Resurrecting the Superhero MMO – City of Titans Q&A

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City of Titans started out as a dream – a bunch of capable fans who wanted to remember their favorite game, City of Heroes by making a successor. Though they don’t own the IP for City of Heroes, and couldn’t get the developer to save it, they have decided to make a game of their own. They’ve grown significantly beyond that goal – City of Titans is now a fully funded (and counting) Kickstarter which will release a game in 2015. They’ve recruited a team of experienced programmers and businesspeople. They’re going to make their dream a reality.

The term “Spiritual Successor” gets tossed around a lot on Kickstarter. What does that mean for City of Titans?

Sara “Firefairy” Quinn, President: It means that we want to have the same “spirit” as City of Heroes without being a direct sequel. The ability to play with your friends and have fun without the game getting in the way, the ability to feel as if your character is a meaningful part of the stories you see unfolding, and generally the basic fun of going out and playing your own unique super and exploring an exciting world are all factors.

Chris “Warcabbit” Hare, Project Lead: It’s a very tricky thing. We’re not using their original engine. We’re not able to use their original world. We can’t duplicate the gameplay or the power sets. And, currently, we don’t have any of the original developers on the team, though we have their well-wishes.

So it means something a little tricky. While every element will be different, the gestalt must still feel, not merely the same, but ‘right.’ The timing of attacks, the presentation of the enemies, the entire stage direction of the presented mission has to feel like an old friend. There are things we can change for the better, and there are things that, if we changed, would be for the worse.

Where we focus is on taking the things that people spent nine years expressing how much they loved and used, and enhancing them in ways that come easily to the player. The costumes will be more customizable. The story will be better and more personal. The customization will reach inside every part of how we express a power.

This is a new city, but the most important parts of it remain the Heroes in the sky… and the Villains in the shadows.

Ian “Doctor Boston” Hawkins, Business Office Vizier: Familiar gameplay while respecting the IP rights of others. With luck, familiar player culture, too.

What form will basic gameplay take? Click-to-attack, target and autoattack?

Sara Quinn: It’s really a bit early to say. One major purpose for the Kickstarter was to acquire the more expensive software needed to do intensive work building for the engine, and we need some playable content for testing so that we can find out what works best for our players and our system overall. Once we have some testing in and have made a final decision, we will definitely be making announcements.

Chris Hare: I know people always want to hear about new things, but we’ve done some fairly extensive surveys, and the part that surprised me the most was that people didn’t want very much change in the basic gameplay. It worked, it worked well. Even blocking and dodging was viewed as a very negative thing. There is a positive side to this, though. City of Heroes was always family friendly, to the point where people could play with their kids on their lap, and we’re aiming to be the same way.

At launch, we’re not looking at making any huge changes. But as we grow and roll out new power sets, we’re going to play with things a little, and see how our players like them. We’re going to have a lot of flexibility in this game, we’re building things so we can change them with ease, and we’re going to leverage that in every way we can.

Nate “Doctor Tyche” Downes, Technical Director: There are some minor adjustments, but overall the goal is a design close to the original. The few adjustments are down to resolve some issues that gamepad players had, and only impacts them directly, although opens up new options for the keyboard & mouse player as well if they wish to take advantage of the new capabilities being planned for.

What will make City of Titans stand out from the average MMO?

Sara Quinn: Overall, the fact that the story is actually about the player characters, rather than their being simply spectators to events or interchangeable cogs in a larger event. We will be using a technique City of Heroes did, where multiple player characters can each complete the same piece of content, but we never put it in their faces that they have done so- in each character’s individual canon, that experience was unique, and their further content will treat it as such. The player character is the protagonist, and the story follows them through their development into a super of epic proportions, as opposed to treating them as one of many, who are all largely irrelevant next to the most major NPCs.

Chris Hare: We’re focusing on two strong pillars. Customization and Story. I’ve discussed the visible part of Customization a bit, so let’s talk Story. We’re not doing voice overs, we can’t afford to. So we’re making necessity into a strength. We’re going to start with multiple personal storylines that go all the way to level cap, and none of them will be restricted by class. Combine it with actual choice in your plotlines, the kind of choices Mass Effect never gave you, and we’ll really be doing something special. You can choose a villian’s path, and search for redemption. You can choose a hero’s path and fall to depravity. More than that, we’ve taken a vow to make your character matter to your storyline. You will not be someone’s lackey or fetching pet. And yes, one of our pathways will potentially let you take over the WORLD. Holding on to it is… another story entirely. This is comics, after all. Don’t worry, you’ll appear to die in a horrible explosion, and escape to plot again.

