2.5 Things City of Heroes Did Wrong

Ok, besides PvP. That's too easy a target. Here's the most amount of players in a CoH PvP zone ever. Attracted only by killing a dev in giant spider form.

As linked by J3w3l, Reports From the Field wrote a post on 7 Things They Felt City of Heroes Did Wrong.

Since I’m an idiot who can’t seem to figure out how their comments system works, and have a ton of CoH screenshots that are looking for an excuse to be shown off, I decided to do a blog post in reply instead.

I’m a little less picky.

I think they only got two or three things wrong.

Sadly, I think the biggest problem was a fundamental baked-in issue that the existing devs didn’t quite know how to solve.

Repetition

I’ll narrow this down further to non-varying spawn sizes in instanced tilesets that were reused over and over.

Because frankly, a lot of what we do in games is repetition, over and over, and we can still find repetition fun.

City of Heroes had no problems with replayability in terms of alts – the insane number of character slots, classes, powersets and customisation was unparalleled.

The main problem was that each alt had to level up by entering an endless set of corridors masquerading as missions, which were optimally filled by a spawn meant for an 8-person team, and every combat encounter pretty much looked like this:

2007-06-16 22:05:10

2 Bosses, a couple of Lts. and a whole bunch of minions.

Repeat encounter 14-40x depending on how many spawn points were set in that mission, and how big that map was.

Very soon, players figured out that the most efficient way to mow these things down was via AoE attacks.

To let AoE attacks hit as many as possible, get someone to group them up for you.

(Enter the ubiquitous AoE target limit – but still, hitting 10-16 is better than hitting one at a time. And cone attacks hit 5 but need them all neatly stacked up anyway.)

There were only two main ways to do this:

Option A) Herd to a Corner

A sturdy character, usually a tanker or a brute, or in a pinch a scrapper, would initiate, aggroing the spawn and dragging them all to a handy dandy nearby corner.

Once in position, everybody else opens up with whatever they’ve got.

Riffs on this include the more skilled defender or controller with debuffing options who could set up some debuff anchors, turning a nasty spawn’s alpha strike (ie. retarded AI’s initial response of firing a salvo of attacks at the first person to aggro them) into some wimps trying to beat you with feather pillows, which by default, makes anyone a sturdy person. Pull to corner as desired.

Option B) Corners, Schmorners, The Spawn is ALREADY Grouped Up

Well, it’s true, ain’t it? They spawn in a clump to begin with.

Tank runs into the center of the group, taunts by skill or combination of aggro generation powers. The group turns inward on the tank, voila, please be to kindly open up with pewpew now.

Riffs on this include those with control options – usually controllers, dominators or the odd defender who would just alpha strike the alpha strike with an “everybody freeze” power, nullifying the usual retaliation, and then the beating things up began.

There was rarely any tactical variety required, beyond the odd variation of dangerous target to be prioritized or controlled due to faction. Yes, Malta sappers suck. Literally. Draining all endurance from players tends to make powers crash and ineffectual. So hold ‘em or kill ‘em fast.

Others just tended to be annoying nuisances that took forever to kill. Carnival Master Illusionists summoned a bunch of annoying decoys, and phased out for 50% of the fight, making them a time-drain to even hit. Rikti Drones projected so much force field defence that you needed pretty high accuracy or to-hit to pierce through their shielding – but if you did have enough, they were pushovers.

But by and large, it was see clump of enemies, group clump of enemies, fireball (or insert choice flavor of attack here) clump of enemies. Debuff or control if you had the options to, and yes, everybody loves buffs, buff all the time plz thx bai!

AoE attacks, the best way to fry things.

AoE attacks, the best way to fry things.

Soloing, it tended to be even worse.

You were guaranteed three minions or one minion and one lieutenant. This was somehow scientifically determined by a lead game designer as the appropriate amount of challenge for any player or powerset.

Before long, you had your skill rotation down pat.

Repeat over and over as you carved your way through numerous spawns to the end of the mission.

Skip the mobs in favor of mission complete?

Well, you could… but the mobs were a big source of xp anyway. Would you prefer to go through 3 maps of unending spawns of enemies repeating the same skills in the same patterns, or would you prefer to race through 10+ maps ignoring all the enemies except that required for completing the mission to get the same amount of xp?

