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Smile and Be a Villain: A City of Villains Q & A

Written By: Thomas L. Strickland
Posted: 10/27/2005


A year and a half ago, Cryptic Studios released a ground-breaking MMORPG. In City Of Heroes, the comic book fantasies of players around the world were given shape and form in a huge piece of virtual real estate called Paragon City. A robust character creator, brilliant special effects and a range of inventive powers allowed the design of thousands of superheroes. Five free updates later, City Of Heroes is still going strong. But what about those players with a slightly darker demeanor? If an entire city could be devoted to truth and justice, couldn't another city be built on a foundation of greed and corruption? Well, villains-in-waiting, it's time to smile. Because this Halloween, the wait is over.

JIVE first interviewed Cryptic's Jack Emmert in September 2004. Back then, our conversation with the Lead Designer for City Of Heroes orbited around the inspiration found in favorite comic books, the makings of everyday heroes and dealing with volatile forum posts. This time, our questions find Mr. Emmert, Creative Director for Cryptic Studios, on the verge of another breakthrough. City Of Villains has gone from an idea to an imminent reality, and Jack seems just as eager to talk about virtual villainy as he was to talk about heroism.

Possibly even more so ...

JIVE: When City of Heroes launched in the spring of 2004, you implied that COH was meant to satisfy the desire in all of us to be heroes. With the impending launch, is City of Villains meant to appeal to our darker motivations?

Jack: City of Villains is meant to capture the feelings and motivations of comic book villains. In the game, players start out as rather lowly criminals. They've just started their career; over the course of their career, they strive to become a true megavillain.

JIVE: Was City of Villains developed in whole or in part (with the exception of yourself, of course) by a completely separate team from City of Heroes?

Jack: We expanded the Cryptic team to accommodate both projects.

JIVE: So was there any animosity, imagined or otherwise, between the two teams?

Jack: Not at all. For the most part, everyone had at least a little experience in both projects (if only to get people trained up). Everyone was extremely excited at the significant steps forward that the "City" franchise is making.

JIVE: With City of Villains comes base-building, as well as a certain amount of crafting from found surplus. One of the hallmarks of City of Heroes was the lack of looted items, so were there many concerns during development about surplus adversely affecting the COH/COV Universe?

Jack: I wouldn't exactly say that there's crafting; player "skills" such as tailoring or blacksmithing play no role in the Salvage mechanics. Instead, players collect Salvage from mobs and mission rewards - then take them to a workshop in the base. Players open up new blueprints for base objects through Super Group accomplishments.

Here's why it isn't "loot" according to the classical definitions. First, Salvage drops randomly from mobs. No single mob has "better" stuff than another. Every villain group drops stuff that's equally useful to all Bases. Players won't be focusing on any particular villain in order to get the l33t stuff. Secondly, Salvage items add additional functionality and coolness, but we've tried to avoid making them absolutely necessary for Bases. Lastly, every player has an equal chance at Salvage; they won't need to wait in line for a particular spawn to occur.

JIVE: Will base-building be introduced to City of Heroes immediately after COV's launch, or will the good guys have to wait? And since bases are purchased with prestige earned as a supergroup, will currently active COH supergroups get backpay for months of civil service?

Jack: All heroes will begin earning both Salvage and Prestige the minute that City of Villains launches -- sorry, no back pay. But players will need to purchase City of Villains to go into Bases or use any of its functionality.

JIVE: Mercy Island, the initial zone in City Of Villains, has a much darker look (and more complex terrain) than COH's Atlas Park. Where did your artists and designers take their inspiration for this island of grey-stone buildings and tinroof-shanties?

Jack: You can see the tinroof-shanties in a lot of war torn nations; I used Mogadishu as an example at the early stages. As our Senior Designer, Zeb Cook, developed the backstory, we decided to make the Rogue Isles [of City Of Villains] a French Colony. Naturally, we turned to New Orleans for even more inspiration.

JIVE: The Mastermind archetype gives players a first for the COH/COV Universe: Pets at Level 1. Available minions include ninjas, zombies, robots and mercenaries, but were there other kinds of minions that got left on the bulletin board?

Jack: Yep. We couldn't get thugs in (though they will be in our next Issue/free expansion). We had designed the power set, but we just didn't have time for the art.

Right now, I'm reading our City of Villains forums for future ideas…

JIVE: There are a handful of archetypes in COV that mirror archetypes in COH. Was there a limited and acceptable amount of crossover from one game to the other? In other words, how did you use the same engine and similar powers to provide the player with a totally different game experience?

Jack: I wanted to get the player a much different combat experience than City of Heroes. In our first game, heroes fit tightly into teams. In other words, each Archetype has a well defined role in group combat. To some degree, we turned to classic MMP mechanics to flesh out their abilities, but in others we looked to the comic book medium. Tankers, for instance, are a classic "meat shield" and are designed to attract the attention of the enemy AI. Defenders, however, aren't analogous to a "healer" or "cleric." For one thing, many Defender power sets don't heal much at all. For another, Defenders are relatively good at ranged damage.

Comic book villains, however, are more selfish and individual-oriented. They don't always turn to their teammates for assistance. Instead, villains exploit one another to the greatest advantage. We scattered some new powers into the Archetypes and gave each villain a special inherent ability to set them apart from the heroes. Brutes are all about melee damage. A Brute's Fury ability means that the more damage he takes, the more damage he gives. But a Brute can't control aggro as well as a Tanker and he lacks the resistances of a Tanker. The Brute relies on offense rather than defense. So he doesn't fit into the "meat shield" MMP role. Instead, that's ably filled by the Mastermind. This Archetype summons minions to do his bidding. The Mastermind sends his lackeys into the fray to absorb the initial strike, then lets his teammates do the rest. A Corruptor, on the other hand, has some buffing and debuffing abilities, but he doesn't compare to the heroic Defenders. His key ability, Scourge, comes into play when victims are low on hit points. The lower the hit points of a target, the greater the chance a Corruptor can score a devastating blow. In combat, the Corruptor acts like the ultimate scavenger. He skirts the periphery, helping his teammates with buffs, and then swoops in once an opponent is injured.

JIVE: Initial missions in City of Villains are more complex than beginning missions in City of Heroes. They involve kidnappings and bank heists that force the team to fight their way back out of the mission. Are there any plans to overhaul the original equivalent level missions in City of Heroes?

Jack: Yes! We will be adding new tech such as the newspaper missions (that supply an endless amount of instanced missions) and the ability for two players with the same mission to complete both at the same time. With newspapers, we'll be coming up with a different in-game description, but we do want to add it in the near future.

JIVE: Reportedly, City of Villains will share character servers with City of Heroes. How are you ensuring that this sudden influx of new characters won't adversely affect your thousands of existing heroes?

Jack: We're doubling the amount of CPU's on our current servers. With our Beta testing, we're confident this will handle the influx.

JIVE: The game launches in under a week. Beta testing has only recently been expanded to 24-hours a day (instead of a scheduled daily period) and is still on only a couple of test servers. To the casual observer, it looks like the City of Villains team has a lot of work on their plate between now and Halloween. Are any of you allowed to sleep or even eat?

Jack: Yes, we are definitely in crunch mode. But fortunately we are an experienced team and we have been through this already with City of Heroes. The hardest hit team is Software. They've been here at all hours. As a company, we try to avoid the long, grinding hours of some game developers, if only because all that extra time is rarely productive. Besides, we want happy employees! But right now, Software is under the gun - and they're doing a great job.

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