City of Heroes developer diary: Challenging the gods

Issue 19 brings a big change to characters in City of Heroes. There's always been a line of thought running through comic books that superheroes are essentially modern deities, but when you start stepping into the Incarnate system, the comparison becomes far more straightforward: You are wielding the powers of gods. Just like Statesman and Lord Recluse, player characters will be empowered beyond the ken of mortals and will begin the road toward a new apex of ability.

Of course, when you're making such huge changes to the fabric of the game, you need more than just a quick stir in the patcher. A great deal of work went into elevating characters to deification, and that's precisely what the latest City of Heroes developer diary covers. Tim "Black Scorpion" Sweeney has penned an entry on what went into the design of the Incarnate system, so skip on past the break to see how players go from being mere mortals to Incarnates... within the game, anyhow.
Hi! I'm Tim Sweeney, aka "Black Scorpion" on the City of Heroes forums. I'm one of the powers and systems designers at Paragon Studios.

One of the reasons people play MMOs is the persistency. They create a character, and build them up in power and level and that progress is permanent and saved with the character. It is then the developer's challenge to keep those players occupied with new content to constantly improve and progress those characters even further.

When you reach the maximum level an MMO has to offer, you are said to enter the "end game." In City of Heroes, the end game starts at Level 50. Personally, I hate the term "End Game" as it denotes that there is an End, which is exactly the opposite of what is trying to be accomplished here. Elder Game is a better term, or as we've flavored it for City of Heroes: The Incarnate System.

What is an Incarnate? In the lore of City of Heroes, there are two major characters named Statesman and Lord Recluse. These two are mortal enemies, but were not always so. In fact, they once were the best of friends. Almost 100 years ago, these two were searching for the "Well of the Furies", which purportedly had magical healing powers. Upon finding it, they both drank from it and gained great power fueled by the gods themselves. They became Incarnates of Zeus and Tartarus respectively.

We took this idea, the idea of becoming a Force Incarnate and put it into the hands of the players. We wanted them to be able to make their Level 50 characters even more powerful, and by adding the Incarnate System we have accomplished just that. Now players who reach Level 50 can open up a brand new world of options for further defining their character.

The process starts with you going to Ouroboros and meeting a man named Mender Ramiel. He is from the future, a future you helped him escape from. You are asked to re-live that experience through his memories, and in the process of playing that Story Arc you will begin your path to becoming an Incarnate.

This path begins with the Alpha Slot. This is your first taste of power, but it starts off an empty vessel you will need to fill. Incarnates have the ability to locate and use pieces of great power that are fueled by the Well of Furies itself called Incarnate Components. These components, when combined in certain combinations, will create Incarnate Abilities to put into your Alpha Slot. These abilities are numerous and customizable, and can change your powers or even grant you new abilities.

As designers for City of Heroes we love this idea as it plays upon concepts the player is familiar with (crafting and slotting something) with some new twists. We've never really done a flexible system before, where you can swap powers as needed, but it is something we saw in Guild Wars that we really liked the mechanic of.

We also loved the idea of tying the lore of the system in so closely with our signature characters and locations. Our goal with all of this is to make the player feel like an important player in the grand scheme of the universe, and not feel like the universe is stringing him along.

With this power, your character will be on par with our most powerful NPCs, but that's not to say there will no longer be challenges for you. We're specifically designing content that tasks our Incarnate-level players with challenges only they can stand up to. The real universe-shaking stuff. Some of our best work has gone into designing these encounters and the trials and tribulations they will put your characters through.

This, of course, presented us with some real challenges. Some characters were able to min-max themselves to a level approaching what the Incarnate system makes available for everyone. So in the new Incarnate content, characters who have not powered up their Alpha Slot will find themselves at a big disadvantage.

As we move beyond Issue 19: Alpha Strike!'s introduction to the system, we have some pretty big plans. There are, currently, 9 more slots designed that we plan on releasing over the next several Issues. We also have new raid encounters which will be the key to powering up those additional slots with their own abilities. These encounters will be released over time as well, giving players fresh challenges to try out their god-like abilities upon.

In the end, we are very happy with the Incarnate System. We are super excited to finally get it into the hands of the players and see what they are able to do with it. City of Heroes players have yearned for this level of power for their characters, and I am glad we are finally able to deliver it to them.

If you want more details about the lore of the Incarnate System and the Alpha slot, come visit the City of Heroes Going Rogue Homepage and the City of Heroes Facebook Fan Page.
This article was originally published on Massively.