By TrailTurtle @ March 15, 2013 at 4:43pm
An invasion force like the Lemurians doesn't come out of nowhere: Planning and building the story arc took the Champions team plenty of time and effort. Read on as Lord Gar takes you behind the scenes to look at development and tease what's coming soon!
Lord Gar: The Lemurian Invasion event went live last week, so we’d like to talk a little bit about what went in to making it, and also what we have planned for the future.
Before I start that though, I should probably introduce myself. I’m Tom “Lord Gar” Edwards and I’m the new Live Producer for Champions Online. I started working on the project near the end of last year with the beginning of the Lemurian Invasion arc. My job is to drive the day to day development of the game, maintain the schedule, and also do fun stuff like creating builds and organizing internal playtests.
The Lemurian Invasion
The Lemurian Invasion was exciting for us because it let us create truly epic content. It ranges from covert, shapeshifting agents infiltrating the city, to a strike against an UNTIL base, escalating up to an all- out invasion spearheaded by a truly gigantic threat in the form of a 300 foot tall “Harbinger of the Bleak Ones”. The Invasion let us provide a lot of very different content but all with a strong unifying theme.
The daily missions tell the story of the Lemurians infiltrating Millennium City as they attempt to track down an ancient idol to use in their summoning ritual. Lemurian Shapeshifters are able to disguise themselves in order to pass (mostly) undetected as humans. This was a really fun part of the story to work with, because while the Lemurians are great at imitating the look of humans, they can’t quite get the behavior right.
The UNTIL Vault
The UNTIL Vault defense is a straightforward fight against the Lemurians, but we also used it to give context to the story, that of an ancient civilization that’s now reclaiming what was once rightfully theirs.
We had previously introduced Collections Officers to take unwanted super-junk off player hands, but that left a question: what was UNTIL doing with all that stuff? Obviously, the only safe place for villainous gadgets and alien artifacts is a massive underground vault! And it is also home to a number of mechano-mystical treasures that Arvad had used against the surface world when he was a villain.
We loved the shapeshifters, and we wanted them to spearhead the attack on the Vault and cause confusion, but our initial playtests suggested that we’d created a little too much confusion. Players thought that the laser rifles were Lemurian, and weren’t sure what was going on, so we added the firefight in the entry hall so that the players would see that the laser rifles were actual, bonafide UNTIL weapons, and that they were stolen by the Lemurians (check out the rifle cage missing some weapons).
The idol in the vault, and then at the summoning ritual
The Bleak Harbinger
The most interesting and challenging aspect of the Lemurian Invasion was obviously the Bleak Harbinger, known internally as the Kraken.
We knew from the outset that we wanted the Kraken to be impressive; if we were going to create a sea monster the size of a small skyscraper it had to look the part.
The original Kraken concept art
The Bleak Harbinger was sculpted in zBrush and then finished off in 3D Studio Max before being imported into our game editor. We spent about a month perfecting its look, from initial experiments to the final piece. The Bleak Harbinger is one of the most detailed pieces of character work in the game.
An early in-progress version of the Bleak Harbinger
The concept compared to the final product
You may have noticed that this was the second super-sized villain to be released in a short period of time; the Giant Mecha Toy Soldiers in the Winter Event were also pretty large (although nowhere near as big as the Bleak Harbinger.) This lead to some interesting gameplay issues during development. The sheer size of it meant that in an early test version the Kraken would go out of combat if you flew up to its head because you were “out of range” of its origin point (at the feet) – even though you were right next to it.
We’re going to go back to normal-sized villains for the next few updates!
In addition to the Bleak Harbinger, the Lemurians have another addition to their arsenal: The Exocet Flyer.
We took our inspiration from the submarines in Lemuria, particularly the Onslaught. The spinning outer ring plus glowing cockpit give the submarines a very distinctive feel that we wanted to emulate.
The Onslaught Submarine
With the Exocet, we used the ideas from the Onslaught as a starting point, and built something that is much more sleek, futuristic, and representative of the modern, advanced Lemurian technology. Lemurian design is heavily influenced by the forms of aquatic life (the name Exocet comes from the French word for flying fish rather than the missile.)
We are planning more new and interesting vehicle types for the future, and eventually plan to give players access to many of them so that you have lots of options to choose from if you’d like a vehicle for character.
Playtesting and Release
We ran through the Invasion event many times internally, but it’s really hard to see how a piece of content will actually work until actual players go through it on a live environment (PTS in this case).
When we released the final stage of the Invasion on PTS we knew it was fairly close to being ready, and we had hoped that it would be able to go out a week later. Our first few playtests looked promising, but when we tested what we thought was a near ready version of the encounter, we found a number of issues.
In one of our early playtests, one of our team broke off from the group and scouted ahead on his own and tried to kill the Protean Master by himself. What actually happened was that the Protean Master wiped the floor with him in its final, most powerful, phase, which it then got stuck in, making it much more difficult for our group when we caught up to him. We were glad to have found that bug, but there might have been a small amount of glaring at the time.
Another issue that we found was that we weren’t doing a good job of signaling to the player what was happening. For example, players weren’t picking up on when the Kraken would start a strike, so they couldn’t learn to anticipate and react to them. Without those signals, the strikes could feel arbitrary and unpreventable.
Signaling also played into giving the players directions. We found that groups could easily split up at the beginning of the mission because we had an extra group of enemies placed in the wrong direction.
The playtests gave us a lot of very useful feedback from the people who ran through it, particularly about the difficulty of the Harbinger, the overall flow of the mission, and the rewards at the end. We also heard some whispered rumors (translation: 16 page feedback thread) that sidekicking to 30 wasn’t a very satisfying experience.
It took us an extra week to fix the problems, but we were incredibly excited about the Kraken alert, and we wanted to make sure that it was as good as it could be.
The feedback from the final playtests was overwhelmingly positive, and we would have never reached that stage without the help of our PTS community. So – thank you!
Now that the Lemurian Invasion is live, it seems like a good time to talk a little about the future.
For the first half of 2013 our plan is to release several story arcs of a similar scale to the Lemurian Invasion. That means that each arc will have a lockbox, some smaller missions, and then a larger mission at the end. That final mission could be an alert, event, or a persistent mission instance.
Each arc will have its own themed rewards and new items. They’ll sometimes focus on character improvements, and some on vehicles. Our next arc, which will involve gladiatorial combat, will focus on your character. (More news on that soon!)
I am very excited about our plans for this year, and I can’t wait to share more details with you as we go on. Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy showing the Lemurians and their Bleak Harbinger what a mistake they made in attacking YOUR city!