“……..”

Over time, I ended up street sweeping in order not to have to choose between either mindless option, forgoing the tasty mission complete xp in favor of actually feeling immersed into a world that had NPCs interacting with each other, spawns that varied in size and had to be approached differently, more space to move around and fly and tactically pick off enemies, and feeling like my actions actually had some impact on NPCs that needed rescuing or terrorizing depending on if I was playing a hero or a villain.

Not everyone was as motivated by immersion as I.

The achievement and rewards-driven folk eventually took things to their natural optimal efficiency point.

As Task Forces became more streamlined and rewarded better loot over regular missions, they became the go-to set of missions to run. As fast as possible. Gogogogo.

Imperious Task Force. Even the best TF can only be run so many times before getting old. Note endless spawns of Longbow in background.

Imperious Task Force. Even the best TF can only be run so many times before getting old. Note endless unvarying spawns of Longbow in background. (And yes, this is why one barely blinks an eye at particle effects in GW2. It’s a miracle we knew what all these things meant, with the powers customisation that allowed you to change the color of your powers.)

When Mission Architect released, of course the most popular missions would be the powerleveling xp farms with as many xp packages clumped together as possible, with the gimpiest powersets for doing the least damage to players possible.

farmmaps

And what did you do once you hit max level as fast as possible?

Either do it all over again with another alt, or go through the same set of missions at the end for… I dunno, kicks or something, or bitch and complain that there was nothing else to do and that the game was too repetitive and quit the game because you were done.

Each alt you went through, the chances were more likely that you’d eventually hit the more jaded last option at some point when you finally hit your repetition limit.

If only they could have varied the spawn sizes and positioning in each map more dynamically, I think it would have gone a LONG way towards ending the feeling of repetition.

But I suspect the mob distribution was sadly so baked-in that they couldn’t do anything about it without totally wrecking the game’s code.

The Incarnate System

Oh gods.

Words fail to convey my loathing for this system.

The solution the live team of CoH designers hit upon to prevent this burnout from repetition scenario from occuring was the ye olde raids system.

Vertical Progression. Ever Increasing Power at Max Level. Raids Involving Massed Numbers of Players. Forget Your Alts, You’ll Only Have Time to Build Up Phenomenal Levels of Cosmic Power on One or a Few Characters.

You know, City of Heroes launched at around the same time as World of Warcraft.

WHATEVER MADE THE DESIGNERS THINK THAT PLAYERS WHO CHOSE TO PLAY COH OVER WOW -=WANTED=- RAIDS?

Thanks, devs. I really wanted my game to look like WoW, raid frames, more UI than anything.

Thanks, devs. I really wanted my game to look like WoW, raid frames and more UI on my screen than anything else.

Wanted to be FORCED kicking and screaming into adopting and adapting to the system by virtue of exclusive loot/power that could ONLY be gotten by participating in this brand spanking new system that the designers were so proud of spending their time on?

Personally, I was attracted to the game initially because it didn’t have all of the above.

Because it had a nice friendly community that were inclusive and open to anyone teaming up with anyone, who even gave away scads of in-game money to newbies just to help them out and feel like a hero, a holy trinity flexible enough that no one had to wait around LF tank or LF healer unless they were really really picky, because I could make all the alts in my head that I wanted look and feel like how I wanted, because I had options to solo or group as I preferred.

When the game no longer felt like it was supporting this style of play and when all the brand new shiny content went a way I disliked (which has some lessons that GW2 might be well-advised to heed, given the histrionics I’ve been seeing in my comments from certain players who are perceiving the direction of the game changing in a way they dislike – though I still maintain one piece of content offering nonexclusive rewards is -different- from ALL the content in an update offering exclusive rewards that can be only obtained by playing a certain way…)

…I quit.

I canceled the sub I had been faithfully maintaining for six years, through a few minor burnout episodes that I knew would recover from taking a month or three’s break time, and quit supporting the game with cash.

I sat around watching the game lead their remaining players on from 2010 to 2012 from one piece of group content to another, grinding the same set of missions repetitively for incremental currency to build the next piece of ‘gear’ that would make their characters more powerful, and played another game instead.

