A Star is Born:
Let’s Play Champions Online Pt. 2

 By Shamus Sep 29, 2009 48 comments

When we last left our hero (that would be me) I had just crawled out of a pile of rubble during an alien invasion. The city was in danger, the people needed me, and I couldn’t reach my publicist.

I don't want to tell you how to do your job or anything officer, but since you're standing there greeting people as they emerge from the rubble maybe you could, you know, <strong>help dig them out?</strong>
I don't want to tell you how to do your job or anything officer, but since you're standing there greeting people as they emerge from the rubble maybe you could, you know, help dig them out?

I briefly consider slipping back into the rubble and waiting things out, but a police officer recognizes me and calls me over. He serves no other purpose than to welcome me to the game. He’s sort of the Wal-Mart greeter of the alien apocalypse. Officer Greeter tells me that SOCRATES wants to talk to me. Socrates is the immense self-aware AI that guides the heroes of the city. Of course (s)he would want to talk to me. (The gender of Socrates seems to change depending on what mood the thing is in and what service packs have been recently applied.) I clap him on the shoulder and let him know he’s doing a good job. I’m a professional, and I know you always let the police know they’re doing a good job. It’s the sort of lie they really appreciate.

As luck would have it, the closest Socrates kiosk is right across the street. It’s hard to miss, since it projects a twenty foot hologram of Socrates looking down on us. Since the entire purpose of this device is to allow us to talk to Socrates, it seems like they don’t need anything more elaborate than a microphone and a speaker. Your average McDonald’s drive-thru mastered that technology ages ago. I don’t know how much a 20-foot holographic projector costs, but I it’s probably a waste of taxpayer money if it just serves basically the same function as a pay phone. Ill bet people vandalize these things all the time.

Anyone using this thing is going to glance upward and get an eyeful of holo-crotch.  When it comes to misappropriating public funds, this city doesn't screw around.
Anyone using this thing is going to glance upward and get an eyeful of holo-crotch. When it comes to misappropriating public funds, this city doesn't screw around.

Let me paint you a picture of what is going on around me:

No that won’t do. I can’t find my paints and my brushwork is inept. You’ll have to settle for prose: Across the street is the looming hologram projector. Beyond that are some tents, and beyond those is a hastily constructed barricade where a couple of cops are fending off waves of aliens. To my right are rows of heavily armed soldiers, who are doing nothing. To my left is a street where aliens have deposited a bunch of oozing eggs.

Socrates asks me to walk over and kill some eggs. Three, to be exact. All things in moderation, I guess.

Right. Time to send these space-roaches packing. I smash some eggs the aliens have foolishly laid in the middle of the street and I can’t help but feel a little un-heroic. I mean, they’re eggs. What the hell kind of strategy is this? Did Hitler begin the scourging of London by putting German babies all over Piccadilly Square? I don’t claim to be Sun-Tzu or anything, but I’m pretty sure you don’t spearhead your invasion with abandoned infants.

Worst. Tactics. Ever.
Worst. Tactics. Ever.

The eggs are gooey. I made sure my suit was made of glossy easy-wipe material for just this reason.

After I kill the third one I realize I absolutely hate, hate these Ego powers. It looks like I’m fighting with an energy sword and holding it wrong. This doesn’t fit with the character concept, it doesn’t look cool, and it’s not fun. So I execute the Nuclear Retcon Option and exit the game, delete Star On Chest, and then re-create him exactly the same but with different powers. I go for old-school “smash with fist” style powers this time. Unimaginative, yes. But it fits with what we’re trying to do here and I simply refuse to compromise when dealing with an issue as important as myself. Besides, all the big superheroes are doing the continuity re-boot thing these days. I’m just getting that out of the way super early.

Login screen. New character. Powers. Character creation. Obsessive fussing. Re-enter biography. Say no to drugs. Start game. Skip cutscene. Talk to cop. Talk to Socrates. Punch Eggs.

