Saturday, February 28, 2009

City of Heroes: Concerns

Okay, here's the reason why I felt I should define what Pulling a Planetside is. I've been playing Warhammer Online on and off. However, I'm not a Warhammer Online person. I'm simply not into PvP combat in a tab-targeting / gear-based world. I like my PvP in games where skill actually matters. So while I appreciate and respect Warhammer Online for truely nailing the epic-fantasy genre, it's just not my cup of tea. One of friends, upon finding out I was playing Warhammer Online reactivated his account, and has since gone... well. FanPoi (inside joke, no, I'm not explaining it). Every day I'm met with a tale of something incredible that happened with his low level character in a scenario or public quest... and I simply just.. don't... care.

My friend hass been playing City of Heroes with me for some time, and he's voiced a concern that he thinks CoH is going to pull a Planetside. In expectation of this, he's gone after the genre he really loves, which is the tab-targeting / gear-based / forget-the-skill PvP play that Warhammer Online offers. Okay, to clarify here before I get an angry letter from Mythic, I know Warhammer Online does actually require some skill to play. I know that it is not as gear dependent as it's competitor, and I know that the focus is on team-combat, not solo-combat. Warhammer Online takes a lot after Dark Age of Camelot, and probably one or two of the devs remember me commenting on how much DAoC had taken from Planetside... but I digress.

My friend does have a point. City of Heroes has pulled some brain-dead design changes in the past, like enhancement diversification, and has taken some very risky steps recently, such as the recent Player-versus-Player balance rework, and the introduction of merits. With CoH having a history of risky maneuvers, or just plain-stupid maneuvers, the upcoming releases of Champions Online and DC Universe Online are cause for paranoia at the least, outright panic at the most.
What's worse for many players is that there is no public road-map for City of Heroes. There's next to no information over what's going to happen after Issue 14, Mission Architect, hits. Given that the development team is in a position to do just about anything, and claim they were planning it all along, is a bit nerve-racking. In addition, another NCSoft game, Tabula Rasa, pulled a Planetside literally during the launch, converting from an epic team-based war into a solo-frag fest, so there's a bit of credibility to the idea that NCSoft could allow massive design changes as a publisher and project-developer.

While I honestly believe NCSoft has nothing to worry about given whose backing Champions Online, and the fact that SOE is putting together DC's game, I'm not NCSoft. It is possible that NC-NorCal, the former Cryptic Studios Team, could possibly implement knee-jerk reactions to it's upcoming competitors.

What I'd like to see though is a dedicated mission statement. I'd like to see Matt Miller, even if he does it in character, layout the design goals for the next 3 or 4 issues of City of Heroes.

To me, if a company has a clear goal in mind, they'll be able to meet that goal, and they can ignore the temptation to chase after other people's goals. A good case in point is actually Warhammer Online. Mythic Entertainment has stated they hang their hat on RvR play, and in all honesty, Mythic's team combat in Warhammer Online is as good as Planetside's was.

I think the fear is justified that if CoH doesn't speak up on what their goals are, the player base will simply see Issues 15 and 16 as reactions to what are, right now, inferior games.

Pulling a Planetside

Before I get started with the topic I wanted to write about, which is City of Heroes, I wanted to answer one of the most common questions I get. Several people have inquired at either the jason at gamenikki dot com address, or the je dot saist at gmail dot com address, what exactly do I mean by Pulling a Planetside.

For those who have never played Planetside, think of it as Tribes Online. For those who have never played Tribes, well, explaining Planetside may take a bit of doing. For starters, Planetside is a First Person Shooter, a real-time first person shooter, on an MMO scale. It is quite possible for three groups of 200+ to all crash into battle with each other, resulting in one of the only true simulations of an active battlefield. Seriously, not even America's Army or Unreal Tournaments WAR modes are capable of duplicating the sheer size of combat possible in Planetside.

At it's start Planetside was really a military simulation, with a focus on prolonged war campaigns. The Terran Republic, Vanu Sovereignty, and New Conglomerate all held home sanctuaries, and the goal was to fight across vast continents and lock and opposing force into their sanctuary. The first several months of the game heavily focused on the campaign aspect as continents were linked in a strict order. In order to advance, players had to first conquer a continent natively attached to their sanctuary, then stage an asssult from the conquered continent onto a new continent. It was, in all aspects, epic warfare.

And then the developers... well... lost it. The story of Auraxis, the reason for the conflict, was never explored. The single expansion pack that hit contained some of the most messed up map design ever, at one of the worst price-points in the history of poor expansions. The game further deteriorated with the introduction of the B.F.R., or Battle Frame Robotics. A game that had once been focused on epic campaigns where you were looking at a good 4, 5, or even 6 hour battle to take just one continent, complete with organization of supply runs, armor columns, and air support, and turned into a session based game where an average fight took 30 minutes, and there was no real need, or reason, to plan assaults.

As I looked back, I stated that the developers didn't know what made Planetside, Planetside. Rather, the developers seemed to focus on changes to the game that mimiced the hottest selling titles of the time, and on how to attract a more casual gamer. So, to attract the people picking up Mech Assault and Steel Battalion, there were B.F.R.'s. To attract the session based players of Unreal and Quake, the access restrictions to continents were largely removed, and it was no longer possible to sanctuary lock an oppossing empire.

As I saw it, the developers had no long term design goals for Planetside, but instead chased after every little change that tickled their fancy.

The result was a disaster, with many of the launch players leaving in disgust, forcing a server-merge. After languishing for a while, Sony even tried low level free-to-play accounts, but back in May 20th of 2008, the North American servers were merged, once again, due to the dwindling player base.

In all honesty, if Sony depended on Planetside to turn a profit, it would have been killed off long ago, but like other SOE games, it rides on the profits of Everquest.

Pulling a Planetside is basically the video-game equivelent of jumping the shark. It's when a game irrevocably changes for the worse, and developers show no intention of fixing the problems, but just charge ahead anyways.

Pulling a Planetside
is when a video game developer fails to set a design goal, or fails to pursue a stated design goal.

Pulling a Planetside is when a video game publisher launches a game to one market, then orders a lot of in-game changes to appeal to a completely different market.

Now, I personally believe that games can recover after having pulled a Planetside. The recovery however, takes a developer and publisher coming out and saying they screwed, they made mistakes, they'll roll back that horrible new feature and stop trying to make it work. I've just yet to see a single MMO publisher / developer actually do this.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A/C Web-site re-design

Odd place to put this, but this gives me someplace to point people who ask about issues with Adventure Crossing's website. One of the common questions is whether or not we are aware that the site view is broken in Internet Explorer 8 RC1 and Opera. Yes, we are aware that the alignment on the front page breaks in these two browsers. We are also aware that the text on the right hand blue boxes tends to break as well in browsers that are not IE7 or IE6. We also are quite aware that the front page design is way too busy, and the contact information is about as clear as mud.

We do have some good news for the site though. We are in the midst of coming up with a couple new designs to simply front page confusion, and the backend provider, Powerserve, uses FireFox internally. So an upcoming version of the Adventure Crossing webpage shouldn't have the various text and formatting issues that the current page has.

