Geoff Tuffli is the combat systems designer for Champions Online.
"Meet the Team" InterviewEdit
Q: What do you do as a combat systems designer on Champions Online?
A: The combat systems team is responsible for most aspects of player character development as well as the vast majority of abilities, effects or powers that affect any character or critter in the game. We are responsible for the moment-to-moment gameplay feel of the game.
We adjust overall balance tables, build player and critter powers, design and implement the mechanics for customizing players and their powers, set up critters and put together environment effects. On top of all this, we design PvP mechanics and handle all the generic combat mechanics.
A great deal of our work crosses over to other areas of development – our balance work causes us to work with QA, setting up powers requires that we coordinate with art to hook up the correct assets with the correct timing, linking AI to critters means cooperating with the Software and Content teams, and so on.
At the moment, most of my time is divided between removing any roadblocks for my team, maintaining lines of communication between the combat systems team and the other teams, and designing and building player powers.
Q: How long have you been working in gaming, and what did you do before working on Champions Online?
A: I have been working in the industry for about five years now. Before that, I was in web development in various roles – first as a web designer, then later as a technical writer. I even managed a professional services group for a couple of years.
Before Champions Online, I led an internal balance assessment team for City of Villains, which involved a great deal of datamining and statistics-crunching, along with more subjective methodologies. Before I joined Cryptic, I was a producer at a mobile game app developer, and I worked at Sony up in Foster City.
Q: How does someone get from majoring in Aztec Cultural Linguistics to making videogames?
A: When I graduated from college I realized that major, while providing unparalleled dinner table conversation on topics such as glyphic representations of cannibalism in the context of various Mesoamerican tributary empires, was less useful when finding a job. For some reason, there are not a lot of job openings in the field I studied.
I decided I wanted to do interesting things with this new-fangled "web" everyone was talking about, write professionally in some capacity, or design games.
Since that point, I have worked professionally in the web application industry, as a technical writer, and then I managed to land a job at Sony doing quality assurance (QA). From there, the rest, as they say, is history.
Q: What aspect of Champions Online are you most excited about working on?
A: This would have to be a toss-up between player customization and PvP.
Player customization is something that most MMORPGs shy away from, and with good reason – it's expensive, very difficult to balance, and creates entirely new challenges for almost every other system in the game. That being said, it is also the aspect of a game that can be most personally felt by a player and give a player the greatest feeling of investment in a game.
PvP, on the other hand, when designed correctly offers constantly changing and evolving gameplay that can provide some incredibly memorable encounters. There are PvP encounters I still remember five years or more after the fact. What I like about Cryptic's approach to PvP in Champions Online is that instead of being afraid of it, we're leveraging it where it makes sense to make a better game for those who choose to participate in it.
Q: Who is your favorite Champions character?
A: Foxbat, of course.
Q: You have said you're big into PvP. What kind of characters do you like to play in PvP? Any favorite tactics?
A: Proven builds and specs bore me. I tend to gravitate toward the builds and specs that other people insist can't work in PvP, and then find a way to make them work.
I played PvP Masterminds in City of Villains until my fingers bled, a Melee Priest in Shadowbane, a Survival Hunter in World of Warcraft, and innumerable other "impossible" builds in every game I have tried.
Q: What do you like to do in your free time?
A: Twice a week I head up to a gym in Foster City and train with the German longsword and Italian sidesword, as well as some occasional English billhook and halberd practice when I can swing it.
I also write incessantly. Some of what I write is fiction, mostly science fiction and fantasy. Some of what I write is non-fiction – mostly research on memetics and sociodynamics with some philosophy thrown in occasionally to spice things up.
And finally, I play games. A lot. Not just MMORPGs, but also RTS, RPGs, even board games.
Q: Who are your favorite authors?
A: The traditional favorites like George R. R. Martin and S. M. Stirling are of course on my list, but there are others a bit less common there as well – Steve Brust, Christopher Hinz, John Varley, Steven Boyett and C. S. Friedman.
Q: What videogames do you think have amazing combat?
A: I still have a soft spot in my wrinkled black heart for both Soulreaver and Soulcalibur.
Q: What is an interesting fact about you that players would be surprised to know?
A: Despite my love of PvP and sharp, pointy things in real life, I almost always play the "good cop" in interviews, meetings and other social situations.
Q: What are three things you would take on a desert island?
A: A GPS device, a satellite phone, and a notebook so that my plans for world domination could continue to be developed while I awaited rescue.
Q: What advice do you have for someone who wants to be a game designer? A: Game design is an incredibly competitive field, and even when you finally break in, it will almost always involve a lot of time implementing other people's ideas before you get much input at all into the design process. That being said, the ultimate rewards are almost impossible to match with any other job if you are a ruthlessly systemic creative thinker.
Play games, but also try to train yourself to think of a game like a designer. What is fun? Why is it fun? What would you better? What don't you like? How could it be improved? What are the problems and risks with each approach?
While it isn't impossible to get a job out of the gate as a game designer, it is about as common as getting a job as an entry-level corporate vice president. Expect – and look for – jobs in QA and customer service, as well as any other kind of job that will put you in contact with development. If you have talent as a programmer or artist, try getting a job doing that first, and then work your way laterally into design.
It will usually require persistence, patience and being in the right place at the right time. When the opportunity does present itself, show that you are as practical as you are creative and know how to check your ego at the door in favor of the success of the product. If you can do that, you'll have a much easier time cracking into the industry.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?
A: Cryptic is aggressively trying to push what we can do in a number of different areas for Champions Online, and combat is a part of that. As we get closer to release and more details emerge, I expect the debates and discussion to heat up. Thus far, I have been very heartened and encouraged by the overall level of maturity and civility among the fans of the game, and I think we have the opportunity to create one of the best player communities in the industry.