And we’re back! Let’s continue…

Next Socrates wants me to help the police test some weapons. Rows of police are standing nearby, waiting to see if their weapons work. Socrates’ plan is thus: I stand still, police shoot me. Yeah. And this is the guy who opens every conversation by telling you how smart he is. Directly to my left are four street cops holding off an endless wave of aliens with their sidearms, and here we have ten paramilitary guys with body armor and handheld howitzers who won’t join the fight until they can shoot someone and ask them if it hurts.

They instruct me to, "Use the block button".  I instruct them to, "Stop shooting me, asshole!"
They instruct me to, "Use the block button". I instruct them to, "Stop shooting me, asshole!"

So, we’re countering the babies-first invasion tactics of the aliens with mandatory friendly-fire against our own troops. Here is an idea for you geniuses: Point your weapons at the bugs and shoot. If they die, the guns work. If not, grab a brick. Once you’ve got a fight going within brick-throwing distance, it’s time to stop with the R&D and make do with what you’ve got.

Barring that, why shoot me? Just shoot some cars or rubble or something if you want to see the gun go zap so bad. It’s all going to be written off anyway. It’s not like I own any of this stuff.

This whole thing is obviously a bad idea and a waste of everyone’s time. I’m beginning to suspect that Socrates might be a little buggy. But if I refuse to get shot in the face, people might think I’m a coward, and the whiff of cowardice is deadly for a hero. Companies will pull their endorsement agreements in a flash if the public gets the impression you’re a jelly-spine. From a public relations standpoint, being called a chicken is worse than being caught in a hotel with heroin* and a couple of underage hookers**.

* I would like to re-iterate my very strong and focus-group approved anti-drug stance.
** While I have no official position on this sort of thing, it’s probably not a good idea. Try to keep this sort of behavior to one at a time.

So I take a couple of blasts in the face. As I walk away, I make a point of NOT telling the officer he’s doing a good job. That should sting a bit, and maybe next time he’s repelling an invasion he won’t ask passing allies for permission to shoot them. Knave.

Socrates sends me to see the mayor. This sounds impressive, but the mayor is in a tent ten feet away and being ignored by every single person in his employ. There’s not much mayoring that needs done at the moment. Maybe he can publicly condemn the aliens via a public address (shouting) or a strongly worded letter (although I bet he doesn’t even have a pen) but other than that he’s making even less of an impact than Officer Greeter. Unless he’s got guns or kung-fu he’s just in the way. I suggest he go over and visit the friendly firing squad and make himself useful, but NPC’s never react when I say things out loud to my computer.

Our befuddled and not-particularly-useful mayor. Usually the question mark is there to tell the player, "I have quest stuff for you", but in this case it's there to express, "Uhbuh-what"?
Our befuddled and not-particularly-useful mayor. Usually the question mark is there to tell the player, "I have quest stuff for you", but in this case it's there to express, "Uhbuh-what"?

The mayor asks me to walk to the other side of the barricade and recover the city disaster plans, as he seems to have left them in a building I have now dubbed, “Roach Central”.

Sir, the good people of this city took the time to author disaster plans. Your only job was to have those plans. I don’t want to seem rude, but… is the deputy mayor available?

In any case, I’m betting that if we did have the plans here, somewhere near the top of page one it would say: DO NOT TEST WEAPONS BY SHOOTING EACH OTHER. I agree to get the plans, in the hopes he can at least put a stop to that.

I jog over and grab the documents. They’re in a pile of rubble and guarded by about a half dozen loitering bug men. These guys aren’t really invading, but sort of hangin’ out. I am glad to see that despite their fantastic array of space guns and future toys, the aliens have faces which are susceptible to punching.

Nearby is a woman wanting to be escorted back to the safe zone, but there is a line of heroes waiting to do so. They’re all elbowing and jockying for position to be the next lucky hero to march her back to the mayor’s camp site command center before she appears back in the hot zone and needs to be re-rescued. I opt to not rescue her at this time.

