Melissa Bianco, David Nakayama, and Jesse Caceres were all in attendance, with the panel overseen by community representative Tia Parurahi. With Going Rogue having been out for nearly two months, this panel focused on the upcoming Issue 19 and what the changes mean for the game, as well as how much the development team is ramping up production to improve the game all around.
The panel opened with a discussion about the changes that Going Rogue brought to the game as a whole, changing the game from a locked set of two factions into a game with far more subtlety and content. It also gave the team a chance to go back and correct what it saw as several problems with the starting experience -- everything from allowing veteran players to skip the tutorial to streamlining the game's travel for early missions. (No longer is your contact sitting at one end of the zone and asking you run to the farthest possible point to enter a totally random office building.)
While the game's official launch was on the 17th of August, the soft launch on the 16th was an intentional move to ensure that there would be no issues with the expansion. According to Caceres, the team was shocked and kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, for some huge problem to crop up, but the launch went amazingly smoothly.
Next in the presentation was a set of statistics about the game's activity since the launch. Apparently, 750,000 characters had logged in for the month following launch, including 200,000 Praetorians and 150,000 new heroes or villains. The development team was also surprised to find that the Loyalist and Resistance split was stronger than it had originally expected -- both sides were split nearly perfectly evenly. (To be fair, the Resistance did hold 50.5% of the characters, but it's remarkably close to even halves.)
That brought us to the discussion of Issue 19 and the many things it promises to add to the game, starting with the obvious addition of the Alpha Slot. It was stated multiple times that merely unlocking the slot will not be everything you need, and you'll need to do some more work so that you actually have something to place in that slot. But it's still the start of the Incarnate system, and the arc that brings you into these new amounts of power is centered around a new Mender in Ouroboros.
Mender Ramiel comes from the future, and he knows a lot about history. Enough to know that you're destined to become an Incarnate anyway, but not fast enough to avert a coming crisis. While Bianco didn't want to go into further details, she did note that it will also clarify how the player characters are different from other known Incarnates such as Lord Recluse or Statesman. This was immediately followed by a blurted, "Basically, you're better," and a round of laughter from both the panelists and the audience. Comparatively speaking, a character with a slotted Alpha Slot will be significantly more powerful than a character without one.
And that leads directly into the two new task forces with Apex and Tin Mage. Both of these are Incarnate task forces, meant for players who have unlocked and slotted the Alpha Slot. Even with them, they promise to be challenging, and with good cause. Apex's force will see players attempting to repulse the Praetorian invasion in King's Row and Steel Canyon, featuring the towering war walkers that we've seen in a handful of promotional images.
At that point we were shown a brief trailer for the upcoming issue, and it showed some of the huge enemies players will be facing as well as hinted what players might be acquiring. One character was visibly wielding a crossbow, while another had a ring of floating swords that attacked at her mental commands. How these relate to the task force and the Alpha Slot is uncertain, but that relationship seems likely.
The other new task force, also meant for Incarnates, will be the Tin Mage task force, with Tin Mage himself being a reconstructed version of the robot from the Omega Capsule. This arc finds players battling through the Nerva Archipelago, the Rikti War Zone, and the Portal Corporation, with a climactic ending sending players through a portal into Neutropolis to start fighting back the invaders.
All of the new zone events being added to Praetoria were discussed in brief, with Bianco explaining that the programming team had developed a new tool allowing the design team to insert new events more easily. (Previously, zone events had to be hard-coded into the zone.) The three new events are both a chance to flesh out the zones of Praetoria and the first trial by fire of these new tools, with the hopeful end result being more zone events. The new events are also meant to measure participation more, with rewards given out for greater participation and a bigger incentive to take part in the event repeatedly.
As if that weren't enough, new arcs are being added with Praetorians in Primal Earth to help in the storyline transition. There will also be a new story arc for both heroes and villains, with each exploring exactly what it means to be a hero or a villain. Heroes will explore the mystery of the medi-porters and why they're not distributed to all of Paragon City's citizens, with the choice at the end forcing players to decide what they're willing to sacrifice. Villains, meanwhile, will explore the power source of the Leviathan beneath Sharkhead Isle, and once again the end will focus on what it really means to be a villainous individual.
Other additions were a touch less interesting as standalones. The elements of Praetoria will be added to the Mission Architect system as expected, and the alternate animations are part of a larger project to let players fine-tune their powers better. We also got a look at some of the new enemies we'll be facing, including the Goliath War-Walkers and the intensely cool Imperial Defense Force soldiers. (No, really -- their armor is awesome. I want it.) Of course, the team mentioned the move of Fitness to an inherent set, but with everything else changing, it seemed almost lackluster.
Notoriety contacts will be added to the Praetorian zones as well, and monorails and ferries will be both merged and given a slightly improved UI. The old Calvin Scott task force will be returning as well; the team explained that the task force came into existence more or less by accident. The art for Sister Psyche in-game was accidentally done without consulting her actual concept art, and so something was needed to explain why she was a redhead in promotional art but looked completely different in-game. So an entire element of the continuity came into being to explain a minor graphical flub.
As a last few quality-of-life improvements, the nurses selling Inspirations are being put in hospitals all through the game, and hospital gurneys are being added to all Hazard and Trial Zones. The game will also be adding the option to log out to the character select screen, which produced another round of applause from the audience. Closed beta for issue 19 is slated to begin next week, and the team made it clear it was very happy with the testing for issue 20. It was stressed that Paragon usually only tests one issue ahead, so keeping more going at once is a big break from routine.
As with most panels, the event concluded with a question-and-answer session. There aren't currently any plans for an update to the older level 50 task forces to compensate for the increased power from the Alpha Slot, but the new challenges will be a hard run even if you are an Incarnate. Repsecs and visual differentiation for Incarnates were both responded to with "you'll see." Old zone events will not be changing at the moment, but more will be added. PvP will be looked at as the Incarnate system is implemented, but no huge changes will be put into place until after the system has been fully rolled out.
Ancillary and patron power pools are currently not planned for customization, either with alternate animations or color, but they are being looked into. The helicopters will not see unification like the monorails and ferries. While there will be three more available powers when Fitness becomes an inherent pool, no additonal enchancement slots will be added. There aren't a slew of new costume parts being added in issue 19, but the team wants players to have parts for every NPC group, so it's pretty much a given that we will be getting the armor of the Imperial Defense Force eventually. (Which is awesome.)
Baumtown, a zone that many players would like to see updated, is on the table for a remake. The Incarnate system was put into place to specifically avoid raising the level cap and invalidate all of the work done in building a character, along with all of the concurrent enhancements. Most of the other questions were responded to with vagueness and a note of "wait and see," including a question about Praetorian epic archetypes. When asked if we would ever go to see the Rikti homeworld, Caceres responded, "That sounds like fun," which was followed by a round of laughter.
While it's a little sad to think that the next six months won't have another convention for players to enjoy, it's good to see that the next isse of City of Heroes will contain no small amount of what players want. We can only hope that the team returns for PAX East next year, assuming we can rip ourselves away from the game long enough to head to Boston.