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

Posted Tue, Jan 11, 2011 by Ethec

city of heroes positron
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 City of Heroes and what lies ahead for the fabled franchise.

Ten Ton Hammer: Matt, 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?

Matt Miller: Yeah. I’d 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.

city of heroes

Ten 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?

Matt Miller: 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.

Top 5 Praetorian Archetypes
Mastermind 17%
Brute 16%
Dominator 12%
Blaster 11%
Scrapper 11%
Source: NCsoft
Ten Ton Hammer: Other competitors 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?

Matt Miller: 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.

Top 3 Villain AT's That Have Switched Sides Top 3 Hero AT's That Have Switched Sides
Mastermind Scrapper
Brute Blaster
Stalker Controller
Source: NCsoft
Ten 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?

Matt Miller: 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.

city of heroes

Ten 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?

Matt Miller: 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.

News from around the 'Net