't want to penalize players. Players were telling us, "we want to be able to Retcon our character but it's very prohibitive pricewise." We found that we weren't putting enough resources into the economy, so we patched that this morning. We couldn't just move the price down because then when we made the economy what it should be, we'd have to move it back up, and nobody likes that.
I've been really happy and impressed with the team. We've been only up for three weeks, and I think players forget that - there's years' worth of content in it. We've been out for just 21 days, and we're trying to be very communicative, make the changes happen and communicate them to the playerbase.
Our goal is not to ruin the game for our players, but to make it exciting. The Day One patch was done to try to ensure that players would have fun in the long run. If all you ever get is candies, then you get burned out on candy and don't want it anymore. If candy is mixed in with meat and potatoes, you feel excited about the candy.
WC: Aion is another big MMO title that launches this month. How do you feel about launching a few weeks before another anticipated game?
Roper: It's hard to say, "Well, Aion's got flying!" because their flying is really limited flight. It's only in select places; it's not as integrated as with Champions. I think that there's going to be some level of crossover, but Aion's going to draw more from a WoW playerbase since it's fantasy. I think Aion goes against some perceptions in the MMO space, since they've been out for a year or so in Korea, and they've gone through those launch hiccups - that helps them. But even so ... as with any MMO, I have friends and people we know in the industry that were playing, and they couldn't get on the servers.
It's almost inexplicable. A lot of us have made several MMOS, online games, I look at the glitches we've had with Champions, and we've had a really smooth launch. Yeah, we had an outage, and a couple of patches, but other than that it's been really smooth. So even a game like Aion which has been out for a year has problems.
With the non-MMOs I've worked on in the past, like StarCraft and Diablo... they're "fire and forget" games. You work, you release, you do an expansion later. There wasn't a lot of constant iteration. With all the comparisons between Hollywood and the gaming industry ... if most games are movies, MMOs are like an ongoing television show, and the launch is the pilot. "Am I on board? Do I want to be part of this world evolving?" Do you like the world, do you like the core game mechanics, are you on board to be with this development team? Do you believe in the developers, are you seeing that they're being responsive and interacting with the community?
I don't know the communities of other games, I don't know how they interact with changes and things. I hope it's a big difference-maker for us. It's an iterative process. Players that like superheroes and MMOs, who wanted to see what we were doing, really working extremely hard to have the players know, "Yep, we hear you guys, we know what's going on."
WC: Now that the game is out, will any of the team be moving to development of Star Trek Online?
Roper: No, Star Trek has its own entire team. The Champs team is dedicated to Champions. Most of what we do is, now have a little breathing room to play Star Trek Online and offer interoffice feedback! There's been a lot of crossover because we use the same toolset, and the same underlying engine. We keep track of what the other team is doing; if we come up with some system that works, we'll share it and vice versa.
A few months ago, STO put in directional shielding for starships, and we were like "Hey, we have a power set that shielding would work great on." So we took that and put it into the Power Armor set. It's really nice having that crossover, but no one's moving off of the Champions team.
Champions had to do stuff first. We had to get an UI up and running, so STO can pick what they like, add their art etc. I really like that there's a common toolset and engine to share from, because it allows individual teams to just focus on making stuff for the team and their game as opposed to having to reinvent the wheel.