Because my preferred playstyle had no viable options for obtaining the same reward.

Because the designers were so insecure in the fun level of their content that they felt they had to sneakily ‘encourage’ participation in their massed group content by making it the only non-absurd way to earn that level of power.

I only came back to check things out when the Dark Astoria zone released, making it -finally- viable for solo and small group players to start earning Incarnate levels of power.

And yeah, I chose to jump into a few raids then, because it was a -choice- on my part to see whether I found it fun (not really, beyond seeing what the fuss was about) and not because I had no other alternative.

Still, there’s a fundamental problem about vertical progression systems that only drag out the death knell.

You separate the playerbase.

You really do.

Those attracted by phenomenal levels of cosmic power and don’t mind clumping together into a group become one subset. Playing at a much higher level of power.

Why yes, I am an Incarnate. And I will take all of you Rikti on.

Why yes, I am an Inventions-kitted Incarnate. And I will take all of you Rikti on.

Those who ignore the content because they don’t like it and continue doing their own thing end up on an uneven playing field of merely ‘blue and green’ level of power compared to ‘purple and orange.’

How do you balance future content for these two different groups of players?

You don’t.

It becomes skewed to one group only.

Applying more and more pressure to the other group to conform and learn the stuff they’ve been ignoring, or they quit.

You better gamble that the group of players you’ve designed that content for is big enough to support your game via cold hard cash.

(Which is another interesting parallel to GW2 – though its fundamentals are different – exotics baseline, Ascended better, no more power increase or they’ll regret it – and the payment models are different. Who’s paying the most in either game? Casuals or hardcore, y’think?

Also, Wildstar is gambling that their hardcore base is big enough, and that their casuals will be content to be strung along with housing and some solo options.

WoW, you’d think, has managed to get by with producing endless series of tiered raids, though I do note that every expansion they keep changing things up, making things easier and easier to access and ‘catch up’, with different levels of difficulty to appeal to different groups, and generally playing a very good balancing act of continually laying treadmill track in front of their carrot-seeking audience.)

Loot / Inventions

The last factor is one I feel mixed about.

It could very well be that City of Heroes could have collapsed sooner without it.

Without loot, without Inventions, without something shiny to chase and look forward to building up and improving and giving room for theorycrafting of various intricate builds, we probably would have lost a great number of Achievement-oriented players who needed the shininess of a gear upgrade to wrap their minds around.

But catering for this group of players had some fundamental repercussions on how the community ‘feel’ changed over time.

In my opinion, a great deal of the friendly community aspect of City of Heroes was lost in the later years due to this focus on loot.

It used to be about fun. About kicking ass, taking names and looking good.

It used to be about fun. About kicking ass, taking names and looking good. Together.

Originally, City of Heroes was about getting together with a bunch of friends.

And everyone was a friendĀ  and welcome on teams because everything scales up with more people, giving more xp rewards to everybody.

No one needed influence (in-game money) beyond those necessary for Single Origins, bought from vendors at a very cheap price compared to how much influence was being given out from missions. So level 50s had so much influence they didn’t know what to do with it, and ended up going back to Atlas Park and sugar-daddying newbies with it, running costume contests and lotteries and fun social stuff.

Once loot came in and an auction house, well, influence had value.

Better hoard it now. Some heroes we were, accumulating large wallet amounts that would then be spent on more upgrades for more power. We turned commercially-minded and mercantile.

Rikti Boss farm - earn large amount of tickets, buy loot.

Plus Mission Architect absurdity: Rikti Boss farm – earn large amount of tickets, buy loot. Yes, handy dandy NPC buffers standing by.

Let’s see, help a newbie or buy a Luck of the Gambler for more defence? We’ll take being godlike, thanks, the newbie can fend for itself. (Of course, not everyone did this, but by design, loot encourages selfishness and self-interest over selflessness.)

Suddenly it didn’t matter so much if the team was just having a good ol’ social time hobnobbing it up while fighting bad guys, but more about xp and loot earned/hour. Fast runs plz. We r wastin time. More missions complete, more chance for shiny loot drops.

And what was the loot for?

For making yourself powerful enough that you didn’t need a team to take on a spawn size set for 8 players.

