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RPG Vault > Features > Interviews
City Of Heroes Interview
October 02, 2001

Almost a year ago, we first learned about Cryptic Studios, a development company based in San Jose, CA. At that time, it was already at work on an online world project that was described on its website in this tantalizing manner: "It's not just another happy elf preserve, nor yet another post-apocalyptic cybermonkey romp. It's something you've never seen before, something you couldn't have seen before. There hasn't been one of these, . . . yet." Naturally, we were eager to know more, and contacted the team immediately. Although we found out a fair bit about the studio, its background and the core developers, they were not yet ready to reveal any substantial details about their project, so we kept an eye open and stayed in contact while waiting to see if the team would unveil something truly different

Last week, Cryptic made an announcement that showed it wasn't kidding or even exaggerating. The project it has kept under a shroud of secrecy all this time is City of Heroes, a superhero-themed online world RPG in which players will create their own heroes, choosing from hundreds of powers, skills, abilities and items before venturing forth alone or with friends to protect the sprawling metropolis of Paragon City from a wide variety of evil super villains, aliens, madmen, monsters, criminals and other formidable adversaries. After having waited patiently all this time, it is our pleasure today to offer this lengthy and informative City of Heroes Interview in which Game Designer Jack Emmert offers the first extensive look at his team's very different and very intriguing project.

Jonric: Let's begin with a very basic first question. In your own words, please summarize City of Heroes and introduce it to our readers?

Jack Emmert:
In City of Heroes, every player becomes a superhero protecting Paragon City against the forces of evil. Each player will be able to create their own, unique hero by choosing an origin type, specifying background, selecting a unique costume, purchasing powers, and picking skills. If that were not enough, a player can also choose special flaws and background that provide special limitations and advantages in game play. Every player's actions will affect where the city is going and what will happen next.

Click to Enlarge Jonric: Before we get into the game itself, who are the core members of the Cryptic Studios team, and what kinds of backgrounds do you have making games?

Jack Emmert:
Our core team comes from two disparate backgrounds. Cameron Petty, CEO, Bruce Rogers, CTO, and Matt Harvey, Art Director, all come out of the video/arcade industry. They worked on such hits as Primal Rage, San Francisco Rush and War: Final Assault and Mace: The Dark Age. Our two designers, Rick Dakan and Jack Emmert, both cut their teeth in the paper and pencil RPG industry. Rick Dakan, in particular, wrote and contributed to over two dozen products.

Jonric: In terms of your playing preferences, what are the major interests among the team? Are there any that you'd consider especially significant in terms of having influenced City of Heroes?

Jack Emmert:
I think everyone here as their own set of preferences. Some prefer first person shooters, others prefer RTS, and couple of die hards love the old strategy computer games. Several people here at Cryptic get together every week to play pencil and paper RPGs. A few also paint miniatures and play wargames. Of course, most of us have also played MMORPGs.

Jonric: Speaking as gamers and also as developers, what do you consider the most important lessons you've learned, both positive and negative, from other online games you've played?

Jack Emmert:
Nearly every online game has gone through some growing pains from Day 1. Part of it is because the genre - if you will - is still nascent and developing. People on the forums have been saying that the MMORPG market is becoming "glutted" when there's only a handful of games actually online, and really only another handful due out in the near future. Compare that against, say, the first person shooters the industry has mastered the art of creating an exciting, engaging shooter. I think we're all still grappling with the design and technical problems that MMORPGs present. For us especially, the experiences of the other MMORPGs have simply stressed how vital the beta is for a successful game. We're looking ahead to that landmark and are really excited to see the input we get from the players.

Jonric: When did the idea for City of Heroes first arise, and when did you actually start development? What's the basic premise or concept, and what are the major underlying themes and conflicts?

Jack Emmert:
The germ of City of Heroes has been kicking around our Lead Designer's head for years. Rick's always thought the superhero genre has been vastly underdeveloped in the CRPGs. Rick invited me aboard because of my own background in comic books and role-playing games. I've been wanting a game like this for years so that I could bring alive the very world that's enthralled my imagination for almost my whole life.

