Design director Bill Roper gave us a console development update on superhero MMO “Champions Online,” how it’s going to compete with “DC Universe Online” and what he’s hoping will happen with the “Hellgate” intellectual property.
At New York Comic Con, we spoke with Crytpic’s Bill Roper, design director of “Champions Online” and industry veteran who once worked on the “Diablo” series and the now-defunct title “Hellgate: London.” He told us about the new superhero MMORPG, working with Atari in the online games space and what he hopes to see from his former IP “Hellgate: London.”
MTV Multiplayer: How’s the console development coming for “Champions Online”?
Bill Roper: We’ve got it running on Xbox . But to a degree, it comes down more to the business side stuff. There’s no technology-based reasons we couldn’t be playing [PC] at the same time with Xbox right now. We definitely want to be on consoles. It’s easier to move to Xbox than PS3, but we would love to be on as many places as possible. I think that consoles are ripe for a good MMO, just in general. And then superheroes, the genre is just doing so well. …
It’s just going to be getting the license … Obviously, we [Cryptic Studios] were just acquired by Atari. So that changes all the publisher relationships and the distributing. So on our end, we’re just like, “Great, we’ll make it for whoever we get to make it for,” and hopefully that’s everybody.
MTV Multiplayer: I don’t want to beat a dead horse, how do you feel about but competing with “City of Heroes” and “DC Universe Online” coming up? Can multiple superhero MMOs co-exist and thrive? Because it’s questionable right now whether fantasy ones can.
Roper: I think it can. I mean, multiple MMOs have evolved and different genres exist. I think that the huge upside is that MMOs are more popular than ever and the superhero genre is more popular than ever. We’re coming out in the spring. We don’t really know when “DC” is coming out, unless you believe the rumors on the web or not, but they’ve neither confirmed nor denied a release date. And “City of” has been out for a long time. So I think we’re in a great window to get out there where people want to try a new superhero MMO but they don’t know how long they’re going to have to wait for whatever’s next.
And I love the fact that everything we’re doing is based off the four-color concept, the artwork, the flavor, the powers, the fact you can build anything you think of. I think It’s really unique when compared to the “City of” games or what “DC” is doing. Trying to make a classless type system, one where you can choose an archetype if you want — but if you have in your head, “I want to make this cool power-armored electricity guy who flys but also have force powers.” OK, great; you can do that. “But I want to use white beams instead of yellow beams. I want it to come from my chest and not my head.” Great. We’re going to give you as many tools as we can to make exactly what is it you want to play.
MTV Multiplayer: How do you feel about the MMO landscape right now?
Roper: It’s really good. I think that everybody has to be glad that there are so many more players in the MMO space now. It’s gotten very competitive much more now than before.
I think we’ll see that MMOs actually getting onto the consoles is going to be really positive, and that we can get in front of more players, different players than on the PC. And the PC market is still huge for MMOs. I just think it’s a better and better time for the MMO space. And it’s something that people are realizing that it’s such an incredible value, even in tougher economic times. …
I think video games in general are a really good value, but I think MMOs are the king of that. It’s a good relationship between developer and player, too. It’s like,”What do you guys want? OK, we’ll make more of that.” And if I want to go see a movie, it’ll be 10 or 15 dollars. Well, I could pay for a whole month to play an MMO, where I can chat with my friends, hang out and be more social than just “I went and saw one film this month.” People are staying closer to home, they’re looking for better values. I think MMOs give them all of that, which is pretty cool.
MTV Multiplayer: Now that you’re at Cryptic, what was your biggest takeaway from the “Hellgate” experience?
Roper: Cryptic, fortunately, is in a different situation, especially since we’ve been acquired by Atari — a company that is very much dedicated to shifting into an online focus and an online mentality, wanting to be in the MMO space and online space. And they’re looking at the expertise of Cryptic and what they’ve done before to be able to do that, which is great.
For me, what I’ve learned — I really learned a lot from how to interact and not interact with the community, how to look at business models, just different ways of making sure you have enough support for the game before moving on. I don’t think I’m necessarily in all those areas teaching these guys [at Cryptic] anything; they’ve done it before. But it’s more of just refinement and iterating on those systems. And a lot of it too is working really closely with Atari and kind of educating them on that stuff because it’s a totally new area to them. But that’s one of the reasons why I think the acquisition makes so much sense. It’s where they want to be and it’s where we can help them get to.
MTV Multiplayer: Then hopefully Atari understands that MMOs still need additional support after launch?
Roper: They [Atari] really do. The thing that was good was they were able to look at all the developments and support budgets that were already set up for “Champions Online” and “Star Trek Online.” And we just walked them through, “This is why this team stays this size after this launch. This is why we bake that into the budget now.” They definitely understand it, and they’re behind it. It feels good.
MTV Multiplayer: Does it feel weird that “Hellgate” is moving on with HanbitSoft?
Roper: Well, I’d be interested to see if it does. I haven’t heard anything or seen anything. I am upset, obviously, that whatever happened happened — that we had to close the studio [Flagship Studios], that we couldn’t keep the [intellectual property] and do things with it. But for the fans that we did have, it would be great for them to get more of “Hellgate,” and especially [unreleased game] “Mythos,” if that ever happens. But ultimately, it was much more of a challenge than I think maybe the new people who came and took over at HanbitSoft realized. It’s one thing to go, “Oh this is great! We’re going to get the IPs, and we’ll just make the games!” But it’s been eight months, and they haven’t updated it. Namco had to close the services down just at the end of January. So I’ll be interested to see what happens when it happens.
To me, the saddest thing was having to close the company, having to let so many people go. But a lot of the guys stayed together; the team that was working on “Mythos” stayed together in Seattle, and they’re Runic Games now. We’ve actually hired a bunch of guys at Cryptic from Flagship and brought them over, especially when I started. We went out and grabbed these awesome developers that we had.
I’m almost more interested to see if they can do anything than what they can do. Which is kind of weird way to look at it but I just think of it as — it’s kind of like when a dog chases a car. Like “Oh, I’m going to get that car! I’m going to get that car!” But once he gets it, what does the dog do with it? So it’s like, they got “Hellgate,” they got “Mythos,” but what are they going to do with it? I don’t follow the Korean press that closely the last couple of months as I used to, so I don’t know if there’s news coming out over there. But I haven’t heard anything in the States, so we’ll see. Maybe some day I’ll make enough money, and I’ll buy it back. [smiles]