Premise: Movement Powers, such as Super Speed, Super Jump, and Teleportation adversely affect how player vs. player combat, which also encompasses zone combat, works in the City of Heroes/City of Villains MMORPG.
The Infrequency of the Travel Powers in Comic Books
The concepts of Super Heroes and Super Villains come from comic books, which City of Heroes/City of Villains (hereto referred as “CoX”) has based itself. One major difference between CoX and most comic book universes is that a majority of the population has the power, Super Speed, whereas it is considered a major power for Marvel (Quicksilver, Spitfire, Whizzer), DC (The Flash, Kid Flash), and other companies. The question begs to differ: Why did comic book conceptualists keep such a low frequency of super speed among their characters? I believe, based on the observations from CoX PVP, we can determine why.
Teleportation is another power infrequent among heroes and villains. In Marvel comics, there are only a few that actively use it as a power, being their MAJOR ability (Nightcrawler, The Vanisher). In CoX, this is contradictory, but dependent on the variables surrounding the ability. Before the release of Issue 13 (i13), teleportation was commonly used in PVP combat, due to its ability to aid in a variation of the “kite” technique, where you jump towards your opponent and attack while jumping away. In the teleportation variant, you reach your opponent, use your greatest attack, and teleport out. As of right now, post-i13, teleportation is less common due to the fact that you are unable to teleport away because of a mechanic that keeps you there for a few seconds (This will be discussed later).
Super Leap, once again, follows the mold of being an exception ability rarely witnessed in comic books. At this point, the debate over leaping is left to speculation, because there are some heroes (such as The Hulk) and villains that used it.
Another power which is observable is Invisibility and it’s disparity between its appearance in the comic books and the population of CoX. There is an argument, however, that invisibility, or some form of stealth, is becoming increasingly more prevalent in the comic books; it can be suggested that the increase of technology is making invisibility more achievable by even non-powered heroes through the means of cloaking devices and so on. But regardless, while there are more, only one hero comes to mind as “invisible” and that was “The Invisible Girl” of Marvel comics. In CoX, however, many heroes use the stealth powers; meanwhile, a complete archetype of villains (The Stalker) relies on it.
In reality, the one, most predominant, power among heroes was Flight. While not every character sported the ability, it was successfully seen in characters from Superman to Iron Man. An “off the cuff” account would be: Green Lantern, Jean Grey, Angel, Storm, Hawkgirl, Starfire, and Wonder Woman (although, originally, she relied solely on an invisible jet). And those names are only from characters on TV cartoons. Furthermore, some characters use Flight as their major ability. Although there are no factual numbers on the amount of flying heroes, it would be possible to directly observe that more heroes fly than run at super speeds, teleport, or use a super jump.
What’s left? Well, that would be characters such as Spider-man and Batman. This would entail wall-crawling or clinging, grappling hook, taking a super-group jet to the location, riding a motorcycle, or using some other super vehicle. It appears that the key to movement in the comic books was to make the travel “power” a fundamental asset to the hero or villain. With characters that lacked transport, their role was often allocated to a group that could collectively overcome the disadvantage.
The Frequency of Travel Powers in Player vs. Player (PVP) and Zone Player vs. Player (ZPVP) Combat
The following Travel Powers dominate CoX:
• Concealment (*)
The campaign world of CoX revolves around these five powers because of the importance of reaching a task-based destination (usually called Player vs. Environment, or PvE) and all forms of PVP. The Concealment power pool is of special mention because, although it does not change your method of travel, it does increase your ability to reach the destination without being challenged.
In the CoX PVP and ZPVP (which will be now be broadly referenced as “PVP”) environment, nearly every character (referred to as a “toon”) has the Super Speed power; this can be observed directly by watching a PVP battle or going to a PVP zone. Often, Super Speed (also referred to as “SS) is used in combination with the Super Jump power, which creates an extremely fast, high-and-low reaching character.