Given some of the complaints we've had about the site, I figured I'd also show off some of the designs we have in mind. Here's what we are aiming for on the new front page that you will get to when visiting the domain.

The new front features a flash enabled map of the park. For reference, the current map of the park is here : : While functional, there is little interaction. Moving the map to the front page lets people know what we have at the park before they arrive. Further, by linking each map feature to it's corresponding inside page, we can make it easy for people to look up Go-Karts, LASERTRON, midway rides, Golf, Paintball (not yet), and so on without having to dig through obscure text links.

The proposed layout change enables us to keep the current news posting box we have now, as well as our special splash promotion. In addition, we satisfy one of the requirements with LASERTRON in that we link back to them on the first page, and we have our link back to PowerServe.

One of the other key points is the dedicated link to our cafe and catering. We've had several menu additions to the Adventure Crossing cafe, and now we are looking at some complete conversions. Over the next couple of months we'll be moving from pre-packaged pizza's to freshly baked pizza's in-house. The intended goal is that everything that is ordered is cooked and prepared in-house.


The next page up for redesign is our contact page. Currently we have multiple different methods of contacting or getting in touch of Adventure Crossing. The main page has information spread out about Birthday parties, marketing partnerships, and so-on.

The redesign simplifies contacting Adventure Crossing by merely having one contact link that is broken down into specific easy to follow sections.

We also see in the mockup here the menu bar from the front page is now at the top of the screen, mimicking our current content pages. However, the large "Super Speed Track" image is gone, meaning more content can be fit into the common 720-900 pixel deep resolutions: 1024*768, 1280*720, and 1440*900 to name a few. This will make the page easier to navigate.


One of the new functionalities that is proposed is the addition of a blog system. Currently there is no convient way to just have informal announcements or discussions about Adventure Crossing. While a Forum has been proposed, the idea was quickly shot down since it would require constant monitoring, and we'd have to depend on users to generate content.

A couple more design features stand out in this mock-up. The former contact us link has been changed to parties / events, while a dedicated contact us button is placed on the blog page. This change enables us to focus on using the Blog as a center for customer feedback. As this is also our primary way of online feedback, the Blog system takes over the currently not-in-use My Adventure. We can also use the blog to promote positions open within the company, so the Get a Job link is moved into the Blog section as well.

I do need to state that these changes aren't exactly final, but are some of the options that we are exploring to make Adventure Crossing easy to navigate through. Let me know what you think of it.

Friday, February 13, 2009

CoH: The Blapper Archtype

The Premise: Blappers don't exist... yet

Those who have read even a few of my writings on CoH know that I detest the blapper play style. To me players who play blasters as melee simply don't understand the point of blasters, nor do they understand how to properly utilize their blaster powers. However, in the current incarnation of City of Heroes, there really is no punishment for dying. Debt can be erased, or prevented, simply by logging out a character out for patrol exp. Dying inside of a mission offers only half debt, and players who pick up the cyborg pack have an option for a debtless self sacrifice.

Lack of Debt: Encouragement for bad play styles?

For many blaster players, this means there is no real punishment for playing in the blapper style. There is no genuine setback for mis-playing an archetype. I'm not really sure where I stand on this effect though. I appreciate that CoH does not punish players by making them lose exp and levels for dying, and I appreciate that CoH does not punish players by making it possible for them to lose enhancements, salvage, or recipies by dying. I'm not sure though that I like having no real penalty for messing up. Part of me wishes the devs would role debt back to full strength, and separate patrol exp from debt.

The Solution: Create a Blapper Archtype

The current handling of defeat though has encouraged many blasters to attempt blapper builds. So, I have a proposal. Why not actually create a blapper specific arctype. Then, why not create a blapper archtype that could exist in BOTH CoH and CoV?

What I have in mind is an avatar that is a cross between a scrapper and a blaster, but not as powerful as either in ranged or melee combat, but makes up for the lack of raw power by being more flexible and having slightly higher defensives at a lower health rating.

The conceptual idea is that a Blapper can handle more damage upfront than a scrapper, since their melee damage output will be lower than a scrappers. So, lets give them defensive ratings that sit between a scrapper and a tank. That's about a 15% boost over the same defensive set on a scrapper.

At the same time though, we don't want the Blapper archtype to be dependent on melee attacks alone. We want them to have some ranged attacks as well. So we'll give them a lower base hp. For comparision a level 50 archery / fire blaster has a base HP of around 1200 points. A level 50 regen scrapper has a base HP around 1330 points. A Level 50 fire tank has a base HP around 1875 points. Yes, this is another example where the low, medium, and high designations don't exactly add up, but we'll go with the blaster hit points.

Okay, so we have the basis for what our Blapper can do. They have a lower hp, but higher defenses, so lets think about exactly what is going to make them blappers by powers.

The initial power conception takes root in the Villain Epic Archtypes. The villain epic archtype Arachnos Soldier gets 6 different power sets, which consist of Arachnos Soldier, Training and Gadgets, Crab-Spider, Crab-Spider Training, Bane-Spider, and Bane-Spider training. Of course, the player does not get to pick from all of these pools at once. They must make a choice on what pools they can pull from in their career path.

On the heroside, the none epic archtypes have 18 primary and secondary powers, with 9 powers to each set. Since we want our Blappers to have equel weight to melee, ranged, and defensive powers, we'll give them six slots for each set. At first glance, most ranged attacks have an aim power, so the short-ranged set will have an aim function. Most melee powers have a build up function, so each melee set will have a build. Most Defensive sets have a status effect resist, so we'll give each defensive set an anti-mez. On top of that, we'll make the Anti-Mez powers one of the must-take powers at level 1. This borrows from the Blaster concept of their first two primary powers, and first secondary power being immune to stat effects.

So, we have 3 power sets which are comprised of Short Ranged Attacks with Aim, Melee Attacks with build-up, and Defensive sets with anti-mez.

Short Ranged attacks are taken largely from the nerfs on Peacebringers from issues past, nerfs that were reversed in Issue 13. Peacebringers used to have an average range of 60feet compared to the Blaster's 80foot average range. In I13 PB's ranged attacks were boosted to the Blaster Average. For our Blapper, well, we are going to shorten the range up. They'll only get half the range for the same attack.

Now we just need some weapons that are effective at short range. So, dual pistols and shotguns.

The concept behind the Dual Pistols is that they are quick, but have lower outright damage. Since Thug Mastermind's already have dual pistols the animations are already in the game for 3 of the short-ranged attacks. Those 3 attacks are Pistol Single Shot, Dual Wield, and Empty Clips. To compliment these powers we'll add the power of Head Shot, a high accuracy / high damage interuptable shot, intended to be like a Blaster's sniper shot, but with 50% of a normal snipes base interupt. Because we want the blapper archtype to be unique... we'll actually make the last pistol shot dependent on the chosen melee attack. We'll get to that in a minute.

Shotguns are taken from a foriegn CoH add which pits a Devil May Cry like avatar slashing and blasting away CoH ghosts. The shotgun trades off the quickness of dual pistol for a heftier damage up front and some debuff capability. The first power is a standard shotgun buckshot cone blast. The second power is slug blast, single target, but heavy damage. The third power is double buckshot. The fourth power is Salt Blast, my personal favorite. It does little damage, but enemies are blinded and their defenses are drastically reduced. As with the pistols, the 5 power depends on the melee.

