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Exclusive City of Heroes Issue 13 Interview with Matt Miller and Brian Clayton

Posted Fri, Sep 26, 2008 by Cody Bye

Questions by Cody “Micajah” Bye, Managing Editor

Answers by City of Heroes’ Brian Clayton (Executive Producer) and Matt Miller (Lead Designer)

The phrase “user generated content” is one that gets tossed around a lot these days and for good reason. Massively multiplayer online game developers love the idea of creating a feature in a game that is relatively organic and can grow through the users rather than through the developers. With that in mind, the City of Heroes team set to work on the Mission Architect and have received plenty of praise for the decision. However, the team recently announced that the Architect was being pushed back until Issue 14 rather than its projected Issue 13 release. Ten Ton Hammer’s Cody “Micajah” Bye got on the phone with NC NorCal’s Matt Miller and Brian Clayton to learn the details of this decision and what players can expect from the newly dubbed Issue 13.  


Ten Ton Hammer: What can you tell us about the delay of the Mission Architect? Why was it delayed?

The Architect is delayed until Issue 14.

Brian Clayton: By taking the time to launch Mission Architect as robustly as possible, we never really nailed down a launch date for Issue 13. Now we're just really taking the time to make sure the Mission Architect is AAA, is complete, and will push the MMO genre forward. But we also didn't want to hold back all this great content we've been working on for the last few months.

Really, it's a win-win for the customers across the board in the sense that they're getting great content off the development line and they're getting the Mission Architect exactly the way that they hoped it would be.

Ten Ton Hammer: Can you explain to our readers and City of Heroes fans why it was so difficult to add customizable characters into the Mission Architect? Why did it force you to move the Mission Architect to Issue 14?  

Matt Miller: We wanted to insure that the customizable characters that we were putting in were as customizable as possible. We had a pencil sketch plan of how you'd be able to do this, but when we looked at it in more detail, there were just a lot of the little things that were breaking in the missions and it was not going to be as easy as we thought it was.

The AI in particular doesn't really know how to use a lot of the powers that the players wanted in their, unless we use a specific type of AI. So we have to go and get that AI written and make sure people have the customization that they want from these guys and make the animations look correct. Some of the abilities have specifically tailored animations and so you can't just slap a particular character model on to any set of powers.

That's just one of thirty different little problems involved in getting these things working, but we all knew that once we got this in it is really what we should be launching with the Architect.

Ten Ton Hammer: Is the character customization in the Architect as robust as what players have in their own character creation? Or are players going to be limited?

Matt: We are making it as robust as possible, but there are some powers that players have access to that the AI won't be able to handle, like the Mastermind summoning powers. We would have to program a specific AI just for that. It's just something we haven't done before.

Brian: The most important thing that most of the players are requesting is the ability to change the costumes and customize the look of the bosses and things like that in the mission creator. Both of these features were going to be a part of the next phase of the mission creator, but because of the overwhelming response to the mission creator and the need for that feature in particular, we really just wanted to listen to our customers and give them what they really  want. And it's not just the ability to make great content but to be able to specialize and personalize it as well.

Ten Ton Hammer: So these customized characters are mainly bosses and NPCs players can fight with, correct?

Matt: Yes. They're mainly the "main" villains and allies you'll play with with your characters.

Even without the Mission Architect, there are still plenty of interesting features in Issue 13.

Ten Ton Hammer: Even with the Mission Architect out of Issue 13, you're still tacking on a bunch of new features into this next Issue. Were those features ready for Issue 13, or did you speed up the development of those mechanics because you knew that the Architect was getting delayed?

Matt: A lot of them were ready for 13, but we just hadn't announced 'em yet. A couple of them - at least one that I know of - did get a bit of an acceleration to make sure we could get it into 13.

Ten Ton Hammer: The new features that you've added are pretty neat - at least on paper. I especially like the "Leveling Pact" idea. Do you think this is going to unbalance the game in some way? There are people who play MMOs all the time; will this shovel a whole ton of people to the end cap of the game?

Matt: There will be a lot more people hitting the level cap with this, but our hope is that it won't take less time to get to the end game simply because you're earning XP at half rate because you're getting two characters to the next level.

With that in mind, there will be more characters there, but it will still take the same amount of time that it would've taken the same two players to do it individually.

But it's also a social tool. Just  like side-kicking let me play with my friends, this actually takes me to that next step in social gaming. Me and my friend are always going to be in lockstep with each other, even if we end up playing at two completely different times during the day.

Ten Ton Hammer: Can you talk about Multi-Builds? These seems like a pretty neat PvE / PvP idea...

Matt: This is something that a lot of our PvP players have been asking about for a long time. They really wanted the ability to have a certain power set choice and ehnancement load outs for PvP rather than for PvE. Looking at that, we decided to make it not just a PvP feature, but a universal feature. If you want a solo and a group build, you can do that. If you want a PvP and PvE build, you can do that. If you want a Task Force build and a normal play build, you can do that.

We're really leaving the option of the other build up to the players. If they don't want to deal with having to swap out a build for their character, they don't need to touch the system. It's completely optional to the player.

Ten Ton Hammer: They only have one set, correct?

Matt: Yes, we're only launch with one available. That doesn't mean the option isn't there for other build slots in the future.

Ten Ton Hammer: Can you talk about the power rebalancing at all? How are you balancing you PvP and PvE powers?

PvP will really be seeing changes in Issue 13.

Matt: One of the things when we started the studio was to make hires in the "Powers" department. Not only do we have more people to work on the powers, but we can also now take a fine-toothed comb to the power system and get some data mining and cold hard facts on the powers and how they're being used.

To start, we rebalanced the Patron powers and the Epic powers that villains and heroes get so they're more in line with each other. We looked at what players were picking more often and changed some powers completely and pruned some powers.

In addition, we wanted to make sure PvP remained fun. We were getting into a situation with the games because PvP was getting less and less fun because of how some powers interacted with players. Back then, we couldn't adjust the powers without having an adjustment made in PvE as well. Basically, we got more people, had more code time, and created a new technology system so that when you're in a PvP zone some powers act very differently than what they do in PvE. Hopefully this will bring a more balanced PvP game to the CoX franchise and allow new players to find this enjoyable.

Ten Ton Hammer: You talked about Issue 14 very very briefly in the press release. Can you give us any hints about what the other features are going to be besides the Mission Architect?

Matt: I wish I could, but marketing would lunge across the table to stop me.

Ten Ton Hammer: (laughs)

Matt: But if you read between the lines, you could probably infer some features.

Ten Ton Hammer: Is there anything else you'd like to tell the readers and CoH fans?

Matt: Talking about the title - Power and Responsibility - basically we thought it was a perfect title that really fit all these features that are going to be in this Issue. We have all these new power sets, players can choose their own rewards in the merit system, the new rebalancing in PvP, and the "day job" stuff to show what kind of responsibilities characters have beyond fighting crime or causing mayhem.

Of course, obviously the quote used by the great Stan Lee and the idea that we as a studio have a great responsibility in getting the players these features as fast as possible. A lot of these things are ready to go and we're tightening down the bolts on the last few things before we can send this to the training room for players to see. It would be irresponsible of us to not get this in the fans of players.

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