Yesterday, I had the opportunity to sit down and talk to Matt "Positron" Miller, the Lead Designer on Cryptic Studios' City of Heroes and City of Villains to talk about the upcoming Issue 11: A Stitch in Time as well as some of the other things going on lately.
Obviously, the biggest feature of this new issue (for those who don't know, CoX releases free major updates called Issues... like comic books. It's clever) is the ability to travel through time. It isn't terribly surprising that CoX is going this route, after all time travel is a staple of comic books and sci-fi.
Missions that allow characters to travel through time are called Oroboros Missions. Naturally, the first question I was what Oroboros meant. To be honest, it sounded to me like one of these silly fantasy-style names that really don't have any meaning. Matt set me straight, informing me that it is actually the proper name for that classic image of a serpent eating its own tail. He told me that the symbol represents infinity. There's more info available on this symbol on Wikipedia. Matt told me that this was the perfect name for the Menders of Oroboros, as it represents the classic time paradox of the end creating the beginning. "Like if someone went back in time and became his own father."
Time travel has been handled in many different ways in the movies, comics, television, etc, so I asked Matt just exactly how players could go into the past without upsetting the current present of everyone else. Turns out that someone is messing with the past and it's up to the players, with the help of the Menders of the Oroboros, to go back and mend it before it effects the future (hence the clever name).
That's the story premise, but I had to ask Matt how it was actually going to work. He told me that once a character was exposed to time travel, they receive a temporary power that allows them to open a door to a new area, the Oroboros Citadel. While there, there are two different kinds of mission.
Issue 11 introduces brand new time-based missions. The first type that Matt told me about were the "historical missions", missions where characters go back in time to be a part of major events in the past. "One of the Rogue Isles Quests," he said, "lets you go back to 1964..." In 1964, Lord Recluse took the Rogue Isles from President Marchand.
City of Heroes has always had a rather unique way of sharing its game's historical lore, but when you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. Comics. Players who have read the CoX comics (which are actually quite entertaining) will be familiar with some of the historical missions. "[We wanted to give] players the satisfaction of being able to participate in those historical events," said Miller. "It's almost like a Civil War re-enactment where you get to go back and be the hero."
The second mission type allows players to travel into their own pasts by going to a place called the "Pillar of Ice and Flame". There, players will be given access to a list of things that happened in their pasts, both missions that they have already completed, and missions that for one reason or another were missed (I am told that they will be clearly marked either way).
In an interesting twist, players will also be able to set their own parameters for the missions, intentionally making them more difficult to complete. Completing missions with these parameters will earn players badges. The parameter options are as follows:
These parameters can be mixed and matched (you can put more than one on at a time) and each parameter is a pass or fail on their own, meaning that you could manage to complete a mission in a certain number of lives while not meeting the time limit and still earn the badge for the former.
Story arcs in the past are able to be done either solo or in a group, but group play in story arcs is going to be treated like Task Force missions where players can't join mid-stream, and if you leave the team mid-way, you can not complete it.
"We want players to experience everything that the system has to offer," Matt told us.
While the time travel aspect is certainly a main attraction for Issue 11, it certainly isn't all that the update has to offer. In fact, they are actually adding two new Power Sets to the game.
Dual Blades - If you're one of those people (like me) who can't stand when a character has a free hand that could be used to wield a weapon, you're in luck. This power set will not only allow players to fight with two weapons, but it will also bring in the "Secondary Effect" of combos. Already in the game, powers often have secondary effects, fire does damage over time, ice slows opponents, etc. For the Dual Blade, the order of the attacks can execute a combo that will either buff your character of de-buff your enemy.
Willpower - The Willpower Power Set will represent Heroes and Villains who are just generally more than your average person. They will be "jacks of all trades but masters of none" offering players a large sampling of defensive capabilities, not as powerful as specialized defenses, but with more range.
This Issue also adds new Invention Sets to the game. When the Inventions System went live back with Issue 9, there were a number of powers that were left out. Matt tells me that Issue 11 resolves that issue, adding inventions that enhance the remaining powers. Like any good journalist, I asked for a list:
The Inventions updates don't end there, however, as Issue 11 will also launch the "Very Rare" sets. These sets are better than level 50 enhancements. Again, I asked for a list:
Last year, it was decided that the pace of Issue releases would be increased so that one new Issue would be released every four months. The launch of Issue 11, which is scheduled for Fall 2007 or before December 21st, will mean that that goal has been reached.
"It's a testament to the team," Miller said, talking about their dedication to getting new systems, elements, missions and other content to the players. "[We're] making sure we give [the players] the best quality product we can".
Earlier this week, I wrote an "At a Glance" article that featured City of Heroes. One of the things that I noticed while I was getting into the game was that while Heroes has 11 servers, they always seemed to be green with only one of three lights lit. I had assumed that this represented server population, and so I asked if they were having population issues and if they had plans for a server merge. As it turns out, I was wrong. The lights indicate the likelihood of high ping and lag, and has "very little to do with the number of players online". Miller is "very happy" with the current game population and there are currently no plans for a server merge (although players can now re-name their characters or move to a different server for $9.99).
Miller went on to inform me that they saw a number of players return with the release of Issue 9 and pointed out that they also have a Veteran Rewards program that rewards player loyalty.
"We are very happy with our community," he said. "In fact, we're trying to plan a Fan Fest for the San Jose area."
"We love how much passion our players have for the game and for their characters."
The last thing that we talked about before I let Matt get back to work was the upcoming Halloween event that will be taking place from October 22nd until November 4th. During that time, Heroes and Villains will be able to go trick-or-treating in their respective cities. Sometimes, players will get a treat. Maybe an inspiration or other reward, which other times, they'll get the trick, in the form of attacking mobs.
This year, players will be also have the opportunity to gain temporary powers that will turn them into popular City of X NPCs.
Thanks Matt for taking the time to speak to us