A Mild-Mannered Reporter: Steal me

A while back, a reader suggested that I talk about the five things that City of Heroes ought to steal from other games, inspired by a column written by our inimitable Ryan Green for a different game. (I've sadly lost the original mail through various cleanups of my inbox, so if the reader in question might speak up, that would be great.) In the wake of the big upgrades coming with Issue 19, now is a wonderful time to take a closer look at the things that would make fine additions from elsewhere.

Of course, part of the reason this took a while (as the reader noted in the mail) was that, truth be told, there are a lot of systems that Paragon Studios was either the first or darn near the first to innovate. How many games even have content-generation at the level of the Mission Architect? But there are still places where City of Heroes could take a lesson or two that (hopefully) wouldn't require rewriting the entire game from the ground up.
Guildleves (Final Fantasy XIV)

If you read the site and the stuff I write on a regular basis, you probably know that I love Final Fantasy XIV in a wholly platonic way only because it is not possible for me to love it romantically. If not, well, there you go. But one of the interesting aspects of the gameplay -- in fact, one of the central elements -- is the way that guildleves work. Essentially, you start a quest that takes place in the wider world, with enemies spawning in a certain location -- a quest that cannot be claimed by other players. You don't pop into an instance, but your targets are selected for you.

There's a well-known fact about street sweeping missions, and that's the fact that no one wants to do them if he can avoid it. Imagine if they just popped for you leve-style in the correct location. Imagine undertaking a personal mission without having to find the correct office building instance. I have to admit it's pretty darn tempting.

Epic storyline (Lord of the Rings Online)

We go from a game that I adore to a game that I'm sadly profoundly ambivalent toward. I want to like Lord of the Rings Online, I really do, but each time it just comes across as lukewarm, and I wind up wandering off before too long. But even then, I can appreciate the niftiness of the game's epic storyline, a linked series of instances and quests designed to navigate the overall story arc of the game.

I've said before that City of Heroes needs more investment in character origins and individual stories. This is the sort of thing that would accomplish precisely that. Imagine this: After you choose your origin, you'd wind up following along a given story path with certain enemy groups cropping up more frequently amidst your other adversaries, certain long-standing rivalries, and so forth. It would feel, well, like a comic book. Yes, there are many arcs that trace villain groups along their progression, but they're all impersonal by their very nature. I would love to see the team steal this page from Turbine and make things more personal.

Instanced quests/regions (Dungeons and Dragons Online)

"Eliot," you say as you roll your eyes, "if there is one thing that CoH has in spades, it is instancing." And then you blush and slap yourself in the face, because you are talking to your computer and I cannot hear you.

But au contraire, mon frere. CoH has tons of instanced quests, yes, but it doesn't have Dungeons and Dragons Online-style instancing, a system in which the map is custom-built for a given quest. Nor does it have the instanced outdoor areas that allow you to roam the countryside and pick off various critters as you go -- including automatic quests to take out enemies in a given region.

Players have been clamoring for years to get out of the city, and taking a cue from these designs might be the first step in giving us a place to go outside the confines of Paragon. Give us the occasional map built for a specific mission, give us outdoor zones meant as sprawling areas, and a lot of people will feel like the game is bigger even if the actual material content of the quests is identical.

UI modification (World of Warcraft)

I have to be honest -- I really hate that there is no timer on the buffs I give out or (more frequently) receive. It's a feature that is not terribly standard for some reason, and it wasn't standard in World of Warcraft either. That is, until players created mods designed to do just that, and Blizzard incorporated it as a core feature due to high demand. WoW is certainly not the only MMO to include a UI mod system, but it is one of the first and certainly the one with the highest volume of addons out there. (The fact that the game has 12 million users probably doesn't hurt that count any.)

This is, I will admit, one of the biggest changes that would have to be made to the way that CoH is coded, and some might argue that it's for dubious benefit. Technically it's for no benefit until people start making mods that are worth using on a regular basis. On the other hand, the advantages inherent in this design should be obvious -- suddenly, the aspects of the UI that you don't like or don't want to deal with can be modded out of existence, and more useful elements can be brought back in. Maybe it's just me, but I think that would be pretty awesome.

Sidekicks (Star Trek Online)

Yes, I know that we technically have sidekicks via the, well, sidekicking system. But that reduces a player to being a sidekick, and while Robin might be cool with playing second fiddle in RP, the odds are he doesn't want to be level 49 until the end of time. (Especially not with the Incarnate system, and especially when he can't ever become Nightwing.) What I'm talking about is inspired directly by the way that your ship crew works in Star Trek Online -- the idea that you could bring a custom-designed sidekick who supplements your ability.

Not only would this be flavorful as heck, it would offer a nice alternative to offering ever-scaling buffs to turn solo defenders into backwards corruptors. A support-type character could have a tanky sidekick and vice versa. We have a pet interface already there for masterminds, and I can't imagine it would be so impossible to rejigger the game so that you can take a small damage cut in exchange for a solo-only party member. Bonus points if the system allows you to replicate Batman's increasingly high attrition rate for Robin!

Will we ever see most of these systems? It seems a touch unlikely. But we saw a morality system put into place not too terribly long before the estimated release of Star Wars: The Old Republic. So you have to wonder a bit, don't you?

Feel free to mail me at eliot@massively.com or just place your comments in the usual place, either disagreeing with me vehemently or adding your own suggestions for features you'd like to see. And mail along any noteworthy community threads you've seen of late, as next week is another community spotlight. (Unless Issue 19 drops on Tuesday or something crazy like that.)

As a postscript, I'd like to relate one really interesting and nice event from New York Comic Con. At the end of the panel, I got a chance to meet up with some of the NCsoft and Paragon Studios press representatives whom I'd been talking with for the better part of a year. Hosun Lee, the brand manager, shook my hand and thanked me for the recent Party Hardly column (which wasn't the most complimentary of my articles). He said that the team read it and was happy to do so, because that sort of feedback is really valuable to the devs and their decisions about the future of CoH. Did you have any doubts that they listen to us? They most certainly do.
By day a mild-mannered reporter, Eliot Lefebvre unveils his secret identity in Paragon City and the Rogue Isles every Wednesday. Filled with all the news that's fit to analyze and all the muck that's fit to rake, this look at City of Heroes analyzes everything from the game's connection to its four-color roots to the latest changes in the game's mechanics.

This article was originally published on Massively.