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Joystiq interview: NCsoft talks about updating City of Heroes, keeping it relevant

Jason Dobson

It's been more than four years since MMO faithful were asked to put on skin-tight suits and defend the bustling metropolis of Paragon City in City of Heroes. Since that time, however, numerous other titles have emerged with their bid for players' massively multiplayer affections, from recent efforts like Warhammer Online to the juggernaut that is Blizzard's World of Warcraft.

Of course, the now wholly NCsoft-owned super powered MMO has released updates of its own to keep from becoming stale, including everything from the libertine City of Villains to this week's latest addition, dubbed Issue 13. We recently caged Matt "Positron" Miller, and spoke to the senior designer for NCsoft NorCal at length about the unluckily numbered update, as well as a number of other topics, including the availability of City of Heroes on the Mac and the superhero MMO's relevancy in today's overcrowded market.

NCsoft will issue its thirteenth major update to City of Heroes this week. However, with WoW, Warhammer and LotRO taking up such a large portion of the MMO mindshare, what are you doing to ensure that City of Heroes/Villains remains relevant in the American market?

NCsoft is stressing what makes City of Heroes different. First, it's a superhero game, not sword and sorcery. If players are really looking for something different, they can find it here.

Second, City of Heroes still has one of the best character customization systems ever made. It seems that a lot of new MMOs are stuck in the 'gear = looks' paradigm that games like Everquest and Ultima established. City of Heroes offers billions (no exaggeration) of possible costume combinations right from level 1.

One of the biggest changes coming in the Issue 13 update in our mind is the Merits Rewards System, which will let players earn tokens to be purchase things such as enhancements or costume updates. What was the stimulus behind this new system?

Our encounters do not tie specific rewards to specific entities. In WoW if you wanted to get a specific item, you would just end up farming the same boss over and over again. It doesn't work that way in City of Heroes. One problem that players have pointed out was that this does make it hard to actually "work towards" a goal of a specific item.

The merit system now allows you to work towards your goal, by accumulating merits simply from playing the game as you do normally, and spending them on the desired recipes or rewards you want.

Last month you announced plans to bring the game to Macs. What took so long?

It really was Transgaming Media who really got us excited. They showed us what they could do, and had done in the past, and it really was a no-brainer at that point to get City of Heroes up and working on the Intel-based Macs as soon as possible.

Is a Mac beta still planned to roll out alongside Issue 13?

You bet.

"In WoW if you wanted to get a specific item, you would just end up farming the same boss over and over again. It doesn't work that way in City of Heroes."

Interestingly, the Mac version will be released only in digital form, foregoing any boxed retail release. Does this represent a lack of or waning confidence in traditional retail channels, or just those dedicated to Mac software?

Not at all. A lot of Mac software is done digital-only. We will be putting the Mac version in boxes next year, and all future boxes of City of Heroes will have the Mac client included as well.

Can you talk about some of the work the team is doing on the Architect system? What can players look forward to when this next big batch of content arrives for the game early next year?

The ability to create your own story arcs of up to five missions in length. Each mission can have a single or multiple completion goals, as well as use practically any map we have used for missions previously. You will also be able to put in allies or bosses, and these can be pre-set entities, or custom one you create yourself. Oh, you will also be able to choose what Contact hands out your story arc, or create your own Contact in the same manner as you would create a character or a boss.

You've said before that the team has more microtransactional content planned already. Do you have any details to offer on any of these future 'Super Booster' packs?

Super Booster II will be a magic-themed pack that will sit alongside the Cyborg pack very well. It will have costume pieces and other goodies that are themed for both stage magicians as well as your more traditional fantasy mages.

Finally, looking beyond Issue 13, we're interested to know what concrete plans you have in place for the following Issue.

Issue 14 is all about the Mission Architect. Issue 15 will be centered around the Fifth... Anniversary of City of Heroes. [Note: The MMO's 5th anniversary will be April 28, 2009.]

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