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A Talk With Melissa “War Witch” Bianco

Michael Bitton Posted:
Interviews 0

City of Heroes was a prominent feature at the inaugural PAX East, and following up on our coverage of the “Re-Inventing a Superheroic MMO” panel, we’re bringing you this latest interview with the always awesome Melissa “War Witch” Bianco.

We met up with Melissa in the lobby of the Sheraton Boston Hotel (which was conveniently connected to the convention itself – yay!) where we proceeded to sit around on some couches and chat it up for about twenty minutes before getting into the nitty gritty.

Since many of you are already enjoying the Dual Pistols powerset, I wanted to dig up some details on the mysterious Demon Summoning powerset, which was touched on during the panel. Melissa gave us a quick rundown of the Mastermind powerset, noting that the player will summon his demons through the use of a yellow-green hellfire whip, and that the demons themselves will feature both fire and frost attacks. I did ask if the hellfire whip could be customized, and was told that it couldn’t, but I can’t be certain as to whether that was in reference to the whips model, or if they are also disallowing changing the hue of the flames. Of course, I also had to ask about customizing the pets themselves, and unfortunately that is still a “no.” Sorry guys!

We next discussed one of the more exciting upgrades coming to City of Heroes in the near future: Ultra Mode. I was curious as to what system specifications would be required to run Ultra Mode with all the bells and whistles on, and also wanted to know what kinds of challenges the team ran into when attempting to implement it. As far as specifications go, Cameron Payne from the marketing team chimed in here stating that a $100 graphics card should basically do the trick for most of the modes features, though you’ll obviously be able to squeeze out some more eye candy with a more expensive video card. If you’re interested in upgrading in anticipation of Ultra Mode’s release, Matt “Positron” Miller posted a handy Ultra Mode video card shopping guide today, be sure to check it out.

The team did face some challenges getting Ultra Mode into the game, mostly due to the fact that the City of Heroes engine is pretty old, but Paragon Studios hired on some talented engineers to sort out the expected “hiccups.”

When asked about the new 1-20 storyline content coming with Going Rogue, Melissa explained that she didn’t want to give everything away, but what she would say is that the content will share a common denominator, ultimately diverging based on whether or not you decide to be a Loyalist or a member of the Resistance. Through the storyline you’ll also learn the history of Praetoria, as well as find out what your favorite characters from the original City of Heroes are up to in Praetoria. I prodded Melissa with hopes to find out if there would be any BioWare-style choice making in the new content, and was only given the teasing response “there’s always choices. (laugh) See how I said something? But didn’t say something?” Let the speculation begin!

Melissa was pretty tight lipped about the new enemy group that was revealed at the panel, we were only told that they’ve got “kind of a red hue to them,” and that they’re “bad.” I honestly didn’t expect more of an answer here, after all, if they were willing to say more they probably would have at the panel. Never hurts to try, though.

We did discuss the two new powersets, Electric Control and Kinetic Melee, but Melissa pretty much echoed most players’ thoughts on Electric Control, stating that the set “is kind of well, as it sounds.” Kinetic Melee, on the other hand, was described in a bit more detail as a more “punch based” power set, with comparisons made to Jet Li. “We took martial arts in a way, it’s not totally martial arts, it’s kind of pugilism in a way, and added superheroism to it,” Melissa explained. I noticed in the video shown at the panel that Kinetic Melee moves were executed a good bit of distance from the target, perhaps suggesting a bit of range to the set. Melissa confirmed this, though it doesn’t sound like it will be as ranged as say, Spines can sometimes be, but you’ll definitely be a bit further away from your opponent as opposed to up in their face at times.

As far as the Incarnate system goes, we didn’t really learn anything that wasn’t said at the panel. Going Rogue will provide a bit of a tease, allowing players to earn a single Incarnate level and whatever comes with that, with the full Incarnate system to debut with Issue 19, most likely later this year. We were told that they would be talking more about the system this Summer. Melissa did share some background info with regards to why the team decided to implement the feature at all, explaining that the team had responded to player feedback, “You reach a six year old game, a lot of people have hit 50 by then, and they wanted something to do. So, we wanted to give them a place to go, we wanted to give them an incremental place to go.” We did also get a bit of a hint as to how the system would work, as Melissa explained that the Incarnate system would “reward you for stuff you’d be doing at endgame anyway.”

We weren’t really able to learn anything about Issue 19, other than the fact the name may change. Melissa also added that Going Rogue would contain a number of Easter Eggs, as she is known to be a huge fan of tucking Easter Eggs into pretty much all the content she gets her hands on. She also admitted that she loves to explore, and as a result they have streamlined (and in many cases added) many more exploration badges to the game, with each zone capping out at eight exploration badges, and this will continue into Going Rogue. For those of you out there who like to hunt out Easter Eggs, Melissa mentioned that players haven’t found them all yet, as there are still a number in the Rikti War Zone that have yet to be discovered. Oh, and Wentworths isn’t based on Woolworths, the name is actually based on Wentworth Miller (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wentworth_Miller), to put that discussion to rest.

I was able to massage some interesting new information with regards to additional tilesets in Going Rogue. There will be two new tilesets (which will be available in the Mission Architect at a later time), one of which players are already familiar with are the tunnels in The Underground, and the second, which they have yet to talk about, is the Praetorian Tech labs. Melissa explains that the labs aren’t like the ones we’ve already seen in City of Heroes, and that they are “pretty swank.” I asked if there would be destructible objects that confer buffs/debuffs similar to the current labs, and was unfortunately told that there would not be such objects, though there will be something you’ll be able to attack, however we weren’t told what that would be. The layouts will be entirely new as well; there won’t be “miles and miles of hallways.’


Michael Bitton

Michael Bitton / Michael began his career at the WarCry Network in 2005 as the site manager for several different WarCry fansite portals. In 2008, Michael worked for the startup magazine Massive Gamer as a columnist and online news editor. In June of 2009, Michael joined MMORPG.com as the site's Community Manager. Follow him on Twitter @eMikeB