In the midst of the pulsating music and raw energy of the Electronic Entertainment Expo, Jack Emmert, Lead Game Designer of City of Heroes, mans his post at the City of Heroes/Villains display. Things are quite a bit less hectic for him now that CoH has been released to the general populace, but that doesn’t keep the fans from coming to see what he’s showcasing. This year it is City of Villains, an expansion pack for Cryptic Studios’ flagship product, planned for a 2005 release. I was able to spend some time with Jack away from the chaotic show floor and talk about the future plans for City of Heroes as well as the newly announced expansion City of Villains.

After getting through the major undertaking known as release day, developers are faced with more complicated challenges as the game evolves. When asked, Jack said the greatest obstacle that Cryptic’s team faced was expanding the hero experience outside of combat. He was very passionate about facing this issue head on, not willing to settle for implementing a “half-assed timesink.” Jack mentioned investigation and building type skills, but didn’t elaborate. However, he did say that any type of tradeskills were designed with the philosophy of considering the genre first and really evaluating whether or not the tradeskill was a natural extension of the game.

The first major update to the live game will be released in June 2004. The update will consist of new zones, a “trial” quest in the sewers, instanced outdoor missions, additional enhancements to indoor zones, the ability to tweak your costume as well as three new villain groups (the Malta Group, the Carnival of Shadows and the Praetorians). Updates of this size are planned for every 2 months. Cryptic is committed to cranking out new content, so much so that the update team is the same size as the development team.

City of Villains, the first pay expansion slated for a 2005 release (there are unconfirmed rumors are circulating that October 2005 is the date), brings a brand new style of play to the table and some exciting twists to the current CoH formula. As is obvious from the title, players now get to experience how the other half lives. Player villains don’t start out with fully functional power sets as their heroic counterparts, but instead must work their way up from being a common thug in order to prove their worth as a criminal and be recruited by a member of an NPC villain organization. An example of one such organization that players can be a part of is S.P.I.D.E.R. (Second Phase Infiltration to Destroy Empires’ Resistance). All villains start out on Fallen Isle, a remote island similar to Bermuda. Once the player villain proves his worth and becomes part of a NPC villain group, the villain group “empowers” the thug with superhuman powers. The player then is able to choose an archetype/origin. The available powersets for villains are planned to be similar to those available to heroes currently. City of Villains also introduces optional PvP elements to the game. Jack firmly believes that players should never be forced to do anything in the game that they don’t want to do. He feels the method by which PvP is incorporated in the expansion is a “fun, fair choice.” Additionally, headquarters functionality will been added for both hero and villain groups, and an even more interesting feature that Jack shared with me was the addition of great cosmic and supernatural power items that supergroups can acquire to either protect or use for more sinister purposes. Groups that have these items leave themselves open to attack from opposing forces who wish to relocate the item. This should make for some very interesting confrontations in the near future.

Overall, City of Heroes seems to be moving right along and the vision behind the progress is quite solid. Jack spoke about the goals of his team and boiled it down to three main categories: building outside content, building city zone content, and developing more interactive events where the players affect the world. After a little over a month and a half of live performance, CoH’s 100,000 + subscription base speaks for itself.

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