Flying, or the Fly power, surprisingly, is one of the lesser chosen powers in ZPVP. If taken, it will mostly be chosen with other existing travel powers. For example, even though a person wouldn’t think jumping is needed when you fly, the Jumping power pool has the powers Combat Jump (which gives more maneuverability and some protection from immobilization effects) and Acrobatics (which gives limited protection from hold and knockback effect).
As well, a strong majority of the players use invisibility, or some variant of stealth, for their characters in PVP. One of the most predominant methods for avoiding the “Concealment” power pool, where Stealth and Invisibility reside, is to use a +Stealth “process”. This process is something that can be bought and/or created through the CoX invention process, and will grant the user a degree of invisibility when activating the power linked to it. For most players, the linked power will be Super Speed.
Teleportation, the power, waxes and wanes dependent on the current mechanics surrounding it. As was stated previously, the Issue 13 release has changed teleportation enough that it is less desired as characters and less seen on the battlefield.
The Leaping power set is probably of equal, if not more, prevalence than any other pool set. This cannot be verified, though, without actual numbers from NCsoft. The basis of this belief is due its ability to operate (and provide functionality) simultaneously with all other travel powers, while having two very desirable powers that are heavily needed to survive (Combat Jump and Acrobatics, described above).
While it is a debatable point, it can be observed that the travel powers have led to the creation of the artificial response mechanic (ARM), namely “Travel Suppression” (TS) in PVP. Because of the relevance of movement to using techniques such as kiting, and escape, this sparks less of a debate.
The notion of suppressing travel only came through the observations of developers who saw players “strafe” and “kite” their attacks in one fluid motion, being unassailable due to the speed of the action. The result was to “force”, through TS, an artificial mechanic that keeps the player in the confrontation as long as possible. (It should be noted that the timer for suppression is completely arbitrary; right now your ability to run or fly away is a few seconds, but they could easily raise it to one minute.)
The Disparity between the Comic Book Universe and CoX Travel Powers
Seeing that there is a strong difference between how travel powers are appearing and being used in CoX, in comparison to Comic Book Heroes, can reflectively been shown by how they were implemented.
In the superhero MMORPG genre, CoX was the first; their solution was to allow every character access to every form of travel. In essence, this became the norm. So, where we look at “The Flash” and see a superhero whose sole primary power was his incredible speed, CoX has made it an option to everyone. Likewise, with Invisibility, Teleportation, and Flight, once again, it becomes an available option to every character whereas it usually remains the primary function of a hero or villain in the comics. As a matter of fact, the limitation you have is that you can only choose four power sets among the ten Power Pool sets.
As a result, it is not uncommon for multiple travel powers to appear in PVP. As well, it has already been shown how Stealth can be circumvented with the Invention Creation System, and therefore, it is theoretically possible that a person could choose Fly, Super Speed, Super Jump, and Teleportation, with the addition of a +Stealth process to give them some level of ability to be undetected.
But once again, comic books took a different approach. Teleportation and Super Speed were certainly major powers and it was rare that character did anything but variations of using those powers. (For example, The Flash could vibrate himself at super speeds, allowing gunfire to pass through him; Nightcrawler would perform a multi-teleport, striking numerous characters in an area of effect.)
The basis of super flight was also treated specially, even though it is commonplace to think of it as a power typical of a hero or villain. If you look at many of the comic book heroes, you’ll see that the maneuverability of the flier is only significant when flying is his major power. In those cases, we have the Angel (a mutant with wings) and the Falcon (an avian telepath endowed with technological wings granting him flight). Counter-examples would be Superman (who can fly super fast, but never avoids direct damage) and Iron Man (who can fly extremely fast, but is protected by armor). These counter-examples only prove that the heroes are fast, but since it is not their major power, their flying is not based on maneuverability.
