CoH: In-Depth Look at Casino Heist

Casino Heist is like a four-man version of Ocean’s Eleven.

The aim: To rob the Tyrant’s Palace Casino for all it’s worth.

Players get to choose from four roles in the Theatre Lobby: The Grifter, The Hitter, The Hacker and The Thief by clicking on a movie poster glowie.

This awards a temporary power that describe the role in detail, so that new players have an introduction to what they’re supposed to be doing when they get inside the mission proper, before the time starts counting down.

When people were new to the event, players took a bit more time here to explain and describe what to do. By now, most people in PUGs automatically just look at where people are standing and take the roles that aren’t already taken. Clicking on a movie poster will indicate whether the role is available or is already in use.

Once everyone enters through door 1, signaling their readiness, a cutscene begins. This serves as both a short introductory narrative of the movie as well as more explanatory exposition to elaborate on what each player needs to do.

The Hitter – Part 1

First, the Hitter came to this room to knock out these generators so the Thief would be able to more easily access the vault.

What it doesn’t tell you is that Hitters are able to help the Hacker as well by taking on the patrol that walks around the hacker’s target room. Paragon Wiki suggests it, and I concur.

As long as I’m on a character that can do quick heavy hits, I like to take a left into the hacker’s room before the hacker even knows it and stomp on the two casino security patrols. This saves the hacker from needing to wait on the third computer, which is where the patrol usually ends up pathing around.

Then as the hacker is clicking on the first computer, I’m out of there and headed right into the power generator room to click the four power generators.

The Hacker – Part 1

Meanwhile, the hacker went to this room to install an outdated OS to these servers.

The Hacker is the one role that is given an extra temp power of Stealth. His objective: click three computer glowies without killing the patrol in the room.

As mentioned, his job is made much easier if the Hitter bothered to care. If not, the patrol starts on the left side of the room and it’s a matter of giving the patrol a little time to walk away from the leftmost computer to click on it.

(Come to think of it, one might be able to click on the rightmost computer first, then go left, but I haven’t tested this. I tend to like to start from the left, then middle, then wait for the patrol to walk away before clicking the last computer on the right.)

Worse come to the worse, if the patrols start shooting because you’re clumsy (and I am clumsy), there’s always just eating a purple for enough defence to click the computer without being interrupted. Then run out of the room and the poor AI is dumbfounded by this.

I’m sure it’s a limitation of the mission system that no major alarm or cascade failure is set off by this, but I think it works out well for the casual PUG nature of it.

I don’t know if a control character is able to just hold the patrols and get on with it, or if any attack on the patrols is allowable, but it might be interesting to try one day to test the flexibility of the limits. The only issue is the group dynamic nature of the event, which makes one feel obliged to do it perfectly in the way that is learnt/taught/explained and not inclined to experiment, in case other people get upset they don’t get their badge or something.

The Grifter – Part 1

The Grifter intercepted Sylvia Rexson here in order to distract her and keep her out of Ted Dubois’ office…

Lots of people try to snatch the Grifter’s role. It’s all simple clicky “talking.” No sneaking required, no heavy navigating.

The one thing I’m not so fond of is that I think there is one set ‘good’ solution to the Grifter’s role in Part 1.

At least, I haven’t experimented yet, but the option everyone is told in order to get the Perfect Grifter badge is to first “flirt” with her, and then “say something crass.” Wait a few moments, and then “say something even more crass.”

This becomes an exercise in meme-spreading and memory work. Everyone do it this way. End-of-story.

It’ll be nice if it turns out that the other options are also possible and work to get the badge. But it doesn’t appear that way.

The Thief – Part 1

While the Thief was upstairs in that very same office stealing vital items from Ted Dubois.

No one seems to like being the Thief. Or at least, I end up playing the role 60% of the time when I wait for everyone else to choose first. Not sure why.

It was the first role I learnt and it’s not really that hard. It’s just a number of varied tasks.

