has been going
strong since its launch almost seven years ago. To get the lowdown on
the game’s past, present, and future, Ten Ton Hammer ventured
to the mighty headquarters of NCsoft. In the historic Hall of Heroes,
we talked to Matt “Positron” Miller about City of Heroes
and what lies ahead for the fabled franchise.
you’ve been with the City of Heroes
team since the game’s inception more than seven years ago.
Why do you think it is that we’ve seen relatively few
super-powered MMOGs in comparison to fantasy or sci-fi MMOGs? Can you
point to anything?
love to point and say that City of Heroes
did it best so why would anyone want to compete with that! (laughs) In
reality, I can’t see that being the sole reason.
It’s weird. Even movies like Spider-Man, Iron Man, and Dark
Knight, they elevated superheroes in the consciousness of America, but
it didn’t really grab on everywhere. Superhero videogames
still have the stigma of not being very good. Just trying to get past
all that stuff is a big hurdle and aren’t worth taking the
risk on doing games like that when fantasy is kind of a proven genre.
It also has an international appeal, so you can see Asian companies
doing fantasy games, whereas superheroes in Asia are a dramatically
different thing than they are in North America and Europe.
When you came to
work with Paragon Studios with NCsoft as a publisher, who are a
Korean-based publisher, was that a challenge to sell the idea or did
they immediately see the potential still left?
It definitely was a
challenge, especially when we launched in Korea. We made sure that we
tried to appeal to the Korean marketplace with a bunch of Korean-style
staples of their gameplay for their characters and types of games
including Asian themed costume pieces. We tried to overcome that
hurdle, but in the end superheroes are a very Anglo sort of thing. A
superhero in Asia is considered either a really tough street person or
like the Power Rangers five-colors sort of thing or a mecha suit.
Spider-man and Superman, they don’t have the same sort of
appeal as they do over here.
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that have cropped up to City of Heroes
have a pre-existing lore canon and IP. Have you ever wished that City of Heroes
had that? Has creating an unknown and unproven storyline felt more like
a burden than an opportunity?
There was a moment of
roughly five minutes very early in the production of City of Heroes
where that wish existed. Wow, if only we had an IP that we could put
all of this on, it would be just so much easier. But then, we realized
that not having an IP didn’t restrict us in any way. We could
do whatever we wanted. We weren’t beholden to any license
holder. We didn’t have to worry about whatever storyline they
were coming up with, whatever characters they were killing off or
anything like that. It was our world and we could make it exactly the
way we wanted.
Once that realization went through the writers and the design team,
then it was just a matter of inspiration. What stories did we want to
tell? What enemies do you want? What heroes do you guys want to have?
We weren’t forced to use any specific heroes, and we could
make up our own heroes. We could also really spotlight the players
here. The player’s character becomes the most important part
of the story, because we didn’t have a signature character
that needed to be the one that was constantly overshadowing the player.
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Some critics have
said that City
gives the players
too much too early in the experience. You get travel powers like flight
relatively early, for instance, while in most MMORPGs the best travel
abilities are reserved for the endgame. Have you ever felt like, whoa,
maybe we’re giving players too much too soon?
We try to feed a
couple of carrots throughout the leveling experience. We
don’t want to make it something that is not in character. The
Flash, if he couldn’t run fast, or Statesman, if he
couldn’t fly, that sort of stuff. We wanted to make sure that
if the player wanted to play a speedster, he would get access to a
really fast punch or the ability to speed up his attacks as soon as
possible. Letting him get a speed travel power early on in the game
allows him to feel like a speedster superhero.
We wanted to make sure that if that is your character, then that is
what you’re going to play. Characters that fly, they fly very
early on in their careers. Very few comic book characters learn to fly
when they’re fully matured in their roles! It’s not
part of the character. We hold a few things back for later on in your
career, such as getting aura costume pieces until you’re
level 30. With the Incarnate system at level 50, that’s where
the truly almost god-like powers are going to end up. That’s
where your character can surpass the limits in the game. The player has
that to look forward to.
You once told me
is the most serious
superhero MMOG on the market. That’s in keeping with the
state of comic books, which are becoming darker, or maybe you can say
morally ambivalent, in recent years. Would you like to see that go to
the next level? Do you want to see an M rated comic book MMOG or do you
is the right
balance to strike on darkness and grittiness?
I think City of Heroes
kind of nails it with the level of seriousness and maturity that we
have. We still have in-jokes and joking missions here and there to put
some levity into some situations. We also have some emotional missions.
Especially for Going Rogue
we put in all the moral choice stuff where you decide things like
whether to stop the water poisoning, brain-washing stuff that is
happening and free the minds of the citizens, but if you do so,
there’ll be no drinkable water and people are going to be
sick for months. Making choices like that, I think, is about as serious
as you can get with a comic book game. To go really dark and gritty,
you’re going to start losing a large chunk of your audience.
You don’t want to lose a large part of your audience just to
say that you’re the M rated MMOG game.