The conclusion of these events, specifically in how travel powers are implemented in CoX, is that they represent key importance in success for all forms of PVP. The level of their importance changes with each issue release and patch, dependent on how affected the power becomes. (It has already been discussed that teleportation has been used less because of an artificial travel suppression mechanic.)
A Description of Outcomes of PVP and ZPVP Due To Travel Powers in CoX
What has been observed is a constantly changing environment in all forms of PVP. Because of the prevalence of travel powers, some other powers have become less effective.
Melee attacks, as a whole, are less effective unless supported with super speed (and usually Super Jump). Without super speed, a ranged attacker will consistently have an advantage of dealing damage and getting away from a close range fighter. The advantage is with the ranged attack at this moment.
Invisibility, or Stealth, has the obvious advantage of determining the battlefield in ZPVP. CoX has one archetype (AT) completely developed as a stealth template (The “Stalker”) and, coupled with Super Speed, he is easily capable of closing in on an opponent and striking, only to get away. Subjectively, it appears that is his sole purpose, but it should also be noted that the developers of CoX are currently using Travel Suppression as a mechanism to keep the Stalker “attackable”, visible, and in the confrontation for a few more seconds at this time (however, there are other powers the stalker can use to be completely intangible to attack for example, Phase Shift, which makes you intangible, and Hibernate, which encases you in a block of ice, untouchable).
Teleportation has been more affected that any other travel power. One extremely common power in the Teleportation pool was “Teleport Foe”. It has the ability to target an enemy at long range and bring them to your feet. At the post-i13 release, any foe who is teleported has a moment of intangibility with which they can use to run off (3/4th of a second at this time). As well, players that used to teleport out of combat, now find that their power does not function for a number of seconds after they are hit.
Flight may be underrated, but this may also be because there are so many powers in the past that removed the ability to stay aloft (some powers have a “-fly” effect in them). After i13, powers that immobilized or held characters are less effective because of their short durations, the fact that passive powers no longer toggled off when held, and that the hover power will normally keep you flying even when immobilized or held.
But one of the reasons flying is used fairly infrequently could be because a flier cannot catch up to a person running at super speed. Subsequently, since travelling at super speeds is extremely common in all forms of PVP, fliers lack the ability to chase characters running from battle. It should be noted that character cannot fly at super speeds (The two do not work together).
As stated before, some attacks are less effective. At the same time, though, other attacks are nearly completely ineffective. For example, among one hero archetype, there is a power known as “Time Bomb”, which resides in a secondary power set known as “Devices”. The time bomb takes 8 seconds to set and will go off after 15 seconds. The problem with this power is that it is easy to be killed in the 8 second preparation and extremely unlikely that the bomb will even be near a battle when it actually explodes with its extreme damage. Needless to say, Time Bomb is not a PVP chosen power and the occasions where it has been chosen are rare.
The viability of choosing a power for PVP is, therefore, based not only on its damage. The animation time, or prep time, of the attack is extremely important. (It should be noted that NCsoft has lately been working with the powers to establish a link between the amount of damage done and the prep time.)
But what seems of most importance to choosing a power is how easily it can connect based on travel powers. Since their prevalence, all powers that require range to continuously work (such as the Radiation Infection power, which requires you to stay within 70 feet of your target) are often, but not completely, ignored. Maintaining a specific range is very difficult, and therefore more immediate powers that “Fire and Forget” are chosen.
Further Use of Artificial Mechanics and Implementation of Travel Powers In The Future
The Artificial Response Mechanic “Travel Suppression” is the system that is used by CoX to handle balance to the pervasive use of travel powers as a means to attack and escape combat. It is not believed that travel powers were originally meant to be used as a means of combat; instead, they were only meant as a method of arriving at the fight destinations.
Although this is speculation: what ensued appears to be less than intended. Early on in their release, characters were performing “drive-by” attacks through the forms of travel and removing themselves from commitment of combat before any actual confrontation took place.