I would like to point out that chivalry is not dead, it just hates waiting in line.

The mayor is grateful for the documents, and sends me down the street to meet with the chief of police. I don’t like where my career is headed so far, as I seem to be moving down the chain of command. At level 1 I was working for the self-aware super-intelligence of the city. At level 2 I was working for the mayor, and heading into level 3 I’m working for the chief of police. If this trend continues I’ll be the world’s most powerful assistant meter-maid by level 10.

Getting to the chief of police means going through waves of enemy bugs, some ambushing fliers, and a minefield. This sounds bad, but the truth is that under normal, non-alien-invasion circumstances, this section of the city is home to groups of level 28-ish criminals who are so bloodthirsty they will attack groups of superheroes. On sight. But right now it’s just overrun with simple level 1 and 2 bugmen. Despite the wreckage, this is actually the safest this part of the city has ever been.

Right. We’re off to see the chief of police.

20208Feeling chatty? There are 48 comments.


  1. Varil says:

    These aliens sound more like unwanted vagrants than invaders. “We’ll just leave the eggs on Daycare Street and then go over to Ineffectual Police Street to pass the time! It’ll be fun!”

  2. Joshua says:

    You have to admit, the bugs do more littering than the gangs that normally hang out there. I don’t know whether it’s because the gangs are doing court-ordered community service in between jumping supers that happen by, or the wreckage is the result of trying to test the weapons too near the buildings before they wised up and moved the testing to the middle of an otherwise empty parking lot, but the place is a mess.

  3. froogger says:

    Galactic Space Do-it-laters. Sounds like a hoot. Well, at least you make it sound fun, Shamus. I do like the comic-book style graphics though. Too bad it sounds as static as every other MMO.

  4. asterismW says:

    Just two posts into it, and I’m loving this series already. Best superhero since Mr. Incredible. Keep it up!

  5. Andrew says:

    This is good to read, keep it up.

  6. Broc says:

    I don’t think that was your intent but right now I couldn’t even think about touching this game. It’s funny to read but is it really fun to play?

  7. Rainmaker, the gray says:

    I agree with Broc. It looks quite silly…

  8. scob says:

    >”If this trend continues I’ll be the world’s most powerful assistant meter-maid by level 10″

    And the Worst Job of the Year goes to: Assistant Crackwhore.

  9. Dev Null says:

    chivalry is not dead, it just hates waiting in line.

    20 pounds of funny in a 5-pound bag.

    Is it just me, or does the whole alien invasion thing detract from the superheroeyness of the thing? Superheroes are supposed to punch out megalomaniacs in tights with their own volcano lair; aliens are traditionally taken out with a pipe wrench while a limbless AI makes sardonic spooky comments for atmosphere…

  10. Stringycustard says:

    After all this time with so many games to draw inspiration from, and they still have you get shot at as a tutorial on how to block? That sounds like an apathetically poor concept at work. Btw, you’ve made me giggle a whole lot reading this.

  11. Deoxy says:

    I love this game, simply for the inspiration that it gives you to write funny stuff.

    I’ll never actually play it, but I doubt it would nearly as enjoyable as reading what you’ve written about it (while on some kind of wonderful drugs I’ll have to try sometime, it would seem).

    :-)

  12. Drue says:

    I like all the various Let’s Play stuff I have checked out. Actually I could probably replayed HL2 or whatever a couple of times in the time spent reading about other people playing a game…. I guess I have a history of watching other people play video games; that is how I met one of my closest friends in college. He was my resident advisor and had access to the WoW beta.

    Does anyone else often watch other people play video games? I don’t mean at a party where people are playing guitar hero, I mean like when you could be doing something else or even watching TV. Maybe I am just weird.

    • RandomInternetCommenter says:

      Awesome comment. Talk about being ahead of the curve. :) And yet, we’re only in 2014. Makes you think. In proportion to sheer volume, there has been little innovation in game design during the last five years, yet the gaming landscape is more different than ever.

