Last year was undeniably a pretty good year for City of Heroes -- it boasted a six-year anniversary, a new expansion, and a newly improved graphical engine to make the game that much more attractive. This year... well, it's still up in the air, but it's still kicking off with a brand-new competitor for the game, which adds a whole host of new challenges for the development team at Paragon Studios to overcome. Not to mention that when you've just come off of a good year, you're faced with the question of what you can possibly do to top it.

But the team behind the game is prepared for the challenges of this year and already looks forward to raising the bar again in 2011. We had a chance to talk with Melissa Bianco, lead designer of City of Heroes, about what's coming next for the game and how the team plans to face new and ongoing hurdles. Check on past the break for our talk about potential sequels, the upcoming issues of the game, and what we can expect to start seeing in the next few months.

Massively: DC Universe Online is the third traditional MMO to launch in the superhero genre after City of Heroes. How does the CoH team plan to compete with a new game with plenty of luster?

Melissa Bianco: We've got seven years of content, lore, constant upgrades, and plenty of ongoing additions to the game to build upon. We innovate as the opportunity presents itself, and we listen to our customers, who are a wonderfully loyal group, so we'll keep pushing the boundaries, making great stories and adventures, and doing what we've always done best: deliver a great product.

Is there an effort to increase the presence of iconic CoH characters in the game in light of DC Universe Online's well-known arrangement of NPCs?

In City of Heroes, the big hero (or Villain, or Praetorian) is the player. They are the real stars, so for example, in Issue 19, our players are given access to a taste of Incarnate abilities, which takes them into the realm of epic, not only steering them towards the awesome that signatures such as Statesman or Lord Recluse possess, but potentially eventually eclipsing them. So we focus our attention on not pushing the signatures, but pushing our players into the limelight and putting them in fantastic and new situations where our players have the ability to carve out their own stories [and] their own awesome deeds, because ultimately the game is about them. What better way to showcase that than to constantly give them opportunities to make their characters unique, both visually and in powers customization, and to take it a step further and allow them to tell their own stories making their own signature characters?


"You're probably thinking, didn't they already release Issue 19? Yes, we did, but we have more for you."

What is the biggest challenge in keeping a game fresh and engaging as it approaches the seven-year mark?

The biggest challenge is having so many options for innovation and expansion and having to choose just one or two things to pursue in any chunk of time. Since we are always adding issues, we're always in motion; when not working on one issue, we're working on the next one, plus prepping for the other one down the road. We're a live game, so we don't have the luxury of just stopping production and doing what we need to do and then putting it out. Having said that, over the these last near-seven years we have managed to do some great things, taken the game above and beyond what anyone expected, and definitely set the bar of many features and systems that have been borrowed by other games such as sidekicking, mission creation, powers customization, and character customization. As for the next step, you'll see what I mean when Issue 20 comes out.

Are there any big plans for CoH's near future that can be discussed at this time?

Sure! We have the Issue 19 Strike Pack, which is all the information I'm going to reveal just now (you're probably thinking, didn't they already release Issue 19? Yes, we did, but we have more for you); Issue 20 is in the middle of production, and I'm sure our players are going to very excited about that as it offers even more of our unique take on End Game systems; and we have an upcoming Booster Pack that players have been asking for, and that is going to be pretty awesome. I'm sure they'll pounce on it the second it hits the store. Also, we're going to be doing something called a Producer's Letter, a monthly forum post, so that players are kept in the loop on what we're working on. It's pretty exciting actually. I don't think we've done anything like this in a really long time.

How closely is the Champions Online transition to free-to-play being watched? CO was developed by several members of Cryptic who had helped develop CoH, after all.

We've always got our eyes open to trends of what the competition, not just Champions Online, is doing, but right now our focus is getting Issue 20 out the door.

Has NCsoft been happy with the public reception to the latest CoH expansion, Going Rogue?

Absolutely. We're all really happy with Going Rogue. It's raised the bar on several levels for City of Heroes from graphics, to story, to zones, to new play style options (Alignment System), etc. More importantly, it has set the stage for our Incarnate End Game system, where our seasoned players are called to step in to save the day in some pretty cool Incarnate Trials. When you look at the big picture, from Going Rogue to what we'll be offering later in the year that builds off those features and story, I think players will be amazed at the series of events the expansion has set off.

DCUO will be somewhat unique in that it will launch on both the PC and the PS3 at once. CoH is currently playable on both the Mac and the PC; are there any plans for further platforms?

I wish them luck. Right now, we're focusing on the platforms we support and are neck deep in Issue 20.

Can anything be said about the rumor that Paragon Studios is working on a sequel to CoH?

Nah, I can't speak to that. I've seen rumors come and go, and until I see something in the flesh, I tend to take everything with a really big grain of salt.

Last but not least, with the seven-year anniversary only a few months away, can players expect more celebration to commemorate the new milestone?

Yep! We'll be announcing some information about the anniversary celebrations soon. We have some new surprises lined up for our players this year. So keep your eyes peeled.

Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Melissa!

This article was originally published on Massively.