Greetings StarFighter!

No, I’m not writing about old movies and video games this week, it’s just a title that popped in my head to attach to this week’s blog post, nothing more.

Mhari and I are doing fairly well, this week. The usual back aches and her arm still hurting her from that fall a couple of weeks back. And I am suffering the usual fun health side-effects from high levels of stress generated by my day job and balance out by the fact that I still HAVE a paying job.

Most of the week has sort of gone by in a blur with all the work at work. That’s the way it is, the busier you are with work, the quicker it goes by in retrospect. And I really have been working this week, that’s for sure. However, it’s the good sort of work. Actually being productive and feeling that one is actually DOING something rather than hurrying up and waiting for something to happen or some computer process to do its thing.

Over in the City of Heroes universe, on Monday Flying Fox’s team finally acquired the 8 heroes needed and started the Dr Quarterfield Task Force out in the Shadow Shard. Already it’s been kinda fun. Yes, it’s a lot of fighting the same thing all over the place, but it’s still content none of the regular crew have done before.

Wednesday two of the Wolf Pack’s members we off with visiting parents and the like, so the rest of us decided to just hang out in the base and get back to the Silver Mantis Strike Force next week. In other words, two players were unavailable and the majority of the rest of us decided to head over to the test server.

Tonight it will be time for Thrilling Adventures again. I’m looking forward to the team making further progress in things.

Last week we tried to do some of the Ouroboros missions… and ran smack dab into Nosferatu in on of the arcs and found him IMPOSSIBLE for us to do enough damage to, even with a team of 6. Mainly what we needed was another healer and a true tank. Having a Kinetics and/or Radiation Controller would also have helped… though if we had had 8 players he would have been an AV and even harder to beat. We just DON’T have that exact right power mix. We have 1 Mind Control/Empathy Controller as our healer, 2 Keldians (a Peacebring and a Warshade), 2 scrappers and a Blaster. No real tank other than the Keldians turning into Lobsters… and they just can’t take the negative energy drains that this EB does. So we dropped the task force and decided to go do other things this week when it’s time. Maybe the Vanguard missions. We do fine against Rikti. And I have gotten over my annoyance with trying to do the Vanguard stuff in a group.

The other thing that took up time this past week was the Issue 14 Open Beta. Yes, Mhari and I were in the closed beta. That’s the NDA thing that we couldn’t comment on. I’ve written 2 AE missions and published them. They are ‘Delivery for Commander Kitty’ (Arc ID 401) and ‘Power and Principles’ (Arc ID 516). I am rather proud of them, but they were the first ones that I worked on and show it in a lot of ways. I plan to do a lot more with this system.

During Closed Beta around 2000 storyarcs were written by the testers. Open Beta started on Tuesday of this week and when I last looked there were close to, or over, 20,000 arcs by Thursday night!!! That’s a LOT of people trying out the system and working on things. During closed beta I only had time to play through around 15-20 arcs by other people. I’ve gotten in about 3 more since Tuesday. Already, without anything going live, I already see how there will never be ANY way to be able to play ALL the player written content. There’s just going to be TOO much.

Of course, when Issue 14 goes live, it sounds like less than 100 of those arcs will be ‘automatically’ brought over as a part of the launch. Its likely only going to be the ones marked Developers Choice that are going to have that distinction. But I am still predicting that it will take less than a day to be up near the 10,000 mark, and well over the 25,000 mark before the end of the week. And I would not be surprised if we hit the 1,000,000 mark somewhere in the first month or two. That’s a LOT of content!

Okay, so here’s what Issue 14 of City of Heroes is: It adds Player-created content to the game. Through the fiction of a company that can provide virtual realities for people, a player can design his own ‘storyarcs’, consisting of one (1) to five (5) missions. The player gets to select or design the person (or object) that ‘offers’ the story’s missions to the player’s character, writes all the text for that contact as well as all the text that is said by people inside the mission, all the text for the clues gathered, etc. The player gets to choose one or more goals for each mission within the story, and assign either standard opponent groups to fight against, or create their OWN custom groups. The custom groups can contain either a compatible mix of standard opponents, or even custom player-designed opponents. For each custom opponent (called a Custom Critter), the designer can design the critter’s costume (in the same way they can costumes for their characters that they play, using the same basic system), and select which primary and secondary power sets that critter’s powers come from… and they don’t have to stay with the archetype-restricted combinations that player characters do, either. And the difficulty (Standard, Hard, Extreme) you select for the critter plus the power level (Minion, LT, Boss, Elite Boss, AV) of the critter determines how MANY of the powers from those sets (and WHICH ones) the critter can use in the missions it is placed in.
Also needed to be selected for each mission is the map that the action will take place on. You select this from a wide array of the maps already in the game, such as Office Maps, Caves, warehouses, outdoor locations, etc. The type and size of the map you select determines how many of what types of goals can be in that mission.

