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Champions Online

CVG talks to MMO legend, Bill Roper

Bill Roper has a fairly epic history. Through the '90s he was director at some company called Blizzard, and had a key role on the development of Diablo, StarCraft and yes - WarCraft.

After his golden years at one of the world's largest development companies, Roper branched off to form his own studio; the ill-fated developer of Hellgate: London, Flagship studios, which eventually went bust last year.

That there is a story far bigger than most game luminaries ever get. But now the WarCraft man's back to head up development on promising MMO Champions Online at Cryptic Studios - and perhaps take on his old studio at their own game.

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We sat down with the man for a chat...

What stage of development are you at with Champions Online? It must be almost done...

Bill Roper: Yeah we're almost done. The release date is set for July 14 [note: the date has since been confirmed for September 1 in the US and Sept 4 in Europe], so we are in the bug hunt/polish phase, where our bug testers rate each mission after they play it. So what we're doing right now is taking to 25 lowest rated missions, and then kicking those back to the designers for tweaking. It's all on track though.

As an iconic figure in the MMO world, how have you found yourself working on Championships Online?

Roper: It's been a lot of fun. I've worked on so many sci-fi or fantasy-based things that working on a superhero game is really cool. You can get away with everything.

What brought you to working on Champions Online?

Roper: After we closed Flagship studios - the company I had for five years - I was looking for whatever my next opportunity was going to be in the gaming industry. I actually just wanted to get into the beta for Champions Online. And through a mutual friend of mine, I ended up having an email with one of the designers and he emailed me saying he wasn't sure he could get me into the beta because it was closed to industry. I said that I was technically not in the industry right now - because I was between positions. He was like: "Really? Maybe you should talk to my boss." So I came in and met the CEO and directors, and they said they'd love me to come and work on the team. So when I was given the opportunity to choose which product I wanted to jump onto, I chose Champions - I played Champions as a kid so I was familiar with all the concept and ideas.

So it was in beta phase before you joined the team?

Roper:It had been in closed 'friends and family' beta for a while.

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So how has that restricted your influence on the game's development?

Roper: A lot of the biggest things I've been able to do is offer a fresh eye. When you're working for while with a team it's very easy to get your head down and be focused, and there are certain things you don't think of. So it's good to bring in experience from other games, play it for the first time and ask a lot of questions, and distil some of the game's features that were going to take far too long to develop in the way they'd laid them out.

That's the kinda thing I use to do at Blizzard - come onto a project in the last six to 12 months and basically help get it out the door and make sure the right elements are happening. It's been a refreshing change because at Flagship I was the CEO so I didn't get to develop much.

Would you ever consider going back to Blizzard should the opportunity arise?

Roper: Sure. Blizzard's an incredible company. If there was something that made sense to go back there I wouldn't be closed off to it, but I think that it's sure to be interesting. I'm sure it'd be an amazingly different place now.

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