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City of Heroes developer diary: Going Rogue, new powersets, new enemies, new problems

Eliot Lefebvre

As of right now, City of Heroes is in a state of flux. Like any game with a new expansion, the superhero game boasts features that are changing and endgame structures that are being disrupted, and the changes of Issue 19 promise to introduce an actual endgame into a game that's long lacked one. But it all started with the most recent expansion, one that gave players the chance to switch sides back in August -- Going Rogue.

Much like Rome, the foundation for the expansion wasn't laid in a day. We were granted an early look at a developer diary by Floyd "Castle" Grubb, longtime veteran of the Paragon Studios team and lead designer for the Powers and Entities team. Take a look past the cut for his diary, explaining the various ways in which the powersets of the expansion were developed and fine-tuned, as well as highlights the new additions for both enemies and players.

Developer Diary of Floyd "Castle" Grubb

As the lead designer on the City of Heroes Powers and Entities team, many of the most visible moving parts in our game go across my desk. For the City of Heroes Going Rogue expansion, this meant that in addition to the new player power sets, we had a huge number of new AI controlled allies and enemies powers and definition files we needed to create to help populate Praetoria and give it a unique feel. Fortunately for me, I had a lot of good folks working with me -- Phil Zeleski, Tim Sweeney and Jonathan Courney all did fantastic work getting all these things designed, implemented and ready for players to encounter and use.

New Power Sets

For Going Rogue, we introduced 4 new power sets: Demon Summoning, Dual Pistols, Electric Control and Kinetic Melee.

Demon Summoning is for Masterminds and allows the player to summon and control beings from the underworld. We chose this power set because of Desdemona, one of our new signature characters. Her story would be about the transition from villain to hero, and we knew players would want parallel her journey and become demon summoners themselves. This decision impacted our schedule a lot more than expected, actually. We knew going into it that Desdemona (and thus, the players) was going to use a whip. From a powers perspective, this was relatively straightforward, but from an animation and FX perspective, it was a huge challenge that took months of time to overcome. The hard work paid off -- the attacks are fabulous looking -- but we learned that we should try to avoid spending so much time on one power set.

Dual Pistols was a highly requested power set, with players having visions of John Woo-esque attacks and gun-fu over-the-top action. As it happened, we also had need of a character to take the opposite path from Desdemona which lead us to Maelstrom and his descent from hero to villain. Maelstrom uses Dual Pistols and is a very dynamic character, both in action and in how his story is told. There isn't really anything subtle about this guy.

For Dual Pistols, we knew that we wanted to do something different. We already had an Assault Rifle set, and players, despite saying they wanted Dual Pistols, really didn't want "just another lethal damage" power set. In discussing it, someone came up with the idea of changing the type of damage the guns could do on the fly and how many cool effects we could achieve with that. After a few fits and starts, we figured out a way to do exactly that thanks to some wonderful new code that allows us to change the chance for an effect to trigger on the fly in response to user action. Using the Change Ammo power, players can go from firing bullets that reduce the defense of their target to firing flaming rounds that set them on fire to icy rounds that slow them or toxic rounds that poison them resulting in an extremely versatile set of powers. Add in the wonderful animations and FX and you end up with an extremely fun character.

Electric Control was not created for any specific character. Instead, it was created to fill in a gap in our power themes that existed for Controllers and Dominators. The origins of the set go further back than the other two, in that it was originally a set of powers created to test out some wild theories on how chaining effects could be used in new and unusual ways. A chaining power in City of Heroes means that an effect hits one target, then is projected from that target to another. An interesting side effect of how this is implemented means that the chained effect doesn't have to have anything at all in common with the origin effect, which meant that we have the capability of doing some very strange things. Most of the crazier ideas we experimented with never left the idea stage, but several ended up implemented in one way or another in this set.

The highlights of the set are three powers: Jolting Chain, which chains Knockdown effects through a group of enemies; Static Field, which is a placeable field which pulses a sleep effect for 30 seconds; and Synaptic Overload, which is a chaining Confuse effect. Overall, it isn't the strongest control set but it is definitely a fun set to play.

Lastly, we have Kinetic Melee. This is a melee power set that is loosely based on T'ai Chi. The basic idea behind the powers is that they steal an enemy's energy and use it against them. This ended up being another place we used the code created for Dual Pistols, although in a different manner – instead of changing the effects of an attack, when the Power Siphon power is active, it actually adds a new secondary effect to all the attacks in the set, which then feed back into the player's attacks increasing their damage. It's complicated and not as immediately effective as some other power sets, but used correctly it is actually an extremely effective set. This is definitely my favorite of the new power sets we create for Going Rogue.


In addition to player powers, we got to do a lot of work on new enemies for Going Rogue, some of which presented some unique challenges.

The Ghouls Lieutenant as designed, for instance, had the ability to command the other ghouls in the area to attack his target. We tried a couple methods of getting this to work, but each had problems that were not easily solvable. Ultimately, the effect was created by having the target Player actually force the other ghouls to attack them, rather than the lieutenant itself. To do this, the ghoul grants the player an invisible power which pulses a strong Taunt effect, exactly like a Tankers Aura does. The end result is that when the lieutenant gives the command, the other ghouls will break off what they are doing and attack this new target, unless there are being controlled by the players in some manner.

Other new bits of code that we use a lot include a flag that allows an entity to not only be aware of the status of its allies, but to also trigger effects based on that information; code that allows us to say Power B must always follow Power A, regardless of circumstances; and code that allows an entities powers list to alter as its level changes (previously, we'd have to duplicate entities, and vary their power list manually.)

Overall, these new tools give us a much greater degree of control of how enemies use their powers than we've ever had in the past.

The Future

As I'm writing this, it is September and Issue 19: Alpha Strike, is well into its production cycle, Issue 20 is being worked on and is about to enter an NDAed pre-beta testing phase, and pre-production for Issue 21 is being kicked around. My team is involved in all three of these, plus the production and design of booster packs and the occasional marketing initiative.

So, we're quite busy making lots of new, cool things for the players to enjoy and will be for quite some time to come. If you want to get a sneak peek at some of these new projects, come by our Facebook page, or check out the Going Rogue site.

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