Know Nellie Now: Champions Online’s Nellie Hughes

Photo by Avery Wong

Nellie shares a tender moment with the hero Foxbat

Last year at PAX ’08, we had the great fortune of meeting some of the people working on the upcoming MMO Champions Online at the after party they hosted. Three things happened that night: First, we consumed copious amounts of alcohol… really, no surprise there. Second, the bits of the game we saw and the discussions we had with the people working on it had us hooked. Again, if you’re at all familiar with the Reckon Crew’s love of all things comics, this shouldn’t be much of a shock.

The third was the surprise. Along came Nellie Hughes. Aside from being one of the most interesting people we met while we were at PAX, being a content designer for Champions Online, she had an unnatural obsession with the word “koozie” after hearing it for the very first time from us of all people. Almost a yearmeeting us, she’s finally able to talk about what makes a good MMO, the future of player created content, and how she really, really, really wants to see the Reckon Crew in spandex.  True story.

BG: To begin, are you a Busy Gamer?
Nellie Hughes: Yes, I have a 2 year old and trying to get gaming in while being the world’s best parent means you can only game in small amounts. I usually only play for one or 2 hours a night, in between cleaning and other domestic duties.

BG: What’s your favorite type of game?
Nellie Hughes: I would say currently these days MMO’s, Of all time, it would have to be older adventure games like Kings Quest or Monkey Island

BG: What’s your all time favorite game?
Nellie Hughes: I would say for nostalgic reasons it would have to be Legend of Kyrandia.

BG: What are you currently playing?
Nellie Hughes: Warcraft, Champions, Fallout 3, Katmari Damacy on my phone.

BG: Since you’re working on Champions Online, what’s your super hero name and your powers?
Nellie Hughes: I haven’t picked one out yet. There is so much to choose from in the different power sets we offer in Champions Online that I wanted to test drive them all before I settled down with a set I’m comfy playing with. I’m usually a ranged player, so I’ll most likely make myself a fire or darkness build.


BG: How long have you been with Cryptic Studios?
Nellie Hughes: I’m going on my fourth year here.

BG: What do you do for Champions Online?
Nellie Hughes: I’m a content designer, so that means I take what our writer gives me storyline wise and I put it into the game. I make everything that goes into that mission, the one-off critters, the loot, the clickies, etc. I place all the spawns in the world and do some light scripting. I take care of a lot of the persistent game world missions and population these days.

BG: You’re obviously no stranger to the super hero themed game after working on City of Villains for Cryptic. How much of that experience proved useful while working on Champions Online?
Nellie Hughes: I would say most of my basic knowledge came from the City Of games. City of Villains was my first game and first experience in the game industry out of school. Even though the tool sets we use are very different, I learned all my basic knowledge about mission flow and level design from the City Of games and my coworkers here at Cryptic.

BG: Super heroes aren’t typically known for going in straight lines with all of the flying, smashing through walls, teleporting, etc. How does that factor into developing and populating the levels and content for Champions Online?
Nellie Hughes: Well, since most cities and locations weren’t built based on straight lines, hopefully we’ve kept it real enough for those heroes that can’t travel in a straight line.

BG: Tell us what has proven to be the biggest challenge in designing content for super heroes to date.
Nellie Hughes: I would have to say one of the worst things is, how many different times can you say “Get That Hero!” differently. The second, for me, would have to be making costumes, I have the worst grasp of fashion and good color combinations.

BG: We’ve decided we’d like to volunteer our mascot, Skully, as a villain for Champions. What are the odds of getting an evil, 8-bit, twenty foot tall skull into production at this point in the ball game?
Nellie Hughes: I’d have to say pretty much close to none on us getting it in there, though I bet you could make him your personal Nemesis in the game. I’ll make sure to keep an eye out for Skully in the Champions Universe.

BG: Historically, MMOs that fail to provide players with “phat lewt” have been short lived and obviously, there are some things that just don’t belong in a world filled with super heroes. What kind of gear can we expect to see as we progress through Champions, if any?
Nellie Hughes: Are you kidding me?! Loot is one of the coolest parts of Champions Online, and there is a ton of it. You’ll be able to augment player skills and stats all day long.

BG: City of Heroes/Villains had something of a coup recently with the addition of player created/controlled content. In your opinion, is this a natural progression for MMOs or a fluke in the industry?
Nellie Hughes: Well, I think that player created content is a great thing for MMOs. Besides making my life easier??! (kidding) It gives the players a chance to have exactly what they want for their game play experience and have the chance to share it with others. You just need to make sure you have all of your bases covered, and plan for the worst. You really have to get systems in place to make sure it doesn’t happen. If there is something in the game that will make someone’s life easier, the players are going to find it and use it to their advantage.

BG: Tell us the geekiest, comic related comment to come out of your mouth while working on Champions Online.
Nellie Hughes: “I wonder what pickup line Foxbat would use if he saw me at Club Caprice and wanted to hit on me.”

BG: Obviously there are going to be old school fans of the Champions Pen and Paper game that are going to be examining the finished product very, very closely. Do you think the game will hold up to the scrutiny and criticism?
Nellie Hughes: I would say yes. Keeping it as close to the fiction as we could while having really awesome gameplay mechanics and content was really important to the design of Champions Online. As the fiction and lore goes, we have a designer, Brian Gilmore, in our content team who has played Champions pen and paper for years and is totally die-hard to the game. I know that when something goes awry on the fiction and lore side, he is the first to find it and have keep us true to form.

BG: We’ve heard stories about you and a Weird Al Yankovic song. Care to elaborate?
Nellie Hughes: All I’m going to say about it is I did it in 5th grade and people still come up and remind me about it to this day when I’m in my hometown. Remember kids, camcorders will haunt those awkward childhood years for the rest of your life!

BG: As the game gets closer to launch, is there any particular moment or part of the design process that you’re feeling a bit nostalgic about?
Nellie Hughes: I’m going say when we switched gears from MUO to Champions. My boss called me over to his desk and said to me, “Hey remember this content you worked so hard on? Watch this..” and deleted it all for good. Even though it was a sad sight to see all of our teams hard work gone for good, I knew that we could make Champions Online a killer MMO with a fresh start and our new content tools

BG: We’ve decided that in the Busy Gamer office, wearing spandex will be mandatory while playing Champions Online. Any self imposed rules you’ll have about playing the game when it launches?
Nellie Hughes: No, but I sure would like a picture of you guys wearing spandex playing Champions Online.
BG: Will the game be Busy Gamer friendly? What type of time investment are we looking at to get to the reported level cap of 40?
Nellie Hughes: Yes, Champions Online will be Busy Gamer friendly and we have well over a hundred hours of game play in the Champions Universe right now.

BG: Tell us what you believe the biggest draw in Champions Online is going to be for the diehard MMO player.
Nellie Hughes: I’m gonna go with the Strongholds in Champions Online, our instanced group content is great! We’ve gotten some really cool boss battle mechanics in there and I personally think that will be the biggest draw for the hardcore MMO player.

For more about Champions Online, you can visit them here and if you want to know a bit more about Nellie, her info is here. Whisper “koozie” in her ear if you ever meet her. She loves it.

Gritskrieg – End of Line

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