Who needs a team when I have bots?

Who needs a team when I have obedient bots with better names?

Your ubercharged Inventions-kitted out player would feel free to run off and separate from the team and take on spawns by themselves. Why not? They weren’t punished by faceplanting. In fact, they were helping you clear the mission twice as fast!

They were soloing while ostensibly on a team.

(Which, eventually made teaming pointless to me, and drove me into soloing because I couldn’t stand associating with those players any longer.)

Eventually, an update sealed the deal by allowing any player to control the spawn sizes they wanted to fight by themselves.

Yes, this made farming easier.

Yes, this made farming easier.

And now, there was no more need for teams. Or for much of a community. Or getting to know your fellow player or bother to be nice to them.

Just set your spawn size to 8, and run your endless series of unvarying missions as quickly as possible to keep earning more influence and more loot drops and getting more powerful.

godlike

Farm it, in other words. Farm it to death and world’s end.

Or burnout from repetition.

Whichever came first.

GW2: Early Days in the Crown Pavilion

So refreshing, minus dome and zerg...

Funny story about Liadri.

Stayed up for the patch.

Patched.

Jumped almost headlong into Crown Pavilion…

…with one tiny stopover to experience the story instance first, because I’m a sucker for narrative and getting properly situated in game lore…

…with the initial fistful of Queen’s Gauntlet tickets, hoping to beat the queue which might naturally get distracted by the shiny skins, story instance, Labyrinthine Cliffs and wannabe boss zerging below.

Got a cage with one other person thinking the same thing.

Noted with immense pleasure the missing dome, so less constricting camera angles

(though I still managed some awkward ones on a sylvari necro later.)

The NPC medic, which revived you, so no waypoint fee and bloodboiling frustrated running back between tries

(though I still managed to pick a cage with a buggy asura medic which would sometimes not bother to revive – dang those snotty asura and their bookah prejudices)

No repair fee, from the prior patch.

BEAUTIFULLY clear orange AoE indicators, making it a lot clearer where Shadowfall was going to land, so the fight felt a lot fairer from the get go.

Jumped in the first time, thinking, man, I’m screwed, I didn’t read my own phase 1 guide from the last time, I’ve forgotten her patterns and where exactly to run, it’s going to take a while to figure out all over again.

Was shocked to make it to phase 2 running purely blind, based on reflexes alone, being in bad positions about 50% of the time (screaming my head off and relying on dodge invincibility frame or renewed focus to scrape by) and got her to about half her health before all my poor timing finally caught up with me and whittled me down out of health and endurance and cooldowns.

Huh. Felt a lot easier than last time, I thought.

Checked my FPS, which was holding at 20-24.

Gave it another two tries, which came fairly close, though I was starting to train myself to adopt the more optimal positioning in relation to the patterns again from old memories of yesteryear…

I had to exit the map to pick up more tickets saved from last year from the bank, and also swapped characters to a condi necro because I was curious as to how it would go.

…then the weird shit started.

Occasionally dying from Visions that didn’t even seem to be close at all.

One or two cases of what felt like extreme lag and dropped frames, causing the whole entourage of Liadris to turn up a lot closer than expected

(yes, taking into consideration her teleporting – the point was not even seeing her teleport, and the visions stuttered in like they were flicker-stepping in too)

Checked my FPS, and lo and behold, it was at 10-12.

The zerg was in my map, trying out the boss blitz.

Spent another 30 tickets or so ramming my head against the problem, lucking in one attempt that had her almost dead before something happened… unknown, the floor fell out, but the announcer had only spoken the first time running out line, there didn’t -seem- be a vision near me…

…I can only conclude that a vision perhaps spawned on top of me and I didn’t see it with my low FPS before being returned.

It was nearly 5am local time (or evening North American time) and I decided that each attempt was getting worse and worse.

Either possible sleep deprivation, the oncoming NA zerg thronging the Pavilion or both.

Went for a nap.

Woke up mid morning. (Had a day off today, so no work.)

Got back into the Crown Pavilion.

Noted that the zerg had died down to some 30-40 odd individuals in my particular map – generally wiping on a boss after having killed 2.

Picked a cage away from the boss they were fighting.