Okay, now onto our melee types. Most Epic Archtypes are limited to a single origin type. Arachnos and Peacebringers are always Natural Origin, and WarShades are always Science based. So, keep to that trend for bonus archtypes, our Blapper is going to be limited to Technology and Natural origins. This opens up the possibility for the melee sets of
Broad Sword, Energy Melee, Katana, Martial Arts, and Electric Melee.

The melee sets are largely cut down to the Tier 1, 3, 7, 8, and 9 powers. This gives the blapper lots of heavy hitting attacks possibily earlier than than their scrapper / brute cousins, but at the cost of having a well rounded attack pattern. In some cases, like Electric Melee which has a damage-less Tier 8 power, replace it with the Tier 5 damage.

Now, here's where the choice of the melee weapon will affect the power of the short ranged weapon.

Take Broadsword and for example. If you have the broadsword with pistols, the final pistol attack will be a stab and shoot. You jab the broadsword into the enemy with one hand, and then fire the pistol 3 or 4 times with the other hand. If you have broadsword and shotgun, you jab the broadsword into the enemy, then use the shotgun to blow the enemy away with a high magnitude knockback.

If you take Energy Melee with pistols, the final pistol attack is energized pistols. You use the technology that grants you the ability to manipulate energy to pack your bullets with a disorienting blast. If you take Energy Melee with shotgun, you get ground force. You charge your shotgun, then fire into the ground creating a knockback wave.

If you take Katana, the final attack mimics Soaring Dragon and you spin around sword in one hand, driving into the enemy and lifting them off the ground, and then following up with the other hand to them in the air: applies to both pistols and shotgun.

If you take Martial Arts, the final pistol attack creates an aoe blast combining Dragon's tail with an AOE blast. Think Breakdancing with bullets. The final shotgun attack is similar to Katana, kick the enemy up then hit them with a shotgun blast.

If you take Electric Melee and Pistols, you can give your bullets an extra nasty jolt by charging them up, stunning and draining a single target. If you take Electric Melee and Shotgun, you get wide range AOE blast that combines the salt blast with an electic pulse. High Endurance drain (on par with short circuit), high defense drop, blinded, and disorient. The ultimate in debuffs, just not much damage to go with it.

While I highly suspect that the developers won't consider this additional Cross City archtype, I think it would be a good tribute to the Devil May Cry genre, and would give those trying to play dominators and blasters as melee's something that's really designed to handle the melee fight.

CoH: Why Heroes and Villains should not cross-over

One of my pet peeves in City of Heroes is listening to people who say that allowing heroes and villains to switch sides is a good idea. The concept isn't uncommon to the comicbook superhero genre where switches occur seemingly at the drop of a hat. Nor is the concept new to the MMORPG genre as Everquest has a betrayal quest that allows players to switch alignment from good to evil, or from evil to good. The concept isn't new to City of Heroes either as Manticore made an appearent switch in alignment, that turned out to be a ruse.

The EQ2 wiki entry has an important factor that many CoH players seem to overlook when citing Everquest as proof that changing sides can work:
You may also be forced to change your character class in the process. Whether you change class or not, your spells and abilities are permanently reset.
There in lies the major problem in switching between sides in City of Heroes. The sides are not the same. All classes are inherently different, and one of the strengths of CoH is that each class is supposed to give a completely different play experience. A brute should not play a tank. A stalker should not play a scrapper. A Corruptor should not play like a Defender. A dominator should not play like a blaster. A Mastermind should not play like a Controller. I've been over this concept and the differences between archtypes multiple times.

Yes, in one case a villain class does share some of the exact same powersets at the exact same levels as a hero class. The Brute Archtype does have the same exact melee and defensive levels as a scrapper. However, the Brute has a higher hitpoint capacity than a scrapper, access to several armors scrappers don't have, and weapons scrappers don't have. Scrappers as well have an armor set Brutes don't get.
  • Scrapper Armor: dark, fire, invuln, regen, shield, super reflexes, willpower
  • Brute Armor: dark, electric, energy, fire, invuln, shield, stone, super reflexes, willpower
  • Scrapper Attacks: broad sword, claws, dual blades, dark, fire, katana, martial arts, spines
  • Brute Attacks: battle axe, dark, dual blades, electric, energy, fire, stone, super strength, war mace.
So while there is some cross-over, the two sets are hardly identical. In a short term view, switching sides would give players carte blanche to level up something on one side, then convert into anything else on the otherside... which really destroys the point of leveling a character on either side.

When something like this pointed out, the person requesting ability says something to the effect of "no no no, I mean I want to be a brute, but be a heroic brute." In other words, they want to take an archtype from one side of the game, and have that exact same archtype on the other side of the game.

People who want something like this don't understand City of Heroes, or the concepts behind the game. The point of a game like City of Heroes is that each side is unique, and offers a different play experience. There are some powers that you can only get on Villain Side, and there are some powers that you can only get on Heroside. Yes, the developers could make a Hero version of the MasterMind, but that would make the MasterMind archtype less unique, and less special. One of the key design goals, and one that even Jack Emmert couldn't ruin, is the uniqueness to each powerset, and to each player.

While I'm not going to argue that some playing styles and enhancements sets are best suited for specific avatars, there are a wide range of powers one can go through. A good case in point is my stalker. Many of the Ninja Blade attacks offer a defense debuff and can slot defense debuff and accurate defense debuff IO's. I can focus on pure melee damage, or I can combine a strong melee damage boost with a 10% chance to-hit proc boost and work on a high regeneration boost with the debuff sets, or I could get an average 2% boost per power to base damage with the defense debuff sets coupled with a strong boost to melee damage and accuracy.

Allowing players to magically port, transfer, betray, or whatever one side for another and keep the exact same archtype with the exact same powers would kill the uniqueness of the game, and I honestly don't think the current development team is that dumb.

Now, there are other specific reasons which make sense to me as a long-term player. I see the inherent values in how tasks in the game are balanced for each side. I went over some of these factors in the creation of what I call the Mongoose Strike Force. The Positron Task Force on the side of the heroes was built with the idea of having a mixed team that could cover each other's weaknesses. The lack of answer to the Defender archtype means a direct answer for Positron just isn't in the cards for the Villain players. A Villain positron can't have as many status effects or mezzing enemies, simply because the Villains can't counter those effects.

At high levels the differences are more pronounced. The Statesman's Task Force depends on a strong tank to hold Lord Recluse and the Final AV's in Place. Like or not, the average tank simply isn't going to be capable of standing up to Lord Recluse and Company, and even a Stone tank who has granite armor isn't in position for an automatic win.

In a similar manner, the LRSF is designed so that not just any Brute can handle Statesman. A Tank versus Statesman? Well, even my worst tank can easily handle Tyrant conning as an Archvillain on an 8 man invincible praetorian arc. Little reason to think then that my worst tank would have a problem if it could run LRSF.

For villains, having a true tank would ruin the challenge of many of their strike forces, and Heroes, having a scrapper with a higher health bar poses similar problems.