  13. Girl Gamer says:

    Your write up is hillarious, as always, but I’m with Broc in that all of this silliness would totally pull me out of the game. I’m not really much for superheros, though, so maybe it’s partly that as well.

  14. SimeSublime says:

    I just don’t get MMORPGs. Doesn’t waiting in line with everybody else kind of detract from the whole hero thing?
    We need a hero! Any hero! Or just some random guy who happens to walk past. Whatever.

  15. LintMan says:

    The “waiting in line for your turn to rescue the woman” thing would kill the game for me. Does that sort of stuff happen often in MMO’s?

  16. Rutskarn says:

    Lintman: that’s what MMOs are built on.

    “Thank you, good adventurer! Now the soul of my ancestor Percius Greatbeard can rest in peace. Go with my blessings.

    “Next!

    “You! Brave adventurer, I have need of you! My ancestor cries for vengeance!”

  17. GABS says:

    It happens sometimes. Usually it can be avoided though, it’s not like there are ten heroes waiting for the woman to appear. Worst thing I’ve encountered was four other heroes hanging around, you just greet them and invite them to your team, two or three accept, and you rescue the woman together.

    The turotial zone in Champions isn’t exactly brilliant, but it gets the job done, showing you all the important things you can learn. I think you can’t really judge a game if you only know it from what others tell you about it, so if you’re interested or just curious, I suggest waiting until there is a free 10-day-trial or something and having a look yourself.

    @Shamus: You should give the Force powerset a try, it let’s you knockback people all over the place and hold them up in the air in huge bubbles.

  18. Jeremiah says:

    Loving the series. Especially the “Nuclear Retcon Option”.

    Also: Wal-Mart just has one ‘l’.

  19. Traska says:

    Is it just me, or does the whole alien invasion thing detract from the superheroeyness of the thing? Superheroes are supposed to punch out megalomaniacs in tights with their own volcano lair; aliens are traditionally taken out with a pipe wrench while a limbless AI makes sardonic spooky comments for atmosphere…

    ——————–

    Well, Marvel’s Secret Invasion had the Skrulls, and back in… I want to say early 90s, DC had a major alien invasion storyline.

  20. Ghantu says:

    I would have also suggested Telepathy instead of Telekinesis. Telepathy is more beam-shooty and you can make the beams come out of your head if you want. Of course, you can do that with Force, too. But at least it would have preserved your original idea for the character more than being a punchy guy.

  21. Maldeus says:

    Brilliant! I love this series. Can’t wait for more.

    No, really. I’m incapable of bearing anymore of this. I’m going to go hang myself now.

  22. Daki says:

    ” From a public relations standpoint, being called a chicken is worse than being caught in a hotel with heroin* and a couple of underage hookers**.

    * I would like to re-iterate my very strong and focus-group approved anti-drug stance.
    ** While I have no official position on this sort of thing, it’s probably not a good idea. Try to keep this sort of behavior to one at a time.”

    That was an endorsement wasn’t it… So I should kill the other one?

  23. It would have made more sense from a comicbook perspective if the MMO started in a backalley in a city, where a guy in a homemade suit (the player) stops some kind of crime by giving the bandits an asskicking, and saves someone.
    Thats usually how comic book heroes career starts.

    And as a twist, the person you save is the one who will later reappear as your archvillain (but in your designed supervillain suit, of course).

    The plot improved in less than 30 sec.

  24. Randy Johnson says:

    The game is indeed quite silly like this, and yet I find myself playing til sunrise every night. Hopefully we will get our toons to nemesis ACTION soon and stop wasting our time with the desert and Canada’s capitol, Doom Mountain.

  25. Jamie says:

    Sounds like these aliens are hanging out like the aliens in District 9….have you tried asking them if they need to fill up their tank to resume their intergalactic booze cruise?

  26. Ergonomic Cat says:

    Shamus: This is without a doubt the funniest thing you’ve written.

    I know it’s heretical, but I prefer your prose to comics lately.

