A Mild-Mannered Reporter: A critical year

A Mild-Mannered Reporter header by A. Fienemann
It's been a little over two years now that I've been writing a regular column on City of Heroes, and in one sense that still feels very strange to me. I'm guessing that the novelty of doing this for a living is never going to entirely go away, for reasons that really have nothing to do with the topic of this column. But I'm not going to dwell on the more meta facts here; I'm going to focus instead on the past year of the column.

This year was a try for something slightly different in both the tone and approach that I'd been taking with these columns. I finished off one major project, started another one, and along the way, I found that I gathered a very different attitude over time. In relationship terms, the first year of A Mild-Mannered Reporter was apparently still the "gushing" phase of a new relationship. This year has been much more about the flaws that City of Heroes has, both in structure and in design choices.

Next big project - incorporate these pieces into, like, half of my characters.Very big projects

This year saw the end of my whole "archetype project" that I'd started just before the one-year mark, and it saw me kick off another big project in a series of "Spotlight" articles discussing the various villainous groups of CoH. I will freely admit that I took the inspiration for the latter from elsewhere; however, since that "elsewhere" was my own series of columns over on Storyboard, it's not exactly the biggest lift I've done.

The archetype discussion series went decently, but it was hampered by a few approaches, chief among them being that I have my personal preferences for specific archetypes just like everyone else. Compound that with the fact that it was highly subjective material anyway, and some of my evaluations rubbed people the wrong way. Some of that was inevitable, but some of that could have been handled better, and it gave me some useful insight for how I want to handle similar issues in the future. And then a set of new powersets were released and proliferated and so forth, making the whole thing even less useful, but that's when I just roll my eyes and grumble something incomprehensible.

On the other hand, the lore articles have been less divisive but (I think) a little less engaging. The bright side, as it were, is that I have much less of a permanent commitment to that specific project -- I can drop them in or remove them as I see fit, since there are a lot of enemy groups out there. It's been an interesting experiment to have more regular features running through the column, and I'm not sure how much of that I want to change around for next year.

Powered by negative... antimatter.  Yeah.  Let's go with that.Harsh words

I hadn't realized it until I went through and looked at the whole year in review, but this year was also apparently my year for being upset about CoH's direction and design choices. In order, I railed against the Strike Pack, the showing at PAX East, the anniversary event, the design of newer powersets, the showing at PAX Prime, the alignment system, Incarnates, story presentation, and the upcoming patch. I don't think I'd really categorize any of those columns as being particularly nasty, but none of them was on the happy side, and there were a lot of other columns peppered with little bits of disappointment here and there.

Part of the issue, of course, is that our idea of what MMORPGs are capable of doing has changed in the past several years, and CoH is starting to hit the point when it looks... well, old. Those seven years are getting a bit long in the tooth. But I think this year was also filled with two big shifts that have had a mixed result in terms of the game's overall health, with the switch to free-to-play and the increased emphasis on the Incarnate system. The former is definitely what I would consider a good thing... but the latter is a bit more ambiguous, and it's arguable that the game's overall health has suffered a bit from this new push for the endgame.

That's not to indicate that I had nothing nice to say. But I haven't been quite as positive over the past year, and I think that some of the game's movements haven't really lent themselves to the same degree of positivity. CoH remains a great game, so hopefully this is just a blip from my perspective than a regular trend. I don't think anyone wants this column to become an endless series of complaints about what the game isn't.

None of my experiments have been sins against nature.Experimentation

Last year, I was still finding my voice. This year, I branched out a bit more, took a few more risks, and tried to make sure that I wasn't getting complacent in the way that the column worked. Some of those experiments worked and some of them didn't.

The whole topical combination, for instance, was not what I would consider one of my better experiments. It's not that the idea was a bad one; it's that the execution didn't come off well and the elements didn't combine in a way that I found satisfying. Considering the lukewarm response to same, I think the opinion is shared by others, so it's not something I'm going to be jumping to try again in the near future, which is fine. Experiments aren't meant to go right the first time by necessity; failures are how we learn to do better the next time.

By contrast, my favorite piece from the last year was my article about the potential misconceptions about City of Heroes Freedom, followed closely by my two-parter about who in the Freedom Phalanx will die. Those came out well, and I'm still happy about how both columns were presented and assembled. I might very well look into doing more in similar veins over the column's next year of life.

And the future?

I'm certainly not stopping villain spotlights yet. I have a few more ideas for what to do next in terms of larger projects, and I'd like to dive into the Architect system again in a different way. I hope you've enjoyed the column over the past year, and I hope that the third year continues the best of what A Mild-Mannered Reporter has proven able to do. Thank you for reading for another 12 months. Let's see if I can't do better.

Feedback is welcome on both this column or the year as a whole via mail to eliot@massively.com or in the comments below. Next week, I'm going to talk about skill and its role in play, addressing something from long ago that is, in fact, entirely relevant.

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.