These differences are sometimes very pronounced when fighting in the mixed Task Forces such as Lady Grey and Imperious Task Force. The task force has to be balanced so that they can be completed if Tankless, or with weak debuffs. Some can argue that LGTF is hard to complete without strong buffs or debuffs, citing the over-powered WarRiders, and I'd have a hard time disagreeing. However, many of these challenges depend on a larger available selection of archtypes, rather than a limited selection of available archtypes, to make the challenges work.

It's a subtle difference, and it's why many suggestions made on the CoH forums are simply passed over. Designing for an MMO like CoH while keeping the strengths and weakenesses on each side in mind, and developing for and against those strengths and weaknesses is a challenge.

There are very good reasons why Martial Arts will never be a Blaster Secondary, and why there will never be a Hero version of the Mastermind.

Some people just seem to be incapable of understanding what those reasons are. The biggest worry is that the developers might lose sight of the design goals of the game. That has happened before to at least one NCSoft game, which was Tabula Rasa, and the result is the game going into it's final hours this month.

If the development team decides that players can turn from one side to the other, that event would mark the exodus of a large portion of the CoH player base... and again, I don't think the current dev team is that stupid.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

CoH: Villains in the Shard

Okay, technical problem solving time.

Over in the thread I linked earlier I made the suggestion that the Developers open up the Shadow Shard, a level 40-50 zone, to the Villains, in order to give Villains access to the Shadow Shard Task Forces. One of the responses back on the idea stated that the developers would have to solve the mixed teams issue before Shadow Shard could be opened up.

Well, here's my solution:

Interestingly... I thought about that after I went to sleep... but I think there is a way to handle the "run arounds" from the Shard TF's without major modifications to the game's system... and it's actually already implemented in RWZ.

In some of the RWZ missions Hero players have to go Villainside, such as going to PTS or WSPDR, and Villains have to check out hero zones like the Dam : :

In order to achieve these objectives players must take a portal corp gateway inside of RWZ.

The first modification is to move the Portal for the Shadow Shard from Portal Corp's Control to Vanguard Control.

Redraw the PI Map with the hallway to Shadow Shard heavily blocked off and sealed by Huge Metal Gates. This leaves the other Portals unchanged for existing missions, such as those given by Maria Jenkins, Tina, and so on.

Create a new Shadow Shard Portal Room with Vanguard Tech's and 4 new small portals.

Link two of the portals to the existing Vanguard DPO buildings in the same way that Trains are linked, and that the exit maps from RWZ are linked with the option : Portal Corp HQ

Now the Vanguard DPO will take players to basically a holding tank for the Shadow Shard Portal. As far as the story goes, players are still under PI in one of the most heavily guarded portals ever constructed.

Now here comes the part the developers are going to hate. I've accounted for two of the small portals I've suggested adding to the room, the entry and exit portals for heros and villains.

The other two portals are "mission" portals, that take players directly to the mission.

As evidenced by WarWitch's work on the Hollows, moving mission doors around doesn't appear to be too terribly complicated.

Simply move all of the none Shadow Shard Zone missions to the new portals in the Portal Corps Holding Tank.

Presto : problem solved. Villains get access to Shadow Shard, the travel time problems are cut way down, and Gaussian is settled down now that Vanguard has some say in the Shadow Shard Portal.

Positron Equivelent for City of Villains

This is an extension of an idea I posted here :

Premise: Low Level Repeatable Task Force for Villains

The problem posed is this: City of Villains lacks storyline content when compared to City of Heroes. There are simply no answers on Villain side to some of the Task Forces Heroes can get. One of the most obvious missing items is an answer to the Positron Task Force, a Strike Force for avatars between the levels of 10 and 15, with no Arch-Villain, a really obnoxious storyline, with a high merit reward.

So, I proposed a story arc that would fit such a situation, taking components of the Positron Task Force and re-arranging them relative to the Villain side.

For starters, Positron Task Force pits 3 Villain groups against each other. Players face the Vhazilok with heavy toxic damage, the Clockwork with endurance drain, and Circle Of Thorns with multiple status effects.

Now there are some caveats to designing a task force for low levels. Heroes have the luxury of a strong low level buff / debuff archtype, which is the Defender. Villains however have no low-level answer to the Defender, as both the MasterMind and the Corrupter's buff / debuff sets are secondary powers. So for the same 10-15 level range I have to throw out some of the more obnoxious mez effects that Hero players can run into since most of the anti-mez powers can only be gotten after level 16.

The Enemies

So, for the villains I picked the groups of Infected, Legacy Chain, and Snakes.

The Infected are similar to the Vhazilok in that they are mostly made up of walking zombies. But while Vhazilok terrify young heroes with their Toxic Blasts, Infected are mostly limited to smashing and lethal attacks that can be easily healed. Their biggest problem is the defense reducing Boss Set, not that a team backed with a Cold Dom or Bubbly would notice.

Legacy Chain are similar to the Circle Of Thorns. However, if no Tellus of Earth show up, a Corrupter or Mastermind Storm user can overcome the disorient effects of a boss with O2 Boost.

Snakes are also similar to the Vhazilok in that they do Toxic Damage. That being said, villain avatars have been fighting snakes since they got out of the zig, or came over from Spider University, so dealing with these guys is pretty much business as usual.

The Story

The basic plotline is that the Legacy Chain are interested in the magical cure that was used on the Lost. Perhaps magic can serve as a solution for other beings resistant to normal medical procedures. One of their Librarians is researching the Snakes on Mercy Island, who seem to be resistant to the Infected Mutation. The Librarians research indicates that the Snakes, who have been around the Rouge Isles since, well, the Children of Enos, are resistant to the cause of the Infection for possibly mysterious reasons. The Librarian believes that deep below Mercy Island the key to solving the spreading infection will be found... where the ocean water meets the cave of moonlight, deep beneath the watching Tower.

The Snakes of course aren't about to sit still and simply let the Legacy Chain invade their home, so they go the offensive, rampaging about Mercy Island fighting the Legacy Chain at every corner.

The Infected aren't having any of the cure either. Against all reason they are being moved to fight both the Legacy Chain who are trying to cure them, and the Snakes who stand in the way of destroying the possible cure...

The Mongoose Strike Force

The players part in the story comes from meeting with Mongoose at level 10. His normal story arc ends at level 9, and thus the Strike Force is treated as unlockable, in the same manner of the Hess Task Force or Caverns Trial over on the HeroSide. This insures that somebody can't try to start a Mongoose Task Force without actually having done his story arc. All Mongoose knows at the start is that he has a problem that's going to require a minimum threat level of 10 with at least a 3 player squad.

Mission One: Snake Issues

Mongoose has information that the Snakes are tearing apart some old abandoned buildings and sends the players to go ...settle... the snakes down. Once the mission begins the players find that while the buildings are old, they most certainly are not abandoned. It's a Legacy Chain outpost, and both the Snakes and the Legacy Chain are out for blood.

Mission Placement: The mission takes place in one of the abandoned building's around the burnt pit in South Darwin's landing, preferably one of the buildings that has the door partially blocked by Slag, or is at the edge of the slag pit.

