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City of Heroes (engl.)

Euch interessieren die Gedankengänge und die kommenden Ideen des "Gehirns" von dem MMORPG-Game City of Heroes? Dann seit ihr hier genau richtig, denn wir präsentieren euch ein Interview mit Jack Emmert, dem Lead Designer von City of Heroes.

Hello, would you please introduce yourself and tell us, what you are / were doing on City of Heroes (CoH)?
My name is Jack Emmert. I'm a co-founder of Cryptic Studios and the lead designer of both City of Heroes and City of Villains.

What is, in your opinion, so fascinating on City of Heroes?
You can be a hero! Imagine any costume, any power - it's up to your imagination! From childhood, nearly everyone has dreamed what it would be like to be a hero. City of Heroes brings those dreams alive.

A city full of superheroes like Spiderman, Superman or what their names are, how did you get the idea to develop a game with this setting?
I'm afraid I can't claim credit for that. I had met Rick Dakan while at University and, after striking up a friendship, we co-authored several pen and paper RPG products. Rick and his childhood friend, Michael Lewis, had long thought about the "perfect" MMO - a world of super-powered heroes. When Michael Lewis sold his video chip company, he provided Rick with the capital to found Cryptic Studios. I joined up as employee #2.

Is City of Heroes the first game you were involved in the development? If not, is it more difficult to develop an online role-playing game or is it the same work?
This is the very first computer game job I've ever had. Previously, I was in academia studying Greek & Latin. I was teaching at Ohio State University and working on my doctorate before moving to California.

As for what's more difficult - that's tough to say. In my PhD program, I had to learn ancient Greek, Latin, French & German (I picked up Italian along the way) - plus ancient history & religion, archaeology, etc. It pretty much subsumed my life. The big difference at Cryptic is that I don't focus on any one thing as much as I did as a graduate student. I'm constantly doing lots of small things rather than any one big project. Designing a MMO means keeping track of lots of systems at the same time.

Are there, yet, some expansions or anything else planned you can tell us about?
As of right now, we have City of Villains planned for later this year - where you'll get to be the bad guy! Plus, we are constantly adding free expansions (which we call "Issues") every few months. We're just about to launch Issue 4: the Colosseum - where heroes will be able to face off against each other in a special arena.

So one can not only play heroes but also villains, too - soon. Do you think this feature will change to whole game-play, from what it is like now? What is the difference in playing a hero or a villain, and how will you solve or arrange PvP (like: does the loser character lose all his property or how is the victorious character honoured)?
Our principles in hero vs. villains are simple: PvP must be optional, consensual and fun. We're not done designing all of the systems, but losing property is not something we want to explore. We want to encourage players to try PvP, and if the penalties are too steep, people will immediately shy away from it.

If you look at the success of World of Warcraft in the USA, do you think CoH will be competitive or what will you do to get people play CoH in Europe?
In the U.S., City of Heroes was a best selling PC game for roughly five months! I'm not too worried about being overshadowed by World of Warcraft, if only because the games are very different. World of Warcraft is the most polished fantasy MMO that's been done to date. Great art, great game balance, great UI - it's all well done.

City of Heroes, on the other hand, is a game about heroes and their tales. There isn't crafting or camping or any of the other game mechanics associated with fantasy MMOs. Instead, City of Heroes is about "bite sized" fun - a player should be able to get in, play, and log out - and still accomplish something in as little as a ½ hour. Not every player out there has the time or energy to devote to playing a game for 20 plus hours a week. In City of Heroes, we've created a whole system that allows people to play with one another regardless of the time they've logged; the goal is to fight evil and save the city, not banter in l33t speak.

A lot of people often ask why they should pay for a game every month. Can you tell our readers now, what this money is used for, so that they can understand, why it is important to pay a certain fee per month to get the game going and what they can expect from that?
First, the servers alone have a certain cost for maintenance. After all, these are operating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Players can log on at any hour and find allies to battle against Paragon City's evil denizens.

Secondly, there are GMs and Customer service representatives on hand to deal with any gameplay issues or bugs that come up.

Thirdly, we add an enormous amount of content into the game every few months. Since launch, here's some of our accomplishments: 5 new zones, 1 new Archetype, 75 customized missions, a Badge system, new Power Pools for high level characters, 6 new villain groups, capes (!), new Trials for hard core players, zone events and many UI tweaks. By Issue 5, we will have doubled the size of our game!

What is the highest level or what will the highest level be that a character can reach and how long will it take someone to reach it?
Currently, the highest level is 50 - and it takes several hundred hours to reach it.

What is the highest possible player-count on one server and how do you manage it that the latency doesn't get too bad?
Our servers handle up to several thousand players at any given time. Our CTO, Bruce Rogers, has assembled an amazingly talented group of software engineers that have created a really stable system.

If you could change one thing at the MMORPG-industry what would that be?
The adherence to a set number features. Ultima Online and, later, Everquest popularised the MMO medium to the point where large companies have taken notice. But there hasn't been much growth or change in the core elements of MMO gameplay. For example, crafting is pretty much a standard element in fantasy MMOs. But why? Why not, say, jousting? Or training other people? It's not that I dislike crafting, but I�m baffled why every game feels the need to do something like it at release.

Do you have a favourite superhero, like Spiderman etc.?
Namor, the Sub-Mariner. He was one of Marvel's first heroes in the late 1930s and I really enjoy his dual nature. On the one hand, he's the king of a legendary undersea realm. But on the other, he's a superhero on the surface world. Each role comes with responsibilities that often conflict with one another.

Are there any plans to upgrade some technical features in two or three years to get the game up to date again?
We're constantly upgrading our features. We hope to keep City of Heroes fresh year-in and year-out. We work with hardware manufacturers in order to anticipate the coming trends in the industry.

What is your favourite games-genre and your favourite game (except CoH :-) )?
I'm an old Avalon Hill fan, so I enjoy the turn based war games. These are very rare nowadays, so occasionally I venture into RTS games, but I lack the hand-eye reaction speed to be very good. And I play RPGs now and again.

Sebastian Weber - 19.02.2005