What Cryptic has planned for Issue 10 is at least as fun as Lord Recluse smashing your wedding cake. In case you've lost the plot in the midst of your heroic (or villainous) endeavors, Paragon City came to be the hotbed of heroism (or villainy) it is today not out of the rivalry between the Statesman and Lord Recluse (though events precipitated the rise of both figures), but at the very root, due to an alien invasion by the mysterious Rikti. The first time the Rikti stopped by for tea and carnage, they were repulsed by the brave actions of Alpha Team, a large band of super types that cleared the way to the portal, and Omega Team, a small elite squad whose job it was to get through the portal and seal it from the other side, thereby saving earth from certain doom. (Man I hope I'm getting this right.) Omega Team was led by the legendary "Hero 1" – the British point man remembered for his Union Jack-festooned cape. The Omega raid was successful, but Omega was lost to a man beyond the portal.
Elements of super type society recognized that the Rikti threat could return at any point, and the mysterious Vanguard organization was formed to weed out the Rikti remnant and prepare for a new invasion. To this point, Vanguard existed as a phantom organization – players couldn't join Vanguard. "You'd see their posters around town," Matt recounted. "'They're still among us'… that kind of thing." Now that the Rikti are back, Vanguard is apparently stepping up its recruitment.
Since both heroes and villains are welcome to join Vanguard in stemming the Rikti tide, and for many other reasons, it's a good point in the game's storyline to introduce a second invasion. "There were a lot of hanging questions that we wanted to address [with Issue 10]," Matt explained. "What happened to Hero 1? What started the war? We know that the Rikti co-existed peacefully with us before the attack, so why did they attack?"
The subtitle of the Issue 10 free expansion is "Invasion," and Matt Miller joked that "it's the invasion that comes to you." In at least one zone, Atlas Park, Rikti teleporters actively pop all around characters as they wander around the zone. "A while ago, we did a end-of-beta event where the Rikti were controlled by everyone here at Cryptic… one of the players who's testing [Issue 10 Atlas Park] said this is the closest we've come to the fun of that live event," Matt said with a smile. He went on to explain that if you didn't want to have getting the drop on you, you simply have to duck into the hospital or under an overpass – the teleporters are triggered by line-of-sight to the sky. I asked how hard this was to implement, and Matt stated that the process was surprisingly easy due to the maturity of the dynamic environment programming incorporated in Issue 7. Technology has truly taken the game full circle, and now the early lore can be addressed with fitting mechanics and visuals.
|More Issue 10 Screens (see the entire gallery)|
The trademark of City of Heroes and City of Villains is lots of costuming options, and Issue 10 will continue the franchise's fine tradition. "We're always creating new costumes," Matt explained, and describe the plate armor appearance of the unlockable Vanguard costumes as a sort of "Jengo Fett" look. Discussion of costumes naturally led to a question about machinima, the practice of filming videos with pretty high production values using computer games. I'd seen a number of videos obviously set in Paragon City floating around the Internet, and Matt explained that the game's "demo recorder" recorded characters, positions, facing, velocity, etc. not to a cumbersome video file, but to an easily manipulated text file. Members of the community have released a number of tools and resources to do things like replace a character in a recorded piece with Lord Recluse's likeness. Finding a wedding cake to smash, that's the hard part.
Issue 10 is due out "this summer," and sorry folks, I couldn't get a firmer date than that (though a July 4th release seems highly unlikely!). Though Issue 10 represents a substantive shift in the plotline rather than a side-story, I asked when Matt might be willing to talk about Issue 11. "About 3 or 4 months," he said. "We aim to do three issues a year, and Issue 10 will be our second of 2007."
Among a host of MMORPGs floundering for legitimacy as their lifelines stretch well past release and into a future littered with would-be market killers, City of Heroes / City of Villains may well represent how to keep a subscription game fresh and compelling by steering clear of game-breaking, watered down retail expansions. Cryptic's secret seems to be a simple yet well-developed and highly cohesive storyline supported by innovative technology and a crew that cares about providing players with an highly customized and enjoyable play experience. The staff cares because they actively play the game too, fancy that. Not rocket science to be sure, but this simple approach has made Cryptic's flagship title a success and propelled the studio into incredible growth with some truly rockstar IPs. Later this week I'll share what I was able to learn about Cryptic's other projects in-development.
For now, feel free to discuss this article in the City of Heroes / City of Villains Ten Ton Hammer forums. My heartfelt thanks go out to Matt Miller, Vic Wachter, and the entire crew at Cryptic Studios for sharing their time and their enthusiasm during my visit to Cryptic Studios last week.