In the first part, you’re alone upstairs in the office, and there are nine desk glowies. Three of them can be clicked simultaneously by walking up to the desks and clicking on each in turn, as long as you don’t move or twitch or somehow interrupt your own clicking action.

Somewhat randomly, each glowie may yield a desired item that increments the progress bar for the Thief forward until you find all three necessary items. Just keep clicking until done.

Battle Phase – Part 1

Once everyone has executed their roles perfectly (or not, as the case may be, and the timer runs out), everyone gets teleported back to a warehouse where there is a standard minion/goon fight as a warmup, and then Sylvia Rexson as the AV boss battle.

I’d assure you that we were fighting one of the AVs here, but I frankly don’t know which one. I’ll blame it on the dark defender’s power effects, which I can, since it’s my character. Maybe it’s Sylvia.

The AVs in Casino Heist are not really that hard, which I do like, for appropriate immersion purposes. They’re humans. A little tougher to beat on, but they don’t really have flashy OMG Ultimate Power gimmicks as opposed to either the Incarnate Trial bosses or even the Time Gladiator bosses. They reflect a believable power level.

The only thing is Sylvia has some phenomenal regeneration going on (may be her powerset) so someone with some -regen is helpful, or one will have to lay on the damage with a thick knife. She defeated my poor stalker’s attempt at soloing naturally without inspirational aid, but a stalker and scrapper duo worked fine.

On her defeat, we enter into Part 2.

With their operation half-over, the team swung into high gear.

The Hacker – Part 2

The hacker came to this room to manually disable security cameras that might capture their identities.

Same as before, just without the Hitter’s potential help. Avoid patrol, click on computers, done.

The Thief – Part 2

While the Thief entered this vent, bypassed the security on the other side and accessed the vault…

So here’s where I confess to roleplaying. I habitually dismiss pets if I’m playing a class with them, and turn off any flashy toggles before I click on the vent.

I don’t think the game actually cares, but it just doesn’t make immersive sense for my character to fit into that vent with 5 clanking robots of various sizes trailing after him. (I guess it’ll make a great comedy movie.)

It also helps (my peace of mind, at any rate) when I navigate this series of laser alarm-like things which come after the vent.

There are three sets of them, and a fixed safe path through. I’ve never tried tripping them on purpose, so I don’t know what happens. I suspect you simply don’t get the Perfect Thief badge.

Those safe paths only exist, by the way, if the power generators are down. One of the notable differences/consequences that the mission’s scripting was able to generate – as I found out when we attempted with three after one player crashed and we decided the least necessary might be the role of the Hitter.

Houston, we may have a problem.

The movement inhibition power also slows you down to a terrible crawl.

I discovered a little late that it may, just may, be possible to sneak past via the absolute sides of the corridor, but i didn’t make it very far because I was too slowed and paused for far too long to stare agawk at the laser display.

And lastly, once into the vault, one simply waits for the grifter to obtain the passphrase and the keypad glowie to light up, before clicking on it to ostensibly key it in and make off with the loot.

The Grifter – Part 2

Which brings us to…

That required the Grifter to meet Ted Dubois in his own office in order to record each segment of the Verbal Pass Code so that the Thief could actually open the vault.

This is the segment I like from the Grifter. It’s a conversation segment with choices, and you pretend that you’re a reporter from some magazine or other.

All the options work. You can pick any one of them, and Ted will eventually say all the words that get the Thief into the vault. So there are two benefits: one, you can actually roleplay a little and express the most suitable line your character would say, and two, you can experiment safely (without fear that people will curse you behind your back) to find the most efficient option.

What I find most amusing is that most people are scared to experiment. They have been taught by example to pick the most “officious” response and they follow it slavishly because hey, it works. Don’t break what’s working, right?

It turns out that that second option, the officious, “pieces on high-profile security experts” one is actually the slow route. It takes Ted the better part of three conversation dialogues for him to say the final word to the passphrase.

By gutsy experimentation earlier on, I found out that the very first option, the “casino-focused interior decorating” magazine,  the first question will get him to say the phrase much faster, without having to ask him a second or third question.