Noted I was back to 20 FPS.

Killed Liadri on the second go.

Then I joined TTS doing a 6 group version (10ish people per boss, simultaneous kill) of the boss blitz for the next two hours.

The selfish part of me that wants a clear gauntlet run is telling me to propagate the message that is being spread on Reddit.

Crown Pavilion isn’t a zerg farm fest anymore! No more Monty Haul loot! Oh noes. Don’t come in to zerg it up, it’s an awful waste of your time! You get no T6 mats. You get no XP, so it’s pointless bringing in your low levels. EOTM karma train is where it’s at! Please spare my toaster all those FPS drops! Kthxbai!

sixgroup

On the other hand, if you achieve this level of pretty – and I do seem to recall quite a number of people wanting interesting 10-man group boss fight content, and quite a few megaguilds or server communities who could field this number of players, not to mention the eventual wising up and learning of the playerbase:

The six bosses are fairly entertaining in their mechanics.

There’s enough people around to rez a downed player if individual mistakes happen, and a waypoint if things really go wrong.

It is quite doable to finish within the 7 minute time limit – though the issue is coordination and communication, of knowing when to stop DPS and start killing in sync when all groups are ready.

goldbossblitz

Welcome to the new champion bag farm.

Not inclusive of extra green stuff that I lost track of, after salvaging. And there might be a couple more festival tokens

Not inclusive of extra green stuff that I lost track of, after salvaging. I spent a bunch of tickets doing the gauntlet achievements. And there might be a couple more festival tokens from what I started with originally.

Honestly, I can’t fault this new turn of events.

Fair is fair.

There’s considerable amounts of solo content available with the update – Labyrinthine Cliffs is a solo explorer’s haven. Queen’s Gauntlet is a solo challenge-seeker’s refuge.

It’s even in the interests of those playing the Queen’s Gauntlet to NOT have the unwashed masses piling it up in a group of 50 under some unfortunate person’s cage.

A group of 10 underneath shouldn’t create as many issues.

It goes back to the original intent of the design, which -was- zerg splitting, with all the anti-zerg mechanics given to the mobs, except the zerg outsmarted the designers the first time around.

It’s nice to have a little playground for coordinated groups – and it’s temporary content, doesn’t give anything special that you can’t get elsewhere so no elitism issues…

…but hey, you get the fun of playing in a coordinated team, fighting not-too-hard but not-too-easy bosses, and can rack up a lot of festival tokens, gauntlet tickets and champion bags quite fast. Very fast, even. Together.

Folks who don’t want to or have the time to play together, there’s Frostgorge, Cursed Shore, EOTM to choo choo around for champion bags too. The only tradeoff is no festival tokens, and no chance at Festival Favors for the seasonal vanity stuff.

Soloists who want those Festival things, there’s Labyrinthine Cliffs to play at leisure (and small groups can do this too – I see mesmer portals being popular and casual guild events doing the half hour event pop ups as being -very- very fun and cooperative and friendly) and the Gauntlet – which is a lot less agonizing without said 50 man zerg under you.

Those who have a more competitive streak might be happier with Aspect Arena and Sanctum Sprint.

Everybody has viable options. Everybody wins.

(Except those hoping to spam 1 and get rich. Don’t worry. Anet will screw it up at some point and there will be another farm fest again.)

Regret: The Video Game

So am I the only one who has trouble getting through The Walking Dead?

Yes, it’s a nice narrative. Yes, I like the idea of having choices and consequences and branching result on paper.

But then I run into a choice in Episode 2 that sets the tenor and tone of things to come, and I really can’t decide on what kind of person I want Lee to be.

I could take the pragmatic gore-splattered option which I personally feel would be more realistic in a zombie apocalypse survival scenario. But the idea of holding carefully to morals in a world where few hang on to theirs is also attractive in a thematic story sense.

And so I sit, stalemated by not knowing which story I’d prefer to experience first and refuse to let the rest of the scene play out.

Next moment, I’ve quit the game and am scanning through walkthroughs, knowing very well that either choice is a perfectly valid option that actually changes -nothing- in a gameplay sense, and -everything- on a literary level.

At this rate, I’m never going to even make it to 400 days, let alone Season 2.