Champions Online, the superhero MMO due out this September, is being developed by Cryptic Studios, the team behind City of Heroes and City of Villains, and the upcoming Star Trek Online. Here, in the first installment of our exclusive developer diary series, Steve Long, from Hero Games, publisher of the paper-and-pencil Champions game, describes how Cryptic got involved in developing the MMO.
I first got involved professionally with Hero Games in the early Nineties, when I started writing for the company as a freelancer. I turned out half a dozen books for the company, including Dark Champions (which looked at gritty, “street-level” heroes like Batman and the Punisher) and Watchers Of The Dragon (which delved into the martial arts side of the Champions Universe). Based on the strength of that work, Hero chose me to write the Fifth Edition of the HERO System when it decided to release a new edition of gaming’s greatest rules.
I finished the Fifth Edition in 1998, and did some revisions in early 1999 at the company’s request. At last the project was done... but by that point Hero Games itself wasn’t in good shape. The Nineties hadn’t been great for roleplaying game companies in general, and by the end of the decade Hero wasn’t in a position to publish a big new edition. But in 2000, it seemed as if there might be a light at the end of the tunnel. A company called Cybergames purchased Hero Games and began efforts to get the game line back on its feet. Unfortunately, more logistical and financial hurdles arose, and nothing came of it.
Now it’s 2001. At the time I was working as an RPG designer for a company called Decipher, working on their licensed games for Star Trek and The Lord Of The Rings. I was at Decipher’s booth at GenCon that year when I was approached by a man named Darren Watts. He told me he was heading up a company called DOJ, Inc. — a group of investors that was trying to buy the Hero Games assets from Cybergames. He asked if I’d be interested in working for them.
A chance to be in charge of my favorite roleplaying game of all time? Sign me up! Not only did I agree to work for the company, I invested in the project myself. This was my chance at my dream job, and I was determined to do whatever I could to make it work. Things were going well... and then the September 11 attacks swept the wind from the sails of the financial markets, and most of DOJ’s investors had to back out.
Disappointed but undeterred, Darren and I kept plugging away. Through hard work and some lucky breaks we assembled a group of new investors, and in December 2001 we purchased the Hero Games assets from Cybergames. The HERO System and Champions were ours at last!
We published The HERO System 5th Edition in April 2002, and quickly followed it up with a new edition of Champions that was released at GenCon that year. It was one of the hits of the show, selling so well that we nearly ran out of stock the very first day of the con! Thanks to our printer we got an emergency shipment of new books and continued selling them to the eager masses. To this day Champions remains Hero’s top seller, second only to the 5th Edition rulebook itself.
Over the course of the decade we published several dozen supplements for Champions that detailed the characters, events, and places of the Champions Universe, our core setting for the game. We showed fans the glittering, high-tech wonders of Millennium City, the magic-haunted streets of Vibora Bay, and the harsh, gritty world of Dark Champions in Hudson City. We created hundreds of villains, heroes, and other characters. If I do say so myself, I think we brought a level of creativity, consistency, and regular publication of new material unparalleled in the history of Champions.