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Dev Corner: City of Heroes Development with Matt Miller

March 17, 2008

Dev Corner: City of Heroes Development with Matt Miller

Matt Miller, Senior Lead Designer for City of Heroes at NCsoft NorCal, discusses what’s happened since NCsoft fully acquired the franchise, and looks ahead to Issue 12: Midnight Hour and beyond.

It’s been a very busy last four months or so for us since NCsoft acquired the City of Heroes franchise and we formed the NorCal studio in Mountain View, California. We offered everyone who was working on the game at Cryptic a position within our new studio and were thrilled when they all accepted employment. This meant that we could all work on the game we have loved and labored over in a brand new studio, which is fantastic.

NCsoft NorCal has a great start-up feel, but the fact remains that most of us have worked together on this same project, for years beforehand. It’s a very unique situation, and a lot like forming a brand new company with a collection of people that you have worked well with in the past. There is a very social and fun atmosphere here in the studio that suits our close-knit family of designers, artists, engineers, and producers extremely well. Great ideas are bouncing off the walls here, and all the new hires we have added in the past couple months are very excited to be working for such a vibrant team.

Things have not been standing still in City of Heroes. In February, we were able to host a very special event on Valentine’s Day: a live, in-game wedding between two of our major characters, Manticore and Sister Psyche, controlled by Sean and Jennifer Dornan-Fish respectively. I controlled Positron and other developers took over other signature characters. We executed nearly ten run-throughs of the wedding throughout the day, and about a thousand players were able to witness the event. It was very exciting, and we feel like the hard work really paid off for our community.

We also held a Double XP weekend in February during which we saw some of the highest server concurrencies ever in the history of the product. This was possible in large part due to the hardware upgrades we made in the beginning of 2008. We were able to get more players playing, rather than lagging out, during the exciting weekend.

As Lead Designer on the project, I have had a lot of control over what happens in the City of Heroes game, but in the past I still had hurdles to get some great ideas actualized. With the new studio, a lot of ideas that couldn’t take hold under the old management are being implemented into the game with outstanding results.

For instance, in February we launched a “between Issue” patch that added a lot of quality of life features to the game. For the first time you can see the real numbers behind your characters and their powers, what they mean, and how City of Heroes uses them. You can now see the exact details on how your character stacks up against another by simply looking at the numbers behind how your powers work. Another quality of life feature is the smoothing of the leveling rate in the game. We have done extensive datamining showing us where the problem levels were, and how long players would tend to be “stuck” there. With this, we were able to alter the defeat rewards of the enemies in the game so that these areas were less of an issue. In general, we increased the overall speed of leveling by around 25% so players can expect faster results in a typical play session.

Of course that’s not entirely where our development efforts have been going; we have a lot of long-term goals and we have been diligently working toward them. We are excited about the possibilities that a single owner brings to the table. Being “under one roof” is affording us more flexibility than ever before and it’s fun having direct contact with all of the different departments here at NCsoft working hard to continue the game’s success. And with our new studio we can confidently plan for Issue 13, 14, and beyond, and hire the people that will make those Issues and goals happen.

For the immediate future, however, I am pleased to announce “Issue 12: Midnight Hour” for City of Heroes, which will be going into closed beta testing soon. “Midnight Hour” brings with it a slew of exciting new features including the long anticipated Villain Epic Archetypes, which will be available to anyone who achieves level 50 in City of Villains. The current Hero and Villain Archetypes will benefit from Powerset Proliferation, where we took over twenty existing powersets and gave them to Archetypes that didn’t have access to them before. If you ever wanted to play a Controller with the powerset of Plant Control, now is your chance! Psychic Blasters are now a reality, as well as Axe and Mace wielding Brutes. With Powerset Proliferation players now have even more character combinations to choose from.

We’ve overhauled the difficulty of the Hollows, one of the first additional zones that was ever published for City of Heroes. Gone are the days of players skipping the zone because it was simply too hard for them to get around in, as they will find the enemies are much more manageable while soloing or in small groups. We have even added a bunch of repeatable missions for characters to play in this newly configured zone.

Additionally, there is the Midnight Squad. This organization has always been in the lore of City of Heroes, but never realized in the game itself. The Midnight Squad takes the limelight in Issue 12 with missions that explore the origins of superpowers, as well as using Ouroboros (the time-travel organization introduced last Issue) to pop back to the Cimeroran peninsula of the ancient Romans. There players will uncover a mystery that has been festering for over two millennia, as well as unlock the awesome Roman Armor costume set for their characters.

Finally, I should note that Issue 12 also includes a number of quality of life and gameplay additions for our players. We built upon the recently added “Real Numbers” feature by adding in the ability to see the numbers behind your powers. We’ve also improved the User Interface by adding new power trays that can be placed anywhere on the screen. There are several more of these cool additions that you can read about on our Issue 12: Midnight Hour Game Update page.

Issue 12 is shaping up to be a great issue but that’s just the start of things to come. Issue 13 and beyond are going to be huge additions to City of Heroes, introducing new systems as well as a ton of new content for all levels of play. We couldn’t be more excited about the journey ahead for City of Heroes and I look forward to giving you more details this year!

Matt Miller, Senior Lead Designer for City of Heroes

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