    The CO tutorial is not bad. It’s just not great. And yeah, all MMOs have silly tutorials mostly. Only really good ones I can think of are Fallen Earth, Age of Conan, new DDO and Matrix Online.

    FE’s put you at level 40, so you got an idea of where you were going.

    AoC did the Single Player start, as did DDO. I think that’s a much better way. DDO even has the change in the world bit. You could even write one tutorial, then skin it 10 ways, replacing robots with aliens, nazis, werewolves, caped villians, etc….

  27. DKellis says:

    The Qularr are from the original Champions sourcebooks. Last time they came by they deposited a few giant monsters on Tokyo. Presumably they’re still figuring out this “direct invasion” thing.

    I’m not sure where Champions Online falls in the overall timeline anyway. It’s post-News Of The World since Kinetik (read: Flash) is part of the team and Nighthawk (read: Batman) is nowhere to be found, but since Biselle is still mayor (his term is technically up in 2008), it can’t be that far off.

    You get a… something, a Perk, for defeating 100 Qularr, and another one for defeating 1000 of them, and another for defeating 5000. Good thing they show up later in the game, so you don’t have to grind in the tutorial for that.

    Socrates, and I quote from the Champions sourcebook, “speaks with an educated (and sometimes a little stuffy) male voice”. It gets a little unnerving to imagine that while staring at the very obviously female hologram.

    Stuff you can miss in the tutorial: talking to Sapphire (the scantily-clad superheroine near the mayor) for a “talk to all the Champions” Perk, and an Exploration Perk on top of the crashed Qularr ship around that area as well. There may be more.

    (In the mayor picture, Sapphire’s the one with the “i” over her head. You can see the tail bits of the Qularr ship in question in the background.)

  28. Hawkehunt says:

    Actually, I prefer the way WoW does it. They throw you straight into the deep shallow end of the pool, but have tutorial popups which can be used or disabled at your pleasure – and disabling them persists through new characters.

    Granted, the wolves and kobolds outnumbering humans ten-to-one surrounding a “village” that consists of a miniature cathedral and two wagons is more than a little ridiculous but – as previously discussed – you don’t want to hold your breath searching for viable ecologies in an MMO.

    EDIT: And my hexagon-faced avatar is doing a remarkable job of expressing my mental state at 4am. Bleagh…

  29. pnf says:

    Login screen. New character. Powers. Character creation. Obsessive fussing. Re-enter biography. Say no to drugs. Start game. Skip cutscene. Talk to cop. Talk to Socrates. Punch Eggs.

    Regarding the obsessive fussing: The costume/appearance editor has a function to save/load, so if you save your character’s look before starting the game, and then decide to nuclear retcon your character again, you can just load up the costume on your replacement character and save yourself a lot of fussing.

    I don’t know if the save/load is accessible outside character creation or the tailor.

  30. DKellis says:

    The saved costume files are kept in your screenshots folder. Deleting them may or may not cause the game to crash.

    No, really. It’s happened to a couple of people on the forums, and I’m not sure if it’s been fixed yet.

  31. kmc says:

    Totally not the main point of your post, but thinking about how you hated your powers and re-rolled, why don’t more games do like LotRO does and have optional class videos as well as the typical race/backstory cutscenes? Maybe LotRO’s not the only one, and my experience is pretty limited, but especially in a game like this where you can pick your preference from a whole list of powers, why not something like a gameplay-style video or “test out your powers in an empty cell” to see if they’re your thing before you actually exit the character creator?

  32. Rosewire says:

    Actually kmc, CO has something like that. Unfortunately, you don’t get it till after you clear the tutorial. After that, when you level up, you go to the Powerhouse. They have various rooms for testing out new advantages and powers, and if you don’t like them, you can retcon the changes for free. Its only after you leave the Powerhouse that they’re locked in. then you have to pay to retcon the power later.