Goals range from the ever disliked ‘Defeat All’, the common ‘Defeat Boss’, collections (where you have to, in the mission, click on one or more special objects to complete that goal), and a lot more. You can add ambushes, patrols, destructible objects, objects to defend, allies to rescue that will join you, hostages to rescue or kidnap, and battles that are breaking out without even you lifting a finger.  Goals can be set to being ‘required’, or they can be optional. Some goals can be set to ‘trigger’ when another goal is completed, creating a ‘chain’ of events.

And extra little bonus that makes a lot of sense is that all the work you do on your storyarcs, custom groups and custom critters is ACCOUNT WIDE. That means that you could be on as ‘Hero 123’ and work on something, then another time or later in the session, be on as ‘Villain XYZ’ and work on the SAME missions. What character you are connected to does not matter. What matters is the ‘mission’ files and ‘critter’ files that will be written out into special directories on your hard drive. This DOES mean that you can’t work on them on a different computer without copying those files over to that other computer, but it does allow for some interesting possibilities. (For example, it’s possible to use your currently being played character’s current costume to be used as the costume for a custom critter you are working on during that session. Thus permitting, without going to a tailor or previously saving out that character’s costumes, you to create a ‘Custom Critter’ version of your Hero or Villain and then including them as a Custom Contact or foe within one or more of the missions you are writing. This also provides a quicker way than Icon/Facemaker to export your costumes from your character, BTW. Especially as the Architect Entertainment buildings are more places in the game than the Icon/Facemaker locations. And they don’t cost INF to use.)
There ARE limitations to the Mission Creator. Storyarcs are limited (currently) to 110K each. And Custom Critters, due to all the costume information, take up a LOT of space in the file. So a single Storyarc can only fit a rough maximum of 14 custom critters at a time, regardless of how many missions you have in that storyarc. This requires some careful consideration when you are making storyarcs. Your custom group might contain any number of Minions, LTs, Bosses, Elite Bosses and AVs in it. But the moment you add ‘Huge MegaGroup’ as the enemy in your mission, the creator is going to tell you that you are in the red and can’t publish that mission! So you will need to create subsets of your Huge MegaGroup that only contains no more than 14 of those characters.

Personally, I make my Huge MegaGroup first. That way each of the characters has the proper ‘Display Name’ when they appear in the missions. Then I add them into a separate group called something like ‘Team X’ which contains a couple of minions, a couple LTs, a couple Bosses. I don’t put any Elite Bosses or AVs in the Subset Group. Instead, when I add a Defeat Boss goal, I select to choose the boss from ‘All Custom Characters’ and select ONLY that particular EB or AV from the list. That way ONLY that boss gets added to the Storyarc file and I don’t waste any of that limited 110K of storyarc space on characters that will never appear in the missions.

The other tip is to use characters from ‘standard’ groups everywhere you can. Standard opponents take very little space in the storyarc file. Standard opponents have a limited level range that they bring with them into a mission… so keep the group’s level range in mind… as the level range of the groups in it affect the level range of superpowers that’s going to be allowed on a mission. Some groups, like the Council are going to be available level 1 through 54. More info on standard groups are to be found on guides people are already writing out there and making available on the CoX forums… and don’t really belong in my blog. I’ve already gone to too much detail here as it is.

There are of course, more to Architect than just writing missions. There are rewards for playing those missions, in the form of something called ‘tickets’. When playing player designed content in the new system, rather than getting drops in the form of Recipes, Enhancements and Salvage (you still get Inspirations and INF, as well as XP if the level range of the mission is one where you didn’t have to be suppressed down below your actual level) you get ‘Tickets’. When playing solo, this is often a LOT of tickets. You also get Bonus Tickets, in an amount based on the amount of tickets earned from defeating foes. If you earn a special day job badge, that bonus can double! Tickets can be used to buy Enhancements (at the maximum level your character can use), Large Inspirations, Random Rolls for Uncommon and Rare recipes, and your choice of Uncommon and Rare Salvage. Need that Mu Vestment to complete building a IO? You can buy it with Tickets! (A -LOT- of tickets.)

The other reward for playing AE Storyarcs is badges. Whole PASSELS of badges. There are badges for earning tickets, for NOT earning tickets because you have too many, for defeating virtual enemies, for defeating custom virtual enemies, for rescuing/kidnapping people, for destroying things. There’s an Exploration badge (Thrill Seeker) inside the main AE building, and even a special badge (Early Bird) for connecting to the game during the introduction of Issue 14 to the game! And another badge in the Ticket Redeeming system that you can BUY (for 1000 tickets) called Payoff.