Ian Hawkins: Having a good gameplay experience for unfettered visionaries (“villains”) is a high priority. Also, our commitment as a studio to have the legal structures in place to spin off the game, should it no longer make good business sense for MWM to continue supporting it.

William “Robin” Strickland, Head of Composition: We’re looking at having a vibrant setting that’s a bit more real and interactive than most, with a game lore that’s basically as deep as the player wants to go. We plan to have a variety of stories available that cater to all sorts of comic book genre staples, for both heroic and villainous characters, and we hope for there to be fairly little sameness or repetition. We want the game to respect the player’s choices and involvement, so that they can feel like a part of the game world. For instance, we’re looking at a way to have the actions of the player base influence the plot of future expansions, to make our players that much more a part of the experience.

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City of Heroes was contained a lot of dated mechanics that – near the end – felt archaic. What new things are you working on to update that formula?

Sara “Firefairy” Quinn, President: We have paid a great deal of attention to what was clunky in our beloved predecessor as of its closing, and listened to its creators when they spoke in interviews about what they had been hoping to do to update, or wished they had done earlier in order to avoid the clunkiness. We are learning from their experience, and using that knowledge to build a world without those issues. We are also taking our own experiences as players into account, and building in strengths from other game experiences. Cabbit is much more exciting when he explains it, but overall, we know quite well what wasn’t working in CoH, and we are updating plot structures, the alignment system, and the architecture, both inside and out, to make the world feel more alive. We’re also working on a rules structure that allows the powers system to be more flexible.

Chris “Warcabbit” Hare, Project Lead: The player control experience, we’re going to keep fairly similar to the old style, but without a few of the same limitations. The universe they play in, though, is going to be a bit different. The days of the same, Escher-esque warehouse or office map twenty times in a row are over. The enemies are going to be different, and the ends of arcs are not always going to be about punching a big bag of hit points. We’re going to have missions where you perform detective work, missions where you have choices of entrance points and choices about how you perform the tasks. We’re going to crank up the interactivity in the missions as well. We’ve got plans for a kind of mission that’ll make the old Mayhem Missions look faded. We’re talking about blowing through walls here, not just blowing up fire hydrants.

What kind of reaction have you had from fans of CoH?

Sara Quinn: Considering that we have managed to both staff our project and fund our Kickstarter with the efforts of fans, I would say overwhelmingly positive. The vast majority of our volunteers were avid CoH players, and we owe our swift Kickstarter success to the enthusiasm of the rest of the community. We have gotten some criticism when we did not do a particular thing in the manner someone might wish, but it has been largely delivered in a manner indicating that they wish us to do well, not that we are being attacked, and we have listened and taken it into account in our further development.

Chris Hare: Very positive. Not uniformly so, but very positive. We’re fans. I’m personally known to a large percentage of old players, simply due to my longevity in the game, my membership in the Paragon-sponsored Player Event Resource Committee, and due to running one of the early group-of-supergroup coalitions. Not to mention being a long-time friend of The Cape Internet Radio.

But I’m just one of many people on this team, and we aren’t just a single group of fans, we come from a very diverse and wide selection of the fanbase, united by our love for the old game. This means that we’ve got a broad spectrum of ideas and concepts about what the game was, and that’s pretty healthy. It also means we get a fairly wide base of people to talk to in our ‘monkeysphere’.

There are those who refuse to believe we can do this. We’ve given the evidence we have, we stayed together without any hope of funding for a year to make sure we would stay together as a team, before we even thought of engaging the Kickstarter. We’ve made a lot of progress. But they won’t believe until the servers open, and maybe not even then.

There are those who were hurt, badly, by the servers going down, and don’t want to believe in us until we get them back up again. I can understand that feeling. I’ve been hurt in life, and opening myself to hope after that took a long time. But we have a goal, and we will make it happen.