I’ve been using that option since, because I feel obliged to be a speed freak when someone is waiting on me in order to click their glowie. Some day, I’m going to have to experiment with the last magazine option, I really want to want to see the NPC’s conversation as well as find out if it’s faster or slower.

The Hitter – Part 2

Finally, the Hitter came here to the Game Room to teach one of these three patrons how to count cards. Their attempt to cheat the house would trigger the recognition software and buy the team time.

Now this one, I don’t like. It is clued into the subsequent prompt captions that show up for the Hitter that one of these options may work better than the other two.

It’s the spectre of the “only one good solution” again. This one, I was watching when others chose differently, and I can confirm you don’t get the Perfect Hitter badge if the Hitter makes the wrong choice and picks, for example, the High Roller.

You MUST choose the disheveled drifter and teach him to count cards if you want the shiny badge award to be enabled for all.

So yeah, follow the walkthrough, kthxbai. Else you screwed some poor alt out of their badge and the player might grumble a bit behind your back (if he’s polite enough to keep it to himself) and wait the next day for “a better team who knows what they’re doing and plays the way they’re supposed to” to go get the badge. (Lucky it’s just a badge. If it was mission success contingency and the shiny reward awarded or not, I can just picture the bad-tempered screaming at each other now.)

Then what was the point of the poor mission writer putting in all that conversation content for the other two options? For the first people to trial-and-error it by penalty and for all subsequent people to ignore, inflicting on themselves less variety to a mission they’re going to repeat for the shiny regardless?

Battle Phase – Part 2

When done, the second part of the fight begins. Again a standard goon/minion fight, followed by two AVs, one of them Ted Dubois.

Once defeated, everyone is teleported back to the Theatre Lobby where each person’s performance in the role is tallied up and the Perfect (Insert Role Here) badge awarded for everyone as long as the person in the role did it “right” by the mysterious badge rules.

Once you pick up all four badges (it can be through multiple event runs), the “Roleplayer” badge is awarded as a bonus.

Which ultimately is what the mission is trying to achieve, I think. Sorta kinda.

It’s a bit awkward in that roleplaying is hard to do on a time limit, with one  ‘correct’ solution in places, and lack of room for self-expression, what with folks relying on you to perform cooperatively and speed them through. But it’s got the willing suspension of disbelief and giving you a role to play at immersing in portion.

Still, it’s a very creative new use of the new conversation choices, mission and trial mechanics, and I’d like to see more come out of it.

CoH: Somewhat Less In-Depth Look at Time Gladiator

Time Gladiator is essentially a Roman Colosseum arena fight. But since the designer couldn’t guarantee that the players’ characters would match the milieu…

Time Gladiator anachronism
Terminator vs Minotaur – Place your bets now

… He embraced the crazy and threw in robots, and ninjas, and monkeys, and cowboys, and I think he even worked in some evil Nazis – if we assume the Germanic name of one of the robots harkens back to that.

One of the nice things you’ll see right off is that the arena cutscene includes one of the groups’ characters to situate the players and build up immersion. (Yeah, that’s my Crey Paragon Protector-inspired robot scrapper being anachronistic above.) There’s probably some kind of clever workaround they did to get this functional, but it’s a very nice touch.

Phase 1 Fight: Cornutus the Minotaur and Two Supporting Angel/Fury Things

The angels’ names also start with C, but I can’t recall them in the slightest. Whatever, they’re non-focal points.

That description matches the standard way players fight this phase. They get a badge for downing the minotaur without killing off the angels first. So everyone zeroes in on the big guy.

This works to set up a measure of challenge that differs from the standard tank-and-spank and AoE mow them down group strategy. If there’s a tank type in the group who gathers up all the mobs safely, then everyone has to mind their AoEs and be careful. If not, then people deal with the spread aggro and just unload on the one with horns.

Ranged taunts also come in handy to make life easier for teammates. Really, you don’t -have- to, because the difficulty level is not that high and the damage won’t one-shot kill a squishy, but it does make life easier and it’s a nice opportunity for group synergy to shine.

