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Massively interviews City of Heroes' newest architect

Rubi Bayer, @@rubi_

Sean "Dr. Aeon" McCann is the newest member of the City of Heroes team, having wowed Paragon with his recent outstanding work on Mission Architect. We got a chance to congratulate Dr. Aeon directly, and took the opportunity to talk with him about his new position. He gives us a look at how he made the leap from player to team member, how he's settling in to his new role, and all about the fun of working on Mission Architect.

Follow along after the jump for a look into the "greatest mind the world has ever known."

First off, congratulations on the new job. I'm sure you're extremely happy to make that leap from fan to developer. Have you had any experience in game development prior to this? If not, what is your background?

Thanks! Prior to this I had no professional experience in game development - however I spent a lot of time using toolsets like the Aurora Toolset for Neverwinter Nights and the various incarnations of RPGMaker for roughly 6 or 7 years.

Other than that, my main background is as a writer - self proclaimed that is, with a degree in English. I wrote almost every day and read a wide range of books, from the fantasy of Tolkein and Lewis to the stories of Dostoevsky, Chesterton, Orwell, and many others.

What about your gaming experience? How long have you been a City of Heroes player, and what other games do you enjoy?

I've played City of Heroes for almost 5 years now, though I had to stop for a while after the initial issues. I picked it back up when City of Villains came out and have been playing steadily since then.

I'm a big fan of RPG's and also FPS's, though I mainly grew up playing more RPG's than I can remember (my favorite being Earthbound). I'm also a huge fan of the Silent Hill series.

What was it specifically about your work in Mission Architect that interested Paragon Studios in hiring you?

I'd like to think it was a combination of the over-arching story I developed, the arc design, and the schedule I set myself to - which was putting out a new story arc every week for roughly 13-14 weeks; also perhaps that I always tried to think of weird and quirky things to do with the Architect system.

In fact, all of my arcs can still be currently played in Mission Architect. There are about twenty of them and can be found by searching for @Fearghas in the Architect browser.

Did you get in touch with them about working with them on Architect or did they approach you?

Well it was a combination of the two; I had sent in my resume to try to work for them long before Architect came out - the typical dream of a recent college graduate who loves playing video games. Once Architect came out and I had been pumping out a steady stream of arcs, along with posting feedback on the game's story when new issues would come out, under the identity of Fearghas. Soon thereafter, I was contacted by Paragon to submit an updated resume. Most of them didn't even know who was behind the mask of Fearghas. I took their writing test, was flown out for an interview, and here I am now!

Explain your new role for us.

My main role here at Paragon Studios is overseeing the future development of Mission Architect. This includes things such as weekly interactions with the community, working with pohsyb to move the system forward, and placing new maps into the Architect system. The latter I was only able to do thanks to the wonderful War Witch and our other world designer, who showed me how exactly to go back and fix various maps to be usable in Architect. The beginning of this can be seen in game already with five new maps that were added a few weeks ago.

Outside of Architect, I've been working on mission design, though I can't comment on what I've specifically been working on in that department.

Is it what you thought it would entail?

Honestly I don't know what I really thought it would entail outside of the thought of, "This is going to be awesome." It's definitely something that I love to do so far and which I put a surprising amount of hours into - I say surprising given that at the end of everyday I always look at the time and realize I should have really gone home an hour ago.

What are your thoughts on your gameplay in City of Heroes becoming your job? Do you think you'll be able to keep simply enjoying the game as you have been as a player, or do you think you'll see the game differently now - more critically - as a developer?

I still enjoy the game a great deal. I've always played City of Heroes - and other games - with a very critical eye, even going so far as to write down things that I felt worked and didn't work in various games. This always led to long discussions with friends of mine in terms of how X, Y, and Z could be done in a different and better way.

How I view City of Heroes hasn't changed much - only that now I can go, "I think this can be done in a better way. Let me see what can be done about that tomorrow."

What about Mission Architect as a genuine developer tool? Do you see it as a viable way to learn about game design

Absolutely! Out of all the tools I've used in the past, I've gotten the most mileage with Mission Architect. One reason is because of how easy it is to get your work out to the players. There's no need to get people to download extra files or mods, etc. It's just a simple click and play.

By taking Architect and the story I was writing in it seriously, I was able to see what sorts of story-telling methods and game design worked and didn't work. It's easy to come up with a theory of how something should work and in that theory it'll be really great. It's another to actually implement it and see just how it is received. The beauty of Architect however is that you can learn from your mistakes quickly and change them, as opposed to having to take 6 - 8 months of development time, or in many cases, working on an entirely new project.

As someone who has spent a great deal of time working with Architect as a player, what are some of the changes or improvements you feel should be made to Architect?

One thing that I know I've run into many problems with was the file size. This is actually something we mentioned last weekend at our Hero Con. In the upcoming expansion City of Heroes Going Rogue, we'll be doubling the file size capacity for Architect arcs.

I can't go into what else I've been doing for Architect, but I think players will like it - I've approached all the improvements for Architect with an eye of, "What are things that I and other authors talked about always wanting?"

Outside of working within the actual Architect system, I've been trying to improve the interaction between us, the developers, and the community. Currently my plan is to try to do something every week with the players, ranging from announcing a new Developer's Choice to offering feedback on one of their arcs and more! Though unfortunately I can't go into detail on what the "more" is just yet.

What advice would you give others out there who hope to make that jump from player to developer?

Judge every game you play when you're done with it. What did you like for the gameplay? What didn't you like? How could it be done better? Was the story good? What parts weren't? Never play a game and just walk away from it without fully analyzing what you liked and what you didn't like. It'll not only help you narrow the kinds of games you like, it'll also give you that critical eye to see what works and doesn't work in a game. This also goes a long way to forming your own theory on game design.

Aside from that, get yourself out there! Mission Architect is a great way to do it and can even be used as samples of your work to give to future companies, similar to presenting your work on a mod. Just because your name isn't attached to a big project doesn't mean you can't show off good work that you've done with game design. It shows that you have a passion for the genre even without a paycheck going along with it.

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