A while back we passed on some your questions to City of Heroes Lead Designer Jack Emmert. He has responded with details on the upcoming CoH expansion, the future of MMOGs, and commentary on some of the decisions that led to City of Heroes in the first place. Read on for his responses. 1.) When will City of Villains be rolled up with CoH? by S810
I was curious when City of Villains will be rolled up with City of Heros?
It would be very kewl to be able to choose, at time of character creation, either a Hero or a Villain.
Please let us know if, and when, this should happen.
We have not yet made any final decisions about how City of Villains and City of Heroes will interact, but here is the direction we're leaning:
City of Villains is a stand alone game - which means that you can purchase City of Villains without City of Heroes. But you will only be able to play a villain and never a hero. If a player already has a City of Heroes account, then City of Villains is an expansion. In other words, it opens up content in addition to what the player already has access to. He can play either a hero or a villain on a server.
2.)How do you plan to get me back? by bugnuts
Jack, I played COH for a while, and am still very impressed by it. You should be proud of your remarkable achievement of finding the right niche. But after playing a couple months and doing several story arcs, I fell into the level-grind abyss. Things stopped being fun. The distance to my next power was seen in terms of xp, not in terms of heroic adventure.
So, what is going to happen to get me back? How can you significantly reduce the "level grind" (even if it's just the feeling of grinding levels) to get casual players like myself back?
The first step, I think, is to make missions less repetitive. Every single expansion we release includes significant mission customization. This means that we go back into pre-existing missions and add new art & features. For instance, the infamous 'rave' mission now has an actual rave going on (as opposed to NPC's standing around in a warehouse).
The second step is adding new gameplay. In Expansion 2, we introduced badges which reward explorers and achievers. Certain combinations of badges open up Accolades - which are permanent powers! The next major new feature is our skills system, which will answer the question, 'what do heroes do besides fight?'
The third step is to create more benchmarks in the game; 'carrots' that players strive for. For instance, a player can get a cape at level 20. At level 30, a player can add ongoing special f/x to his avatar. We're adding two more important landmarks with Expansion 3. At level 40, a player can begin selecting Epic Powers that increase his characters' abilities outside the normal Archetype restrictions. And at the highest level, 50, players open up two Epic Archetypes, which are dramatically different than anything else in the game.
3.) I hate subjects for asking questions :p by DragonPup
Is Geko still nerfing accuracy? Kidding, kidding.
Real question: Looking back at CoH's development, if there was one thing you wished you did differently, what would it be and why?
I think I would approach Archetype balance differently. We relied heavily on some time tested MMP tactics. In other words, one Archetype attracts aggro, another deals heavy melee damage, while the long range Archetypes sit back and help. In addition, all Archetypes become more powerful at the same rate. If I had an unlimited development time, I would have loved to create a different system of balance between the Archetypes so that the urban, low powered vigilante could fight alongside the cosmic powered champion - and each would have something to contribute to combat.
4.) Boring Games by rlandrum
I've played MMO's, and I haven't been impressed. I think some of the lingo speaks for itself ('grinding'). The last game I got into was Star Wars Galaxies. While technically the game was very nice, and the gameplay was decent, the game became extremely boring after only a few hours of gameplay.
I've also played games like Zelda, Ocarina of Time (a classic), and the newer Zelda, Wind Waker. Both games contained a series of puzzles that needed to be solved before allowing the story to progress. It was this sense of achievement that made the games fun to play.
In MMO's, I have no sense of achievement. Obtaining the next skill level doesn't get me anywhere, it only makes me more powerful.
How will MMO's of the future fill this sense of achievement? Or do you see games progressing more towards the "Life simulator", like the Sims?
The popular answer would be 'user generated content.' As someone plays the game more, they can create more content of their own. Traditionally, this had taken the shape of crafting or housing, though one can certainly imagine a player generating missions or quests for other players.
But, to be honest, some game mechanics are entertaining for some, but not others. I personally loathe puzzles, riddles and jump games. I would avoid any game that had these features, even if it was an MMP. It sounds to me that the current crop of MMP's don't appeal to you - that's no crime - and I'm sure eventually MMP's will start incorporating other tried and true game systems. Planetside, for instance, was the first mass market MMP to capture the feel of a FPS. Recently Star Wars Galaxies added twitch combat in their Jump to Lightspeed expansion.
