A View From Atlas Park: What CoH Doesn’t Need

Nearly every mmog player has a wishlist of what their favourite mmog should have or should be fixed. Some of these ideas are essential (like fixing up exploits or broken features), some are imaginative, some are a bit wacky but could be interesting… but to be honest, most aren’t worth the time spent writing them, let alone reading them.

From my experience, a lot of these wishes are either impractical and / or blatently unfair. On the impractical side you’ve got things like “I want to map my own face onto my character’s head” or “I want to have a fully customisable character, with [insert ramble in here]”. Unfair wishes are the kind that usually seek to give one character type a huge advantage over the others – common cries in CoH are to give Scrappers ranged attacks or to give special advantages to those who can power-level the longest.

Just because something is unfair or impractical doesn’t mean it won’t be implemented. Technology eventually allows the possibility of some of the impractical requests eg flowing capes. “Unfair” requests can be introduced as features as part of a planned update to fix other game imbalances or as an accident / bug.

For the most part, these impractical, unfair requests are aimed at boosting an individual player’s capability at the expense of the overall game. It’s human nature to want to do better (well, it’s really human nature to be dissatisfied with what we have, but that’s another column…) but often these requests just lead to a rigged game (that’s unfair) or a game that that’s impractical to operate or develop further.

Back before CoH was launched, a number of features were discussed that haven’t yet seen the light of day. Occasionally you’ll see them brought up on the forums, usually in a post that says how vital that feature is. But having seen CoH and played it for a while, there are a number of ideas that were thrown about that should never see the light of day. I’m sure that it won’t be the last time these dead horses are given a poke with a stick, but anyway…

Wall-crawling: Oh dear god, how I hate the idea of wall-crawling in CoH. Only one notable comic book character wall-crawls (versus the hundreds who, for example, fly) but he’s obviously pretty popular given the number of times I’ve seen this topic come up.

Disengage your Spidey-fanboi mindset for a second and actually think about what wall-crawling would be like in CoH. It would be the slowest of the travel powers, most likely limited to your Sprinting speed. There isn’t so much on top of buildings that you can’t get to by other ways that wall-crawling is actually needed. Other than being just-like-Parker, this power would have very limited use in CoH.

There has been some talk about a form of “wall-running” being developed that will allow characters’ feet to stick to walls while running through Paragon City. Personally, I think this power would be pretty limited in use too (it’ll still be quicker to run around a building than over it), but it is certainly better than wall-crawling.

Ziplining / Swinging: Another thing that Spiderman does is a lot of swinging (and I’m not talking about the 1970’s way of swinging, either). Although I can see some benefit of being able to swing from building to building or zipline up to a certain height, it seems like it would take a lot of work for it to look good. One thing Spiderman usually doesn’t have to worry about is everyone looking at exactly where his webs are attached to a building; this wouldn’t be the case in CoH. Threads that stopped mid-air would be one of those stupid things that players would laugh about.

For swinging to work properly, players would need to manually target every connection for their rope / web / grappling hook. This would make this travel power especially taxing to use and limit it’s appicability to zones where there is actually something to latch on to. Boomtown is a zone with little ability to let heroes swing, as would be some of the zones dominated by the sea.

Swinging / ziplining is a nice idea, but would be a lot of work for not much payoff.

Vehicles: Not needed – we have travel powers that serve exactly the same purpose. I know, I know – superhero comics have fantastic vehicles as a staple of the genre. But most comics that use vehicles also have to travel between countries / universes / dimensions. In CoH, you never really need to leave Paragon City (or a dimensional version of it).

Between the rail system and a travel power, you can get around the Birthplace of Tomorrow pretty easily. If you choose not to get a travel power… well, that’s your call and it means you can get another power instead of choosing Super Jump. You shouldn’t be able to have things both ways.

PvP: Yeah, yeah, I know – just call me King Canute. But player vs player (PvP) in CoH is a bad idea.

It’s a bad idea for the same reason that pvp doesn’t work in other lvl-based player-vs-environment (PvE) games. Firstly, PvE games are balanced to make it a challenge to fight the environment (eg monsters). Players screw around with this balance by doing things the environment can’t or doesn’t. Like chasing a player over zones. Like playing mean. Like not letting your character rest. Players can (and will) take every advantage they can over you, and if that means permanently stunning your character and then taking cheap shots at you until they win, they will. A game designed for PvE will almost certainly be unbalanced for PvP. If the game is rebalanced for PvP, the the PvE gets thrown out of whack. No-one is left happy by this.

Secondly, lvls = power. If I have fewer lvls than you, I have less power. This makes for an ideal bullying situation, where higher-lvl players beat up lower-lvl players because they can. Sure, it isn’t nice, but it will most certainly happen. In fact, in games that have PvP, it happens all the time. It’s why PvP and griefing are so closely linked in peoples’ minds.

Thirdly, ranged archetypes are going to have it all over melee archetypes. Although the concept of a Controller whacking the stuffing out of a Tanker is quite funny, I’m sure if I was playing the Tanker I wouldn’t be laughing, since I would be rooted to the spot, disorientated and unable to do anything in response.

I could go on (and on, so perhaps I’ll do a full column on this issue later) but that’s enough for now. To this point, no mmog has managed to happily balance PvE and PvP in the same game. With the proposed release of the Arena in the future, we will get some idea of what Cryptic have in store for the PvP (and perhaps see them experiment a little). Although it would be nice if they manage to solve the PvP in a PvE game dilemma, I’m not confident that it is possible.

Damaging ranged attacks for melee archetypes: Don’t get me wrong – I’m not against Tankers or Scrappers getting a kind of ranged attack. Something that stops enemies running away from you is fine. Just not anything that does damage. Once you venture into that territory, a Tanker / Scrapper will start to move into the Blaster / Defender area of offense while still having the melee, damage-soaking defense abilities. That wouldn’t be fair, even for just one ranged damage attack per power group. Unless I can give my Blaster an armour power in exchange. Does that sound fair to you melee players out there?

That’s it for now. I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few issues, but I’ve had enough of talking about what CoH doesn’t need. Next column will be about what it DOES need and what I haven’t seen mentioned yet in any proposed features list.

[p] – UnSub [email protected] 12 September 2004

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