A View from Atlas Park: So… What’s Next?

A View from Atlas Park: So… What’s Next?

All in all, 2005 was a pretty big year for Cryptic. City of Villains came out, several issues with more content were released (which included the more interesting zones of Striga Isle and Croatoa) and Enhancement Diversification dropped from the sky to squash the forums under its sheer weight of DOOOOM!-ness. Then it actually hit the servers and most players forgot what they even complained about. At the year’s end, both Cryptic and CoV won some awards for what they did in 2005.

Instead of doing the usual past year recap that lots of people / sites / shows like to do, I’d prefer to look forward and see what’s coming up next for CoH, what we have to look forward to in 2006 and beyond.

Sadly, having thought about this for a while, all I come up is a blank.

Sure, more things are going to arrive in the CoH / CoV world. Issue 7 is due in the not-too-distant future (ie February / March) with things rumoured to include temporary origin-related powers (expect a surge in Natural Origin heroes, who have the only damage dealing temp power), a new zone called Grandeville for CoV, a revision that improves the way defence scores work against high(er) level enemies, maybe some new powersets and some costume pieces from CoV to make their way into CoH. Some of it (the temp powers anyway) is on the Test server now, so we’ll just have to wait and see what comes next.

But I consider new zones, new powers, new costume pieces et al to be par for the course. I’ll take a look at them, certainly, figure out what I enjoy (and probably write about it here), but it’s not anything that grabs me and makes me pay attention to it. The only new powerset I care about is Dual Pistols, which may not ever be developed. New zones are fun to go through – and I think Striga Isle and Croatoa have been two of the best things in their respective Issues – but once you’ve outleveled them, you aren’t going to go back. All of this is small stuff, standard stuff, for CoH/V. Where’s the big idea? The thing to get all excited about?

CoH was a big idea. It was a mmog that let you create your own superhero and have them fight villains. So simple in a “why didn’t someone do it earlier?” way, it captured a lot of interest for a rookie company who was creating its first game. After some changes to reduce to overall scope of the game and a lot of production time, it came out and attracted a sizeable number of players to it. Just before CoH was launched, Cryptic announced CoV – another big idea. This idea told you that you could create a villain and use it to fight against those pesky heroes in Paragon City. A different set of people were interested, people who don’t want to play a superhero, as well as a lot of CoH players. CoV comes out, shows off a lot of good things and in many ways is better than CoH. But that’s it for Cryptic at the moment – no more big ideas have been announced at this point.

The Super Secret Skill System could have been a big idea, but it’s been put on ‘indefinite hiatus’. Other ideas – an end-game for CoH/V, for instance – occasionally get mentioned in passing, but very little is announced formally. Players are interested what the next “City of …” is going to contain, or even if there is going to be another game in the series. Lots of rumours get circulated, trying to fill the gap that not having a big idea brings (of course, announcing a big idea will see a whole set of new rumours created, but hey, that’s just how people work). I like the idea of a big, world-changing Event being announced, with lots of hero / villain involvement and a comic-style narrative that puts your character at the forefront of saving / destroying life-as-we-know-it, but that’s just me.

Cryptic needs to announce a big idea. Although I’m sure they are currently bedding down a lot of issues with CoV, this doesn’t make people interested. Having a lot to do didn’t stop the announcement of CoV during CoH’s launch and it shouldn’t stop them announcing a big idea, if they have any, at this point. Statesman has said that he’s learned not to announce things before they are ready, because players run with it and then get disappointed when they find circumstances change. That’s certainly true when you announce, then retract, imminent changes, but a big idea can be announced with a long lead time. People respect that big ideas take time to develop in detail, especially when they are as complex as a mmog. Silence, while sensible and not something that is likely to generate disappointment, leads people to think you’ve got nothing left.

It’s completely possible that Cryptic have some great big ideas lurking in the wings, just waiting for their chance. Tell us about them – the players want to know what they can look forward to, what they can get excited about. Unfortunately, the entire computer game industry is built on what is about to come out – once you’ve released it, it’s old, and the next shiney thing is on the horizon. New content for the established games is good, but it’s expected. Something different, something that captures peoples’ imaginations – that’s the thing that is going to keep people interested.

So Cryptic: what’s next?

Recently announced and then retracted was a change to stealth that would have meant that stealthed characters could not click on glowing items (aka glowies) that are needed to complete missions. Glowies are usually guarded by somebody or something, but players were using stealth to get around having to fight them. Under the change, a player would have to unstealth his avatar (and proabably fight the guards) before being able to click on the glowie. Players raised a lot of issues about this change on the forum, some of which were obviously accepted by Cryptic because the change has been postponed until a better solution can be found.

(Also, glowies will no longer give experience points – not that they all did anyway – to stop people farming them by repeated resetting missions. This seems like an okay idea in my mind, since farming glowies seems like a borderline exploit. Glowies will still give influence, however.)

A lot of players complained that this ruined stealth, which it doesn’t. It makes the power(s) slightly less useful, but you can still ghost your way through most of the mission and then do your best not to set off the guards when you have to decloak. Sure, you might have to fight 15 guards instead of 5 to complete a mission, but this isn’t such a huge problem for most players.

What is a problem is that this change would turn Grant Stealth powers into potential griefing tools. Any player who could turn other heroes invisible could stop them from completing missions. All you’d need was to stand in front of the final glowie for a mission and activate an area-effect Grant Stealth and then just watch people go nuts as the mission timer runs out. It’d be griefing heaven.

So it was a good call to postpone the change, but it is still something that is going to happen in some way, shape or form. The devs don’t like the apparently huge number of players who ghost through missions because it seems to make things too easy (so I guess having an archetype who’s entire point is their stealth ability wasn’t such a great call then). It’s hard to disagree, but the proposed change seems a bit hamfisted.

In my opinion (and c’mon, you knew it was coming!), a good option to rebalance risk vs reward and reduce the effectiveness of stealth in glowie missions is to make glowies give all enemies around it a bonus to their perception. This makes a bit of in-game sense – these guys are guarding the item of importance, so they are a bit more aware of anything that happens around it – and decreases the chance a player can just waltz through a mission without drawing the ire of any opponents. In fact, getting attacked in the middle of clicking on a glowie is a big jolt for a player, so giving enemies the chance to see a stealthed character (thanks to that +PERCEPTION) would be a nice tweak to the way things currently work.

– UnSub [email protected] 12 January 2005

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