There is also a new day job badge (Architect – Grants extra Bonus Tickets when completing storyarc missions) for logging off in the AE building. And we know there is a Day Job Accolade as well, though I don’t know if anyone has figured out what other Day Job badge is needed in combination with the Architect Day Job badge to get it. Someone may have figured out by now. I haven’t read the boards today.

In addition to the architect system mentioned above, Issue 14 also brings a few minor Quality of life improvements, a 6th rank to the SuperGroup system (Super Leader, of which there can be only one per supergroup), independent security settings for supergroup storage containers (which I think only the Super Leader can edit, I’m not sure), a number of new systems for Arena PvP combat, and a number of special ‘PvP’ oriented Invention sets.

The special ‘PvP’ oriented Invention sets are a new concept for the game. These inventions are just like other Inventions in the game, where they provide enhancements to specific groups of powers, and when paired up in sets of 2 or more in the same power, grant bonuses that further enhance the character’s powers, even when that power is not being used. The differences are that these Inventions have TWO sets of bonuses for slotting them together in sets. One set of the bonuses works all the time, whether the character is in a PvE or PvP situation. But when the character is in a PvP situation the additional ONLY-IN-PVP bonuses ALSO come into effect, on top of the normal Bonuses! Some of these sets are VERY desirable, even in PvE.

Also, like Superior IOs in the game, their Set Bonuses (even the PvE ones) are active regardless of the active level of the character. But unlike Superior sets, ‘PvP’ IOs are available in levels other than level 50!

Here’s the catch though: The only way to get a ‘PvP’ IO recipe is going to be off of the ‘Market’ (Wentworths or the Black Market) or through one Player Character defeating another Player Character in a PvP situation. And it’s a SMALL chance of these dropping. And when one DOES drop, the player that earned it can’t earn another ‘PvP’ Recipe until 10 minutes passes, regardless of how many other players they defeat in that time. So these recipes are going to be RARE. As rare or more rare than Superior recipes.

Considering that since Tuesday the Test servers of Training Room and Training Room 02 have been full or crashing from overload (and the global chat server for the test systems has been crashing from the load), and from how many storyarcs have already been written since it went into Open Beta, I would say that there is an INTENSE amount of interest in this new Issue. More than I have seen in one of the Open Betas since Inventions got added in Issue 9. This is going to be a hug addition to the game even though there are no new Epic Archetypes, no new powersets, and no new zones being introduced with this issue.

There IS going to be some new Developer Content, called Celebrity Arcs. But it isn’t going to be a large amount. I think their saving all the big guns of content at NCNC for Issue 15 and beyond, whatever they are going to bring. All I know is while, outside of the content that will be generated by our fellow players, many may look on Issue 14 as having very, very little new to the game. But the breaking down of the ‘Content Wall’ and letting players in to play with creating content is going to be a HUGE addition to the game, well outside even the admittedly inflated expectations.

Many are going to see this system in Issue 14 as too limited. It doesn’t let them do all the things they want to do. It doesn’t let them become game developers. The ability of not selecting exactly where you want to put things on the map is one thing people are already wishing for. Also more control of what powers a Custom Critter has or does not have has been mentioned. Some people are going to be disappointed by the system and it’s limitations. But that would happen no matter what it contains. It could contain the Moon in it and people would want Mars. That’s just the way it is.

As you can tell, I’m very jazzed about Issue 14. And I am VERY happy the NDA was lifted and I can finally talk about this. It was really hard keeping my mouth shut, here and in the live session of the game when playing with my friends. When beta is in closed, you are not supposed to admit to being in it, even if asked directly. That’s one of the surest ways to either get kicked out of it, or just not be invited back when the Next Closed Beta comes up. And none of us that get into these things want to be left out next time. Never.

So, anyways, that’s what I have been doing with my time when not working or sleeping or playing City of Heroes on the live servers. I’m a Software Test Engineer in my day job in the real world… you would think the last thing I would want to do when I got home was do more Software Testing… but when it’s doing it for a game like City of Heroes… I really don’t think of it as more work. I get a chance to make the game I love to play a better place for myself and for my friends, and NCNC gets a skilled tester bashing away at the system. I’ll admit, I don’t try to break the game as much as I work to break the software I test in my day job… but then, that’s the difference between being paid to do something, and doing it for fun.

Gods, I wrote another missive in the little fits and starts between my paid work, didn’t I. Enough of this. Back to the grind stone. I’ll write again next week.