City Of Heroes: A View from Atlas Park: Cryptic’s Marvel-lous Adventure

There’s been lots of big news in the past week. More info got dealt out to fans about Veteran Rewards. This year’s Halloween Event is up on test, with tester feedback apparently making getting the reward (unlocking a fifth costume slot on a character) much much easier. Positron put out a letter that details a number of things to look for in I8, I9 and I10. But the big one is that Cryptic finally confirmed that it will be developing the Marvel Universe Online MMOG (MUO) at the behest of Marvel Entertainment and Microsoft Games.

Now, I’ve already commented on this issue twice, in fact) and have stated that I think it’s a great idea. Cryptic gets a new, attention grabbing MMOG title and takes out a source of competition at the same time. Marvel will finally get that MMOG it first announced over four years ago. Microsoft gets a MMOG to leverage on Xbox 360 Live users. Without going into it in a long way, I think it’s a positive step for Cryptic to have taken.

But does that mean it’s a good thing for CoH/V? Positron’s letter and Cryptic’s press release both went into how CoH/V and the MUO will be developed by different teams and that CoH/V resources aren’t going to be sucked into MUO’s development. While some on the forum didn’t believe those comments, I do for the simple reason of that’s the way it has to be. Because if it wasn’t, then things could very easily be turned around the other way and MUO resources could get sucked into CoH/V. There’s no way Marvel / Microsoft is going to allow that. So it’ll be two separate teams of developers at work on the two different titles within Cryptic.

There are lots of side issues surrounding this announcement that are really interesting to consider, but I’m going to leave them for now to focus on one question that hasn’t really been asked in detail yet: what does MUO need to be better than CoH/V? MUO will HAVE to be better than CoH/V in some areas (at least) if Cryptic is really looking to establish a name as “the best MMOG developer” in the industry – if MUO doesn’t achieve this then Cryptic is going to be left looking like a one-trick pony and Marvel / Microsoft aren’t going to be happy. So I believe that MUO is going to surpass CoH/V in several areas… but which ones? For me, the most obvious are:

Character Creation: CoH/V already has one of the best character creation systems in a MMOG – the Archetype system offers a good number of variations (numerically at least; how likely you would be to choose certain combinations depends on the person) and the number of different costume options is absolutely immense. I think the number costume options will be a similar size for MUO (and wings / capes / trenchcoats etc will be in from day one), just tweaked to be more Marvel-orientated: instead of Crey costume items, you could choose SHIELD uniform items, for example. But the AT system is going to be replaced for sure, hopefully by something more flexible.

Archetypes / ATs will be replaced because they don’t really fit with Marvel’s mythos – whatever the character creation system of MUO, it has to be reflective of the majority of Marvel’s established characters. Forcing players to be a Blaster if they wish to homage Iron Man, for example, is going to make a lot of Marvel fanbois unhappy. So Cryptic is going to have to create a character design system that allows for more custom selection of powers. I still suspect this could be done by making players select roles for their character (for instance: primary role of ranged offence, secondary role of personal defense, tertiary role of support), with powers then being bought at costs that depends on how the character “values” them according to their selected roles. Or it could be some other system entirely, but I believe that the MUO character creation system will need to be a lot more flexible to keep players interested and happy.

Character Progression: This should be faster in MUO than CoH/V. MUO is going to be for Xbox360 and PC, but in reality, I believe the focus will be on its Xbox360 connection. Why? Because that’s the untapped market and the place with the fewest competitors.

I don’t believe that most console players will be willing to commit huge numbers of hours to level up like they would if they were PC gamers. Although CoH/V arguably already has a very casual-friendly playing style, I’d expect the MUO to cater even more for reasonable character advancement when playing limited time sessions (ie just an hour or so). If it doesn’t, well, I think it’s going to turn off a number of Xbox360 players.

Combat and Non-Combat: Again, console players want very different things from their game combat than PC MMOG gamers. As such, I believe the MUO combat system will be improved to make it more dynamic and much, much quicker. Perhaps even button-mashing power combos will be introduced as a way to make things more “super” in the MUO superpowered game world.

As for non-combat systems of achievement, Statesman has had extensive experience at designing ones that wouldn’t work within CoH/V’s framework. With MUO, he’s got a blank slate to balance out combat and non-combat systems right at the start and make both useful to the gaming experience.

Every other “I want” feature: Every single feature ever requested by CoH/V players, past and present, is now open for consideration in the MUO. Customised power effects? Haven’t been done in CoH/V due to the amount of time required, but can be designed for from the ground up in MUO. Personalised nemesis system? Announced as part of CoH pre-beta, but never appeared in-game. However, it would be easy enough to create such a system for MUO. And I could go on. In short, the MUO dev team already have a model of an existing superhero MMOG (CoH/V) and can see a list of features players want just by looking at the CoH/V forums. The MUO dev team would be negligent NOT to start building some of these wanted features into their new game.

The Setting: First off, Statesman has said that the MUO will be set in New York. Now, it makes sense to me that Statesman is talking about the whole city here – I’d expect to see NYC recreated in-game (with some subtle Marvel features eg Baxter Building) near perfectly. I don’t expect NYC to be the only location you can visit, but I expect it to be the central location in-game (much like NYC is the central location for lots of Marvel characters).

The other part of the setting is the Marvel Universe. Lots of things that Cryptic doesn’t offer in CoH/V because they might come close to copyright violation (eg wall-crawling, certain costume options) can be done in the MUO because Marvel is hardly going to sue it’s own game for copyright violation.

Overall, Cryptic’s knowledge (Statesman’s inparticular) is going to be used to make MUO as good a game as possible. Anything less would be selling Cryptic, Marvel and Microsoft short. The easiest starting point for MUO is to look at CoH/V and see what it doesn’t have but would be popular, then start developing those features. At the end of the day it is what MUO offers that is different that will help draw the crowds away from other MMOGs (CoH/V included) and towards MUO.

Finally, and on a different note, I’d like to throw my prediction out there for when the MUO will launch – Christmas 2007. “Wha-? That’s only a bit over a year away!” I hear you say. Yep, but 1) this deals been going on for around a year already at this point, so SOMETHING must have already gotten under way, and 2) Cryptic already has it’s proprietary applications to use in developing MUO. With CoH/V Cryptic had to build them from scratch – they don’t have to do that for MUO. Sure, things like artwork and animations take time, but I don’t believe it would take another 3 years for MUO to be ready for release. It looks good for all parties involved if the MUO can be launched quickly and successfully and Christmas 2007 would be a tight yet possible deadline for the Marvel MMOG to go gold.

That’s all I’ve got to say about Cryptic’s MUO for now. However, I’m sure it’s a topic I’ll revisit at a later date.

– UnSub (@UnknownSubject) [email protected] October 2 2006

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