City of Heroes Senior Designer Melissa Bianco is the creative force behind Going Rogue, the July expansion that features an all-new level 1-20 experience and the ability for Heroes to become Villains (and vice versa) for the first time. Going Rogue is centered on the alternate reality city of Praetoria, a modern city with a Roman twist where forces loyal to Emperor Cole battle it out with Calvin Scott and the Resistance. We ask Melissa about some of the finer points of the Going Rogue story, gameplay, and betrayal options, then dive into April's Issue 17 graphics revamp in this Q&A from PAX East 2010.


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Senior Designer Melissa Bianco

Ten Ton Hammer: So the Greco-Roman meme is big this year, with Clash of the Titans and a few other video and computer games. Is that just a happy coincidence for Going Rogue and Praetoria?

Melissa Bianco: It's a total happy coincidence. When we first started talking about what the look of Praetoria was going to be, one of the things we wrote on the whiteboard was, 'Utopia... at a cost.' We threw around this idea of Emperor Cole - he's a bad guy, so his world has to be gritty and grimey, an awful place. But no, it doesn't have to be that way. Emperor Cole likes things pretty, which is why if you take a look from his tower - his tower is something else. And Cole's eye view - everything that surrounds him is quite stellar as well. As you go, the landscape changes a little bit, but there's no reason why he, as a bad guy to some, would surround himself with an unappealing setting.

So we really got to take some artistic liberties with where we're headed in Going Rogue. Praetoria has gotten more love from the environment team than any zone in City of Heroes or Villains. Part of it is just the crazy amount of thought that went into even things like trash cans and newspaper stands and bus stops. Everything is tied into Cole in some way.

Ten Ton Hammer: How much of the Praetoria storyline will players be able to experience? Will Praetoria just sort of magically appear on Going Rogue launch day?

Melissa Bianco: Some of it's on the website - you can actually read the timeline. But some of it you actually get to experience - why does Emperor Cole have Praetorian senators, am I going to reconnect with any signature characters that I knew from City of Heroes or City of Villains? The answer is yes. How they actually play into this is very very different - it's like Calvin Scott married to Mother Mayhem. It's like, 'What? When did that happen?' It's on the website. But you'll also see a bunch of other characters that you might remember, and they've gotten juiced up as well.

Ten Ton Hammer: In the panel you stated that nearly every building in Praetoria has a purpose. Could you elaborate on that?

Melissa Bianco: One of the great things about Praetoria over a zone like Atlas Park is - you go into Atlas Park, you play through some missions and you're immediately sent out of it. You have no idea what Atlas Park is about. The problem is you don't build any kind of emotional attachment to the city that you're in. In Praetoria, we do send you to the so-and-so building and the building has a logo, and that's the building you go to every single time. It's something we haven't done before; we've sent you to neighborhoods and offices, but in Going Rogue we send you to very specific locations with a very specific purpose.

Ten Ton Hammer: Could you give us an example or two of these buildings?

Melissa Bianco: For example, we may send you to the CMF building, which is the City Maintenance Building. We built that entire building and compound with one mission in mind and populated it the same way. It's something very specific and it makes sense that it's there.

We don't actually have a university in Praetoria, we have a Cultural Direction and Education Center, because in Praetoria, never use a short phrase when a long one will do. And you'll see a few other buildings like that, built for a specific purpose with a specific story in mind, and they'll be fleshed out through the missions.

Ten Ton Hammer: And mission content inside these buildings is still randomized?

Melissa Bianco: Unless it's a unique map and a unique mission, then yes, it's still random.

Ten Ton Hammer: So tell us a bit about the new player experience in Praetoria. When do you make your choice between the Emperor Cole's Loyalist side and the Resistance side?

Melissa Bianco: By the time you leave the tutorial you will have chosen a side. You'll be introduced to both sides, then you'll have to make a choice at the end.

Ten Ton Hammer: But by being neutral, are you considered hostile by Emperor Cole?

Melissa Bianco: Well, this is the tutorial, so you're pretty much hostile anyway. It's kind of "easy" hostile though, because it's the tutorial.

Ten Ton Hammer: And can existing players play the Praetoria content?

Melissa Bianco: You start fresh as a baby, so no. You can flash back to Praetoria and experience the missions there if you're over 20 just like any other content.

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New powersets, such as Kinetic Melee, will be featured in Going Rogue. More on these powersets in the panel article.

Ten Ton Hammer: Will players re-visit Praetoria at any point? Is that in the plans?

Melissa Bianco: You revisit Praetoria in a way at much later levels. The Incarnate system - the endgame stuff - is in Praetoria.

Ten Ton Hammer: In Going Rogue, players will have the opportunity to switch between Hero and Villain for the first time, and while Matt Miller stated that the change would take some time (it's not a fast switch), it would be possible to take on a "smuggler" role, using arbitrage between Hero and Villain black markets. Can you give us some idea of the length of time and complexity needed to go from Villain to Rogue to Hero (or Hero to Vigilante to Villain)?

