A Mild-Mannered Reporter: Between the lines of PAX

I think that the first year of PAX East spoiled me for any and all future City of Heroes panels. At the time Paragon Studios held that panel, there was a new expansion due out in that marvelous sweet spot when it's just far enough away that a lot of questions are unanswered but not so far away that we can't be told all of the cool parts. Every panel since then has had a bit less to share, but really, that's kind of the nature of the beast. Until we get expansion number three on deck, we aren't going to have another panel with that much information and that many surprises unloaded all at once.

Still, another part of my brain can't help but feel as if the most interesting part of this year's presence for City of Heroes wasn't the panel itself but the other elements surrounding the panel. (Considering that I already wrote up what happened there, this may also serve a stunningly convenient purpose for writing a column about the convention.) There's certainly no hints of a big revelation around the corner, but there were little elements hither and yon that piqued my interest for various reasons.

First things first: If it weren't obvious for the people who attended and were looking for me, I didn't wind up making it to the NCsoft party. However, I heard later that it was pretty much not for CoH fans, which saddens me at the same time that it doesn't surprise me. Last year's party was a lot of fun, but it was kind of odd that none of the other games from NCsoft was represented. Now Aion and Guild Wars 2 have both showed up to the party, and they're the cool kids, so we should go sit in the corner and talk about Batman.

I jest. Partly. I also wonder, though, why NCsoft rolled all of the parties together. Various possibilities surface in my mind, but the long and short of it is that I don't know and I can't really comment. If you were expecting to find me there, I do apologize.

Of course, I also wonder about the development team representation. Melissa Bianco, Jesse Caceres, and Matt Miller have been on most of the team's rather nation-hopping panels over the past year. I was surprised to see that neither Bianco nor Caceres was in attendance, and I was even more surprised that Miller wound up begging out due to illness. Again, I can only speculate on the reason. Burnout from last year's insane travel schedule? A big project in the wings that didn't leave the free time to travel? Rotating more team members into the public eye to increase the community awareness of the team? Conspiracy? Heck if I know.

Really, what I'm getting at is that something felt very slightly off. The reveals weren't as punchy as in the past, the representation was different, and it felt just a bit turned from the past couple of times I've seen the team. It could just be in my head, and I kind of hope it is. The global server list is probably a bigger deal than I'm giving it credit for in the first place, so there's that.

All of this is not to say that the convention was a wash -- far from it. While the panel writeup covered the most informative questions, there were a lot more funny or interesting questions being asked over the course of the panel that didn't quite fit anywhere. I doff my hat to the gentleman who asked, after the female walk question, whether male characters were going to get a sexier walk at any point. (Cue laughter.) The fact that backpacks are on the table for discussion is a big bonus for me, since I've wanted a permanent Sky Raider backpack roughly forever.

I also had a chance to chat with Nate Birkholz outside of the panel, which was really awesome. This wasn't a scheduled interview or anything, so I didn't have any questions to ask him except for one of my perpetual refrains about new Epic Archetypes. To my surprise, he talked at length with me about the technical hurdles involved in creating and maintaining a new EAT, explaining that any character type outside the "normal" power setup requires a huge amount of extra work any time the team wants to start adjusting powers. (Which is frequently.) He also restated that the team does read this very column, which is always nice to hear. I'm compressing the conversation something fierce; I've never spoken with a member of the team who wasn't erudite, polite, and a pleasure to chat with, and if anything I wish I hadn't been trying to cover so much ground so that I could have spent more time chatting.

The thing that really sticks out to me, though, is that there are a lot of questions without answers that I can easily put my finger on. I'm far from worried about the state of the game as a whole, since Issue 20 looks to be close to release and giving everyone plenty to do -- but when several things seem odd, it's worth wondering what's going on. Of course, I've proven to have remarkably bad instincts about when something awesome or bad is around the bend with CoH, so maybe I'm just meandering.

Oh, and I did get a lenticular button. That was pretty sweet, and it adorns my laptop bag alongside my Arachnos insignia.

As always, questions, comments, and admonishments for not being at the party can go in the comment section or to eliot@massively.com. Next week, it's time to take a look at the power behind the throne, the man with the plan but possibly not a canal.

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.