What major features will be “absent” at launch? To put it in City of Heroes terms, something like Villains.

Sara Quinn: Actually, due to the way our alignment system is set up, the pigeonhole system has been replaced with a more flexible system that allows for degrees and types of heroism or villainy, rather than just four strict types, so all the alignment types will be available at launch, although I cannot promise there will be even amounts of content available for every shade- that will be determined by other factors. Other than that, we are focused on providing quality content, so what will be available at launch will be the content we can polish to true release quality, not the full wish list, which I expect we will be working on for years thereafter.

Chris Hare: Vehicles, sadly. We want it, we’re going to design for it, but I don’t think we’ll have the spare time to put the gameplay in. Our pet-controlling class is designed to be even more customized and flexible than the previous generation, so we might have to delay that a bit as well. The question is, how much of each feature will we be able to fit in? We’ve got a number of plans for launch, based on how much we can get from investment and how soon we get it, but the initial level cap may be lower than we like. If we have to launch at a lower level cap, it’s not going to be something we’re pleased about, but those 30 levels will be full of content and features. And the remaining levels will be along as fast as we can make them. And remember, a lot of content can be designed in parallel, so we can hire people to perform tasks, and then assemble them all at once.


Your Kickstarter Page makes a big deal of community features, can you give us a detailed example of one feature that will work to build community?

Sara “Firefairy” Quinn, President: Teaming that isn’t hard-restricted by levels. If you can team with your friends, include new players in your high-level party, and explore content at various levels through teaming without being limited in who you can team with by some hard-coded system in the game, you can make and maintain connections with other players that can last for years and even extend outside the game much more easily than if you have to fit into some arbitrary level window in order to work together as a team. This doesn’t mean that a level 1 character in a level 50 party will be as effective as a true level 50, and depending on their powers, they might be a one-hit-wonder when they get pulled up that far, but that’s practical considerations, not us deciding not to allow it. Simply not getting in the way of connections is a quiet way in which we can encourage community.

Chris “Warcabbit” Hare, Project Lead: I’ll do better than that, I’ll show you something that didn’t. Champions Online gave people what they said they wanted. The ability to choose any power, rather than being restricted. They combined that with a weaker debuffing and control environment than CoH. This resulted in a population of offensive tank-mages, and no real interest in teaming. The Trinity is dead, but we’re keeping team size at eight for a reason. We want people to play together.

Something that does work? Giving people a place to relax, online, and socialize, while making it easy to get to, and easy to get back to fighting things quickly. Further, making exceptionally good and easy to use looking for team systems. Let the players do the work for us, but give them opportunities to play together.

Nate “Doctor Tyche” Downes, Technical Director: The past decade has seen media revolutionized through social channels in a way few imagined. It would make sense to exploit the power of social media to enhance the online experience. Imagine being able to tweet your achievements or badges. Just visualize the idea of linking your account to Facebook and G+ to share your screenshots. And this is just scratching the surface of the potential here. Organizing raids through your Google Calendar, checking your friends list for who else plays, huge potential here for the players to improve their own game experience. And, all we have to do is give them the keys to doing it themselves. Ultimately, the player is in control.

You’re aiming for a 2015 launch, why should people support now instead of waiting to pay at launch?

Sara Quinn: Because the earlier we get funding, the more will be in the game at launch. Also because we are hoping to find some very non-traditional investors who are interested in funding us more out of a desire to build community connections than purely out of a profit motive, and having people who are willing to contribute demonstrates a strong community connection to our project. That kind of investment will help us avoid some of the pitfalls of more traditional investment, and retain more control over the direction of the project, but we will have to show that we are a strong contender in order to get it.

Chris Hare: Now that we’ve made our minimum, every single backer, even if it’s only a dollar, is a sign of commitment. We’re going to need additional investment to launch, and every single backer we get is a sign to the banker, investor, or non-traditional funding source, that we have a market, and a fan base, that’s worth investing in. Every backer gives us a stronger argument and gives us better terms when we go looking for the investment we need to launch the game. With the right investment, we can make the game bigger, and have more people work on it full time, all the way up to our goal of a starting level cap at 50, our pet class functional, and enough costumes to choke a horse.

