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Champions Online

CVG talks to MMO legend, Bill Roper

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How did the disappointing performance of Hellgate London and Flagship's closure affect you, and what have you taken from that?

Roper: It was really difficult. I think the biggest problem with Hellgate London was that we tried to do too much. We had a single-player game, that was also free multiplayer, but also had a subscription element, it shipped in 14 languages simultaneously, and there were all these different versions on different operating systems. Then it also had really top-end graphics but we also did low-poly versions of everything.

The list went on and on and ultimately it just meant that we were spread far too thin, we didn't have nearly enough time to really do what would have probably been the more important things in the game.

So at Cryptic I take that and I now ask what parts are actually vital to the game - throw away the parts that aren't important. Don't worry about supporting all these varying elements - things that can seem like a really idea at the time, but add a lot of distraction to the game.

Zoom

I think the other big thing that I learned was that my career, while important, isn't my life. I was very personally invested into flagship. When the game didn't perform as well as we wanted - considering all the hype around the game and company - I think people took that incredibly personally. And when the company could no longer be sustained, I saw that as a failure of me, not the company. Most companies fail, and we'd surpassed most start-ups because we'd actually shipped a game.

What I really learned is that, what we do [as games developers] is great, it's fun, and we should be doing everything we can to make the best game possible. But we're not curing aids or sending someone to the moon. We're making videogames. It's okay to go home at the end of the day and not be obsessive over your job. You can make good games without it becoming your entire life.

Champions is headed for 360 as well as PC. Has that placed any restrictions on development?

Roper: Not that much really. We're still waiting for Atari and Microsoft to hammer out business details for how it will operate on the 360 as an MMO. We knew when it would be out on PC so one of the pushes we had was to really focus on the PC interface. It's got to feel good for PC players using mouse and keyboard.

Previously there had been a big focus on getting to feel great working for both platforms. All of the mechanics, though, really work fine, we really didn't have to compromise anything graphically on PC and the comic shading we're using translates exceptionally well to 360.

There's nothing we've done from a technical or gameplay standpoint that to prohibitive to be on 360, and we haven't compromised what we want the game to be. It helps knowing from the beginning that your game is going to be on a console, and that your design is fun and rich that works within the hardware specs.

Zoom

Phantasy Star Online on Dreamcast was perhaps the last hugely successful MMO on consoles. Are you hoping Champions Online will do the same for the current generation?

Roper: I hope so, and I think that it can be. Console gamers have a good history of liking super heroes, and I think that consoles are ripe to get a good MMO now. On a daily basis I've had to think about how to make that happen, and that's a big challenge.

On the PC it's pretty much an open platform. If you run the servers and you build the tech you can host people online. Whereas on consoles, other people own the platform, so there all sorts of business details to sort out. But I don't have to worry about that, I just try to make the game great, and I really do think it'll be fantastic on consoles.

360 is a closed platform, which is often touted as key difference between it and the PS3 which is far more open. User created content will play a big part in Champions Online - how will that fit into MS' usually tight policies?

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