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Mission Architect XP Changes and the Value of Story

Cecil Adkins Posted:
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In addition to bringing the long-awaited feature of powers customization to City of Heroes, Issue 16: Power Spectrum also introduced more changes to the Mission Architect. Debuting in Issue 14, the Mission Architect gives City of Heroes players the ability to create their own custom enemies and missions and publish them for the enjoyment of their friends and the rest of the game's community. It was supposed to be a defining enhancement to the game, allowing players to flex their storytelling muscles and help add interesting and varied content to the game world.

Well, some of that happened, but what also happened was that the Mission Architect was used to create customized powerleveling missions, some of which were downright exploitative of game and MA mechanics and were in no way what the developers intended. Some players used the MA to level themselves or others to 50 in record time, sometimes taking less than a single day to do so. Punishments were handed down, and some (a very few) of the worst offenders lost access to characters that had been powerleveled so quickly. A few things were done in minor patches shortly after Issue 14 to limit powerleveling (mostly involving removal of low-risk or easy-to-beat mobs), but Issue 16 brought a plethora of changes to experience gains in the MA that affect both powerlevelers and legitimate MA storytellers.

Let's take a look at the section of the Issue 16 patch notes concerning changes to the Mission Architect:

Mission Architect

Experience rewards for custom mobs in Mission Architect have been changed.

  1. Enemies created using the Standard setting will reward 75% of normal experience.
  2. Enemies created using the Hard and Extreme setting will reward 100% of normal experience.
  3. The total amount of experience an enemy is worth is split evenly between their two power set choices. Their primary set adds an amount to the experience, and then the secondary set adds an amount.
  4. The specifics numbers for individual sets are as followed:
    1. Standard: 37.5%
    2. Hard/Extreme: 50%
    3. If a mob is created that has a standard primary and a hard secondary, it will be worth 87.5% of the normal experience (37.5% + 50%)
    4. A mob created with a hard primary and a hard secondary will be worth 100% experience (50% + 50%)

Custom villain groups will suffer an experience penalty if they do not have at least one minion, lieutenant, and boss within them.

  1. If one rank is missing, there will be a 50% experience penalty applied to all enemies in the group.
  2. If two ranks are missing, there will be a 75% experience penalty applied to all enemies in the group.
  3. Players will still receive full experience for an enemy in their own unique groups if they are spawned in the "Fight a Boss" objective. This only applies to the specific enemy spawned in this manner and not the group spawned along with them.

Players can now select any powers for custom mobs to have. However, if the minimal amounts of powers required for them to be considered standard difficulty are removed on either power set, the mob will be worth 0 experience.

  1. As an example, a standard minion with Broadsword has Slash and Throwing Knives. If either of those two powers are removed, that minion will be worth 0 experience, even if a secondary power set has all powers selected.
  2. This will not cause any custom mobs currently on live to be worth zero experience.

These changes have caused much doom and gloom among some City of Heroes players, but it's important to note that lowered experience only affects custom mobs. Mission Architect story arcs that utilize developer-made mobs won't see an experience reduction from those mobs. There are some who believe that you can tell great stories by simply using the same developer-created mobs we're all familiar with, and those people are correct I think. The story's the thing, really, and the people who inhabit it are just props to be used in service of the story. Of course, that gives little solace to many MA authors, who really enjoy being able to create customized enemies.

But if you give custom mobs the "Hard" or "Extreme" versions of their power sets, then you'll get 100% normal experience, correct? Yes, that is true. However, custom critters are known to be overpowered compared to developer-created mobs, sometimes even using "Standard" power sets. Fighting custom mobs in the low levels in particular can be an exercise in frustration, especially if they are using "Hard" or "Extreme" versions of their power sets. Also, removing any powers from what is considered to be a custom mob's "Standard" power set (which is a long-asked-for feature) will result in that mob being worth absolutely zero experience, even if their power sets are "Hard" or "Extreme." According to a developer statement, this was a short-term solution to an exploit, and may not represent the final solution to the problem. Let's hope they work on it some more in the near future.

Experience penalties don't just apply to individual mobs, either. Further penalties are applied if the group that the custom mobs are in don't contain at least one member of each "rank." Have bosses and minions in your custom group but no lieutenants? Those bosses and minions will be worth 50% less experience than they would be if lieutenants were included.

These changes, along with what is seen as generally poor support for the MA since its release, have led to many players wondering if there's any point in continuing to write MA story arcs. Discussion about these changes, and whether or not they mean good or bad things for the MA in the long run, is currently taking place on the official City of Heroes message boards in threads like "Can MA be saved?" written by what has been one of the MA's staunchest supporters. It does seem like MA story arc production is slowing down; there are fewer new arcs being promoted on the official forums, and MA global channels in-game are getting quieter and quieter.

My hope for the Mission Architect is that the negativity will level out and people will continue to utilize it for what it really should have been all along: an outlet for creativity for a great gaming community. Do the experience changes mean that some people probably won't create as many custom enemies or custom groups as they did before? Probably. Do the experience changes mean that some players will shy away from playing MA story arcs in favor of more lucrative developer-created missions that they've played ad nauseam for the last five years? Of course.

But for me, it's all about the story. I'd rather play through a great story arc, filled with interesting characters to fight and clues to unearth, and have it be worth zero experience, rather than gain tons of XP by sitting through a dull story or one that I've gone through more times than I can count. Am I in the minority? Maybe, maybe not. But it's become so easy to gain XP in City of Heroes over the last several updates (not that it was ever that difficult to being with), that arguing over minor reductions in XP seems a little silly.

Another thing to think about is the fact that there's another type of reward for playing MA story arcs that you can't get anywhere else: tickets. Using MA tickets, characters can purchase things like salvage, recipes, and even regular enhancements, for sometimes much less time-investment than it would take to make the same purchase with influence or infamy. I don't think people who are complaining about the reduction in XP are giving enough thought to how great tickets can be.

The developers will be giving out awards for Mission Architect storyarcs in various categories at Hero-Con on October 24th and 25th. That could be an indication that they'll be paying more attention to the actual stories being crafted by players in the MA, now that they've gotten the major changes in effect to stop most MA powerleveling. However, it would be nice to see them utilizing the in-game Developer's Choice designation more often. The prizes for the Hero-Con awards are nice, but I would venture to say that the permanent position atop the MA story arc list and the freed-up arc slot that come with Dev's Choice are more valuable to many story arc authors. I also don't see them having enough time to play through all submitted story arcs in the short timeframe from contest announcement to the start of Hero-Con.

I really liked the concept of the MA (and not just because I've been one of the lucky few to have a Developer's Choice storyarc), and its impending arrival was the one thing that made me finally take the plunge into yearly subscriptions to the game. I've been absent from the MA writing scene for the last few months for reasons unrelated to the changes it's undergone. I'm about to start working on a new story arc soon. I'll probably write an article or two here detailing my path through the creation of my new arc. I'm looking forward to seeing if I can work my way around any significant reductions of XP for my arc, or if I can at least write my way onto the "must play" lists of people who won't care about any such reductions.


Cecil Adkins