Travel Suppression, although artificial, is designed to counteract such an action. Through the use of arbitrary timers which can be raised or lowered, you are forced to move at walking speed levels if you are attacked or attack. While it can objectively be argued whether this system is working, it is noteworthy that all forms of PVP are going through changes at this time, which keep the characters in a state of change. It is not uncommon for the developers to allow “respecification” tokens, where a character can change his power choices, after they make they make such changes.
It is anticipated that CoX will remain in a state of change with all forms of PVP for a long time. While it is not extremely uncommon in MMORPGS to establish patches and minor changes, major overhauls are not often as frequent. Where they have occurred, other trends have been established (i.e. The “Trammel” event in Ultima Online and the “NGE” event in Star Wars Galaxies).
Therefore, the conclusion is that PVP will have many changes to come, because it has been changing from the moment of its inception. Yet, it will be extremely difficult, or even dangerous, to change the system dramatically, because of the implementation of travel powers as an optional choice for any character in the spectrum. The backbone of the system becomes dependent on dealing with those powers as a majority; for them to go away now, or be revised into a completely new system, would likely cause a collapse in the loyal subscribership.
Recommendations for Travel Power Implementation in Next Generation Superhero MMO PVP
The City of Heroes/City of Villains MMO model is a great example to how a superhero setting can be implemented. Yet, what we notice is that travel powers dramatically affect PVP outcomes in CoX and have caused it to undergo constant changes. This includes changes so significant that players often resort to re-choosing or rebuilding their powers.
An option for a next generation superhero MMO might be to incorporate travel powers into actual full-scale powers within the normal framework of choices. For example, as noted above, Super Speed and Teleportation have a natural course of effects which could be used to cause damage and provide utilitarian uses. Invisibility and stealth are likewise the tools of defense and elusivity. This also applies to Flight and Leaping.
This recommendation would reduce the necessity (but not necessarily the appearance) of travel powers in PVP; instead they would serve the primary purpose of being a trademark characteristic of the intended hero or villain. This becomes more attuned to how comic book implementations have curtailed the overuse and advantageous use of travel powers in their pages.
Another recommendation could be the use of Natural Response Mechanics (NRMs) as opposed to artifical ones (ARMs) like Travel Suppression. For example, a natural response to super speed, flight, and so on would be the lessening of accuracy. In this model, the faster you go, the more difficult it is for you to accurately target. The outcome, then, becomes natural: If you want to fight well, you slow down. Subsequently, an indirect response later becomes less people choosing the power, but not entirely discarding it as an option.
The goal, therefore, is not to devastate any single power; it is to make it equally as important as the others.
Yet another option for a future superhero MMO would be more interactivity within the environment. As is clear, melee-based attacks have a natural disadvantage among fast-running, high-flying, and teleporting-to-escape, opponents. As a matter of fact, even when both characters have the same modes of travel, the ranged attacker has advantage over the melee user.
An interactive environment allows characters new strategies; what if the fire hydrant can be smashed and the pool of water turned to ice? Now the speedster can slip and fall. What if you can push a building over on top of the flier? What if you can pull a lamppost out of the ground and swat the jumper like a fly?
In conclusion, it is clear that Travel Powers have a predominance to mold the shape of PVP, and can significantly alter the importance of other powers in combat. It is also important to see that wide-scale use of Travel Powers seem to delegate the need for consistent changes, refiguring, and revising of PVP.
To future development, it becomes of primary importance to determine what percentage of fliers, jumpers, teleporters, and speedsters designers would like to see among their populations. Is it necessary for each person to have a form of “super” travel? How does your travel system compare to other MMOs, both from your, and all other, genres?
Careful implementation of these powers, by paying attention to how they were treated throughout comic book history, is advisable, due to the scenarios writers foresaw in their evolution. Likewise, a natural implementation of these mechanics may indirectly help influence choices and outcomes. What we are observing is not ironic; many well-circulating documents (i.e. comic books) have addressed these powers before.