Now fully settled into their NorCal office, NCsoft is hard at work on the expansion of both the City of Heroes/Villains game and the team that supports it. The publisher turned developer of the original super-hero MMO has taken to the ground fast and we spoke to Lead Designer Matt Miller and Senior Designer Floyd Grubb about the transition, Issue 12 and more.
“We thought it was going to be a tougher transition than it was,” said Miller of the switch from Cryptic’s leadership to NCsoft’s. “We kind of hit the ground running once we got into the new studio”
As NCsoft NorCal is exclusively focused on all things City of, they had promised to dedicate more resources to it. For example, when they release new elements of micro-content, such as a recent wedding pack, the money they make off it is put right back into the game’s expansion and development.
This tighter focus and increased budget has allowed them to do some of the things they always wanted to do, but never could quite fit into a past issue. The main one for Issue 12 is Epic Villain Archetypes.
“It’s something we’ve always wanted to do ever since we released City of Villains,” explained Miller, who served in a similar capacity at Cryptic. “They would usually be the first thing on the cutting room floor because they’re not accessible to all the players.”
And it’s true. This is largely content for level characters in the Villains half of the game only, but it balances things out between the Heroes – who’ve had their own Epic Archetypes for quite some time – and the Villains. Miller directly credited the proceeds from that wedding pack they released for making Epic Villain Archetypes possible.
The expansion unlocks the Blood Widow and Wolf Spider archetypes for all villains. They first specialize at mid-career, with the Blood Widows being a lighter, martial arts driven choice and the Wolf Spiders being the heavier, shock-trooper types.
For those who go down the Wolf Spider route, they have the choice between Crab Spider and Bane Spider at level 24.
“This is the first archetype that we’ve designed that halfway through their career they get to choose what path they’re going to go down,” Grubb told us.
The Crab Spiders have some pet and stealth tools to go with their melee arsenal, while the Bane Spider takes the warrior thing to an even further degree.
On the other side of the career tree, those who go down the Blood Widow path get to choose between Night Widow and Fortunata.
Night Widows use stealth ability and mental blasts to go with their innate martial arts skills to destroy their enemies.
The Fortunata combine their offense with control abilities, to create a mind-powerful hybrid.
Ultimately, Miller and Grubb wanted to see a parity between the Villains and Heroes in the end-game and this expansion provides both sides with an even playing field as far as epic archetypes of their high level characters are concerned.
Aside from the other major features of Issue 12, Miller pointed out that the team has spent a fair amount of time on basic and long requested quality of life improvements, particularly in the user interface.
With a game that has been around for over three years, things begin to crop up and one of their programmers had a laundry list of things he’d always wanted to fix or add, but never had a chance. They set him loose and in Issue 12, the players will get to see what he’s done.
“[We’re] making the game a lot easier for players to manipulate on their end,” Miller explained. He also talked about little tweaks, like for example a temporary boost when a player levels up. Now, they get a bonus and truly get to feel the surge of power that rushes through everyone after they hear that level up tune.
He’s also excited about the addition of traditional RPG branching tree dialogue, something they didn’t have in City of Heroes until this Issue and will now begin to use quite a bit.
“In this issue it’s just the test bed for it, we got the tech late into the development process so we were not able to use it everywhere we wanted to,” said Miller.
This allows them to put options into conversations or theoretically do things like present players with situations like which wire to cut when diffusing a bomb. It sounds simple, but it makes their options as mission designers much greater.
Miller could not – however – comment on whether they plan to go back over old content and backwards integrate this technology.
Along with the renewed focus on City of, NCsoft has also undertaken a number of new initiatives within the game. Traditionally, they have always released small bites of content for players to buy and enjoy if they so choose and that has continued after the transition.
They also recently announced a decision to add optional advertising to the game. This worries some fans, but seems to make sense in a more contemporary/Sci-Fi setting that City of offers.
“It’s actually been received very well,” said Miller of their announcement. “We wanted to make sure that we affected our user experience as little as possible.”
As such, they first plan to integrate it only on logical places, such as the billboards that decorate the cities of City of Heroes and Villains. They also have their art director hard at work with potential advertisers to ensure that every advertisement that enters the game fits with the setting and style.
If that’s not enough, players can simply go into their interface and turn off all advertisements. No penalties, no questions asked. Obviously, Miller hopes they leave them on – it helps fund the game’s continued expansion and development – but he doesn’t have an interest in forcing players to be subjected to something they didn’t sign up for.
Issue 12 is currently in Beta, in advance of its roll-out on the live City of Villains and Heroes servers.