5.) Death penalty? by claytongulick
I understand that without some risk, death in a MMORPG would lose a lot of the "tension" that game designers feel that players need in order to stay "hooked". As a player, I can tell you that the exp penalty of dying is usually what ends up getting me to cancel an account. When I see all that debt/exp loss/penalty I start thinking "Why am I wasting my time here? Its a nice day outside..." Even the illusion of "exp debt" that CoH has still amounts to the same thing: total playing time added to make up for dying. Since death is frequently not a player's fault (lag, imbalance, etc...) I can tell you that I am very attracted the the approach that WoW is taking with having no death penalty other than travelling as a ghost back to your corpse. My question is this: What goes into the decision for death penalties? Has anyone actually asked the players if this is what they want?
If players lose nothing by being defeated then naturally the players won't see death as an issue. Players will begin to look at their characters like those in FPS games such as Counterstrike or Battlefield 1942. In other words, the player's avatar is perceived as disposable.
The key, however, to a successful MMP is to create a connection between the player and his character. If the player feels that he can dispose of his character at any time, then the player inevitably doesn't care very much about his character. This works in a short term FPS model, but not so much in a game which is depending upon long term commitment.
By making death a penalty, players now have a goal to strive for: survival. Some players will inevitably be better than others, but players want things to distinguish themselves from others. So the players who aren't killed often level quicker, and thus are demonstrably 'better' in terms of the level difference. This is no different than one person earning a special piece of armor by going on a hard, long quest, and another one who chooses not to go on that quest. The former then gets the recognition for his effort.
6.) MMO Competition by servognome
With several highly anticipated MMOs launching this year and next year (WoW, EQ2, Matrix Online), what is your perception of competition in the MMO industry, has it become too crowded? Do you believe new games can be supported by drawing new players into the genre, or will these games pull mostly from the existing player base?
I think the MMP market is growing quite nicely. City of Heroes hit 180,000 in just a couple of months; as far as I know, the existing MMP's did not suffer an equivalent 180,000 drop in subscriptions. Certainly, some fans of the other MMP's kept their old accounts and played City of Heroes, but I doubt that a significant percentage of players has more than a single account with a MMP. In other words, I think City of Heroes brought 100,000+ new faces to the MMP market.
7.) Demo / Trial? by InfinityWpi
As a gamer geek but also a new father and a victim of the economy, I have to be very careful with my 'entertainment' money. I've heard good things about CoH, but I can't justify buying the game if I'm only going to be playing it for a month (I can really only justify that with $15 bargain-bin titles). Will CoH have a one-week (or, better, two-week) trial available in the near future?
Second question, if I may: Everyone talks about how MMORPGs are different from 'traditional' RPGs mainly due to the lack of a strong, world-changing storyline. Granted, comics aren't always world-changing except for the occasional crossover, but you never see Superman's secret identity being revealed to the world in the pages of, say, JLA. Comics have a definite 'solo' vs 'group' theme going. Is it possible to really have a single-character-changing experience in CoH, or is it all mainly "Nothing major will happen; this isn't his book" vibe?
Currently, the basic City of Heroes game is available for $39.99 and comes with a free month. I don't know when or if other price discounts will occur; but I do know that we've discussed internally a short free trial period, but nothing is imminent.
Your second point, world changing events, is something we're aiming for in City of Villains. The activities of even a single player (hero or villain) can have a noticeable effect in the world.
8.) Biggest surprise after launch? by DevNova
Since the official launch, can you think of something that really, really surprised you about the game? Did the players start to do things you didn't expect, or did some game mechanics/results turn out far differently than you thought it would (for better or worse)?
I never foresaw how many characters each player would create. It seems that having a dozen or more 'alts' (alternate characters) is the norm, rather than the extreme. People love making lots of different heroes - and lots of costumes.
9.) A more general question... by Gothic_Walrus
My question is simple, but I think we need at least one question that's not related to the game or to Mr. Emmert directly.
