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 second installment of our exclusive developer diary series, Bill Roper, Design Director at Cryptic Studios, discuses the Nemesis system in the forthcoming MMO.

As a hero rises in fame, they attract not only the adulation of those they have saved, but also the attention of more powerful and dangerous villains. All great heroes end up with an arch-enemy whose purpose in life is the downfall, destruction, or humiliation of said hero. And that is what the Nemesis system in Champions Online is all about.

Customization is one of the strongest pillars in the foundation of our game. Players literally spend hours in character and costume creation, devising an iconic hero. We realized that we could take this incredibly popular feature a step further by encouraging players to build an arch-enemy, as well. Based on the same system used to make your hero, the Nemesis creation system also has a few more decisions to make. Once you're done making a costume and choosing from one of 18 thematic power sets for your Nemesis to employ, you get to delve into his or her supporting cast. This means you'll choose what type of minions they have (from robots to cowboys to pirates to demons to thugs and many more) as well as what types of powers those minions use. Once you've design and outfitted your Nemesis, the real adventure begins!

Nemesis starts at level 25, so players are quite familiar with the game mechanics and their own hero before they start this part of the game. Thematically, we wanted to wait until a hero would have built up a reputation as someone important, so putting this in at the mid-game fit perfectly. We've designed the Nemesis missions to be the most challenging solo content in the game, but they're also incredibly extensible and great fun for groups. In fact, we see the Nemesis system as being our first foray into user generated content in that players can bring their friends along on these highly customized missions that feature their own nefarious creations.

And speaking of the missions, they are divided into two distinct categories. The first is what we call "popcorn" missions because they can happen anywhere in the world. It isn't uncommon to have the minions of your Nemesis pop up during the middle of a fight as they try and take advantage of you being distracted or weakened from battling other enemies. Sometimes these minions drop clues as to the whereabouts and plans of your Nemesis. These clues lead you to the second style of missions, which are known as Challenges & Showdowns. These are designed as highly-crafted, cinematic missions with numerous objectives and some incredible challenges. Here you'll see your Nemesis evolve into more than just another villain. Grandiose plots are hatched, other super-powered villains are brought in as part of a growing evil organization, and eventually the ultimate showdown occurs.

These challenges and showdowns are tied thematically, telling stories and tying in characters (both good and evil) into multiple missions chains. Some of these missions have areas, allies or rewards that can only be unlocked by going through the content alone, while others require taking a team along with you to see all of the specialized content. The Nemesis system is designed to be repeatable, and we've created rewards and perks and game-play flow to support that. We want players to create a whole Nemesis Gallery - their own wall of infamy, if you will. Not only will this allow players to see all of the nooks and crannies we've crafted for Nemesis, but it also allows them to build a strong foundation for the future content we have planned.

When I started working at Cryptic, the Nemesis system was something I was anxious to learn more about because the idea intrigued me. Being an old-school game master, I've always wanted to have the ability to make my own monsters in every MMO I've played. Or, better yet, make something and show it off to my friends. I think this is one of the reasons The Sims games have been so popular over the past several years. Gamers tend to be an incredibly creative bunch, and they love having an outlet to show off that creativity. That is a huge reason that the costume creation system in the "City of" games was so popular, and why we've been getting rave reviews on our character and costume creator in Champions Online. And by pushing all that creativity into Nemesis, we're really setting the stage to blow the doors off of allowing players to make their own fun.

Moving forward, Nemesis will continue to play a large part in what we do with Champions Online. We're going to expand on the number and types of missions you can go on. We're going to extend the concept of the Nemesis Gallery to allow a number of your created enemies to fold into future storylines. The list of ideas goes on and on, and the first step down that dark path is to create your very first Nemesis and then enjoy the ride.

Champions Online is due out for PC on September 4 2009. An Xbox 360 version is due at some point later.