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Overcoming the Impossible - Powers Customization

Guest Writer Posted:
Developer Journals 0

Ok, maybe "impossible" is overstating it, but "Overcoming the Boat Load of Work" just doesn't have the right ring to it. You see, when City of Heroes was made over five years ago, customizing the look of your powers was never considered. When the art for the powers was done, the colors for the powers were "baked in," in such a way that it would be impossible to tint them to a different color later. It wasn't until we had our first feedback from outside the company that we realized the corner we had painted ourselves into.

You see, we had given players the most customizable character creator ever seen in an MMO. In a genre where individuality was sometimes very hard to come by, yet desired by nearly everyone who played, we offered your heart's content of custom options for your look even before you logged into the game. Or so we thought we did. We had not considered the fact that everyone's Power Blast looked like everyone else's. It wasn't just Energy Blast either, it was every single power set in the entire game.

In game development there is a lot of decision making. What gets worked on, and what gets put on the back burner for when there is "more time" or "when you can get to it." Unfortunately the attitude back then was that going back and changing every single power to be tintable wasn't worth the time. The same people involved in that were also involved in making new powers and new enemies for players to enjoy. They were involved in crafting entirely new systems that added much needed gameplay and were not simple "cosmetic" features like Powers Customization was thought to be. And so the ability to edit the visuals of your powers in any way was put on the dreaded "back burner" and there it simmered for years.

When NCsoft acquired not just the rights to the City of Heroes IP, but every developer who was currently working on the project, we were given a great opportunity. We knew there was going to be a large re-investment of resources into the game, something that couldn't happen under the old relationship. Chris "Back Alley Brawler" Bruce took this opportunity to resurrect a feature that we had wanted to do but never had the resources: Powers Customization.

Chris pointed out that now was the time to start looking at this feature. If we really wanted to improve the game and give players what they were asking for, we needed to look to the back burner, grab some popular stuff from there and get cooking. In the Spring of 2008 we held several exploratory meetings on the subject and it was then decided that this feature was worth doing and we now had the manpower to get it done.

It's worth noting that date: Spring 2008. We've been working on the feature that long. When we told the players that it couldn't happen because it would take too long, we weren't kidding. In my address to the player community for the fourth anniversary (in April of 2008) I begged my bosses to let me announce the feature. Since we were never sure when it would be done, it was decided that the information should not be divulged. We had to sit on that for over a year until we were really, really sure when we could get it into the hands of the players.

When we showed the results off at the San Diego Comic-Con this past July we were blown away at how well received this "cosmetic" feature really was. Players were checking out all the different ways that powers looked under different color schemes. They played around with the "Bright" color palettes and "Dark" color palettes that some power sets offered, and were very happy to see some alternate animations for Super Strength and Martial Arts as well. Overall the feedback we received was overwhelmingly positive.

A ton of people in the studio had a hand in making this feature come to life. I will do my best to make sure they get credit, but I will probably be leaving someone out: Chris Bruce was really the champion behind this feature, and Mike Chock was the engineer in charge of getting Chris' vision implemented. Jason Olmstead helped design the UI, and Edison Luong worked out a solution that enabled players to create their characters in any order they want, as opposed to the linear fashion that is currently in the game. Jonathan Courney worked on the Powers end, and Keetsie Braz da Cunha really helped out in the F/X department. Now these are just the major players. A ton of other people at Paragon Studios have had a say in the design or development of this long-awaited feature.

Even if you never thought about it, being able to customize your character's powers with multiple colors to match their costume or their theme is something that nearly every player will want to do, whether at level 1 or level 50. And since you can have different settings per power, and per costume slot, we wanted to make sure you could make the best of this feature when it goes live. To that end, every character in the game will receive a free Tailor session for every costume slot they have unlocked, when Issue 16 is released on the Live servers this summer/fall. This is our special thanks to our players for never giving up on suggesting the feature to us, no matter how "impossible" we might have said it was to do in the past.


Guest Writer