On one occasion, my claws scrapper was acting as the de facto tank for lack of anything better. I’d turned the minotaur away from the others for the heck of it, out of tanking habit and the angels were a distance away and near to a controller. Who, I think, decided to try and hold them or control them, but ended up pulling the tenuous aggro and got hit for half his health bar. (My scrapper does not have the ranged taunt confront, that’s just lame.)

What I thought was a really sexy cool moment was me using my ranged attack, Focus, claws powerset has one, to hit the angels one after the other. Zip went the white effect in a neat line to one angel, thud went the claw damage, and immediately each angel swung around to focus back on me. Small movie moment, but made of win.

I’m sure with CoH’s current player power level the way it is, the controller probably could survive on his own with a green health inspiration or have his own tools for dealing with it, but I wanted to saved him the trouble.  I was being all supporty-groupy and player role synergy and it felt good. I’m so tired of players in CoH acting like everyone has their own uber-softcapped defence build and running off to solo on their own.

Phase 1-2 In Between: Ninjas!

Pacing out the battle, a crowd of ninja minions show up to get beat on.

The challenge, kill as many as possible before time runs out, as you can get partial progress on a defeat 75 ninjas and monkeys badge, named aptly as “Ninja Monkey.”

Phase 2 Fight: Frank ‘Hunnerd-Yard’ McCain and his Doggies – Butch, Lee, Petey (and Killer)

Wild West moment. Frank shows up with three squishy dog pets. Killing the three dogs spawns Killer, the bigger somewhat less squishy dog pet.

You get a badge for defeating Frank within 10 seconds of Killer’s defeat. So enter another player skill challenge mechanic. Switching targets to balance out the damage as necessary, given that Frank is tougher than Killer.

Phase 2-3 In Between: Monkeys!

Rikti monkeys, that is. A barrel-full and more show up. Again, the challenge, try and fill in the remainder out of 75 that you didn’t defeat from the ninja phase for the shiny badge.

Phase 3 Fight: Apocalypse, Armageddon (and Gotterdammerung)

Giant killer robots of a possibly Nazi persuasion. The two robots that show up at first are elite bosses, which is a nice change from all the Arch-Villain level stuff being fought before, so they’re a little squishier.

Kill one, and it explodes, dealing some AoE damage if you’re too scrapperlocked to backpedal – high defence will help avoid it. The other A robot puts on a temporary deflection shield so that you can’t kill it immediately after the other. And Gotterdammerung shows up, he of the very very big hammer.

Standard AV boss battle, no badges, typically folks just finish off the other A robot (once the shielding wears off) before G goes down.

Bonus Phase: The God-Champion

There’s a favor mechanic that has been going on in the previous fights. Arena crowd favor slowly wears down over time. Each player defeat destroys more crowd favor.

Each mob defeated earns the group some favor. Each big boss defeated gives a random player the “Inspire the Crowd” temp power, which when triggered, builds favor with the crowd and also gives the player some stat bonus like extra damage.

Earn 500 favor with the crowd and you go into the bonus phase, where the Biggest Ugly of them all shows up.

At some point in his health bar (~70-80% maybe, didn’t really pay attention), all the previous big bosses will spawn (Cornutus, Frank and Gotterdammerung) but you get the “Invictus” badge for bringing the God-Champion down to 33%. So there’s an opportunity for control/debuff/support to deal with the three other AVs running around amok while folks focus fire down the Champion till he’s on his knees.

At 33%, he crashes to his knees and goes invulnerable. Everyone switches targets to clean up the other three, then finishes off the so-called Champion to become the new champions of the arena.

P.S. In retrospect, the fog effect going on in the arena makes for some UGLY screenshots.

CoH: Why I Love This Summer Blockbuster Event

And now for something I do like from City of Heroes, lest you think I am a sour grapes and am just using the poor aging game as a whipping boy.

I know it seems that way. I’m honestly not happy with my sudden ennui and frustration. I joined it in the end of 2004, and my loyalty didn’t waver until last year’s track record shook it badly. (It was obvious the company culture and certain devs had changed hands.)

