NYCC '09 - The Cryptic Studios Panel had a full slate of panels lined up at NYCC this year. Cryptic Studios, famous for their development of City of Heroes/Villains, showed up to show off their next two MMORPGs, both with very well known brands. Champions Online is due out later this year, and Star Trek Online is in development now after being announced last year.

Five members of the development teams led the panel. John Layman, a name known to comic fans, was on the panel, along with a co-owner of Champions, Darren Watts. Bill Roper, executive producer of Champions Online, the producer of Star Trek Online, Craig Zinkievich, and their powerpoint driver.

A new trailer for Champions, the game based on the pen and paper RPG, was shown to kick things off. Created villains and heroes were shown fighting NPCs and in PvP battles. Melee and a Hulk-like thunder-clap was shown off in this little tease of gameplay. This is an action-oriented RPG, with superheroes fighting groups of smaller enemies.

Roper gave a brief history of Cryptic. He brought up their first game, City of Heroes, which came out after the studio’s founding in 2000. After the announcement of Champions, Roper asked to be in the beta for the game, as he’s a big fan of the franchise. Instead, the heads of development asked him to help make it! The acquisition of the studio by Atari is a great thing in his eyes, as they’re really excited about what Cryptic is doing.

Watts, the Champions owner, started to talk about the history of Champions, going over its creation as a pen-and-paper RPG. The core idea of the game was buying superpowers with points earned in the world. The game came out in 1981.

He talked about how superpowers is defined in the Champions world. For example, if Batman were in it, he has superpowers, such as the ability to disappear without Commissioner Gordon knowing when/how/where he goes. The sixth edition of Champions pen-and-paper will include powers and abilities created within the video game. The goal is that if you can think of a power, you’ll be able to design a character with it. Both casual gamers who want an easy themed characters and advanced players who want a bunch of customization will be happy.

You won’t choose classes like “Tank” or “Support.” Instead, you’ll develop that by the individual attributes. If you are in one role primarily, you can pre-define a secondary role. When you switch, items and abilities will switch automatically. Reputation allows you to open new customization options, including building your own Nemesis to fight! Your friends can fight these villains you create, as well, allowing for a lot of user created content. They are designed to be the most difficult enemies in the game. With both these villains and your heroes, you can write full backgrounds into the profile on them, so when your friends check them out, they’ll know more about them. Massive Magazine will have a large story detailing more about the Nemesis on March 15th.

Action MMORPG was the next slide. Constant movement and attacking is necessary to “feel heroic,” said Roper. He again brought up the idea that if a hero is fighting low-level villains, there will be many of them.

A “Variety of Vistas” will be showcased to get them outside the cities. John Layman started to talk about “everything but that one zone.” They created many types of places, including Millennium City, a desert, Canada, and “Monster Island.” Layman, as the writer, said Millennium City was tough to write. In the lore, in 1992, “Doctor Destroyer” demolished Detroit, and Millennium City was its replacement, the first “city of the future.” The desert and Canada areas have many different sections to them, which allow for several types of play and several types of storylines. Overarching stories will thread you through all of these locations, and you as the player can go as deeply into the stories as you like.

Layman went into the storylines a little more. “I think I woulda killed myself if I’d known how much work this was gonna be,” he started with. One segment of one neighborhood in one zone was 29 pages of dialogue. He’s worked with the writer of the RPG, Steve Long, and they talk frequently on IM to co-ordinate between the next book and the PC game.

Q&A opened up for the rest of the panel until a special trailer of Star Trek Online.

How much has this changed compared to City of Heroes? A lot. Those games were a great foundation, but this is the game they wish they could have made when they first started. It’s built to be very much in the hands of the players.

The game did start as Marvel Universe Online, which helped them start building new technology and think about how to do something based on someone else’s IP. Cryptic owns Champions now and doesn’t have to worry about it. “Marvel Shmarvel” was Roper’s final word.

Stat alteration, including boosting, will be done through items and talents, similarly to the paper and pencil game.

Any unusual weapons, “particularly guitars?” “So a Guitar…Hero?” deadpanned Roper to laughter. There are about 200 “mundane weapons” already, and they’re creating many more. “We have a list about a million miles long.”

How will heroes band together? You can have “supergroups” structured in guilds similarly to other popular MMOs.

“I wanna punch people through walls.” There are breakable things in the world, but maybe not walls. You can also pick up and throw tanks and a hidden F-14 Jet.

A veteran MMO player is concerned about “grind to max level” mentality. Roper said they’re creating enough content to last you hundreds of hours. Their saying in the office is “we’ll spend 2.5 years creating a game that a dedicated group of Koreans will finish in 9 days.” Darren mentioned the super hero genre helps keep it open, as similar stories and situations have been told that way for decades and even millennia when you look at other stories.

There will be some super-vehicles ala the Batmobile. They might not be there on launch, but soon after.

One thing people will be able to do, even when reaching max level, is have some PvP in “the Arena,” an underground fight club that appears in the Champions universe.

Craig Zinkievich took over and showed some brief info about Star Trek Online. An ancient threat from the past is threatening Alpha Quadrant in a universe 30 years after “Star Trek: Nemesis.” He recapped the announced info about the game, like all players being the captain of their own ship in either the Federation or the Klingon Defense Force. Space, Shipboard, and Ground gameplay is all used, sometimes within single missions. “Total customization is a tenant of Cryptic Studios.” Customizing the ship, your character, and even your bridge characters was important for them from the start. Race creation will allow you to add to the universe. Footage of the costumes and races in the game was shown, featuring the iconic intro riff. If a race has appeared in any Star Trek ever, even for only one episode, you can re-create that in this game. The variations on design will allow entirely new races to join in as well with “endless options.” That’s all for Cryptic, and a promising couple of years for MMO fans.

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