City of Heroes Issue 14 Preview and Speculation

Issue 14: Architech has gone open beta and I gave it a spin for a few hours today.

I have to say, I’m fairly impressed.  It’s basically taking City of Heroes to a whole other level.  However, it’s not without a potential doozy of a downside.

Unlimited Player-Made Content Is Here

Basically put, this is exactly what Issue 14 delivers: unlimited player-made content.  With few exceptions, everything you can see in the existing City of Heroes mission set is now accessible to the players to create their own custom mission arcs of up to 5 missions per arc.

The actual structure of the missions in the mission architech is quite simple, but effective.  There’s an intro and then up to five missions.  The intro contains basic contact (story framing) information while each of the missions is split into an intro (more story framing) and objective segment.

It takes a little practice, but its not at all hard to make your own City of Heroes content.

It takes a little practice, but it's not at all hard to make your own City of Heroes content.

The objectives are where all the interesting things in the mission happen.  You choose which the maps the action will take place (randomly generated or prefab maps are available), what needs to be done to complete the mission (a variety of escort, collection, and defeating objectives are available) which allies you may meet in the mission (if any)as well as pre-arranged battles going on, and finally what kind of foes you will be facing.

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of this is that you no longer need to fight those same old villain groups again.  Although the old factions are much more file space efficient, you can now create custom creatures through a combination of City of Heroes’ incredible costume creator and the ability to mix and match a large number of power sets already in the game in ways you cannot with characters normally.

This is major.  While custom creatures may not use their powers how you would like to use them, they nonetheless do good enough of a job faking it to create a whole new experience than wrestling another dilapidated office map away from the Council.  Further, you can bring in some factions you rarely ever see in a mission but at still in the game, such as the 5th Column or the Hydra.

It all comes together with full experience and influence rewards, a more variable difficulty scale, and tickets which can be earned and redeemed for prizes not unlike the merit rewards system introduced in Issue 13.

The Issue With Over-Expansion

Despite the fact that the last few hours on the test server made me suddenly very glad I purchased a 3 month City of Heroes subscription a few weeks ago (with thoughts I may never unsubscribe again because it’s just too cool to be able to make my own missions) I’m still a bit worried about what Issue 14 will do to the overall health of the game.

Basically, the mission architect is an unlimited-space player-made expansion.  If you’ve ever played an MMORPG which has had several expansions released for it, you may know why I’m worried: there’s now a bunch of zones sitting around completely unused.

In this way, over-expansion makes a MMORPG feel like a ghost town even if there’s thousands of players playing on the same server.  Issue 14, by being an unlimited player-made expansion engine, is set to dilute the City of Heroes playerbase to the ultimate level.

Worse case scenario, it may be that you can never find a team to group up with anymore; that your average zombie or Rikti attack is defended by 5 people; that the vast majority of the existing game becomes ignored because everybody prefers to sit around in the Mission Architect building playing their custom content all day.

City of Heroes may be on the path to become as multiplayer as Neverwinter Nights or Guild Wars: a bunch of sparsely-populated pockets of custom-made content with with nothing more but a lobby to unite them.  If so, when Issue 14 rolls it will lose most of its appeal as a massively multiplayer game.

This is mostly a problem for the niche of players who play MMORPGs because they want a massively multiplayer experience.  How much of the pie do they make up amongst those willing to shell out 15 dollars a month to play a game?

Time will tell.

Game design is ever an experimental science, and one thing to bear in mind is that (like many other assimilated features found in later MMORPGs) City of Heroes is the first MMORPG to really do this.

It’s entirely possible that Issue 14 will have a positive effect, greatly increasing the players who play City of Heroes, because it will keep most of the old population and usher in a giant new population of players who can only find these kind of features there.

All I will say with some certainty is that Issue 14, when released, is going to make a big impact on City of Heroes.  Bigger than the last 13 issues put together.  For better or for worse, the game is about to have many of the old walls knocked down.

2 Responses

  1. There is certainly a risk here that everyone will gather down in the AE complexes and not bother with the rest of the game. To some extent that will probably happen in the beginning when the everything is new and exciting.

    And it will probably also get some of the regular content less played or perhaps not played at all. I do think this will mainly be for old time players that have already gone through the content a couple of times.
    For new and and long time returning players I think that the regular game will still be used to a fair extent. But I would not be surprised to see some community-created rating for the regular content and perhaps people go cherry-picking.

    But the developers have certainly raised the bar for themselves when it comes to creating new content for the game.

  2. […] will be is hard to say, just what kind of impact it will have is also difficult to predict, but I have said with some certainty it will be a big […]

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