I have the equivalent of 84 months – 7 years – of veteran rewards. I don’t want it selling out to become the worse of F2P (slippery slide down the slope of lottery and gambling for big profits) and the worse of WoW (slippery slide up the repetitive grind shiny gear-chasing ladder).

It still does do -some- things right. Though sometimes I’m convinced they were happy accidents of fate.

The Summer Blockbuster Event neatly encapsulates a lot of the good things I do like. I don’t know how much of it is purposeful design and how much is just bonus, but there’s a lot to describe and break down.

It’s an event designed for a group of 4 players. It is begun by queuing using the LFG turnstile system and you have a choice of PUGing it (a pickup group) or forming your own premade group of 4 to start.

You begin in a Theatre Lobby, which builds in some breathing space for slow zoning players, getting to know your new group and discuss strategy and tactics or teach anyone if they’re new. The Lobby also sports helpful inspiration vendors, masquerading as steampunk popcorn vendors, and acts as the hospital for defeated players.

Theatre Lobby
The all-important surprisingly non-overpriced refreshments

It also has a nice immersion easter egg, winning player-created movie poster designs for folks to admire. (I believe the vendor is also a winning player costume design.)

From left to right: Magical Dream Unicorns The Movie, Brass Monday (it’s all a Nemesis Plot), Ascension (impossible just got easier), IT Came From Beneath The City
From left to right: The Guard (not all heroes need powers), My User Dave (ever get the feeling you’re being watched?) Hero One (one mission, one chance, one way), DFB (Death From Bologna)

The event comes in two parts, representing the movies Time Gladiator and Casino Heist. Whichever part starts first is random, which brings a small but nice touch of variation to the party. They are covered in detail in two separate posts as linked.

A loadscreen sets up the two movies, aka minigame-like missions

There are so many reasons why I love these Summer Blockbusters.

1) A New Innovative System

This used to be what City of Heroes stood for. Each Issue, they’d experiment with something new, something not seen before, something that pushed the envelope of what they could do with their aging MMO engine. That’s why I kept up a subscription year after year, even if I took a break for several months, because I wanted to see the devs continually surprise us with good stuff.

These Summer Blockbusters are an intricate complex arrangement of mission mechanics that were probably first built for the Incarnate Trials, and all I can say is, it’s about fucking time that they brought some of it down to the small group level.

2) Flexible Paths to Success

There’s one perfect ideal path. The path that gets you all the ten badges in one run in the shortest amount of time possible. When it happens, it is a really good feeling that all the players are in sync with each other, perfect score, awesome team, very nice job, all that congratulatory business. But you know what?

You still get the shiny IO reward at the end as long as you can complete the entire thing, even if people take alternate routes, even if people screw up, even if you don’t get a perfect badge run. And that is as it should be. That rewards persistence, not giving up, forgiveness of mistakes (your own or other people’s). No big loss, it’s just a badge you can get at another time, assuming you didn’t already have it.

Even if people inadvertently disconnect and drop out of the team, the event is completable with less people. I’ve done it with three (from scratch, a dark def, a dark corruptor and a scrapper), and even two (that was halfway through that folks crashed, so it was the casino heist left. The biggest problem was Sylvia’s regeneration rate that my lone stalker couldn’t beat. A scrapper joined up by chance using the LFG queue and that extra damage was sufficient to overcome her and ultimately leave us both walking home with the Universal Damage IO reward.)

The only issue is that the casino story doesn’t quite line up properly and you’d have to wait for the phases to time out and forgo the chance of perfect badge scoring on that part.

3) Small Group Dynamics

The only thing I do kinda wish is if they managed to scale it down to soloability, just to be inclusive, but I’ll seriously take four-person teams over 24-man Incarnate trial raids ANY DAY OF THE WEEK.

It’s small enough to be aware of the role of each person and allows for chances for group synergy (who’s tanking, who’s doing damage, who’s supporting, and hybrid versions thereof.) It’s not so chaotically messy.

