So this got posted the other day on one of my various news feeds and I thought it was interesting.
Apparently Cryptic Studios is hard at work on making Champions Online a better game. Good for them, it’s about time that game got some serious attention. It certainly needs a lot of work. Personally though, I’m not excited about it. Champions Online screams at me every time I log into the game that it’s really supposed to be something other then what it is. And I can’t stop hearing it, even though it will never be what I want it to be.
But when I sign in, I see New York, not Millennium City. Champions Tower? Wrong letters on the nameplate if you ask me. Why don’t they call this underwater world, Atlantis? Look, Dinosaurs! We’re in the Savage Land right? American Southwest, was that the Hulk that just leaped past us? He’s big, and green. Oh, 4 arms you say? Weird.
And look! I can swing through the sky, like Spide- eh? No? I’m not allowed to say his name? But it’s got twitch elements to it’s combat. It’s engine is solid and the game play mechanics work okay. If you worked hard enough you might even be able to make it console compatible, and wasn’t that the basic goal from so long ago? No??
That’s too bad. Champions Online was always supposed to be the Marvel Online MMO. There are a few that will recall that Champions Online was born out of the aborted effort by Cryptic to make an online MMO for Marvel Comics. Somewhere on a Cryptic server is a map of the X-Mansion, complete with Danger room. That map will most assuredly never see the light of day. Whatever caused the deal between Cryptic and Marvel to fall through, it’s a pity. Because the primary things wrong with Champions Online today, can be attributed to the loss of Marvel Comics and that deal.
So where does Champions Online fail the hardest and how is it related to that failed venture? It falls short the way most comics end up falling short, interesting enough, with story and art direction.
The story in Champions Online is terrible. Hands down. The writing style that the original Devs of the game went for is incoherent at best and neglectful at it’s worst. You can’t tell if they were going for camp, serious super heroics, or satire of the genre. Oftentimes story lines would combine all 3 of those styles in one arc and melt players faces off with it’s awfulness. Story was primarily why I quit, when I realized that the game was actually making fun of me and my super hero instead of celebrating me. Since Beta, many of those story lines have been toned down, but it’s hard to get away from the taint that was created by the Devs not taking the genre seriously enough to give us a decent treatment. I blame Cryptic leadership for this failure. The lack of top-down story direction showed and it ended up tainting the whole game. Having Marvel in there to do the writing chores would have been a god-send. Say what you want about bad comics from Marvel, their editors know what works and doesn’t work in their genre. And Champions Online badly needed a story editor to help clean up that mess that the original Dev team left behind.
Art direction is the second big failure that Marvel could have made all the difference with. To be fair to Cryptic, the different style they settled on was clearly an experiment and probably borne out of necessity. The art styles they had chosen for the Marvel MMO would have been off limits to them after that deal fell through. Champions Online suffers for that loss. The style is flat and 2-D looking and fails to evoke the epic scale that good comics manage. The cell-shading experiment blew up in their faces and the character models used are awful. It’s all in the eyes. Even Barbie dolls look more life like. I can’t take it. But I won’t blame Cryptic for this one. Experimentation, even when it fails, is important and good. And the industry is better off now, knowing to stay away from the mistake Champions Online made with that.
I do hope that Champions Online gets some serious Dev attention. Cryptic’s business model has always seemed to be to make MMO’s and then abandon them after launch to go count their money. I hope they make some solid improvements to the game and I will give it a try when they do. Sadly though, it’s still hard to look at it and not see an opportunity missed. Here’s hoping that the other MMO super hero projects underway now, get it better.