Zeke Sparkes is the lead content designer for Champions Online.
"Meet the Team" InterviewEdit
Q: What do you do as the lead content designer for Champions Online?
A: I lead a team of awesome designers that are tasked with planning and implementing the persistent and instanced content for the game. That includes designing big outdoor zones, smaller interior game maps, critter AI and behaviors, scripting missions, populating maps with spawns and hooking up events.
It usually starts with us talking with our writer, John Layman, about what types of things and stories should be going on in a particular area of the game. Then we sit down and sketch out a map of the physical play space and what we want to populate it with. After that, we work closely with art to make sure they can take what we're planning and make it look good without working 120-hour weeks for two years straight. Depending on what the chunk of content is, we'll either provide a quick white box in game for the artists, or work with them directly to make a more detailed white box. At that point, the team starts placing scripts, missions and spawns down on the map, while art turns it into a snazzy looking environment. Afterwards we clean things up to match the final art and then we play it, play it, play it, play it, and play it some more to make sure everything feels good and is fun.
It's pretty much the job I've wanted to do since I first started playing computer games on my 8086.
Q: How long have you been in gaming, and what did you do before working on Champions Online?
A: I've been in computer games for three years, but for about ten years before that I did game design and writing for the pen-and-paper game industry. I also did freelance graphic design for about five years, working with some pretty varied properties from local yoga studios to the Official Authorized Quarterly KISS Magazine.
Q: You've worked on some RPG supplements. What are some of the games you've designed for?
A: I started out working on the Babylon Project (a Babylon 5 RPG). After that, I moved to Chameleon Eclectic Entertainment and worked with Millennium's End. Later on I wound up working on the Deadlands and Savage Worlds lines for Pinnacle Entertainment Group. Most of my work in the industry has been for Pinnacle.
Q: What aspect of Champions Online are you most looking forward to?
A: I am really looking forward to getting together with all my buddies from back east, forming a team and kicking some badguy ass! Also, not to be evil or anything, but some of the high-level zones we haven't announced yet have wicked cool concepts and designs that I think people are really going to enjoy.
Q: What do you have planned to make the content of Champions Online memorable?
A: One of the things we're trying to do is make sure the environments we design are all distinct and offer different feels from one another. We're also making sure we spice things up with really cool events and situations that break up the typical game play from time to time. So if you're walking along and all of a sudden the ground shakes and hot lava rains down from the sky, it's a special gift from me to you. Hehehe.
Q: Who is your favorite Champions character?
A: I have to go with Black Mask. I'm a sucker for generational stories and love the fact that the hero has become greater than the man (or woman). If I had to pick one of the many incarnations, I'd go with the first one. There's just something about a super in the Revolutionary War using hit-and-run tactics that actually live up to all of his folk tales that I really like.
Q: What is your secret superpower?
A: I can tell the difference between SPF 35 and SPF 50 sunscreen. Trust me …
Q: What do you like to do in your free time?
A: I play tons of games (video games, board games, minis games – anything really). I love painting minis for Hordes or Warmachine. I'm also usually up for grabbing a few beers with my friends and watching movies or going to some live music.
Q: What was the last book you read?
A: That's hard to say. I typically read two or three books at a time and just switch them out depending on what mood I'm in. I recently finished Neil Gaiman's American Gods and Anthony De Mello's The Song of the Bird. I'm currently reading Gaiman's Fragile Things, Phillip Pullman's The Amber Spyglass and Charles Henry Whedbee's Outer Banks Mysteries and Seaside Stories.
Q: Pirates, ninjas or …?
Q: What is something interesting about you that players would be surprised to know?
A: I got into the old time music scene in the mountains of Virginia, picked up a fiddle and pretty much haven't put it down since. A little fiddlin', a little dancin', a little brown jug all on a nice cool night in the Blue Ridge with friends and family is where it's at.
Q: What advice do you have for someone who wants to become a game designer?
A: Play games, play more games, then after that play even more games. Don't just look at games as an individual player, but try to figure out what the designers are doing and why they're doing it. Think about how long it would take to work on a part of the game and how much it adds to the play experience.
Q: Do you have anything else to add?
A: Go Broncos!