I rather like that they chose to exemplar us down to lvl 29. Too high a level is a little exclusionary for those who don’t have higher leveled characters. And those of us with higher leveled characters, well, when we exemplar down to a mid-range,  most of us lose all the gap filling powers and set bonuses that allow people to run around heedless of archetype soloing things tankmage style, and have to fall back a little more on the fun group dynamics of City of Heroes.

As a guy on the forums mentioned, his support characters actually felt valuable, like they could shine in true support, rather than be overshadowed by the thousandth and one uber-Incarnate scrapper. Scrappers and even brutes are squishier at lvl 29. Good support helps them shine. In turn, squishy classes ARE squishy at lvl 29. Proper tanking and holding aggro really makes life easier.

I also really appreciated the lack of purple triangles on many of the AVs and bosses. Control classes have a good chance of stacking enough control to make a visible, noticeable difference. This stuff matters. This stuff lets players feel their characters are effective.

I took my support characters out of the deep freeze (270 days and counting) to play the event and it felt good to make a noticeable difference, something I simply wasn’t feeling in Incarnate trials.

4) It Encourages Alting

There’s a 20-hour limit on one character to earn the desirable IO shiny via the event. I think this was meant more to limit the rate at which the shiny is earned, but it is a happy accident that this encourages the digging up of alts to run multiple playthroughs.

I’ve been unearthing more and more alts to run them through the event and it feels like meeting old friends again. This nostalgic fondness for characters long forgotten, but still up to performing well as muscle memory kicks in.

And with different alts, comes different playstyles. This is the true essence of CoH. People can run the same mission repetitively because they’re playing with different powersets and playstyles, and with different people – which makes you adapt and change to fit what the group needs at that point in time.

I’ve had picture perfect optimum role runs where everyone fell naturally into CoH’s hybrid version of the holy trinity (with extra buff/debuff and cc love!)

I’ve had runs where a secondary class can fill in roles in a pinch, with others’ support (my scrapper was tanking with the leadership buffs from a Soldier of Arachnos), or the more nonstandard but still good combinations (the controller used phantom army to tank)

I’ve even had the eyebrow-raising “ooh er, this is tricky” runs. Namely, one run with all squishies, two controllers who didn’t have invulnerable pets, a dom and a blaster. We all got tossed around and three-shotted over-and-over by the first AV in the arena as we established none of us had true tanking capability as is. At which point, I rolled my eyes, bought a bunch of purple Lucks from the popcorn vendor and acted as volunteer tank by virtue of stacking three of them at once for effective defence and just unloading on the damage till I drew aggro. Things stabilized from there, and yes, we got the shiny at the end.

Or the run with my ancient low-damage stone tank, two lowbie brutes who also seemed not that well-slotted on damage, and an illusion controller. I went in expecting to be all tanky, and then I realized that everyone was survivable, the controller’s phantom army was tanking half the time and one of the brutes the other, and the total amount of damage everyone was outputting was scarily miserable since the three melee types were sucking wind on endurance issues. So three quarters of the time, I ran around toggle-less in order to save endurance and do normal (for a tanker) levels of damage to contribute and everyone stopped for lots of blue candies at the inspiration vendor later. We managed, pretty painfully, but managed.

5) Short and Sweet, Fast and Furious

On the whole, excepting the rare cases above, each event is exactly that, short, sweet instances of fast furious fun and action where you get to beat up some AVs in a small group. It’s like the Imperious Task Force (everyone’s all-time favorite TF) in miniature.

6) LFG Tool is Actually Working For Once

Wait time is minimal. I presume this is because critical mass of 4 people is much easier to achieve than presuming 16-24 people have the patience (or lack of sense) to stand around queueing hoping that an Incarnate trial will start, utterly leaderless and still succeed.

And success is easier to come by and the mechanics easier to learn and more forgiving, which yields positive feedback into the loop and encourages more players to keep queuing because hey, these random groups of people can still  succeed and they’re fast and convenient to get into, and no one needs to lead. Everyone just needs to do their part.