Official Champions DevBlog: Randy Mosiondz, lead designer on roleplay and gameplay

It's been on a short hiatus, but Massively's official bi-weekly Champions Online DevBlog has returned with a column from lead designer Randy Mosiondz concerning the balance between roleplay and gameplay. If you happened to have missed the previous entries, simply follow our Champions Developer posts and easy access to even more thoughts and commentary from the likes of Randy Mosiondz, Bill Roper and Jack Emmert.
Roleplay and Gameplay in Champions Online

When creating an MMORPG, a developer constantly struggles with incorporating two major components -- role-play and gameplay -- into a massively multiplayer, persistent online setting.

There is no magic formula. It takes a lot of effort to make this struggle payoff. And, not everyone will be pleased by the effort... Some customers only care about how easily they can build and evolve characters and stories over time. Others only care about whether the gameplay is fun and engaging. The key to success is providing enough of both major types to keep players invested long-term.


Role-playing, to some extent, exists in practically every videogame. A lot of people may not think of themselves as role-players, but whether kicking alien butt as Master Chief or rocking out in Guitar Hero, players are becoming another persona in a simulated environment -- roleplay, basically.

At the other end of the roleplaying spectrum is the desire for a fantastically complex and immersive world where player stories are unique and every action has a consequence that impacts the persistent world. It's here that "sandbox" and "interactive storytelling" get tossed around (both are excellent goals to strive toward, but very difficult to achieve in the MMO-space).

EVE Online is a great example of a successful sandbox MMO with real consequences associated to player actions. But, lots of roleplayers may not consider that title accessible because of its steep learning curve and lack of personal avatar interactions. Fable 2 and Fallout 3, on the other hand, feature interactive storytelling and incorporate consequence into the ongoing storyline -- but both of these titles are single-player games where a developer does not have to worry about how an individual action can impact the story and gameplay experience of many other players.

The real trick is finding a happy medium between these two extremes that satisfies a player's desire to roleplay a character while still providing a fun and engaging shared game environment. Self-expression, story, and consequence -- or at least the illusion of consequence -- are necessary components of an immersive MMO roleplaying experience.


Gameplay includes everything from simple single-player rote tasks to coordinating large groups of players to achieve a common goal.

"MMORPG players are no longer satisfied with 100-plus hours of "kill X to collect Y" tasks accompanied by walls of overwhelming text."

Historically, MMORPGs typically have a large volume of simple tasks spread over many hours of gameplay, since they have to deal with a large amount of players at any one time -- resource-intensive and expensive performance-wise. As MMORPGs mature and the hardware, infrastructure, and tools improve, more complex gameplay elements appear: reactive AI, puzzles, mini-games, multi-stage boss fights, decision trees, multi-role group tasks, more tactical combat choices, etc.

Providing engaging gameplay is as important as providing roleplay elements in an MMORPG. MMORPG players are no longer satisfied with 100-plus hours of "kill X to collect Y" tasks accompanied by walls of overwhelming text. As players become more sophisticated, developers need to evolve games to meet higher standards.

Finding the Middle Ground

With Champions Online we have tried to provide the best of both roleplay and gameplay worlds. We incorporate a lot of traditional MMORPG elements, but mix them with interesting new ideas as our continually improving tools allow.

In Champions Online we've done a number of things to support the roleplaying community...

We've raised the bar on visual customization for player characters, allowing roleplayers to show off their cool hero concepts to the world. Our character creator allows players to build unique costumes as well as select a stance and facial expression. Powers can be mixed and matched, visually modified, hue-shifted, bound to different emanation points, and associated with different weapon types. Players eventually get to use the character creator to make a custom Nemesis for their hero and friends to encounter in-game. We've incorporated a large amount of emotes for players to use to express themselves and there are social spots where players can meet when not saving the world.

In terms of storytelling and having an impact on the world, we have incorporated a series of crisis situations that players can help resolve to move the plot forward. We also have a number of story threads players can investigate by performing missions, talking with non-player characters, and exploring the world.

Gameplay in Champions Online is a mix of traditional MMORPG fare and new concepts.

In combat, there are a lot of interesting power options that provide different types of gameplay (how movement powers are used, position, hazards, destructible objects, etc.). Gameplay tasks range from finding emergency defense plans in a building overrun by alien invaders to rescuing civilians trapped under rubble to working together as team to manipulate machinery puzzles in a robotics plant. We're also incorporating objective-based gameplay reminiscent of RTS titles.

And it only gets better!

We have a very robust engine that allows us to rapidly develop new and interesting mechanics to support both roleplay and gameplay. And, we look forward to working with the community to better develop more of what they want. The future is very bright for Champions Online!
This article was originally published on Massively.