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NCsoft event shows off upcoming Mission Architect system

February 26, 2009

NCsoft event shows off upcoming Mission Architect system
By Michael Lafferty

"We wanted to make this as easy as our costume creator"

When it launched, NCsoft’s City of Heroes proved naysayers wrong and became a benchmark in the massively multiplayer online (MMO) gaming space. Not only did it buck the trend of the general failure of superhero games to connect with the gaming masses, but it also introduced the deepest character customization/creation system seen in an MMO.

That NCsoft released two MMOs at the same time only added to the remarkable success of City of Heroes. Well, there have been expansions, and updates and the whole City of Villains element added to the game, but the CoH/V is about to again set a benchmark in the MMO genre.

At the end of March, a live update will deliver the Mission Architect to the CoH/V franchise and its players, marking the first time that MMO players will have the opportunity to create missions, create story arcs and then share them with others in the “City of” space, regardless of server.

City of Heroes PC screenshots

And when it comes to the complexity of the program … well, let’s just say that the whole Mission Architect element is so intuitive that just about anyone who plays the game should be able to create and upload missions within 15-20 minutes after launching the in-game program.

NCsoft showed off the Mission Architect system at a press event Wednesday in San Francisco at the historic Bentley Reserve building. Lead designer Matt Miller, who has been with the CoH franchise since the beginning (players will know him in-game as Positron), was on hand with senior designer Joe Morrissey (who spearheaded the mission creation system) to show off their handiwork.

It was intuitive, remarkable in its depth and simplicity and a whole lot of fun.

“Our mindset coming all the way through,” Morrissey said, “is we wanted to give players everything I do on a day-to-day basis.”

The system of creating missions is tied into the game. Architect Entertainment is a holo-deck environment that is located throughout 19 different zones in the game world. It was stated that players could actually go from level 1 to 50 just running the missions and story arcs created by other players. In the Architect Entertainment building, there is a computer that interfaces with the mission creator. Each player account (not the individual characters) has up to three published story arcs available to upload (the arcs can feature up to five missions, with up to 25 mission objectives in each mission). How well received has this been? In a week in closed beta, 419 missions have been created.

City of Heroes PC screenshots

All local stories (the stories the player creates) are stored on your hard drive as text files. There is a My Published Stories, My Characters (custom characters) and My Enemy Groups (you can create your own enemies as well) categories that help the player create a rounded mission. And because players are taxed with creating the descriptions for the missions, it is possible to be as creative as they want (within certain filter parameters, that is). You can create your own enemies, using the character creation system already in the game, and it is possible to step outside of the game lore and create your own enemy groups and then create their own legacy. And who knows? If the lore is good enough, your enemy groups may actually surface within the canon of the game itself.

Once you have created a story and mission that you are satisfied with, you can upload so that other players can play that mission. When others are playing your adventures they get the equivalent experience points as if they were playing outside the mission editor. They also get to rate the mission afterwards and the player who created the content will receive benefits and rewards for higher-rated content.

About the only element that is not totally customizable are the mission maps, though there are 30 map sets with three different sizes per map sets and 20 options.

City of Heroes PC screenshots

“We wanted to make this as easy as our costume creator,” Morrissey said. “We came up with tool tips that open up and explain each minute detail of what everything does.”

With the full ranges of features and options, it would be very easy to mess up or input contrary content into a mission. Not to worry; there is a handy tool called Show Errors that breaks down what might be wrong with the map and mission you are creating. Not only will it tell you what errors you may have, but if you click on the box showing the errors, it will take you straight to the place where the adjustments need to be made.

“You can whip together a simple mission in about 15 minutes,” said Miller, “and the bulk of that is writing the text. You can spend a near infinite amount of time creating a mission.”

“We want to promote the best content possible to show up,” Morrissey said. To that end there are two systems in place to honor the best games – the Hall of Fame is based on player ratings (if the story is moved on the hall of fame, it is moved to the NCsoft servers) and Developers’ Choice.

Players earn tickets for doing the missions (based on what you do in the mission) and you take the tickets to the ticket vendor and they have their own store of stuff you can buy. Players can also buy costume pieces, or maps and even different variations of some of the enemies to put inside the mission. “You actually get tickets when people rate your mission,” Miller said.

The Mission Architect will doubtlessly expand the game in ways the NCsoft dev team (about 15 people) would not have the time to do. It will also tap into the wealth of creativity the player base has and could end up creating storylines that propel the franchise forward in new ways. At the very least, it will be thoroughly entertaining to see what the player base comes up with.

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