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Jack Emmert Community Q&A #1

Interviews By Dana Massey on December 01, 2006

This community Q&A lets us learn more about the one they called Statesman.

Cryptic Studios head Jack Emmert is a unique character in the gaming industry. He comes from an academic background and makes comic book games. Today, we begin a periodic feature where we hope the fans can learn more about Emmert, his studio and his projects. Read the first Q&A below, then check out the comment thread to suggest questions for future weeks.

MMORPG.com: As we begin this new series, can you tell us what first inspired you to want to create City of Heroes? An apple from a tree, a light bulb above your head, or did you watch too many Batman with Adam West re-runs?
Jack Emmert:

I've been a huge comic fan since I was 8 years old. For several years, I worked in a comic book store! I still read 75 or so comics a month; my collection is around 20,000 strong. However, City of Heroes wasn't my brainchild. Rick Dakan, one of Cryptic's founders, came up with the idea for a comic hero MMORPG.

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MMORPG.com: Without feeling the need to pimp a Marvel character, who was your favorite superhero (or villain) growing up and what about them captured your imagination?
Jack Emmert:

Namor. Bottom line.

First, I love the fact that his roots stretch back to the Golden Age (40's) and the dawn of the comic book medium. While Superman and Batman were strutting their stuff, Marvel had creations like the Sub-Mariner, the Human Torch and Captain America.

Second, I'm intrigued by his background. On the one hand, he commands one of the world's superpowers, but on the other, he's always trying to strike a careful balance with the surface world. His strength is so legendary that he can battle the Hulk or Thor, but that strength doesn't translate into diplomatic skills.

MMORPG.com: I've seen some pretty odd routes to the gaming industry, but a Masters in Ancient History and Greek and Latin seems the oddest of them all. Trace us the path from point A to point B... and how did you possibly not do a historical MMO with that background?
Jack Emmert:

Some day I'd like to do one. I'd just need to convince Cryptic's board members it was a good idea!

Another part of me doesn't really want to cross fields, though. I studied the ancient world for well over a decade. My desire to do it "right" may actually be more of hindrance than a help.

MMORPG.com: You guys are doing Marvel Universe on the next generation consoles. What makes you think the MMORPG will work on these beasts?
Jack Emmert:

Because consoles can now deliver the capabilities needed for a MMORPG. I think simple technical constraints provided one of the largest hurdles. Plus, the new Xbox360 is SO online friendly. If you haven't tried Xbox live, you're missing out!

MMORPG.com: You're often asked to speak at big conferences and such. Do you enjoy the process and what is the most terrible thing that has happened to you during one of these speeches?
Jack Emmert:

To be honest, I've only spoken on a handful of panels and been a speaker twice. Not exactly a long track record. After teaching at Ohio State, I'm relatively used to the idea of lectures. I especially enjoy the discussions with people after the fact.

The most terrible thing I remember is when City of Heroes crashed while I was demoing it. I was at a ritzy San Jose hotel showing off the game which was about to release. The audience, for the most part, were hardware engineers; this was primarily a small conference about video cards. I was extremely uncomfortable because I couldn't answer any of their questions about our engine and even worse, the game crashed. What a fiasco.

MMORPG.com: Over the years, your role has evolved at Cryptic Studios. Can you trace us through a regular day at work?
Jack Emmert:

First thing, I grab a cup of coffee. A little unusual at Cryptic; most people here drink Coke or Mountain Dew for their caffeine fix!

Second, I check my e-mail. There's usually not much that comes in over night, but inevitably there's a couple of issues requiring my feedback.

Third, I try to talk to all my Lead Designers to find out what they're working on. I try as much as possible to make this a daily thing, but inevitably I get interrupted by other things. We've got three projects under way right now (one of which is top secret).

By this time, meetings start up. Usually, 11am - 4pm have got at least two meetings. I'm either brainstorming ideas with the Design team or I'm reviewing a Design doc. Occasionally, I've got Cryptic biz meetings - like developing an Employee Handbook or talking to some company about something.

At lunchtime, I usually bring my food to work. However, on Wednesdays the entire design team goes out for lunch and then travels over to the comic book store. Wednesdays is when the new comic books ship. Every other week, I'm playing in the Cryptic Studios Warhammer 40k tournament (a miniatures game); I'm undefeated thus far!

The rest of my time, I'm reading or writing Design docs. Most of the systems are actually "owned" by designers and it's up to the Lead Designer on the project to make the final call. It's my role to help guide and suggest the process; I try to coax the best ideas possible out of people. Admittedly, I sometimes exercise my veto power and say, "no, do it this way", but that's a last resort and not something I should be doing often!

Then it's home to my nine-month old son and beautiful wife!

MMORPG.com: Superheroes are in vogue lately with NBC's Heroes. What do you think of the show and do you think it will help your products out?
Jack Emmert:

I've been cajoled by my design team into watching it. I was hesitant because it isn't really your typical comic book hero thing; no one wears costumes, there are no super villains, etc. I like the overall plot that there are super powered individuals that have some greater purpose and the acting has been fine. It's good, but it hasn't reached Battlestar Galactica good for me quite yet. One thing that disappoints me is that the female characters are all used as sexual objects. The cheerleader is almost raped. The African American woman cheats on her painter boyfriend. The police man's wife cheats on her husband. The blonde sleeps with the politician. It seems that the women's plotlines inevitably involve sex, while the male storylines don't (Hiro, for example).

MMORPG.com: What was the last comic book you read?
Jack Emmert:

I just reread Fantastic Four #100 - 104 today. I'm trying to reread all of the Fantastic Four (all 500 issues) as preparation for Cryptic's current project, the Marvel MMO. Last night, I read Ultimate X-Men #70-73 and Uncanny X-Men #476 - 479. Rarely is there a day that goes by that I don't read at least one comic!

This is just a primer. What do you want to know about City of X, Cryptic, Marvel Universe or Jack himself? Without feeling the need to go into hyper-specific questions about the games themselves, jump over to our boards and tell us what you'd like to hear Jack talk about.

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