Massively interviews Champions Online's Shannon Posniewski

Although it has been quite a while since the last big content update for Champions Online, Cryptic is moving forward with the Demonflame adventure pack slated for release next week. We previewed the adventure earlier this week, but we also snagged an interview with Executive Producer Shannon Posniewski, who talked with us about the new adventure pack.

Poz also gave an enlightening view on the state of things to come in CO, as well as the development hurdles the team has to go through designing content that scales for all levels and team sizes. We also talk with him about player housing, voice acting, and the future of some old zones.

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Massively: About how long has Demonflame been in production?

Shannon Posniewski: Demonflame has been on the drawing boards for a long time now. I'd say, probably since the spring of this year. We haven't worked on it continuously during this time. You know, we did a little bit here and there, and at the end here we did a great big amount, especially once we got feedback from our players.

A lot of players are asking about voiceovers in Serpent Lantern and Demonflame. As in, there are voiceovers in Vibora Bay, but not in the adventure packs. We did get to see voicework in the trailers for both APs, though. Is there a reason why there's no voiceovers in them?

It's a combination of timing and resources... We do try to get VO in when we can. Obviously the things we send out to the public at large, we try a little bit harder to put our best foot forward. But actually, some of the problems we run into, especially if you've been playing Demonflame as we've been going along, the story's actually changed a little bit. So the voiceover has to be done very close to the end, and then sometimes that might make us miss our window, and sometimes we don't have the resources to get it done in time. There will be VO in Demonflame; I don't know how pervasive it will be but we're actually working on it right now.

That's awesome. Is there any chance that we'll get voice acting in Serpent Lantern?

There's a chance we might go and do that... when we do our next adventure pack, we might go back and do that.

The people that we have working on Demonflame are very excited by it, and we keep coming up with, as you've seen, the changes. We're doing different ideas that we think people will like, and it's hard to even stop working on it. Likewise for our other adventure packs, we want to go back and make them better.

We're also doing that with the gameworld itself. The sets of changes coming up, not right away, but soon is we're reorganizing the way Westside and the Desert play. We feel like we can tell the story better, they're a little haphazard, would be one way to put it. Right now we're trying to make them feel a little more story-controlled, and by doing so we're going to get a little more VO in, a little more excitement in.

I notice a lot of people in the level 13-14 range, they end up having to go to Westside, because that's where the bulk of the missions are, and... I hear a lot of whining about that.

It's a little early to talk about just yet, but a lot of the changes we're doing is to make Westside feel more like a city and a little less like a bomb zone. So it's a little less depressing, and we're actually reordering where you go to Westside, and so it'll feel better, it'll be a better arc.

Likewise the Desert, the early Desert stuff is pretty cool stuff, but it isn't tied together very well, so we're going to tie that together better and add a big event at the end of that that isn't even in the Desert right now.

One of the things about the Millennium City zones is that the humor is kind of... over the top, and I notice that in the recent adventure packs, it's very scaled down. The humor is definitely still there, like with the Altered Beast reference in the first tower, etc., but it's... a lot less immersion-breaking. Is that a conscious change?

We probably won't... well the new stuff we do [for Westside] won't be as campy, and honestly it's just campy. Very tongue-in-cheek. We're not going to lose the humor in Champions. Champions Online is in the superhero genre, which... well not always, but often has a lot of humor in it. On the other hand, I think that moving forward, you won't see us quite so over the top all of the time. We'll pace ourselves a little bit; there are serious things that can happen. I mean, what's happening in Demonflame is serious, and making light of it isn't something that should be done. On the other hand, along the way, we're going to put some stuff in there as comic relief, a little bit of breaking the fourth wall, because that's the style of Champions Online. It wouldn't be Champions Online if it didn't go a little bit there. But yeah, we're backing off a little bit on that.

Regarding Demonflame's difficulty level... there's been a lot of complaints on the boards about the difficulty being not hard enough.

It's a hard balance, I mean, basically we're the only game out there that lets you choose whatever the heck powers you want. And we do our best to make it so that no matter what you choose... you know, within reason... will give you a pretty viable character. So if you play Champs a lot, and you go, "Oh, that works really great," we want a person who makes a really tailored build like that to have a challenging time. Along with someone who is just kinda having fun.

[Demonflame] scales for whatever level and whatever teams, so it can be really challenging for us to come up with how many is the right number of dudes, and how difficult should they be, and should they be holding people more, or less, or is holding irritating and we should be doing a knockback which is more interesting to see... It's very hard for us to get a good balance there because of the range of players in terms of their competency. And we're still tweaking it, and even after it goes live, we'll be tweaking it when more people can play it and we get more feedback. We do have the difficulty slider partially to compensate for this. The difficulty slider doesn't work with everything in the game; it certainly doesn't make everything in the game harder, which is something we're going to be working towards in the future.

One problem with the difficulty slider is that it only really makes mobs deal more damage and take more damage. Are there plans for fights that get more complex when the slider is changed, or when the team is a larger size?

We actually have support for that to change what powers they use and how often. It really comes down to us going in and tailoring those individual fights at the top end difficulty levels. We just haven't had time to do it yet. We really would like to go about doing that, to go to each of the big bosses at the Elite level -- they'll actually do something different, pull out their special weapon, or change up their tactics a bit. We just haven't had the time to go and do it yet.

This article was originally published on Massively.