Designer Jack Emmert on the Rise of City of Villains
It’s good to be bad in City of Villains, the latest MMO masterpiece from developer Cryptic Studios and publishing partner NCSoft. After decades of begging, fans can now literally hop into the cape and tights of a twisted mutant, degenerate sorcerer or evil mastermind at will.
Terrorize Paragon City’s populace, use your inhuman powers to annihilate its defenders, or turn the burg’s streets into a battleground, as you further your nefarious schemes and, potentially, the goals of entire criminal organizations. Seriously; go right ahead, nothing’s stopping you… Well, besides a pesky bunch of righteous do-gooders, just waiting to be stomped into paste with fists and freeze rays.
Squad-level play mechanics. Support for player vs. player and team vs. team combat. In-game options which let you not only make your own special weapons, but even construct a secret lair. Offering incredible features like these, one tends to forget that it was only a few scant months ago we were all lamenting the former curse surrounding superhero-themed games. (Among its most prominent victims: the Champions RPG and Peter Molyneux’s Indestructibles.)
Thankfully, the award-winning City of Heroes changed everything when it arrived to massive critical and commercial acclaim last year. And with this standalone sequel, the game – which integrates with its successor seamlessly, letting subscribers (who pay one single subscription fee to access both titles) interact – achieves truly legendary status. Having just launched on October 31, we kidnapped Jack Emmert, creative director for Cryptic Studios and lead designer on City of Villains, and forced him to reveal the secrets behind its impending success:
LQGaming Services:: First off: Were you shocked by how well City of Heroes was received? And what do you think made it as big a hit as it’s become with MMO enthusiasts?
Jack Emmert: No one could have expected the success of City of Heroes (CoH), I think. We were a no-name developer working on an idea which had never translated well in the PC medium. I believe that the success of CoH is due mainly to its accessibility; players of all skill levels can get into the game and have fun within 15 minutes.
LQGaming Services:: Apart from the obvious – getting to play a bad guy – how, specifically, does City of Villains differentiate itself from this original title?
JE: First, every bit of City of Villains (CoV) content reaps the rewards of our CoH experience. Over the past year, we’ve added a lot of new tech into City of Heroes. We were able to inject this into City of Villains from the very start. Our missions are more diverse – our zones more immersive – our villains more interesting – etc.
"The City franchise is also about something else: building. Players can create customized property that enhances their gameplay ... "
Second, City of Villains introduces a brand new gameplay element: bases. People complained that City of Heroes was about only one thing: combat. Now the City franchise is also about something else: building. Players can create customized property that enhances their gameplay.
LQGaming Services:: CoH had a huge array of character customization options; what are some of the cool, useful and just plain whacked-out things you can do with avatars here? Anything you wish you had been included in City of Heroes but wasn't?
The most whacked out costume option in City of Heroes is probably the panda on the shoulder. We got that idea from our publisher NCSoft. I guess that’s something from the anime world! In City of Villains, I think the open brain pan is probably the strangest thing – a head with no hair or scalp. Pretty gross.
LQGaming Services:: A few of the new, unique powers you'll be providing players with and the way in which they work in terms of practical application are?
JE: The newest power sets are for the Mastermind Archetype. These villains control a horde of evil lackeys to commit their crimes. A player can choose between powers that summon robots, ninjas, soldiers and zombies. We’re looking to add thugs to that list very soon.
LQGaming Services:: Player vs. player: a big introduction here. What's involved in the process…
JE: Heroes and villains face off against one another in two distinct areas.
In PvP zones, players fight in wide open expanses. They don’t, however, fight against each other just for the sake of fighting. Every PvP zone has some particular goal that the villains and heroes are working towards. If the players fulfill that goal, one side or the other reaps a unique reward. In order to provide a level playing base, all characters are brought to the same level. If someone is under the limit, they gain levels – if they’re over the limit, they’re brought down. Higher level characters have a slight advantage due to more Enhancement slots, but that’s about it.
The other major PvP area is the Base raid. Here, players can invade the bases of other Super Groups in order to steal valuable Items of Power. These are mystical objects that grant an entire Super Group some sort of buff (damage boost, XP boost, etc.). We balance the base raids by limiting the number of Defenders and Attackers (this prevents the large groups from overwhelming everyone) and by removing level modifiers. This has the effect of making lower level characters more competitive against higher level ones.
LQGaming Services:: Team vs. team is also a big push here. Please describe the process of how somebody might go about forming a crew of super-villains, and what possibilities are open to them in terms of wreaking havoc and causing terror...
JE: Right this moment, you can find dozens of Super Groups actively recruiting members into their ranks! People are broadcasting chat messages to fill the remaining spots of their team. A casual player can join up simply by answering any of these requests. But if someone wants to create their own group, they simply need to register it at level 10 – and then start their own recruitment drive.
LQGaming Services:: What's involved in working your way up the ladder of an evil organization? Defeating particular characters? Turning on your allies? Committing certain crimes?
