In November of 2007, Cryptic Studios made the decision to sell City of Heroes/Villains to NCSoft – their publisher. The entire development team (about twenty of them) made the move from being Cryptic employees to NCSoft employees. I asked Senior Designer Joe Morrissey about the transition.
“It’s fantastic!” Joe enthused. “It feels like a new game. We’re doing what we want to do with the game and we’ve got all this support behind us. NCSoft is giving us the resources we need to really take this game where we want it to go.”
Thus far, they have doubled the development team to about 40, and Mission Design is now a team of three instead of just a single person.
“We have the freedom to plan, and we are actually planning multiple issues ahead. We’re able to get to all those little niggly things that could have been improved but we’ve never had the time to fix and polish, now we have the opportunity to not only bring more content to the game, we can smooth out the old wrinkles. It’s been really liberating.”
I of course asked for examples of improvements. They included full zone re-dos for the zones they felt needed work, UI and chat improvements and have reorganized the contact list which has been categorized and the new UI shows three tabs, the Active, the Inactive and the Brokers. Chris, a current player standing by waxes eloquent over the how much he enjoyed the new Contact management window.
“It was awful, previously,” he agreed. “It was just one long list and you had to scroll through the entire list looking for your active contacts.” Launched in Issue 12, players can also search the contact list by a range of criteria which include name, zone and level range.
“We are also working on what we call Quality of Life features”, said Joe, expanding on the Day Jobs feature that is in the works for Issue #13. Instead of secret identities, players will have Day Jobs – which actually are offline character progression. Depending on where you log off, the game will assume that this is where your day job is, and the character will acquire a thematic buff. For example, if you log off at the hospital, you may get a health buff. The time that you are off game will also provide you an XP bonus when you log back in, and if you stay in the same Day Job for a certain length of time – that is to say, you log off in the same area each time, you can earn a badge and title. Perhaps you are no longer just a health worker; you are a surgeon in the hospital. Joe also mentioned that Accolades (essentially a badge set) are also planned for the Day Jobs feature. How that will pan out is yet to be seen, prompting Chris to wish that Lead Designer Matt “Positron” Miller was about to leak more than he should. Almost every location in Paragon City and the Rogue Isles will have an associated Day Job: a scholar at the University, a Civil Servant or City Official at City Hall, etc.
Issue #13 was announced at PAX during the NCSoft presentation, and that issue would also contain the Mission Architect. Players will be able to design their own missions and story arcs to share across the City of Heroes community. It started out as Joe’s pet project; a way of making mission design easier for the staff. It was to be a development tool. But with one of City of Heroes’ original objectives of allowing players to create their own content such as player bases, it quickly became a planned game feature for players.
Joe showed a couple of mockup screens of what it could look like. Some of their objectives for this feature are; an easy to use interface like the costume creator, a deep selection of choices, hundreds of categories with millions of combinations of maps, enemies, objects, and the ability to write your own dialogue, etc. There are of course limits to what can be done as there is always the balance that has to be considered, of creative freedom versus exploitation possibilities.
The cream will rise to the top as a rating system will be available to players per account to rate the missions in several categories. A few general categories planned are Quick Play, Developers Choice and Hall of Fame. The best of the best will be given full XP and influence at completion. Mission architects will be rewarded via player ratings, and will unlock additional contents such as new mobs and maps to put in new missions they create. Badges are also considered at this time as rewards for mission architects.
Questions were asked about poll stuffing and malicious negative voting, but with thousands of players playing the missions and rating linked to accounts and not characters, Joe assured us that there would be little chance of that happening, apart from the fact that the ratings would be monitored and malicious raters noted for action if necessary.
Community feedback will be paramount for the missions created by players and not only can players build single missions; they will be able to build entire storylines. If this is successful, City of Heroes would be able to boast the most extensive player created content in any MMOG today, truly a game with content that is made by players for players.