If NCsofts City of... franchise has proven anything over the years, its that gamers want to take on the role of a superhero or villain. The character creation system set new standards in avatar customization, and abilities like flight have opened up the Z axis and finally gotten players off the ground. The excitement of successfully stopping a bank robbery or the evil joy of summoning minions has only been overshadowed by one nagging weakness. Much of the content is mission based and fits within a few established variables. The gang members you were fighting in one warehouse might be ninjas a few levels later, or have ice powers, but in the end the objectives just don't seem to change much.
In a bold and unusual move, NCsoft is adding a mechanic called the Mission Architect to address this issue and provide the community a way to inject their own content into the game. Will it be enough to satiate player appetites and bring CoX back into its glory days? I wish I could just once give a straight yes or no answer but there are so many pros and cons to this issue it requires careful examination. However, this is a prime opportunity for CoX to regain its foothold. Whether disillusionment with Warhammer Online or boredom with the Lich King expansion, the current market provides an incredible opportunity for established games to bring in new or former subscribers. The Mission Architect update could very well be the golden carrot to bring hungry players to the table.
The most obvious benefit you can see is the infusion of content into a game that really needs it. Dont misunderstand me, I absolutely loved playing the game, but clearing the same warehouse with a slight variation of enemy isnt going to hold my attention forever. Sure the bank robbery missions were great but beyond a few developer scripted boss fights, it seems problematic to try and support your entire progression through piecemeal questing. The Mission Architect will allow player created missions from all shards to become available and who knows exactly how many that could mean? Mediocre ones could easily run in the thousands and that could entertain the community for months. The really good ones with multiple objectives and complexity found in developer created content will do nothing but improve upon what we already have available.
This unfortunately brings us to our first risk, the control of content creation in the hands of players. I call it a risk versus a challenge because communities are living breathing organisms and prove time and again unpredictable. It could very well be one of the greatest features CoX has available but player generated content has had mixed results in the industry. While this content might be untested in the MMO genre, you can look at the success of the tools in Morrowind and plan for heavy community participation. On the flipside, mods for games like Fallout 3 and Oblivion have seen a much cooler response so can NCsoft really bank on their investment into such a system? Even if they can, putting power into the hands of players can be extremely dangerous.
One such danger that will require the constant vigilance of Customer Service staff is filtering game content. Of course they plan to have a language filter but how hard is it to get around that? I feel sorry for the poor person assigned to make regular updates to it. Also, with the ability to write my own story text, what is to prevent me from having players raid a secret lair to obtain Harry Potter porn, or Hitlers lost diary on world conquest? The latter may be subjective, but these are only mild examples of what you and I both know communities are capable of. At what point are you infringing on players creativity? Maybe a mission was done in seriousness and without heavy usage of the word tard or gay but turns out to be controversial. Every restriction placed will close doors in the minds of the creators and put customer representatives in an awkward position.
An additional layer of content control is a rating system for missions to insure players can find the best very easily. Fears of the star system we saw abused on so many forums comes to mind, but NCsoft will be watching for mission trolls. This could very easily turn into a popularity contest, especially with the rewards being offered.
The rewards involved might be what will keep everyone coming back for more. Using something similar to EverQuest's Lost Dungeons of Norrath, completing a mission earns you a card. These cards may be exchanged for gear allowing players to decide whether to buy something inexpensive early on, or save up for the good stuff. There are also special rewards given to creators whose missions are selected by the developers or voted into fame by the community. Making certain rewards are comparable to the amount of time invested will be an ongoing challenge for NCsoft, but it appears they have made steps in the right direction so far.
The complexity of the system is also a mixed bag providing a robust set of options but one hefty requirement, work. With each additional hour required to create something spectacular, the number of players willing to put in the effort decreases. Simple missions have been said to only require 15-45 minutes to build, but full scale stories take days to create. It isnt a drag and drop scenario where you can hit a random button, it requires things like story text and creativity. This one is hard to judge without seeing the tool in action and initially it will be widely accepted and tinkered with, but six months from now will everyone still like it?
As you can see, CoXs Mission Architect has some absolutely amazing potential and could help the game break back into the spotlight. There are a few minor risks to keep an eye on but for the most part its hard not to see this as one of the most positive changes made since the City of Villains expansion. Its still on the test server so well have to wait for a final verdict, but look for this to hit live servers in the very near future. Of course I could be wrong about the entire Architect system, so email me and tell me why. Otherwise Ill have to stand by my opinion as the Comic Book Guy.
Worst Story Ever.
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