City of Heroes Fifth Anniversary Interview with Matt "Positron" Miller
Five years is a large stretch of time for the average human. Even for a
centenarian, half a decade is a twentieth of their life, so to watch a
fledgling MMO studio create the world’s first super hero MMO
and release it to resounding success has been a privilege. This week, City
of Heroes celebrates its five year anniversary,
and the Ten Ton Hammer staff sat down with Lead Designer Matt Miller to
have a very honest discussion about the best and worst moments in the
franchise, the future of the brand, and how the Paragon Studios team
plans to remain competitive against the two newest contender to their
super hero throne.
Ten Ton Hammer: It’s been five years since the original release of City of Heroes. Obviously a lot has changed in that amount of time, but what do you think were the most important moments of the City of Heroes franchise? What defined this game?
Matt Miller: I think the decision to let the players have full customization of their character’s look, before they even start playing the game, was the best decision we could have ever made. That, and the sheer number of possible powerset combinations and builds within those combinations meant that almost every player was playing a game they could find appealing nearly immediately. And the receipt of our recent Mission Architect game system from our players has been nothing short of mind-blowing. We knew we were onto something special when we came up with the idea, but only when you see how something is received is when it really hits you that this is ‘real’.
Ten Ton Hammer: Looking back, were there any horrible “Oh s&*#!” moments during the initial development and/or after launch? If so, how did the team handle the situation and what kind of resolution was there to the issue?
MM: We had an Influence (money) dupe bug that was reported within 48 hours of the game going live. The player who reported it didn’t tell anyone else about it, and wasn’t looking for anything in return. It was because of his noble efforts that we created the Bug Hunter badge in order to have something to hand out to upstanding players who know when something is severely broken and let us know without abusing it themselves.
Another moment would be the Winter Lords that went out with the first winter event that we did. We had just created new reward splitting code for Giant Monster-class entities which looked good on paper… in practice however it was possible to get a character from level 1 to 20 in under an hour fighting these things. I remember making a frantic call to our Producer at the time begging him to shut off the event early, but I was just a lowly designer back then, and the long-story-short is that event ended when it was scheduled to.
Ten Ton Hammer: A large number of gamers still remember the end of beta events that the CoH devs held just before the game went live. What sort of special events are planned for the anniversary? Are we going to see any crazy alien invasions popping up or maybe absurd rifts in time?
MM: Players logging in on the 28th will definitely see their fair share of special events going on. We’ll even have the winter Ski Chalet open if players want to earn the race badges. I know a few of the Devs will be hanging out in Pocket D on the Training Room that evening, so if you are so inclined, stop on by and say “hi”.
Ten Ton Hammer: The release of the Mission Architect has certainly been hailed as one of the more ambitious projects to ever be constructed and completed by a post-launch MMO development team. Why did you decide to undertake such a massive project and how long – really – did it take your team to complete?
MM: The “why” really was a “why not?” We answered the “why not” about halfway through development and realized that this was going to be a BIG system, bigger than just another feature for our game, but something that had the potential to influence the MMO genre as a whole and being so far down the rabbit hole at that point there was no turning back.
As for the “how long”, pinpointing the actual start date is trickier. Joe “Hero 1” Morrissey came up with the genesis of the idea a couple months after he was hired, but that barely resembles the final system we ended up with. All told there was about eight months of devoted production time to the system, with roughly 10 months of pre-production design work to get us to a point where we thought we could implement it and it would be fun. This feature was the most massive undertaking since the Launch of City of Heroes in 2004.
Ten Ton Hammer: What's next for the team and the game? Are there any larger, overarching plans going on in the background that players don't know about yet? When are you going to be revealing those plans?
MM: All I can really comment on at this time is that NCsoft is providing us with more resources than ever before and we have some great stuff planned for our players over the coming months and years. I’m sure you’ll be one of the first to hear what we’ve got up our sleeves, so stay tuned!
Ten Ton Hammer: A five year anniversary seems like the perfect time to try to attract some retired players back into the game. Besides the Mission Architect, do you have any major initiatives that you're working on? Should current players expect a major influx of faces soon?
MM: We’ve released the Architect Edition, a new boxed version including both City of Heroes and City of Villains, and it’s on the shelves right now. We’re also doing a free re-activation period from Tuesday April 28th, through Sunday, May 3rd, so retired players will be able to log in using their old accounts and try out all the cool new stuff we have to offer, including Mission Architect.
Ten Ton Hammer: What can you tell us about the studio name change? Why go from NCsoft NorCal to Paragon Studios? What were you trying to accomplish with that move?
MM: If your company name was “NorCal”, and you didn’t surf, wouldn’t you want something a bit sexier? We love City of Heroes, which means we love Paragon City. The name shows a commitment not only to the studio, but to the brand as well.
Ten Ton Hammer: Champions Online looks like it’s setting up to release sometime in the next 3-6 months and DC Universe Online looks on track for sometime after that. Are you doing anything to prepare for more super hero MMOs hitting the marketplace?
MM: We are the first comic-book inspired MMO, so we think it’s flattering that there would be others that would attempt to follow in our footsteps. With a number of us being former Cryptic employees, we always knew that other games in the genre were coming, and so we’ve been preparing for the competition in the space. We’re not taking our market leadership position for granted, and it’s not just because there are other games coming out. Instead, it is more so due to our genuine passion and commitment to City of Heroes and the fans. Our advantage now is that we have an awesome community of players, and a fun and proven game with a theme that we hope will continue to attract more and more new players. The past five years have allowed us to add new content, including a major expansion and several innovative systems like Mission Architect, to City of Heroes. No doubt we will continue to challenge ourselves to add more cool stuff to the game.
That, and we’ve still got more surprises up our sleeves.
Ten Ton Hammer: Out of everything that you’ve seen with City of Heroes, what has been your most memorable moment thus far? Can you describe it for us?
MM: From a story perspective, I think the reaction we got to Issue 10: Invasion was my favorite moment. Everything from Vanguard, the Rikti Mothership, Lady Grey’s Task Force, and the Rikti Invasions, coupled with the storyline we wove into the final two issues of the City of Heroes comic book, really made that issue stand out as one of my favorites.
Of course, the reaction we’ve gotten to Issue 14: Architect so far is rapidly making that issue a favorite of mine as well.
Ten Ton Hammer: Is there anything else you’d like to tell Ten Ton Hammer readers and CoX fans?
MM: Without the fans of City of Heroes and City of Villains there wouldn’t be a 5th Anniversary to celebrate, so really the honors should go out to them. So many MMO’s have come and gone, but the players of the “City of” games are incredibly loyal, and we do everything we can think of to repay them for their loyalty by constantly trying to make the game that they love better.
And the best is yet to come.