What do you think of the MMOG market as a whole? Over the past few years, we've seen a flood of games released. We've seen sequels to established games - Everquest II, for example. We've seen games based on licenses, such as Star Wars Galaxies. We've seen high-profile titles such as Mythica cancelled. We've seen completely unique ideas, like A Tale in the Desert. Obviously, the market is completely different than it was even a year ago today.
Put simply, what do you think of the market in its current state, and what future do you see for it? Will you be a part of that future?
The question might not seem very exciting, but I believe that Mr. Emmert is in a very unique position to answer it...
What the MMP medium has NOT had is the breakout hit that defines it. Duke Nukem and Doom, for instance, were so popular that they created the FPS explosion that continues to this day. In the RTS medium, every game is still compared to Warcraft and Starcraft. Successful MMP's have sold hundreds of thousands of copies, but nothing has yet sold the millions to match what these other games have. Eventually, there will be one. Of course, it's impossible to predict something like that until it already happens.
10.) Developer made content vs user made content? by Gldm
Recently I started a thread on the COH suggestion forums [cityofheroes.com] that got a high rating about wanting a new ski area zone after having seen how ice worked in one of the missions I played. I also mentioned in a later post if there was a map editing tool I'd probably make it myself.
Do you think most future MMORPGs are going to stay with the developer-based content model like COH and Everquest, or do you think we'll begin seeing more user-based content such as in Second Life [secondlife.com]?
Do you think Cryptic will ever release some kind of content editor (aside from the already incredible character creator) to the users?
I think user based content - where the player creates nearly all the material from preset building blocks - is a red herring for game development. The problem is that most player created generated content isn't very good. This shouldn't be a surprise to anyone; good level designers, for instance, spend hours and hours on creating good fun play experiences. It's no surprise that someone creating levels in their spare time isn't as good. Naturally, game design requires talent and experience, so that the really good novices will produce cool stuff.
But if that content is regulated in some way - either by the tools or some sort of player feedback - then I think I agree that user generated content is the wave of the future. For example, our City of Villains product (target release for 2005) includes super group bases. Players will be able to lay out their rooms and hallways according to a basic template.
11.) RPG "light" by Hays
I'm an active COH player and an ex-everquest player. I must first give you kudos for making a really polished, fun game. It's really a great take on the MMORPG.
The game has a bus-load of fun ideas. The badge system is great. The costume system and character creation are amazing. Technically, the game is top notch-great mapmaking, great animation, etc...
One of the best ideas is simplicity. Starting players don't have to worry about complicated inventory systems. They just go out there and start kicking butt. Kicking butt is not too difficult, because the player is quite a bit stronger versus the environment compared to previous MMORPGs.
But that simplicity becomes a drag in the later game. I've got 3 characters approaching the high end (mid 30s) and I'm starting to dislike the slow experience grind, with nothing to look forward to but a new ability every 3 levels.
Missions are fun, but they get a bit formulaic. With one huge exception, they offer uninteresting rewards and have cookie cutter goals. (The exception being the wonderful respec mission.)
I'm sure it was a conscious design decision to have no inventory system, no armor, no weapons. And I think that's a great idea, at first. But by the time you're level 30 and you've played the game for a couple of months, you really start to want MORE. The enhancement system doesn't cut it. That's just a trip to the store every 5 levels. I'd like to get a cool piece of (origin specific) armor when I complete a task force.
Even baby steps in this direction would great. A way to distinguish myself (other than aesthetically) from other players would be nice. This could also give origins a chance to actually matter.
So the question in all of this is- why the aversion to traditional RPG elements, even at high levels? Is this going to change?
Yes, we eschewed many of the typical elements of fantasy MMP's such as body slots and crafting, but that was more to do with the choice of genre than anything else. If we had something akin to body slots, and a player equipped his character with armor, the game certainly wouldn't feel like a modern day hero game. And if someone doesn't feel like a hero, he won't feel immersed in the game. And if that happens, the player won't feel committed to play, because that player bought City of Heroes to be a super powered hero!
But what we've started doing is adding more mid and high level content. Currently, there are badges to collect. There's missions to earn capes or other visual rewards. Coming soon, we have a skills system. And then there's the Epic Archetypes which a player obtains by reaching a certain level or completing a particular Task Force. In the future, we hope to add such things as power customization. And with the release of City of Villains, there will be the ongoing war between good and evil.