City of Heroes Q&A with Matt Miller – Looking Back and Forging Ahead

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href=""> style="font-style: italic;">City
of Heroes
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 style="font-style: italic;">City of Heroes
and what lies ahead for the fabled franchise.

Ton Hammer:
you’ve been with the style="font-style: italic;">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?

Yeah. I’d
love to point and say that style="font-style: italic;">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.

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Ton Hammer:
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.

style="width: 175px; text-align: left; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"
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style="background-color: rgb(102, 51, 0);"> style="font-weight: bold;">Top 5 Praetorian Archetypes style="background-color: rgb(102, 51, 0);"> style="background-color: rgb(153, 51, 0);">Mastermind style="background-color: rgb(153, 51, 0);">17% style="background-color: rgb(153, 51, 0);">Brute style="background-color: rgb(153, 51, 0);">16% style="background-color: rgb(153, 51, 0);">Dominator style="background-color: rgb(153, 51, 0);">12% style="background-color: rgb(153, 51, 0);">Blaster style="background-color: rgb(153, 51, 0);">11% style="background-color: rgb(153, 51, 0);">Scrapper style="background-color: rgb(153, 51, 0);">11%

Ton Hammer:
Other competitors
that have cropped up to style="font-style: italic;">City of Heroes
have a pre-existing lore canon and IP. Have you ever wished that style="font-style: italic;">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 style="font-style: italic;">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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style="background-color: rgb(102, 51, 102);"> style="font-weight: bold;">Top 3 Villain AT's That
Have Switched Sides style="background-color: rgb(51, 0, 153);"> style="font-weight: bold;">Top 3 Hero AT's That Have
Switched Sides style="background-color: rgb(153, 51, 153);">Mastermind style="background-color: rgb(51, 51, 255);">Scrapper style="background-color: rgb(153, 51, 153);">Brute style="background-color: rgb(51, 51, 255);">Blaster style="background-color: rgb(153, 51, 153);">Stalker style="background-color: rgb(51, 51, 255);">Controller

Ton Hammer:
Some critics have
said that City
of Heroes
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.

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Ton Hammer:
You once told me
that City
of Heroes
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
think City
of Heroes
is the right
balance to strike on darkness and grittiness?

I think style="font-style: italic;">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 style="font-style: italic;">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.

Ton Hammer:
You have things
like the Pocket D and the Ski Chalet that are just very fun-filled sort
of escapes. Are those as integral to the experience as a tension

We definitely wanted
to give the players kind of a break the fourth wall relaxation area,
and that’s where Pocket D came in. The Ski Chalet was a fun
thing to do at the holiday time. There’s some semi-serious
missions wrapped up in that holiday stuff. The Winter Lord is coming
and trying to steal winter away from Paragon City every year. We do try
to have some fun with stuff, but at the same time, still trying to give
your character the motivation we feel that they would want to have.

One of the stories I always remember is one of the friends of the
president of the company came up to him about four months he started
playing, and he’s like, “I was wondering if you
change my character’s name for me?” This was long
before we had character rename in the game. Well, the president asked
him why, and his answer was, “When I made my character, I
thought it was going to be a really campy sort of game, but it turns
out it’s really more serious than I thought it would be. I
feel kind of weird running around with the campy sort of name that I
have and I want to change it to something more serious.” That
was real vindication for all the work that the writers had done to make
a serious comic book MMOG.

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alt="city of heroes"

Ton Hammer:
you’ve been around since the beginning of style="font-style: italic;">City of Heroes
and have seen the ups and the downs with the game. Is there one thing
that you can point to as your biggest success? And also one thing that
was your biggest failure or challenge in that time?

We’ve had a
lot of things that I would point to as our biggest successes. Every
success that we have seems to trump the last one that we had just done.
From the launch of style="font-style: italic;">City of Villains
and doing a completely different, other half of the game type thing.
Mission Architect was wildly successful, giving players control over
their own content.

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border="1" cellpadding="2" cellspacing="2">
style="background-color: rgb(102, 51, 0);"> style="font-weight: bold;">Going Rogue Stats style="background-color: rgb(204, 102, 0);"># of
Preatorians created since launch: 175,000 style="background-color: rgb(204, 102, 0);"># of
new characters created since launch: 200,00
style="background-color: rgb(204, 102, 0);">65% of
players have taken part in the Alignment System
style="background-color: rgb(204, 102, 0);">Over
70% of all new characters are Preatorians
style="background-color: rgb(204, 102, 0);">49.5%
of Preatorians are Loyalists
style="background-color: rgb(204, 102, 0);">50.5%
of Preatorians are

I think the thing that I’m most proud of now is the Incarnate
system that we just put in. It’s an end-game system for style="font-style: italic;">City of Heroes.
The game has been around for quite some time and though there is stuff
for level 50 characters to do, it didn’t really escalate the
power and abilities that they had until this past issue, Number 19,
where we up the ante and told the players that they call pull their
level 50 out and now there’s some stuff for them to do to
make their character more powerful. We saw a lot of players busting out
their old characters, dusting them off, and saying, “I
thought I’d never go back to this character, but this
end-game stuff is really fun and it adds to the characters.”
I’m very proud of that and how it’s been received
by the players.

