Architecturally Advanced: An Interview with NCsoft

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to preview the new Architect system that will soon be making its way to City of Heroes. This new system that will be included with Issue 14, gives players the ability to create their own missions from the ground up. As I mentioned earlier, we were able to sit down Matt Miller and Joe Morrissey to talk about the addition in more detail.

ZAM: Will you be giving the players the individual ability to create environments? A map creator, if you will. I did notice that there are a limited number of environments -- I mean, there are still a lot of places, but there is a limited amount, and that's not something you can create more of.

Matt Miller: Right, when it comes to the map creator, we're very much interested in pursuing that and seeing exactly how we can make that and get it into the mission creator. We have experience with that with our base building, so we do kind of have some 'backbone' technology for getting that done. The real question is like with anything we anything we ever add to mission architect; any more level of customization that the player gets, we have to completely re-think rewards again. Because now it's like "well, how can this be exploited?" And the thing is, at the end of the day, we're only 70 or 80 developers trying to out-think hundreds of thousands of people, so we're going to fail, a lot. Hopefully we can plug holes pretty quickly.

ZAM: So, there's the opportunity for players to create notorious characters. Through a story arc you might see Captain Awesome eight times, and he's all the rage - he's got YouTube videos, and websites dedicated to him. What kind of ideas do you have in store for players who create notorious characters? Besides jobs!

Joe Morrissey:
Well, we have the 'dev choice' and hall of fame stuff, so that's going to be one level of standing form.

ZAM: I suppose I should go a little further. Is there a potential for Notorious Characters to become part of the game?

Matt: I think that's always going to exist. If someone comes up with something really cool, and it really does 'fit' with the world and the tone of the game and everything like that, and it's really well received by the other players, then I can totally see us - especially if you've got dev choice and hall of fame - incorporating it into the canon of City of Heroes. But it has to be really popular.

Joe: Probably going to see an academy awards equivalent for the content that we've made.

ZAM: Well this is actually not a question best suited for you guys, but I was talking about some of the community things that you guys could do; contests, spotlights on the website, things like that. Off the top of your head, is that anything that you guys have been talking about?

Joe: Oh yeah, definitely. We plan to have featured content all the time. We have our update data when you fire up the game, and usually have some sort of "here's the event that we're doing!" There's total opportunity to put in some of the content that's there for that. Our website, we imagine that there will be whole threads dedicated entirely to mission architect.

Matt: People trying to pimp their missions and stuff.

Joe: And we have an in-game recording feature called Demo Recorder, which allows people to record their play experience.

ZAM: Is it like Fraps?

Matt : It's kind of like Fraps. What it does is that it records the X and Y positions of all the characters and the effects that are going off in a text file that the game executable can repack and just play it back for you.

ZAM: Gotcha, that's kind of cool.

: Yeah, it's really cool.

Joe: So we kind of expect people to actually build their missions and use Demo Recorder as well to go through and customize stuff that they want, and show that off.

ZAM: What kind of different campaigns or missions can you create within this? I mean obviously there are always quests where you kill ten rats, and there's a quest where you find a box full of ten dead rats, but what about with the Architect system?

Joe: We have ten mission goals open to the players right now. We have fight a boss, rescue somebody, escort somebody to a certain location, an object that you have to go to interact with - it can be a computer you have to hack, or files you have to steal. We have objects that you need to go and destroy, like it's some bomb that's going to go off, and you are... well, probably a bomb would be bad to destroy... But, you have objects you have to destroy, or some other object that's going to be attacked by waves of monsters that you need to defend, so it doesn't get destroyed. One of the other goals we have is just guys that walk around the map, and they say stuff to kind of add flavor to the environment. You can trigger ambushes off of certain things, like the boss gets down to 3/4 health, then ambushes come - that's another mission goal. We have your catch all mission to defeat all the guys in this map as another mission goal. And the allies, which is what you guys saw all of - I primarily just used the ally and a boss; that was the mission that we had, and all of you guys were allies in the instance.

ZAM: Can you mix and match those? Like, for instance, I want to rescue my allies, and then we're going to go hack the Pentagon.

Joe: You can even chain them to where it's like "first, I have to rescue Andrew, and then, once I rescue Andrew, this boss shows up that we have to go and defeat. Once we defeat the boss, it turns out that the villain group that was there was kind of iffy on their loyalty to the boss, and now one of them wants to change sides. So your objective actually changes, and now you have to escort him out of the map, and get him to safety before everybody else on the map attacks him and beats the crap out of him.

ZAM: I kind of got ahead of where this next question's going to be. What about being able to start off in one area, one specific map (for instance I was on a boat) and have that lead somewhere else.

Joe: It'd have to be a different mission.

ZAM: You can't intertwine them like that?

Matt: Yeah we were looking into - it's definitely not for launch, but maybe by the end of the year - some sort of interback zoning for mission architect. Not sure if it's impossible, it's something we can't even do. Like, if we want that map, we have to go to Art and say "hey can you build us a map that zones between a boat and an office building."

ZAM: And that's just something that can't be changed?

Matt: Yeah, but if we make the request often enough where the programmers will be like "we'll just give you a tool to do this," then that tool will be available in mission architect as well.

ZAM: What is the difference between the tool that you use internally, and the tool that the players will have access to?

Joe: The tool that we use is called "Excel," you might have heard of it. *laughs*

Matt: The tool that we use right now, in its basest form, does everything the mission architect does, but less. There are things in mission architect that we cannot do easily with the excel tool. We have to make excel go through hoops in order to do stuff that's basic functionality in mission architect. That said, there are things we can do in excel, like call up this custom script that a programmer spent time writing, that we can't do in mission architect, because you don't have a programmer at your disposal like we do. So that's where the two diverge.

ZAM: Are you working internally to create a better version of this for your pimp tool?

Anything that gets 'pimped' into this will be available to the players. So if we figure out a way to get cutscene technology into this, then it's not just for us, it's for everyone. But that said, we will eventually be using this tool to make a lot of our missions because it has a lot of the functionalities that our normal mission making stuff has. The reason we haven't done anything so far with it, is we only really got it online in a stable form, where the save files were not invalidated by the next version that came out, about three weeks ago. So I can totally foresee in the future a lot of stuff being done on the mission architect.

ZAM: Excellent! Thank you so much for your time. This is definitely the coolest addition to an MMO that I've ever seen. I can't wait to explore the Architect system more.

Matt & Joe: Thanks for coming!

Stay tuned for my personal opinions about this new addition to City of Heroes, which we'll be publishing tomorrow. For now, check out some of the in-game screenshots of Architect Entertainment.

Andrew "Tamat" Beegle


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