Champions Online Realism – Part I: “Immersion Interrupted” or “Annoying Citizens”
Champions Online is a fun game. It’s a welcome break from the cookie-cutter monotony of pre-determined classes and abilities that makes me want to gouge my eyes out with a plastic spork, and provides a fresh foray into the ever-evolving world of MMOs. Revisiting my last few days in the game, a few interesting trends and observations have emerged; of which I will detail one here.
“Immersion” or “Citizens”
My character, Prometheus, is a Power Armor specialized superhero who can fly using jet-boots. I remember in the early double-digits of my leveling career, I was cruising a few feet above street level, when I spotted a Socrates terminal (the game’s version of a master mission giver). The “!” above the terminal served as the proverbial carrot, and I swooped in to check out what challenge the game might have in store for me. As I neared the terminal, a citizen rushed to me, a speech bubble over his head saying: “I need your help!” my first thought is that it is a generic, non-interactive event to poorly establish the fact that the citizens are “real people too!”
Without warning, a mission window opened. It involved members of <insert evil gang here> entering a <insert building> and causing general mischief. The citizen implored me to look into the matter. I was intrigued. I welcomed the opportunity. I relished in the fact that I was playing a game which made you feel like you’re part of a vibrant, bustling city, where even the most random strangers can count on you to be their city’s savior. I accepted the mission.
The mission appeared in my mission tracker list. I had 29:58 to complete the mission. What the hell? The mission text mentioned nothing about there being a time limit! (In Cryptic’s defense, they have since fixed the issue by clearly marking the time-limit in the mission text). I abandoned everything else, completely forgot about my pending conversation with Socrates, and soared high into Millennium City’s skies, rocketing towards my new goal.
Just to summarize:
- Random citizen asks for help
- Unsolicited mission window opens
- You have 30 minutes to finish the mission
- Threat is at an instanced location in the city
- Threat involves a mastermind hell-bent on his latest sinister scheme
I reached the warehouse. 26:52.
I searched for the entrance, a small shining door somewhere in the four outer walls of the structure. I took me a few circles of the building till I realize the intended entrance is on the top. I went in. 23:41.
The mission text updated immediately, and told me I needed to defeat <insert Super Villain here>. I cut through hordes of enemies my level, and some a tier above me. 21:27.
I found the Super Villain, and cleared the room around him to ensure there were no unfortunate pulls during the encounter. I don’t have the foggiest about his abilities or if I will even survive the first encounter with the bastard. 19:35.
Dreading a fairly embarrassing ass-kicking, I engaged him… and killed him… in about 30 seconds. 19:01.
There was a celebratory snippet of superhero-themed music, and the mission was complete. I got a below-average amount of experience, making it feel like more of a handout than an achievement. I was also mildly irritated by the fact that the mission timer was slightly misleading, but glad that I now had more time to finish up what I originally intended to do.
“Interrupted” or “Annoying”
Now that sounds like a good way to immerse the player into the living world of Champions Online. That is until it happens again, in a different spot, with a different civilian. They come to you for help, open a mission window. Remember the list from above?
- Random citizen asks for help – CHECK!
- Unsolicited mission window opens – CHECK!
- You have 30 minutes to finish the mission – CHECK!
- Threat is at an instanced location in the city – CHECK!
- Threat involves a mastermind hell-bent on his latest sinister scheme – CHECK!
All aboard the fail train. It was cool in the beginning, but then it turned into a bitter disappointment, much like my last girlfriend. Yeah Kelly, I am looking at you. The bitterness turned into mild annoyance, which has now reached the boiling point of wrathful vengeance. At least once a couple of hours of game play, if you make the mistake of cruising too low to the ground, some citizen will hand you the cookie-cutter mission with the location and mob details slightly altered, crappy experience, and no collectible rewards.
“The Solution” or “What Not To Do”
This is a fairly consistent pitfall for MMO developers in particular. Someone somewhere comes up with an innovative concept, something that will give the player a sense of wonder and immersion. Someone else will infinity replicate the process and pepper it in every corner of the game. This effectively ensures that you will eventually want to use your shoulder-mounted Gatling gun to tear some hot lead into the next citizen that pesters you with yet another rendition of aneurysm-inducing monotony.
The solution is simple, at least on paper: offer more variety. Instead of using the same cookie-cutter to carve out “different” missions, use a different cookie-cutter, or different dough altogether. Here are a few examples, off of the top of my head. A citizen walks up to you and pleads for you to:
- rid their neighborhood of gangsters
- help them get home in a tough neighborhood; point A-to-B escort
- stop a theft at a store nearby; mobs spawn at the front and/or back door and attempt to escape
- rescue their kidnapped, loved one from an open-world location; the mob spawn is triggered by your location in the ransom exchange area
Notice that none of the examples above are instanced, they can all be programmed to be out in the open world, thus adding another layer to the level of realism and immersion.
That being said, Champions Online is still a throughly enjoyable game and I am having a great time exploring the rich world. The fairly new contender for the MMO market share has just about a month of experience under its belt, so I am willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. Let’s see what the developers come up with next!