Your initial idea of the game sounds like it draws some cues from Oblivion, where you're doing a quest and you stumble upon a guy that needs help with a ghost in his basement or something. Then you branch off pretty naturally to that little mission.
JE: That is 100 percent my goal. I don't want to be so full of hubris as to say we can create a game as good as Oblivion or Dragon Age -- that's what we hope to do. But we all use the term "Dragon Age mixed with Oblivion," where we want a really tight, great storyline, which Dragon Age really delivered, and one of the best-loved things in Oblivion for me was stumbling upon the little stuff, like finding the farmer who needs my help or something. So that's the gameplay we're really trying to capture.
I find with that kind of format, that's a big reason I didn't even finish the main storyline in Oblivion, but still had 100 hours in it, because there were so many other interesting things to do. I'm not sure if you can really call them "side quests," because they branch so nicely from the main path.
JE: We actually call them "vignettes," that's our terminology for them.
You were candid in a recent interview, saying that you didn't think Cryptic games' quality has been up to par. What do you think you have to do to raise the quality to where you want it to be?
JE: Well it's not that I thought the quality wasn't up to par, it's the customers and critics and everybody else, right? [laughs] All you have to do is go to Metacritic.com. It's not like we went out and said, "We're gonna make a really shi... mediocre game, and put in a box," no. We all thought that Star Trek Online was going to be phenomenal. We all thought that Champions was going to be phenomenal.
Even in open beta, the reaction we got from [Champions] was better than anything we ever did with City of Heroes and City of Villains. We were sky high. So believe me when the reviews came out, we were shocked, just shocked. Because there was nothing that would lead us to believe leading into it, from the data we had in beta, like the number of people playing, the number of downloads, how often they played and all that kind of stuff. It had exceeded anything that we had done previously.
So the reviews meant we had to have a reality check. The old way of doing things is very simple. We made City of Heroes in about a year-and-a-half. We made City of Villains in nine months, and both of which were successful, both of which were highly-acclaimed and reviewed.
And we looked around at MMO companies, and they were struggling. They were spending tens of millions of dollars, and we spent, what, $8 million on City of Heroes and $6 million on City of Villains. Here, we had a game, it was successful, we pumped 'em out, we had the technology, we had the tools, we thought we could be doing it forever, because we were like, "Yeah, we'll just keep making them every 18 months! We can!"
Star Trek Online
But what's happened over time is, quite frankly, World of Warcraft. I think it's a very different marketplace now. Because of World of Warcraft, the expectations are raised. So now with Champions and with Star Trek, we need to improve those games. We need to make them better. We're doing everything we can with our live team to improve the quality of gameplay. Not just to shove more content in, but to polish it.
With City of Heroes and City of Villains, that just wasn't the case. So mistakenly, arrogantly on my part, I just thought we could take these games and make them over and over again. And we did with Champions and Star Trek. They are so much better than City of Heroes was at launch, it's not even close. But just look at the review scores.
I designed City of Heroes. I didn't design Champions and I didn't design Star Trek. I have no horse in this race. I'm honestly bashing myself by saying these are better games. But I can honestly say, especially with Star Trek and Champions, they were just better. So when you see the reaction to the games, it really astonishes.