Player-Created Paragon City
Video games have evolved quite a bit since the humble beginnings of 8-bit consoles. In today’s industry, video games are changing and being improved upon at a scary rate. Frankly, it’s difficult to keep up with everything and stay on top, even with how quickly information flows. Nevertheless, developers are constantly trying to extend the shelf-life of their games by including robust multiplayer experiences, developing downloadable content, and providing social networking features. But how exactly does a developer with a game around five years old keep people playing?
The people over at Paragon Studios and NCSoft think they may have just the solution: player-created content. City of Heroes: Architect Edition hopes to provide players with the tools they need to keep this enormous and old MMO afloat. Considering that City of Heroes has enjoyed steady content updates and a huge expansion in the form of City of Villains over its tenure, the idea to bring player-created content seems like the logical next step.
Architect Edition is, essentially, the latest version of City of Heroes, but with some minor additions. There are some content updates that got thrown into the mix, but most of that content can only be found in and around the Mission Architect system.
Players will notice that there is now a building in the major player hubs that houses the Mission Architect system. The system is added to the world under the guise of being a type of mission simulator for heroes and villains. Everything that happens within the system is not permanent, i.e. things like death, and is explained rather mundanely by some strategically placed NPCs that inhabit the new area.
While the system is explained as being separate from the “real world” of the game, players will be delighted to know that what they do and create does have an impact on their character’s progression. Players do earn experience points exactly the same way they do outside of the architect system and, while there are no traditional loot drops from fallen enemies, the system is designed to reward players another way.
Collecting items by playing missions in the architect system is a lot like spending time at an arcade, minus having to wipe down the DDR machines after the guy with the gym bag and sweatbands had been on it. Completing missions and defeating enemies will earn players tickets. These tickets can then be exchanged for rewards at vendors that hang around in the mission architect building. Examples of such rewards include costume packs, enemy sets, map sets, and character enhancements, all of which are tied to the mission architect. This system makes sense, in theory, because it keeps the mission creators from determining what items drop during their missions, which could be exploited. However, it also limits the usefulness of such awards, making players wonder whether it is even worth the time spent.
The mission architect designer tools are rather flexible considering the limitations and age of the game. A player’s characters can be any level and still have access to creating their own missions, which is great for newcomers to City of Heroes who are excited about accessing the latest content available. To begin creating, players simply walk up to one of the many computer consoles in the architect building and start making decisions.
At first, the mission designer screens can seem a little intimidating, especially to those unfamiliar with the ins and outs of City of Heroes. However, the tool is presented in about as simple of a way as it can be without reducing its flexibility. Players will have complete control over the types of maps that are used, the groups of enemies that are encountered, and perhaps the most enticing of all, the direction and dialogue of the story as it unfolds. Essentially, players are given the opportunity to create their own comic book stories and then play through them.
This isn’t to say that the mission architect tools aren’t without their faults, however. More advanced programmers and map designers will find that the mission architect system lacks the customization they are hoping for. You won’t find any custom code editors or starting-from-scratch map editors. Instead, the tool is geared more toward the less code and design savvy users, making it accessible and easy-to-use, while simultaneously limiting its capability. For example, rather than being able to completely write the code for a particular scenario or encounter, the player is presented with “basic” and “advanced” scenarios to choose from like “Escort Mission,” “Fight a Boss,” “Collect an Object,” and “Add a Battle.” Once chosen, the scenario can be further defined and customized, but only within the parameters of what is available.
Of course, this isn’t to say that the mission architect system is too simplistic. If anything, it may be too daunting for a majority of players, leaving only a minority willing to spend the time and energy creating missions. Nevertheless, as a stand-alone mission creation tool, the architect system appears to be as simple to use as it can be, given its obvious complexity under the surface.
While a brave few will learn the ropes of creating missions, a majority of players will be spending time wading through the endless void of player-created content. For these individuals, the developers have created an extensive mission browsing tool that resembles most server browsers found in modern FPS games.
Players can sort the available missions by a number of criteria including rating, length, and locale. They can also manually search by typing in keywords and even narrow their searches using advanced filters. Once a players has found a particular mission that looks interesting, he or she can easily see all the important details of that mission by simply clicking on the mission name. The developers even take an interest in the player-created content by occasionally stamping one with a “Developer’s Choice” award.
And, as always, what player-created content system would be complete without some form of rating system and social networking feature? Once players have completed a mission, they can not only rate that mission out of five stars, but they can also choose to send a short comment to the author of the mission. In an attempt to keep players from purposefully stacking their ratings, players can only rate a mission once, and only after they’ve played it.
One thing worth mentioning is the lack of available missions designed for lower level players. The mission architect tool is designed to allow the author to completely customize their missions for all levels, but the trend seems to be that the majority of missions are designed for the mid- to upper-level characters. Therefore, players creating new characters or newcomers first entering the world of City of Heroes may still need to wade through the developer-created content before being able to take part in some of the better player-created missions.
City of Heroes: Architect Edition is a bold step in the right direction for this aging MMORPG. At a time when the latest massively-multiplayer online games feature better graphics, larger worlds, and more polish, features like player-created content tools could be the difference between maintaining and losing subscribers. And, while there isn’t a lot of new content outside of the architect system to boast about, there really doesn’t need to be. Sure, the mission architect system certainly isn’t without its problems, glitches, and limitations, but it does provide a nice distraction from the regular content.
Veterans of the game will enjoy the new features wholeheartedly, while players with canceled subscriptions may want to take the time to reactivate and explore. Unfortunately, Architect Edition doesn’t really offer much for gamers wondering whether they should hop into this aging MMO’s world. Chances are, if you haven’t found a reason to play City of Heroes yet, the Architect Edition isn’t going change your mind.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.3 Graphics
A vibrant and colorful world does a good job of depicting a comic book style, but it is definitely feeling its age. 3.5 Control
Standard MMO controls with a very customizable user interface. 3.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Forgettable music and sound effects remain unchanged in this update. 4.0 Play Value
Standard MMO, turn-based gameplay is further enhanced by player-created content tools that are easy-to-use and fun to play. 3.6 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.