Map Design: While the Legacy Chain are somewhat associated with office buildings in the CapSF, here we want to have a look at their research centers. While I personally feel the Crey hallways do a lousy job of indicating a research enviroment, they might be a good placement for an underground zone shielded from prying Arachnos eyes.

Mission Two: Legacy Chain in Mercy Island?

The player finds a clue that directs them to another possible outpost, only it's abandoned with dead legacy chain and snakes laying around like players find Vanguard and Rikti in LGTF, until the player logs into a computer, mimicking the Faultline Nocturne Ambush. Players leave to find themselves faced with Snakes who have arrived with re-informcements.

Mission Placement: This can really go anywhere. Personally the north west coast doesn't get much use, so placing this around the north west coast incurs some travel time.

Mission Three: Infected Research

After players leave they follow-up the clues from the computer in the Legacy Chain outpost and track down a medical laboratory where the Legacy Chain are experimenting on the Infected. The Villains... rescue... the Infected known as BioPulse, who tells them of the Legacy Chains research.

Map Suggestion: Reskin the map used at the end of the Crey Revenant story arc with Legacy Chain markings. This is why the Crey type hallways are sort of suggested. It really doesn't fit the scene, but art and geomatry assets already in place can be re-used. Personally, I'd like to combine the hospital decore used in the Mother Madness Praetorian arc with the end room from the Crey Revenant arc, but that might require some work on the back end.

Story Progression - Design: Put BioPulse behind a barrier such as the ones used in the Eden Trial. Hang his Pod from the ceiling so that he can only be released by ranged attacks or by jumping and attacking. After BioPulse is freed he shouts "don't fire, I can help you" : the intent is so that while BioPulse is rescued, as far as the players are concerned they weren't trying to rescue him, and the rescue just happened to be circumstantial.

Story Progression - Plot: BioPulse doesn't tell everything. He does know that the Legacy Chain think they are onto a mystical cure for the Infected, something he's not too terribly interested in. He can help the Infected strike back at the Legacy Chain, might even help the Arachnos ferret out more of these installations, if only you let him go.

Mission Placement: Port Oakes - we want to have some zone transitions, if for no other reason than to keep the story plausible. There can only be so many snake holes, research centers, and underground caverns under Mercy Island. I personally favor using one of the existing doors in the Port Oakes Oil Spill zone. With an average enemy level of 9, there is no real danger to our TF participants... yet.

Mission Four: Kalinda the not so Kind

Upon taking this information back to Mongoose players are directed to Kalinda who sets up a meeting with Ghost Widow.

Mission Design: This is when players get Mongoose's number for the Task Force. Up to this point the missions have been auto start, but now players have to make the long trek back to Mercy. The mission then leads straight to Kalinda who sets up a meeting with Ghost Widow in the Fort Cerberus Tower.

Mission 5: Ghostly War

This... cure... for the infected could be just the right leverage Arachnos needs to get the Freedom Phalanx to back off... after all, what would Statesman do if he was offered the chance to rid Paragon City of the Infected?

Upon leaving Ghost Widow's tower, players find that her fortress is under assault by both the Snakes and the Infected. Cue large outdoor battle as players must wipe out all Snakes and Infected.

One of the Snakes, upon being aggressively questioned, reveals the location of another Legacy Chain outpost. The players now are hot on the trail of the Legacy Chain.

Map Suggestion: During the Seer Marino Arc players enter the Ghostly Widow's Tower, so they have an idea what it could look like. This time though, players get a chance to see her tower in a more official capacity. One of my biggest... um... pet peeves though is plausibility. So as I see it there are two ways to handle Ghost Widows tower. The first is that her... apartment resides in the level above where players enter. So you have a small room room at the top of the tower, there's not much room to place the camera. More likely then Ghost Widow's ... meeting room, would be placed in the lower tier. Players would take an elevator down to her. The image I have in mind is a small room similar to the Patron's room in Grandville, meeting table in the middle, some monitors, and Ghost Widow standing in front of one monitor at the head of the table. Opposite Ghost Widow, where you are, is a wall with a picture of Lord Recluse, and on the side walls there are two Arachnos doors facing each other. The players enter from one side of the room, but cannot leave, yet. Talking to ghost widow unlocks the second door. Upon exiting by the newly unlocked door, players are back at the top of the tower and face a horde of snakes and infected.

Mission Design: The intent is to have an open field battle. While players will visit Fort Cerberus in pursuing the Seer Marino Arc, they might not be appreciate the detail that went into the designing the fort. Having to clear out out the fort stage by stage should help players appreciate the detail that went into the Fort's construction.

Story Progression:
The information from the Snakes reveals that the Legacy Chain have been infiltrating their underground tunnels looking for something buried deep. The snakes that attacked Ghost Widows Tower don't know what the Legacy Chain are searching for. All they know is that their Queen, Stheno, identified you as the perpetrators behind the slaughter back in Mission 2, and ordered you executed... or else. While the Snake didn't know much more than that, it did know the location of a Legacy Chain outpost that was a rally point for raids into tunnels. However, there is no explanation for why the Infected were at the fort... did BioPulse turn Hero and send the Infected after you?

At the same time, this event is used to set up Mongoose as the contact for the rest of the Strike Force. Since Ghost Widow and Kalinda have their own tasks and duties to accomplish, Mongoose is placed in charge to make sure Ghost Widow's orders are carried out... not that Ghost Widow doesn't trust you.. yet.

Cut Scene Wish List: While I realize that implementing a cut-scene goes above and beyond the idea of a quick to implement, something for I14.5 release, I do love the idea of Ghost Widow helping torture information out of the snakes. What I have in mind is that at the lower helipad (where Seer Marino is), after players clear the map, a cut-scene kicks in, and two snakes race out of the side door pursued by Ghost Widow. One of the snakes shouts "I'll never talk!" and slithers off the edge of the platform. The second snake turns and shouts "I'll Talk, I'll Talk!" : Clue found, mish ends.

Mission Six: The Legacy Hunt

With the location of the Legacy Chain Outpost in hand, it's time to find out what they know. The snakes information sends you back to Darwin's Landing, to a small shanty just north of Ghost Widow's tower... Under the shanty, however, is a well stocked, and well defended Legacy Chain outpost. The boss of the outpost doesn't know much, in fact he knows almost nothing. Orders from above have him carrying out raids into Snake Tunnels looking for an underground stream connected to the ocean. An email on one of the Legacy's Chain's computers is a bit more telling... on it is a copy of a parchment, and translation notes:
Where the ocean water meets the cave of moonlight, deep beneath the watching Tower.

That isn't much to go on, but Mongoose has a lead to report. Ghost Widow has gotten a bit more information out of the Snakes that raided her home. The Snakes know where the outpost you just raided get their supplies from, mostly because the Snakes had orders to take it out after they took you out. Ghost Widow wants you to track down the Legacy Chain Outpost... and destroy it.

Mission Placement: As mentioned, the idea is to place this outpost right under the nose of Ghost Widow herself, just within sight of her tower.

Mission 7: The Legacy of Supplies

Ghost Widow isn't happy, and when Ghost Widow isn't happy, everybody suffers. She wants to know how the Legacy Chain got away with making an outpost right under her nose, and she wants the supply chain to be done away with.

