City of Heroes is without a doubt a wildly popular “sleeper” hit and it has received a multitude of feedback from the community about future additions to the game. As a designer/developer, how do you set priorities for new material and features? How much does community feedback play into that process?
Interestingly, most of the suggestions brought up by players on the forums have already occurred internally. Between NCSoft and Cryptic, I have access to a lot of great minds with MMP experience; we have a treasure trove of ideas & suggestions that are just waiting to be implemented. I still scour the boards daily and I usually find at least some really good tidbits.
As for prioritizing, it’s all a matter of implementation measured against design. In other words, if a feature is not a big design improvement, it’s not worth a big expenditure of effort. But if something is cool, and fits the game well, then it’s worth the effort. I’ll give an example: an Arch Foe system. It’d be really cool if players could earn their own Arch Foe – and battle him on and off throughout a character’s career. This is a staple in comics and movies, after all, so it’s a natural fit for City of Heroes. So this feature is naturally worth the time spent to implant it.
This gets to something else – and it’s almost like a company statement at Cryptic – don’t do anything half well. We could jury-rig an Arch Foe system pretty quick (in a matter of a couple weeks), but it wouldn’t be that intriguing. From Cryptic’s point of view, spend the extra effort and make something cool, rather than rush the feature out the door.
Since the title of the third major update was released (A Council of War), theories of the content of the update have been the subject of quite a few forum posts. Most notably, there has been speculation of water zones, pirate villains and buried treasure. What can you share with our readers that might give more insight on what to expect?
The major emphasis on the third expansion is the storyline of our game. This expansion radically changes the face of the Paragon City Underworld and introduces players to a brand new threat. We’ve been detailing some of these changes in our Wednesday web updates; so stay tuned for more!
Staying on the subject of Issue #3, little is known about the “epic” archetypes planned for release. Besides the fact that this archetype can be unlocked when a player reaches level 50 (and essentially, the player starts anew), what other facts about the mechanics or implementation can you share?
Once you’ve gotten a single character up to level 50, you can make as many of these Epic Archetypes as you want – on any server. The Epic Archetypes introduced come in two varieties: the Peacebringers and the Warshades. Both are different factions of an alien race whose existence has just become public knowledge. They possess mixtures of powers that are otherwise impossible in the City of Heroes. But Peacebringers and Warshades desperately need energy to power themselves. As a result, their power level is directly linked to the number of teammates they have.
“Epic” power pools were mentioned in an interview you did with Warcry last September. What are some examples of powers that may show up with the introduction of that gameplay element?
What powers does every Archetype crave? If you’re a Scrapper or Tanker, you really want a ranged attack. A Defender and a Blaster want personal defense powers. A Controller wants to dish out damage. Well, the Epic Power Pools allow each Archetype to get the types of powers they always wanted.
The power pools are themed to the power sets that each Archetype already has. For example, the Tanker power pools are Fire, Ice, Energy, etc. to match his Primary and Secondary Power Sets. A character can choose any one of these Power Pools. Over the course of the higher levels, the power set slowly opens up.
And this Power Pool comes IN ADDITION to the other Power Pools a player has. So a player doesn’t need to sacrifice a Power Pool slot to select them.
You alluded to the fact that the SSOCS (Super Secret Out of Combat System) may be delayed, though it had initially been slated for release with Issue #3. Has this been confirmed? Details on the system have been “cryptic” at best…how about whetting our readers’ appetites with some more details? (I’m not above begging, you know.)
Yes, the SSOCS has been delayed. I can’t say yet when it’ll be out, but I hope it’ll be in Update 4 or 5. We have high hopes for our Skills system – it’s the answer to the question, “What do heroes do when they’re not fighting”?
At any point in the future, do you ever envision the players fighting along side the NPC heroes in larger scale battles. Or are those heroes retired for good? Any other details of in-game events on the horizon?
Now that’s a great suggestion…
Are there plans to include player created characters in future issues of the monthly comic? If not, would you consider such a thing?
This is DEFINITELY something we want to do. There’s no reason why player characters can’t appear in the pages of City of Heroes. Some heroes have already have had cameos, but I think something similar to the old “Dial H for Hero” would work great. In that series, every issue contained a story about a character created by a fan. I don’t want to do away with the overall story of the comic, but I do think a feature like this would be cool.
Officially, supergroup housing is planned for the City of Villains expansion. Will personal housing follow shortly thereafter or is it being considered at all?
Yes, it’s been considered. I think personal housing, complete with trophies, furniture, etc. is a definite possibility. First, however, we want to focus on the Base system.
The development team seems very dedicated to reviewing each archetype and making adjustments accordingly. What archetype is highest priority on the tweak hit-list at the moment and what changes are in the planning stages?
The number one priority is tweaking the mob control abilities of Tankers. Right now, the Archetype can’t quite hold “aggro” well enough without resorting to Power Pool powers. Secondly, we’d like to fix some Tanker Defense sets that aren’t up to snuff either in looks or in power. Next in line are AOE attacks and how overwhelmingly effective they are. Well placed blasts can nullify the usefulness of many Archetypes.
And now for the obligatory “vision” question…where do you see the City of Heroes play experience in a year from now?
The play experience will grow along with the mythology of the game. The new Epic Archetype in Update 3, for instance, is intricately intertwined with the history of the City of Heroes universe. This is something I really want to delve into over the coming year. We have a 560 page story bible for the game; it’s now time for us to allow the players to begin exploring this vast background.
Lastly, what’s the one thing you’d like the fans to know most of all?
How much planning and effort goes into each feature. Decisions are never made casually in game development. A lot of people work very, very hard to come up with the best possible solution for a particular need. For my part, whenever I play a game, and something occurs that seems out of place or just plain wrong, I try to come up with the reason for it.
I’ll give an example. I’m a huge comic book fan, and as such, I noticed that both Mystique and Nightcrawler were visually different in the movies than they are in comics. As a comic purist, I was disappointed. But then I looked into the reasons why. In the comics, Mystique is blue skinned, while Nightcrawler was covered in blue fur. The problem with a Mystique in the movies is that an actor covered in blue paint still looks like an actor covered in blue paint. Nightcrawler’s blue fur was simply impossible to reproduce. So the movie makers instead added texture to Mystique (in the form of scales) and Nightcrawler (in the form of scars). This added element made their blue forms seem more “realistic” visually than flat blue skin color. In other words, the movie makers had a very good reason for doing something in a way that didn’t seem acceptable at first.
Similarly, game developers put a lot of time into thinking about ways to solve problems.