JE: The entire storyline of CoV is about going up the ladder of the evil organization called Arachnos. You start out as little better than a low powered thug. In fact, Arachnos is responsible for breaking you out of jail! From that point, a player is being tested whether she/he’s worthy to enter Arachnos.
LQGaming Services:: How does this process differ from forming one's own organization – and why, as a player, would I wish to pursue one goal over the other?
JE: Currently, villains who form their own Super Groups are still allied with Arachnos. But Cryptic has some plans in the works…
LQGaming Services:: Everyone gets personalized missions. Please describe a few specific scenarios players might face.
JE: Players will rob, eliminate, sabotage and destroy to further their way through the ranks of Arachnos. As proof of his powers, a villain must defeat a super hero and steal his cape!
LQGaming Services:: Let's talk about some of the new areas that'll be open for exploration, and how they won't just look different, but also affect the flow of the game, how situations play out, etc.
JE: There are nine new zones – each with their own story. For starters, Mercy Island… where newly freed prisoners are introduced to the Rogue Isles. Port Oakes – home to an Arena in which villains face off against one another. Cap Au Diable – the island that powers the engine of Arachnos. But what lurks beneath the isle? Sharkhead – extensive stripmining has turned this place into an industrial nightmare. Nerva Archipelago – mysterious arcane ruins dot the forest. St. Martial – home to Johnny Sonata’s Golden Giza. Bloody Bay – a town destroyed by pieces of the Shiva meteorite. Siren’s Call – heroic Longbow forces face off against an endless horde of Arachnos invaders. Warburg – where players can gain control of a powerful rocket…
'[...]“being a villain” really demanded its own game. The amount of content we put into City of Villains actually exceeds what we had at first release for City of Heroes.'
LQGaming Services:: How does the whole “good guys vs. bad guys” aspect work? And how do you make sure everything's properly balanced? After all, in most comic books, it seems villains always have the upper hand until some special event occurs that tips the scales in do-gooders’ favor?
JE: In City of Villains, heroes and villains are relatively equal. What differs is that they have different methods of going about their goals. Villains tend to be more offensively oriented. They’re all about eliminating the enemy before the enemy can fight back. Heroes focus on teamwork and rely on their allies to help overcome adversaries.
LQGaming Services:: - Why choose to make City of Villains a full, standalone game vs. an expansion or downloadable add-on?
JE: Because “being a villain” really demanded its own game. The amount of content we put into City of Villains actually exceeds what we had at first release for City of Heroes. We needed that much in order to tell the story of a villain. Plus, plenty of players out there had no wish to be a superhero; they had their sights plainly set on being a villain. We didn’t want to compel them to go out and buy City of Heroes in order to be a bad guy! To be honest, it seems like a no-brainer to get both games – it’s only one single subscription fee! Two games for $14.99 a month! Not too shabby.
LQGaming Services:: - New character archetypes you'll be able to play, and their unique features include? What makes each so recommendable, and what types of players will likely favor each category of baddie?
JE: There are five brand new Archetypes in City of Villains…
The Brute is the melee specialist. He dishes out damage like no one else. Even better, a Brute’s special ability, Fury, allows him to deal more damage as he takes more damage.
The Stalker’s forte is stealth. He specializes in sneaking up and attacking mobs. In teams, a Stalker focuses on attacking the mezzed opponents, against whom he gets a sizable damage bonus.
The Dominator is all about control – holding, immobilizing, mezzing. Like his other counterparts, he’s no slouch in the damage department either. Once the Dominator has inflicted enough pain on his opponents, he enters the “Domination” zone where his abilities are significantly boosted.
The Corruptor is the closest thing to a team support class that City of Villains has. They possess buffing, healing and debuffing abilities, but they’re primarily about ranged attacks. In fact, the Corruptor is much like a vulture; his special ability, Scourge, allows the Corruptor to do double damage against hurt foes.
Lastly, there’s the Mastermind, who prefers to let his minions do the dirty work. The Mastermind is literally a one man army. Everywhere he goes, his lackeys follow…
LQGaming Services:: Do you intend to foster the creation of guilds more with this title? How so?
JE: We’ve put a lot of additional functionality into Super Groups in part to foster their creation. To be honest, we’ve never lacked for Super Groups! There are thousands in City of Heroes…but what we wanted to do is give Super Groups more focus and purpose in City of Villains. First, we added a number of new controls to make organizing and running a Super Group easier than it was before.
LQGaming Services:: Where does the City of Heroes universe go from here?
JE: Just about anywhere you can go in the pages of a comic book…
LQGaming Services:: In real-life, would you make a good supervillain? Why so/not?
JE: To be a good game designer, I think you’d NEED to be a good supervillain. It’s all about herding together a team and ruthlessly stamping out opposition. MMMWWUUUUAAAAAHHHHAAAAHHHHAA.
LQGaming Services:: Finally, we have to ask - monstrously evil madman or no, is it really possible to look good in pastel tights?
- Scott Steinberg
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