Melissa Bianco: It's a series of missions that you do, so it depends on how long it takes you to work through the missions. In each one you make a choice: do you want to be good or evil? After a certain amount of choices you take the next step. It's not a switch and it is kind of cyclical; if you do make the switch, there's no rule that says you can't - through more moral choices - switch back again. It's several missions - I don't want to say that it's so many that it's tedious, but it's enough that you're making an informed decision.

Ten Ton Hammer: Can you walk a middle path? Are there good gameplay reasons for doing so, or do you incentivize players to choose between Hero and Villain?

Melissa Bianco: You can if you want, but you don't get the benefits of switching [i.e. access to the separate markets for Heroes and Villains]. You kind of go into kind of a stasis until you make the final leap. So you can experience the content, but with the whole supergroup "ghosting" thing [i.e. inactive status that preserves your prestige and standing in your Hero or Villain supergroup], it would probably make sense to make the final choice. So you're incentivized to make a choice, not Hero or Villain, either way - it's all about your character's storyline. But we don't give you any special incentives to switch to this or that. It's more about what content you want to experience.

Ten Ton Hammer: So, Vigilantes and Rogues are sort of in a state of Limbo. Moving forward, you're not necessarily going to be creating content for that grey area between Hero and Villain.

Melissa Bianco: I never say never, but currently, no.

Ten Ton Hammer: And will these missions be done the exact same way each time?

Melissa Bianco: Your general play experience is similar, but your missions - how you get them - is more random.

Ten Ton Hammer: Currently, Heroes and Villains have a different visual look. In the process of turning evil or turning to good, does the look of your character transform into Hero or Villain?

Melissa Bianco: Visually, no. But the great thing is that players can do this for themselves - as you start to go toward the other side you can change your own costume as you start to go in the other direction. It's up to you.

Ten Ton Hammer: The Incarnate system was just announced here at PAX 2010. This is an endgame system for the more hardcore players, right? Would you say it's challenging, group-based content?

Melissa Bianco: When you hit 50, what do you do? You pretty much do the same endgame content over and over again. So this is for players who want a new challenge and want to have a progression. So the Incarnate levels give them a sense of progression. They'll find it challenging, definitely.

Ten Ton Hammer: Regarding the new powersets, City of Heroes is approaching its sixth year - how do you keep coming up with new builds?

Melissa Bianco: I don't know how Castle [Senior Designer Floyd "Castle" Grubb] does it, because he keeps coming up with stuff. Obviously the players have a lot to say about that - we listen to the players when they say, 'we want shields!' - no, we can't do that... then we give them shields. 'We want dual pistols!' Oh, we can't do dual pistols... then we give them dual pistols. So a lot of it comes from Castle's brain, and a lot of it comes from stuff players request. If it's reasonable and can be done well, then there's no reason we can't do it.

Ten Ton Hammer: How much of the Praetoria storyline will players be able to experience? Will Praetoria just sort of magically appear on Going Rogue launch day?

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Resistance leader Calvin Scott apparently couldn't think of a cool superhero name.

Melissa Bianco: Some of it's on the website - you can actually read the timeline. But some of it you actually get to experience - why does Emperor Cole have Praetorian senators, am I going to reconnect with any signature characters that I knew from City of Heroes or City of Villains? The answer is yes. How they actually play into this is very very different - it's like Calvin Scott married to Mother Mayhem. It's like, 'What? When did that happen?' It's on the website. But you'll also see a bunch of other characters that you might remember, and they've gotten juiced up as well.

Ten Ton Hammer: Last question - is Going Rogue self-contained? Is it building up to a confrontation with Emperor Cole or Calvin Scott as players near level 20?

Melissa Bianco: Of sorts. We always build up to something big, but the story never truly ends, if that's what you're asking. Because the bad guy never truly dies.

Ten Ton Hammer: Last question - City of Heroes is the MMOG that can run on anyone's computer and has been for some time.  Are the minimum requirements going to change with the "ultra mode" graphics improvements coming in Issue 17?

Melissa Bianco: There are suggested specs. Obviously you can play the game and not turn on "ultra mode", but if you've got a really good video card obviously it makes sense. But the min spec doesn't change. We still have players on dial-up and seven year-old machines;  I don't think their experience will change much, but you won't get the full experience, obviously.


Players will be able to experience Issue 17: Dark Mirror in April, then the Going Rogue expansion in July.
Ten Ton Hammer thanks Melissa Bianco and Paragon Studios for their time at PAX East 2010.


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

Last Updated: Mar 29, 2016

About The Author

Jeff
Jeff joined the Ten Ton Hammer team in 2004 covering EverQuest II, and he's had his hands on just about every PC online and multiplayer game he could since.

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