As for our biggest failure…if I have to point at anything,
it’s ages and ages old: the Gladiator system, where you could
earn gladiators and go to the arena and fight NPC characters like Fifth
Column guys or Cray guys that you earned through the badge system. It
was a system that never took off, and the players liked it more for the
badges than the actual gameplay behind the gladiator stuff. We kind of
let that one die a quiet death.

Ton Hammer:
Would you say
that a large percentage of your player base has end-game characters
that they’ll dust off to check out the Incarnate system?

Our established
player base has a sizable number of max level characters amongst them.
We’ve never tried to make the leveling be too grindy.
It’s more about the journey of getting to level 50. We have
so much content that you can’t see it all with one character
without manipulating things such as turning off xp or going back and
doing flashback stuff with the Ouroboros.

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Ton Hammer:
style="font-style: italic;">City of Heroes
practically created the superheroic MMOG genre with the extensive
costuming system, badges and achievements, user generated content
tools, and things like day jobs which is a cool concept that I always
forget to mention. Where do these ideas come from and do you have any
left in the tank?

We get inspired from
everywhere. We see what works well in other games. If it’s
working well there, we’ll see if we can work into our game.
If we’re going to work it into our game, we’re
definitely going to innovate on it. We’re going to put our
twist on it. The mission architect system lent itself back to the old
adventure construction set days where you would sit down and make
adventures on your old Commodore 64 using the style="font-style: italic;">Bard’s Tale

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style="background-color: rgb(0, 51, 0);"> style="font-weight: bold;">Mission Architect Info style="background-color: rgb(0, 153, 0);">Over
375,000 Mission Architect arcs have been created since launch style="background-color: rgb(0, 153, 0);"> It
would take you over 12 years to play every MA arc that was ever created

Ton Hammer:
Have there been
ideas that you’ve seen in other superpowered or MMO games
that you wanted to do, but realized wouldn’t make a good fit
into City
of Heroes

been a couple of things that we’ve looked at in other games
and said that’s good for that type of game, but it
doesn’t fit into the style="font-style: italic;">City of Heroes
universe. I’m wracking my brains over this. The Nemesis
System [from style="font-style: italic;">Champions Online]
was something we looked at, but it was something that would be very
limiting in the end. We decided against it. I think that was what
pushed us even more into the mission architect system because then it
wasn’t pre-canned missions that your nemesis was going to
show up in. You could create your own nemesis in the mission architect,
and you could craft the story of you fighting your nemesis in the
mission architect. Then you could go into that mission and execute that
story. That was kind of where our version ended up.

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style="background-color: rgb(102, 102, 102);"> style="font-weight: bold;">Breakdown of Alignments style="background-color: rgb(153, 153, 153);">51% Hero style="background-color: rgb(153, 153, 153);">26%
Villain style="background-color: rgb(153, 153, 153);">10%
Vigilante style="background-color: rgb(153, 153, 153);">13%

Ton Hammer:
on the eve on another big comic book MMOG launch. Is there anything you
want to get out there about why they should check out style="font-style: italic;">City of Heroes?

I think that style="font-style: italic;">City of Heroes
definitely is the forerunner out there. We’ve got almost
seven years of content for this game. When it comes to MMOG, every MMOG
player knows that content is king. You never want to be bored; you
always want something to do. The more mature your MMOG is, the more
stuff there is going to there to do. We’ve been working on
this game over seven years counting development time, and
we’ve been constantly reinventing the game. With style="font-style: italic;">Going Rogue,
we reinvented the game. With style="font-style: italic;">City of Villains,
we reinvented the game. With the mission architect, we reinvented the
game. And now with the incarnate system, we’re reinventing
the game once more.

We want to stay fresh and innovative. We’re going to continue
to do so. We’re going to have the best character
customization out there in any superhero MMOG or any MMOG
that’s out there right now. We want to maintain that lead and
that lead is something we’re not going to give up lightly.

Our thanks to Matt Miller for this interview.

To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our City of Villains Game Page.

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