Surprisingly, the supply Sargent has a better idea what's going on as he has been responsible for providing the equipment and supplies for the Legacy Chain tunnel raiders. He's been informed that his underlings are hunting deep underground... anywhere underground, over on Mercy, and that they are looking for Ancient Ruins. He doesn't know much more than that, but if your team lets him go, he might forget he mentioned Children of Enos.

Mongoose finds the report hard to believe. Ancient Ruins under Mercy? With all of the Arachnos construction? Impossible... but Kalinda has his ear with a message from Ghost Widow. Ghost Widow has managed to coax some information out of an Infected that took part in the Fortress Assault, which is impossible, all of the infected were slaughtered. Not that you really want to think into that. According to her the Infected are massing to attack Villa Montrose, so you might want to hurry over and fetch Ghost Widow some more Infected.

Mission Placement: The theme going here with the Legacy Chain outposts is that they are built right under the nose of Arachnos locations. Putting the mish in the North West corner of the DockSide zone puts it right in full view of the Arachnos Installation at Fort Hades. Yes. This is back in Port Oakes.

Mission 8: The Infected Force

As soon as you kick in the door at Villa Montrose, things are already going wrong. There are Infected everywhere, and the Legacy Chain are having trouble fending them off. You aren't there to play nice, you want answers, and you are going to get them.

As you explore the depths of Villa Montrose you find an elevator going down, and inside some dusty catacombs... and secret library. You... rescue... a Legacy Chain librarian from the clutches of the Infected, who is willing to spill his guts for a free passage out... into the waiting cells at Casa'de'Ghost Widow.

Map Design: The idea in mind is a top floor similar to the missions one will encounter when fighting Legacy Chain in the CapSF, the triple pronged floor. However, instead of a just single elevator on the right prong from the door, there's a second elevator hidden behind closed doors in the middle prong. The idea comes from the Villain Side Ourobous task force to depose the Rogue Isles President back in the 1960's, in which players have to click on a closed door to go from inside the building to outside. The second doors are triggered by clearing the upper floors. Then players go down into a Sewer Zone that's been dried up.

This might call for some custom artwork to put elevator doors on a sewer block. While I'd like to have an elevator design that looks really old, I might just have to settle for the implausibility of modern elevators having a sewer exit.

In the sewer zone players find a short tunnel, then a clean break in the wall. In most missions where players have a transition from a sewer into a cave, there is a messy "break through" transition. What I'd like is a clean transition. Somebody designed this tunnel, and designed the cave. Inside the cave is a Legacy Chain being threatened by Infected. Kill the infected and get the story. Escort the Legacy Chain out, and presumably into the waiting hands of Arachnos Agents.

Story Progression: The idea here is that the story is put into place. Players at this point know that the Infected are fighting against the Legacy Chain because the Legacy Chain are seeking a cure. Players know that the Legacy Chain believes the secret to this cure is somewhere below Mercy Island, presumably either reached by the Snake tunnels, or is kept in the Snake tunnels. Players now learn that there used to be an old Watch Tower created by the Children of Enos long ago. The Legacy Chain are convinced that the tower has since been destroyed, but this underground library might have contained clues to find the old Watch Tower. The elder Librarian is in possession of parchments recoverd from unnamed sources, which when peiced togther, could form a map of Mercy Island with the Watch Tower clearly marked. While the junior librarian you have captured doesn't have these parchments, he remembers enough of the markings to tell you what to look for. If you can find the location of the Watch Tower before the rest of the Legacy Chain can, you might be able to beat them to the mystic cure.

Mission 9: Tower Unveiled

After a strenuous patrol of Mercy Island, the players think they know where the watch tower was. Now that they know where it was... how do they get under it.
Mongoose has picked up a lead on Stheno's location, and a little unfriendly persuasion might teach the Queen that talking is good, sending snakes to attack Arachnos is bad. Stheno isn't at home when the Villains kick in the... um... manhole. Fortunantly, a couple of her bosses are ready to write a tell all book about the tunnels under Mercy and reveal how to reach the underside of the old Watch Tower. In fact, they'll even mention that foundation of the tower still exists underground and which tunnels lead to that foundation. Too bad Mongoose needed a new pair of boots.

Mission Design:
Okay. At several points during the Freedom Phalanx Task Forces players have to go on a patrol. In CoH the patrols are often accomplished by players calling in from a nearby phone booth. In order for this patrol to work under the existing system, the proposal is to place similar telephone booths randomly around Mercy Island. While... an ugly solution... it's one that should be quick to implement.

Mission 10: Away with the Ghost

The villains return to Mongoose with the news, and another talk with Kalinda is setup. Ghost Widow is talking things over with Lord Recluse, so she's unavailable... guess it's up to the Players to go underground instead of the more experienced arch-villain.

Story Progression: One of the many complaints about the Freedom Phalanx task forces, and the source of many jokes, is that the epic heroes don't participate in the fight. A good case in point is missions which have an entrance in the molehill right next to Synapse. Some Task Forces handle removing the epic hero better than others, such as Statesman's Task Force gives a logical reason as to why States and Company can't hit Grandville, but the Longbow and Players can. So the objective is to remove Ghost Widow and establish a sense of urgency. Ghost Widow has gone to Grandville, either to talk about the current events with Lord Recluse... or for other matters. Why is not clarified. What is known is that she's not around, and isn't expected to be back anytime soon. From the information the player got from the Librarian in Port Oakes, the Legacy Chain might have already found and entered the old Watch Tower. The players have to act now to stop the Legacy Chain and get the Cure first.

Mission 11: Down the Snake Hole... Again.

The players enter the snake tunnels with an idea of where they are going. These aren't any normal tunnels though, there are some near bottomless pits... and the players are not the first to arrive. The Snakes, Infected, and Legacy Chain are duking it out, and the players must cut through all 3... till at the end, they find the Watching Tower.

Map suggestion: reskin the entrance to the final mish on the Hess Task Force. The triple falling effect will help give the idea that players are taking ancient tunnels underground.

Design suggestion: The tower construction is taken from the tower and surrounding water at the Primeva marker in Nerva Archipelago. The doors set into the tower have the same Star pattern as found in the Primeva ruins.
Ancient Runes are inscribed on the side that... for some reason, still glow. The tower is surrounded by a pit of water, such as the Robot in Hess TF is surrounded by Lava. As players look up the sides of the walls they can see stained glass darkened over and shuttered windows. The top of the room is covered with what appears to be gold. The tower inside the tower has two doors, which are opened by clicking.


Map suggestion: map change. Once players find the Ancient Foundations, either map change to next map, or load a city-zone style map to lead to the next mission map.

Map suggestion: Map Design. In the CoT maps there is a common room where players have to leap across 3 or 4 stone platforms that span a deep chasm. On the upper sides of the maps are two pyramids set into the earth, and the chasm below has some water at the bottom. For the purposes of this map though the map is flooded up to the stone platforms. At one end of the map is a room with a set of stairs leading up, and at the other end two huge wooden doors. On one side of the upper levels is a portal stone that appears to be deactivated... but one click and players find themelves loading into a cave under Mercy Island.

