Exclusive Dev Diary: Designing the task forces for City of Heroes Issue 20

Eliot Lefebvre
E. Lefebvre|03.31.11

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City of Heroes traditionally packs quite a lot into its large content patches, and Issue 20 looks to be no exception. Aside from the two new Incarnate Trials meant for endgame players, the update is going to see two new mid-level task forces added for players between levels 20-40. With one force for heroes and another for villains, everyone will have a chance to enjoy some new storytelling about the war against Praetoria outside of the earliest invasions.

But of course, new task forces don't just materialize out of thin air. It takes some hard work and a solid set of design principles to make them rewarding, something that Paragon Studios has been steadily improving since launch. John Hegner, Lead Mission Designer for City of Heroes, took the time to share with us what went into the construction of these new task forces and what they should mean for the player, so click on past the break for our exclusive developer diary on the design of the new content.

John Hegner: Greetings and salutations, dear readers! I'm John Hegner, the Lead Mission Designer here at Paragon Studios for City of Heroes, but some of you may know me better as the dangerously charming Protean. But that's neither here nor there. Today I'm here to talk to you about my experience crafting the new Admiral Sutter Task Force and the Mortimer Kal Strike Force, for a content release I like to call Issue 20 -- Incarnates!

Issue 20 -- Incarnates starts with the idea that the Well of the Furies (the source of the greatest power in the world) is starting to bestow its phenomenal cosmic power on the multitudes of super powerful heroes and villains in the world. One of these beings is Emperor Cole, the dictator of the alternate world of Praetoria. Armed with new cosmic powers, Cole has begun his invasion of Primal Earth, and this invasion takes place on multiple fronts. The Level 50 Incarnate characters are fighting back against Cole at his base in the heart of Praetoria, but this has left Earth vulnerable to Cole's latest invasion. So it's up to your level 20 to 40 Hero or Vigilante to repel this other invasion force. On the flip side, the more villainous characters in the Rogue Isles are on the lookout to get their hands on some of this Incarnate power themselves, and while the Praetorians are distracting everyone, there will be nobody to stop them!

When we initially started planning Issue 20, we wanted these two arcs to answer some big questions for the sub-incarnate characters: "When do I get to fight off that Praetorian Invasion?" and "Now that there is Incarnate Power everywhere, when can I get my hands on some of it myself?" The answer to both of those questions is "Now!"

As with all of our stories, these began with a gathering of designer minds in one of our conference rooms. Tim "Black Scorpion" Sweeney, Matt "Positron" Miller, and I threw out some ideas, and within no time our collective tri-force of designer power had cooked up the gist of what we would deliver. We wanted explosive, action-packed, repeatable content that answered the two above questions and supported the Incarnate Trials in a story capacity.

In Admiral Sutter's Task Force, the Admiral has been put in charge of the United States Navy's 11th Fleet. A fleet formed during the original Rikti War to combat the aliens at sea and is now being repurposed to defend the eastern United States against the threat of a Praetorian assault on her shores. A Praetorian Rift Signature has been detected off the coast of Paragon City. Sutter and his 11th fleet are sent to investigate, but because the nature of the threat, he's turned to the heroes of Paragon City for some extra firepower.

While the explosive beginning of the Task Force takes place at sea, the invasion is by no means contained there, and it is soon carving a path of destruction straight into the heart of Paragon City, with you, the heroes, in hot pursuit. Some new and old enemies will show up amongst the ranks of the Praetorians. The final showdown takes place in a devastated Skyway City, with collapsed freeway overpasses and Praetorian IDF forces swarming the area.

Meanwhile, the Mortimer Kal Strike Force has a very different bent to it. Mortimer Kal is a powerful wizard who knows many of the secrets behind the new Incarnate Powers, but he won't share those secrets with the villains. We took the curvy path on this one to break some new ground, so you villains will need to find a Tip Mission that reveals the "Wizard's Weakness." Once you villains have discovered Mortimer Kal's weakness, you can then set to work on blackmailing him and forcing him to work for you. As if threatening a super powerful wizard weren't fun enough, you then start down a path of destruction with the singular goal of obtaining the necessary magical components required to seize Incarnate power for yourselves, making and breaking enemies every step of the way.

While I was designing each of these arcs, I wanted to make sure that they accomplished three simple goals. The first was that they had to be explosive and action-packed. The second was they had to be filled with characters that the players knew about and cared about or some new ones that were in some way memorable. The third and final goal was that they had to take less than an hour to complete, a rule we adopted when we revamped the Positron Task Force in Issue 17: Dark Mirror and with Sean "Dr. Aeon" McCann's Apex and Tin Mage Task Forces in Issue 19: Alpha Strike!

For the first goal, the Admiral Sutter's Task Force deals with the Praetorian Invasion of Primal Earth, and so that already meant there would be a ton of explosions and action. That inspired the idea of the Praetorians attacking Skyway City and collapsing the freeways. I knew I wanted to use Praetorian Colonel Duray, and so I thought pairing him up with his Primal counterpart and the Sky Raiders would be pretty fun. Initially the first mission was going to use the Sky Raider oil rig, but then we decided to kick it up to 11, and thus the Sky Raider Floating Fortress was born.

Admiral Sutter's Task Force is all about the level 20-40 heroes feeling incredibly heroic by saving Paragon City pretty much single-handedly. To that end I wanted minimal or no forced returns to Admiral Sutter. This was a race to rescue the city from the Praetorians, and the jibber-jabber could wait until later. It nailed down explosive and action-packed, and in my opinion, does it in spades at every turn; whether you are crawling through the sewers under Paragon City, fighting ship to ship in the middle of the Atlantic, or dodging incoming air strikes, this Task Force lets the heroes take the fight to the Praetorians over land, sea, and air.

The Mortimer Kal Strike Force, however, is a little more sneaky, but it still needed a climactic final battle. I wanted you villains to feel a bit more calculative and insidious with this one, so I decided that it was time for you to hatch a master plan... and win! As you quest for Incarnate Power, I figured setting you against one of the Freedom Phalanx would be worthy of the final battle, especially if you could win the prize and make them rue the day you crossed their path.

This Strike Force is all about making the villain players feel like they are a proactive villain. They see something they want, figure out a way to get it, bribe, cheat, blackmail, steal, and backstab to get it, and it all pays off in the end. Every step of the way in this Strike Force you are double-dealing and inflicting misery and pain upon anyone and everyone in your path. But the most important thing is that in the end, you come out on top. Proof that being a villain really does pay off.

My second goal prompted me to fill both the Task Force and Strike Force with both familiar old faces and memorable new ones.

As villains are manipulating and backstabbing people on your way to obtain ultimate power in Mortimer Kal's Strike Force, you'll find it is also character-rich. Villains will meet all kinds of interesting characters throughout their quest for the power of the Incarnates, and by the end, every one of them will be cursing your name and nursing the beating you'll most certainly give them.

The third rule is one I hope everyone will enjoy. Our goal was to concentrate the coolness into an action-packed and character-filled drama. I think players will come to play the Task and Strike Forces again and again, especially with such a large level range to them. While in the real world it isn't every day that an inter-dimensional invasion begins or a quest for ultimate power is undertaken, there is no reason that has to be the case in City of Heroes. That's why I love this job.

We have more information about Issue 20 and the Incarnate System on the City of Heroes homepage and the City of Heroes Facebook Fan Page. Come by and learn about what it really means to be an Incarnate, and how Issue 20 – Incarnates! will take City of Heroes to the next level.
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