  33. Blackbird71 says:

    Hey Shamus,

    I thought you might be interested to know that Aaron Williams of Nodwick, etc., has made reference to your adventures in CO: http://nodwick.humor.gamespy.com/index.htm (entry for Monday, Sep 28)

    Apparently Star and Carrie are drawing some attention!

  34. TSED says:

    To all of the people wondering:

    1) YES, the game IS a little campy. It’s superhero charm, though.
    2) NO, you don’t form ‘camp lines’ very often. It happens most often in the tutorial, just because the tutorial is TINY compared to the rest of the game (seriously, you’d be amazed) and because there’s a bunch of people in the tutorial exploring alt-itis or whatever. I expect this to die down relatively soon. ESPECIALLY since you can invite the whole line and all escort the woman at the same time.
    3) There’s a few things you can easily miss in the tutorial. Rescuing Reggie, rescuing Foxbat, and rescuing Kinetik.

  35. toasty says:

    This LP is awesome. I really, really, like it.

  36. DKellis says:

    Reggie is a cat in one of those travel-pet-cage things, off in an alley I can never find twice. I think he’s meant to teach you about missions started by items. No queue, since no NPC interaction is actually needed.

    Foxbat usually hollers for help (and thus spam your NPC Chat tab) in his fourth-wall-breaking way, if he’s around. During launch day not many people knew what to do about it, but now there’s also a queue waiting to rescue him.

    Kinetik’s mission can be obtained by checking out the shiny police car. I didn’t find this out myself until character number three (technically number two, since I did the Nuclear Retcon Option after the tutorial on one). I think the queue is starting to form around him.

    The Powerhouse lets you test your powers, but you only access it (there’s a quest for it) after the tutorial. There’s a sort of obstacle course for travel powers (I assume), a room with some training dummies, and a room with lasers which serve the same purpose as those cannon-wielding policemen in the tutorial. For actual performance in combat, you’ll have to duel another player. (The devs said that they’re going to provide something else, but they say that for pretty much everything.)

  37. TSED says:

    Queues? Maybe I’m just playing off-hours or something, because I only have to wait for a respawn or whatever once or twice a WEEK.

  38. DKellis says:

    I don’t know when are off-hours. I usually get my playtime when I can, since maintenance is smack in the middle of my (Singapore) prime-time.

  39. RKG says:

    Very funny – keep up the good work :)

  40. Daemian Lucifer says:

    “** While I have no official position on this sort of thing, it’s probably not a good idea. Try to keep this sort of behavior to one at a time.”

    So,what youre saying is that it is not a good idea to be with a couple of underage hookers,having just one of them would be fine?

    But joke aside,despite not playing champions,I really enjoy your articles about them.Keep up the good text.

  41. Haviland says:

    I love the character creator. I spent about an hour making Hyne Man.

    And now I’m going to have to go back to the tutorial to rescue the cat.

  42. Gasoline says:

    Reading your adventures in CO is very, very entertaining. Having played CoH I was a bit curious about CO – but I have to admit that reading your experiences actually does not encourage me to buy this game. Think I will wait for a trial…

  43. Tom says:

    I… really want to check out champions online but I’m certain I don’t have enough time devote to another MMORPG.

    Did you ever play the table top Champions RPG? How well does it replicated the mechanics of the system? How much did they simplify it?

  44. Randy Johnson says:

    http://www.champions-online.com/node/594302 Some very nice patch notes for today.

  45. Mazinja says:

    There’s a buncha stuff to do on the Tutorial. Most of them teach you about different aspects of the game. Starting quest is “hey go talk to that guy”, eggs are the basics of combat, getting shot is about blocking, etc.

    Remember to go to the first downed ship and climb to the top to get the Red Bug Down perk! Also, remember to rescue the cat, save Foxbat, rescue kinetic, as well as talk to Sapphire.

    Doing all the quests in the tutorial gives you shiny perks and stuff. I think. :p

  46. ColdFrog says:

    5 dollars says the endgame boss is the City AI.

    Nevertheless, I want to see how Star on Chest deals with it. He should probably start smashing those booths now.

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