Map suggestion: Map Intent. The intent of the exchange map is to give a hospital option to players, rather than having to walk through two whole maps again. Players rez in Mercy Island, and then head back to the cave for a quick load to underground cave. The idea is based on Midnight Club and Shadow Shard. The act of completing the Snake tunnels unlocks the ancient teleporter, just as completing the Midnight Club arcs unlocks the doors to the Midnight Club. The idea also comes from the Molehill Warp Point in the Shadow Shard, in which players can only access the warp-gate after visiting one side.

Mission 12: The Empty Grave

If players thought they had come far... they hadn't. Upon entering the Moon Tower they find stairs leading downwards... Players descend the stairs for 2 or 3 levels, then find a passage leading to two huge wooden doors with the Eye Symbol from Primeva...

Once past the wooden doors players find a tunnel filled with the dead bodies of Legacy Chain, snakes, and infected. Players come to find a shaft leading downwards, that was at one point sealed with two stone doors imprinted with mystic symbols... two huge doors that have been ripped off and now rest on the side walls.

As players descend the shaft they encounter Infected, Legacy Chain, and Snakes, including the Elder Legacy Chain Librarian... whose dying words are "it's taken... it's...all... been... taken..."

The infected are no better... not that they were intelligent before, but now they seem to be muttering... something... that sounds like .. "by the will"

At the bottom of the pit players encounter a wondrous... and yet horrific sight. The walls are covered with images of a Crescent Moon, all glowing with an ethereal light. The players have found the Cave of Moonlight, below the Watching Tower. Through the center of the pit runs a blue river... a stream from the ocean. There are 4 side-pockets to this room. Engaged in battle in one pocket is the Infected Known as BioPulse... and in another, the Snake Queen
Stheno... Elite-Bosses both of them. In each of the pockets is an Alter... each a glowing mission objective. Each alter generates a clue that simply says "There is nothing to be found." Your previous source of information, BioPulse, is in a crazed fury and as Villains you must take him out, not that such is a bad thing. Stheno... well... like that Snake is going to talk to a group of Villains intruding on her caves.

Map suggestion: Reskin the map used for the Sewer Trial. It's relatively deep, and would fit the image of an old shaft buried deep into the ground.

Story Progression: Upon the defeats of Stheno and BioPulse players return to the surface, the Task Force Complete. Many questions linger... what was in, or on, the Alter's to begin with? What in the world was driving the Infected? Were the Snakes protecting something? Why has Arachnos never found these ruins? What exactly is the story on these Children of Enos? Why don't the snakes suffer from the Infection? What blew those stone doors apart?

Mongoose opinions that the Children of Enos perhaps performed some ceremony or ritual years ago that forever protected the Snakes, and that the alters were all that were left from that event. Kalinda reports that the wholesale slaughter of Legacy Chain has their leadership convinced their fallen Librarian was a lunatic, and they have no connection with the actions that were taken. Officially, no magical cure for the Infected Exists, or at least not one that will come from the bowels of Mercy Island. Ghost Widow, while disappointed that she lost a potential bargaining chip, is pleased that you have damaged both the Legacy Chain operations, and taken out the pesky BioPulse, and awards you a badge to show off your loyalty.

Of course, Ghost Widow isn't very clear on whether that was a bargaining chip for Arachnos... or for herself...


Background Information

Introduction to Strike Forces

One of the reasons why the Positron Task Force is despised by Hero players is that it's an impossibly long and difficult task force, and for many was their introduction to the Task Force aspect of City of Heroes. One of the factors completely ignored by many a high level, multiple avatar, vet-badge toting players is that the average player tries to run Positron at level 10 with training origin enhancements, or no enhancements. While higher level players exempting themselves down are knocking out sub 2 hour times, the reality is that Positron is a 3 hour event for most people, and for the most part, will be hitting 4 or 5 hours on the average team.

The problem then is to introduce strike forces to new players on the villain side without discouraging them from continuing to play the game. The enemy choices reflect the idea. Virtually any team can take on the challenges described,
and if the players really need it, they can get a jetpack from Grandville for the 3rd missions flight / ranged attack ending scenario.

The goal is to generate a Task Force that will take the average team around 3 hours to complete, but at the same time, will have lasting legs against speedsters. I suspect that short of making every mission a kill-all, somebody will be able to turn in a sub 1.5 hour time on the missions described.

Reuse of Resources

One of the noticeable features of the Mongoose Strike Force is that I propose re-using a lot of existing maps, art resources, and existing scenarios in order to create the new Strike Force. One of the ideas behind this is a quick turn-around time on development. Using existing geometry builds and map sources should enable the missions to be put together rather quickly.

In the original draft(s), very few maps would actually have to be reworked or reskinned. By my original count, only the BioPulse rescue, the Fight through the snake tunnels, the exchange map after the snake tunnels, and the dive to the ocean floor require significant artwork changes or item changes. However, in the updated draft, I called for one more special artwork location, as the final hunt at Villa Montrose requests some special art and geomatry, but that isn't required. Most of the missions could be done on existing maps... such as the final mission could possibly be done in the CoT map with Crystals at the bottom... I think it's the one against Lilitu.


Other intents of the task force are to get people to explore Mercy Island and Port Oakes. One of the real pains in the rump for the Positron Task Force is the travel demands with players hitting Steel Canyon, Skyway City, Kings Row, Perez Park, and Atlas Park in quick succession. Since the current City of Villains only has 2 low level zones, Mercy Island and Port Oakes, there isn't much travel back and forth between zones. Where City of Heroes has 12 different starting mission paths, with 5 per Origin in Atlas, 5 per Origin in Galaxy City, and two for the Kheldians, City of Villains only has two starting mission paths. As a result, City of Villains is extremely repetitive at the lower levels. For many it's quicker to grab a team, burn through to level 6, 7, or 8, then head for Port Oakes without having really done much in the way of Mercy content. It's not surprising that many players can have a great number of dark spots on their Mercy Maps. The intent of a strike force centered on Mercy Island is to have people go to sections where they normally wouldn't go, which could require the additional placement of doors for the new missions.


Considering the architecture of Upper Mercy Island, it seems that Arachnos has built their fortress on top of a naturally existing plateau or large hill. It seems very plausible that the Children of Enos could have left some ruins or structures under Mercy Island that Arachnos hasn't gotten to. Early in the story the Arachnos construction seems to explain what happened to the old Watch Tower, as a Watch Tower would presumably exist atop the highest point on Mercy... which is now indeterminable after the Arachnos Construction. Players have to discover where the Watch Tower could have been, and in a surprise twist, the Watching Tower isn't missing. It's buried in a Cathedral deep underground... Which is why no map placement is given. It might even be possible to implement the Task Force without revealing where the Watching Tower is in relation to the topside of Mercy. What is on top of the Cathedral is left to the player's imagination, and the story also leaves open the possibility that the Legacy Chain misinterpreted the ancient texts. There could indeed by an item of mystical power beneath Mercy, but now there isn't.

The Strike Force also raises questions over the infected. The infection is presumed to be caused by contaminated water, but the Snakes seem to be immune. When pressed though, the Infected seem to act as one, implying that the contamination may indeed have mystical or preternatural origins.

The idea, at this level, is that the story should leave new players wanting to find out what's going on.