Ian “Doctor Boston” Hawkins, Business Office Vizier: One of our interests, as a business, is to ensure that no outside interest can quash a functioning game. To do that, we must forgo the traditional influence Publishers and Venture Capitalists have over their investments. This means a heavy reliance on loans and similar – the kinds of sources that need reassurance there is a strong market for the product.

Nate Downes: Just because the full game is aiming for 2015 does not mean that there will be nothing coming out beforehand. An MMORPG of this design lends itself to a myriad of tie-in applications, which are needed for the finished product. Releasing them before the finished game gives the players a taste as well.

city of titans concept 1

This is, to our knowledge, one of the first times the fans of a game have tried to “revive” it. How do you feel about being the pioneers of that?

Sara “Firefairy” Quinn, President: I don’t know that we are the first to try, but I don’t know of any other attempts that actually had much of a chance of success. Mostly I have heard about projects that died in infancy because there just weren’t enough people, and studios that have taken the idea and made it into an entire new game. I do think we are the first to do it entirely as a non-paid effort, and honestly, I think we will need to find enough funding to have at least a few people working on this full-time if it is to succeed long-term, but I love the way we started.

As far as being pioneers, I feel we have a massive responsibility not to screw this up. As with any first, we are setting precedent for how well this works. If we don’t do this properly, it will make things massively harder for the next group to try something of this nature. Obviously, we are trying to succeed for any number of reasons, but I do think of our effect on posterity as one important factor.

Chris “Warcabbit” Hare, Project Lead: I really think this might be the biggest community led and organized long-term effort that has not had university support. Most open source projects tend to have one or two core players working on it full time thanks to that sort of funding. We’re just stubborn. We’re lucky that what we’re doing can be a faithful, if completely reinterpreted, evolution of the game. But I don’t know if we’re really the first, it’s just that we’re one of the first to go digital to digital. The people who made the old SSI Gold Box games were fans of D&D, and I know Bioware’s people were fans of the old AOL Neverwinter Nights. And, of course, to follow Bioware, I know the people behind SW:TOR were huge fans of KOTOR. Still, if our example inspires others, that’s pretty awesome. Making games isn’t easy, but all you need is time, effort, and a lot of persistence.

Nate “Doctor Tyche” Downes, Technical Director: There have been spiritual successors of previous games, even fan made ones. There even have been ones to MMORPG’s which have been shut down (Lego Universe springs to mind). The main difference I can find here is that the tools available to such an effort have improved dramatically over the past few years. Five years ago, the options for game engines was quite limited. The professional tools were incredibly expensive. And the ability of a team over the world to work together was very limited. The same advancement which allows businesses to maintain virtual offices across the globe also enables us these same opportunities.

Are there any plans to bring your developers together under one roof, and if not, how do you plan on overcoming the challenges of being a distributed studio?

Sara Quinn: I am best as a telecommuter, honestly, but there are benefits to having a physical location, even if a good deal of the workforce telecommutes. We plan to eventually have at least a location at which we can conveniently receive mail as a company and house our servers and the like, but I am not certain there would be a great deal of benefit to trying to pull people from all corners of the world to one location when they work quite functionally from their current locations.

Chris Hare: There are plans, certainly, but they won’t come into effect for a long time. It’s an expenditure that we just can’t afford right now, and even if we do, we intend to have a fully armed and operational telecommuting experience. Our volunteers come from Sweden, from Canada, from Scotland and beyond, not to mention most states of America. Not everyone wants to move. Heck, I don’t want to leave New York myself.

But this is part of why we spent a year together before we kickstarted. We’ve got a functional organization scheme, and it’s working. It’s survived senior staff leaving, lead developers having multiple disasters in the family, and hardware meltdowns. The fact that we’ve been able to put out an update every day of the Kickstarter has been a real test of it, but it’s holding together. And now that we’ve got approval and a following, I don’t see people leaving us.

Ian “Doctor Boston” Hawkins, Business Office Vizier: Some in the business office like the lack of liability and rent that comes with being a 100% remote company 🙂

If you’re interested in more information about City of Titans then you can check out the kickstarter here. Be sure to look soon – the campaign closes on November 4th. Missing worlds media also maintains a forum for the game, as well as twitter and facebook.

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