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Bill Roper: Making MMOs Work Again
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Bill Roper: Making MMOs Work Again

February 14, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 5 of 5

Players were saying that?

BR: Yeah, players were saying like, "It's just Champions."

Do you think that's a bit cynical?

BR: Sure. [laughs] We're gamers. I think gamers are a cynical lot by nature, right, and I think that in the MMO space, and especially in the internet, where anonymity reigns supreme, it's very easy to say, "I'm going to say this really caustic cynical thing and get a lot of comments on my thread, and that's awesome."

But I also think that you have to dig past that perceived cynicism. Because at the core of that -- there was a real statement -- was the fact that there were elements of those games if you looked at it.

But they did not play this game. It was not as simple as just putting the patina on it of "Well, they're the same game re-skinned." It's like, "Yeah, there wasn't a lot of change to some of the interface elements. There wasn't a lot of change here."

This has that same feel, right, even in the way certain things are presented because they didn't have time to make another massive UI path, so things just kind of stayed the same. So, a contact would talk to you, and it's like, "Oh, yeah. That's kind of the same way I get quests in this other game. Okay." Even if there's a lot of differences and even if the gameplay is really different. So, that's the challenge. I think it's a really good model, but of course, the thing is it has to be games that people like playing.

A hard-learned lesson for me was to not just discount that stuff, was to say, "Is there something underneath there that we can really pull?" Like, no, I don't think Star Trek is really just Champions reskinned. But there was something there. There's a reason that people are saying that.

As opposed to just focusing on the words that got said and whether you agree with that or not, or whether that upset you or whatever it is... It's like, "Why do people think that?" Let's try to figure that out.

And I think there were a lot of differences, and a lot of conscious choices that got made on Neverwinter Nights that were based off of that. You know, where we said, "We have to completely do the UI ground up. We are not re-using any UI. Throw out everything for placement. Even the way we want to approach the presentation of the game and questing and everything."

We're like, "Yes, it's the same engine, it's the same backend, right. All the major tools are there. But we need to have different ways that we approach that." So, we get rid of that subtle samey-ness as much as possible.

I'm surprised this was a problem. Sure, you can see audience overlap, but they do seem like they'd draw different audiences.

BR: Yeah. I honestly don't know how much of a problem it was. It was a comment that came through. Part of it, too, was because people knew it was built on the same engine. I mean, if you look at the games side-by-side, they don't look anything alike. But I think there are elements you could look like and go, "Oh, yeah, that placement is the same." It really wasn't those [places] where every little bit was different.

I think one of the reasons you don't hear that, for example, just from experience, on like a StarCraft property -- every single one of those games they do ground-up. They don't re-use 3D engines. Which is kind of insane. Again, not the model that any right person in their head does.

"Hey, I want to start a game company, and we're going to do projects that take, you know, five, six, seven, eight years to make, and we're going to ground-up build each one of them every time. You know, we're not going to re-use almost anything." But that's why their games look very different and feel very different. They don't [reuse anything] except for things like sound libraries or things that are inconsequential in the end.

But I think that there are things... I mean, even if things like the way characters move and things like that, right. You're like, "Oh, this guy's... That weird little joggy thing, you know."

Subtle samey-ness.

BR: Yeah. There's a subtle samey-ness between them, and players didn't like that. You know, "I want this to be totally, wholly different and unique."

Probably people who weren't interested in Champions might have just sort of heard online like people gossiping, and not realize that It wouldn't have been meaningful to them. They never would have noticed it, since they wouldn't have had the opportunity to notice it, but then it starts creating negative buzz...

BR: Yeah. There's definitely a zeitgeist that occurs, this hive mind, where people are like, "Yeah!" They're never like, "Oh yeah, I read somewhere..." They're just like, "Oh, no, this does that."

Article Start Previous Page 5 of 5

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