Click to Enlarge The theme of City of Heroes is what you'd anticipate, good versus evil. It's up to the players to save the city, nation and even the world from various threats, terrestrial and otherwise. What City of Heroes also incorporates is the notion of storylines. As heroes complete missions and foil various villain groups, they acquire personal enemies who will start popping up more and more. Also, the actions of every hero are important in each Shard's storyline. Depending on the performance of heroes, the supervillains and their minions change and modify their approach. Each Shard will develop its own unique backdrop.

Jonric: What were the main influences in the creation and design of the gameworld? How big will Paragon City be, what kinds of areas will it include, and will there be any locations or terrain other than the actual city?

Jack Emmert:
The influence on the game is - and perhaps this is no surprise - the past forty some years of comic books! We feel that superheroes first and foremost are an urban creation, so creating a city for them seemed natural. As for Paragon City's size and content… stay tuned. And yes, there will be other terrains…

Jonric: Since you mentioned shards, why did you make this choice rather than one large gameworld? And do you have a target server capacity? ?

Jack Emmert:
For technical and design reasons, we will be running several different versions of the city on different servers. This will enable players to enjoy the game without suffering either lag or the embarrassing habit of bumping into another superhero every five feet.

Jonric: What are you willing to reveal about the backstory leading up to the start of the game, and also about the storyline within the game itself?

Jack Emmert:
We'll be posting regular updates to the website, revealing the entire history of Paragon City and its most famous denizens. Suffice it to say, Paragon City has always been a magnet for superhero activity but since the recent invasion of the… You'll need to check the website for more.

Jonric: Moving on to the player characters, what are the steps involved in creating one? What choices will players have in selecting or modifying the starting character's abilities, gender, physical features et al?

Jack Emmert:
First, a player selects his gender. Then the player chooses the origin of his hero. We've created a number of rather broad categories that embrace the essence of super hero origins. The initial seven are Altered Human, Mutant, Superior Human, Magical Powers, Mystical Artifact, Cyberware, and Gadgeteer. The choice of origin is not cosmetic; each origin comes with its own advantages and disadvantages. Some origin types might be able to get more powers, but those heroes won't be able to advance those powers to their maximum. Other origins might be able to use their powers with less effort, but those powers might also cost more for them than other origin types. We will be going into depth into each origin type on our website over the coming months.

After choosing an origin, the player chooses a specified number of powers from our copious powers list. Then comes the especially fun part: costume creation. Every player will be able to choose from hundreds of different colors, patterns and geometries; this variation will allow literally millions of possible combinations. Don't worry if you don't want to go that route - we also have quickstart templates for those of you who want to leap right into the game. A player may then buy powers, skills, and backgrounds to create a unique character.

Jonric: Please expand on the kind of character development system you're using. How do characters improve their powers and advance their skills?

Click to Enlarge Jack Emmert:
Heroes will acquire experience points as they accomplish missions or defeat villains. They may then use these points to augment their powers and skills. There are not "levels" in City of Heroes; our system is more akin to a "skill-based" system. Some origin types will be more focused on skills than powers and consequently they will receive certain breaks on purchasing skills.

Jonric: What are the key features of the combat system? How has the game's superhero theme impacted the design and/or implementation of combat?

Jack Emmert:
In order to make combat work for superheroes, we needed to make combat thrilling and exciting but also we needed to make a system that would allow a player to quickly choose any number of powers for every possible situation. We also needed to make combat as visually stimulating as our comic book inspirations so look for intense graphics and special effects. The hallmark of nearly every comic book or series is the face off with the chief villain; we've integrated this element of climax into our mission systems.

Jonric: What kinds of major activities will there be aside from fighting? Will there be any non-combat skills or abilities, and how important will they be?

Jack Emmert:
Heroes don't fight all the time. They'll gather clues, which will require analysis and interpretation. If a hero lacks the skill and/or equipment for this, he'll need to go to his contacts or other player characters for help.

Continued: Superhero powers.

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