Background Information - Visual Impact

One of the key-points early on in the idea was creating a task force that could be put together quickly and with little work on the part of actual developers. As the idea blossomed from a quick shot reaction 241 words long into a fully fledged workable task force, the importance of the event set in. If the developers go for this concept, this is what will sell new players on staying with the game. It's important then for the missions to be visually striking, and it's an opportunity for the developers to show off special content that they can create that the Mission Architect can't, and keeping CoV players interested during the, lets face it, downright boring sub 30 levels.

The visual impact really starts with the Villa Montrose fight where players are introduced to the concept of hidden elevators, and the ability of the engine to merge two distinct types of maps into one loading system. The impact of going deep underground is strengthened by the reskinned Map from the Hess TF. Imagine getting all the way down, and finding a Pyramid Type Structure surrounded by a pit of water... then going FURTHER down. Players are impressed with the potential size of structures that could be below the Rouge Isles.


One of the faults of Task Forces is that players aren't giving a feeling of having drastically changed the city or zone in a specific way. The proposed Mongoose TF gives a way to help aid the sense of accomplishment, such as opening up a Midnight Club type zone under Mercy Island. The "new" zone can then be developed upon later with an Arachnos research team behind one of the pyramid doors, which can only be unlocked by completing the Task Force, thus offering potential further story options or task forces to explore the underside of Mercy... perhaps even an Ouro Crystal back into the days of the Children of Enos... far away from the prying eyes of the Freedom Phalanx.


original forum text follows

If you need an idea on what to use for plot, simply pit the Snakes versus the Infected (Vhaz) versus Legacy Chain (CoT). Not a big deal to put together. And if you can't figure out a plot from there, here's one. The Legacy Chain have stumbled across ancient texts that describe a magical process that could heal the infected. The components needed to implement this spell are lost to time, but perhaps they lie beneath Mercy Island, deep in the Caverns of the Snakes. At the same time a mysterious force behind the Infected has caught on that the Legacy Chain intends to heal the Infected, and sends the Infected Against the Legacy Chain to stop them. Arachnos of course wants the Snakes gone, and anything you can do to interfere with the Legacy Chain is considered a good thing, and this mysterious force behind the Infected could be quite a powerful ally. You go in, wipe out the Legacy Chain, Snakes, and Infected, fight your way deep into a cavern at which the bottom is the Snakes eggs (re-map the Sewer Trial mish)... only to find after you've eliminated the Infected known as BioPulse, destroyed the Snake guard, and taken down the Legacy Chain librarian... that the components aren't there. somebody's removed them.... There we go. Instant engaging plot that makes sense within the story, and leaves enough threads dangling for the inevitable "Nemesis did it" reasoning behind plotholes.


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Layoffs Hit NCSoft : not really a big surprise

One of the stories going around in the gaming press this week is NCSoft's plan to reorgnanize some departments, which will result in some layoffs. One of the first comments I caught on Kotaku came from a person who linked NCSoft's problems to the recession caused by Liberal Democrats.

The problem is, even if the liberal democrats hadn't screwed up the mortgage system and forced banks to lend money to people who simply couldn't pay it back on the basis of racial equality, the events that triggered the current recession, I doubt that NCSoft would be in a different position today. NCSoft, as a publisher, has a reputation for taking risks with their games that most other publishers and developers shy from. A very good case in point is City of Heroes. CoH is not a typical MMORPG, and it's heavy basis in the comic book genre caught a lot of flack from comic book purists who decried the lack of a Marvel or DC license. However, CoH caught on and has a dedicated fan base. Guild Wars is another game where NCSoft took a risk, in that they dropped the standard monthly fee. Guild Wars is free-to-play once you buy it, but you buy pretty much everything at full retail cost. Guild Wars caught on though, and is a staple in the NCSoft Lineup.

Then there were games like eXteel and Dungeon Runners where NCSoft took risks with micro-payments supporting Free-to-play games.

However, for each success and break-even NCSoft has, they also have games that just don't catch on. Auto Assault is one example. It was a fun game, but NetDevil just couldn't get everything together to make the game worth playing.

Then there is Tabula Rasa. The game promised so much, but when Richard Garriot left for his trip into space, the development team left in charge took the grand vision of Tabula Rasa, found the nearest window, and chunked the grand vision. What was at one point a counterpart to City of Heroes, an Epic RPG with a focus on team-action and team-balance, turned into a Solo / PvP slugfest. The development team just didn't get what made Tabula Rasa special, and in trying to appeal to a wider market, appealed to a lower market and chased away many of the gamers willing to pay for Tabula Rasa.

Part of these development mistakes can be blamed on poor management. Auto Assault and Tabula Rasa could have been successes if the developers had simply focused on a single goal, but they weren't.

While I still think that Tabula Rasa can be salvaged, It's doubtful that NCSoft has the financial room to keep Tabula Rasa up while it's retooled to appeal to the market that praised and lavished attention on it during the closed beta's.

The failure of a game though is a calculated risk. Not everything is going to work out as intended, and sometimes things not working out result in bad events. For NCSoft, they took risks with multiple games, attempting to field a wide range of titles, and some of those risks turned sour. That's life, that's business, that is reality.

Monday, February 09, 2009

The curious case of Erfworld

Yes, it has been a while since I posted, and I feel I should explain why. In short, every post I've attempted to write, be it about City of Heroes, about Adventure Crossing, about Gamenikki, about video games, or whatever, has degenerated into rants against the Obama administration and the delusions that are being wiped away as harsh reality sets in. Things like Obama's staff picking RIAA lawyers with strong ties to Microsoft, long histories of courtroom screwups, and anti Open-Source positions to the top spots in the Department of Justice. Right off hand though, I doubt the majority of the people who bookmark and read through this blog are really interested in reading yet another I was right, you were wrong series of posts.

So I've scrapped most of what I've been trying to write. In attempt to move the focus away from the current political scene, I'd rather write about Erfworld:

Erfworld is yet another Role Playing Game inspired comic, much like Adventures, RPGWorld, OOTS, or Nodwick, only it isn't. In most comics about RPG's, the hero's of the comic are truly heroes. In the case of Erfworld, the Hero of the comic isn't a hero. He's a dungeon master nicknamed Hamster, summoned to the cause of the Stanly the Tool, who just happens to be a villain, and shenanigans ensue. Stanly is currently at war against a genuine Hero named Ansom, and the Erfworld story so far pits Ansom and his coalition against Stanly whose holed up in a fortress that appears to be a cross of Helms Deep and Minas Tirith, called Gobwin Knob.

The story bounces back and forth between Ansom and his coalition, Hamster and the defense of Gobwin Knob, and the various backgrounds and actions of the sub-captains for each side. The result so far has been surprising. There is no doubt that Stanly is an evil little monster who is quite deserving of being croaked, and you want Ansom and his coalition to kick the slimy little villain right where it counts. At the same time, Erfworld creates sympathy for Hamster and his sub captains. I really don't want Hamster and his side to lose, even though that is the side that is well, evil.

The writing and positioning of Erfworld characters is a unique standout from most other webcomics, or print comics for that matter. It's a curious case of why I would care about the bad guys anyways...