City of Villains Q&A - It's Good to Be Evil

We caught up with creative director Jack Emmert to learn more about this expansion's setting and features.

After letting you create your very own superhero and save a virtual world in the online role-playing game City of Heroes, NCsoft and developer Cryptic Studios are looking to put the shoe on the other foot with the upcoming expansion pack, City of Villains. As you can probably guess from the name, this time around you will have the fun of creating a supervillain and carrying out missions to amass wealth, power, or infamy. And since you'll be playing online with up to thousands of other players, each controlling a unique superhero or supervillain, the stage is set for spectacular battles as good and evil clash. To get the latest details on the current state of the game, we caught up with Jack Emmert, the creative director of developer Cryptic Studios. City of Villains is scheduled to launch this fall.

Being a supervillain means never having to say you're sorry.

GameSpot: Now that the Electronic Entertainment Expo is over, tell us about how you felt the game was received at the show. What kind of feedback did you receive on giving the demo?

Jack Emmert: Everything went well at E3, culminating with two Best of E3 nominations (RPG and multiplayer). Most of the press already knows City of Heroes fairly well, so they were eager to get a look at what City of Villains has to offer. We featured our new base-building capabilities, conducted base raids, previewed our completely new villain character creator, and provided a tour of Port Oaks, ending with a bank heist, one of our cool new villain missions in City of Villains.

GS: What can you tell us about the Rogue Isles, beyond what we heard at E3? We understand that everyone in the new area, where new supervillains will begin their careers, is basically a criminal or villain of some kind. How big will the area be overall, and what kinds of experiences will it offer?

JE: Geographically, the Rogue Isles are a small chain of islands northwest of Bermuda that run in a band 50 to 20 miles off the US coast. Officially known as the Etoile Islands, there are dozens of islands in the chain. The main cluster of the group, home to Spider City, is at the 50-mile marker, outside US jurisdiction. From there, the smaller islands string toward the US coast.

Centuries ago, the islands were discovered by the Children of Enos, a secret sect that fled from France and was blown off course sailing to the New World. There they found fragments of strange ruins that hinted at an older and darker history. The sect quickly enslaved the small native population (and supposedly overcame the spirit guardians of the natives) and put them to work building a magnificent gothic temple/fortress over the mysterious ruins. The base thrived for many decades and became the sect's main headquarters. From here, they conducted their dark plots against their hated enemies in France and the church.

Today the Rogue Isles is a "no man's land" that has been claimed by Arachnos, the most powerful covert organization in the world. From the Rogue Isles, the evil Lord Recluse spins his webs of deceit and terror in order to take over the world. We've only hinted at Arachnos' origins in City of Heroes. More will be revealed in the forthcoming City of Heroes novel, Web of Arachnos, and, of course, the game itself!

GS: What can you tell us about the missions in City of Villains and how they'll differ from those of City of Heroes? How different will the gameplay and objectives be? Will missions be kept as accessible and (optionally) as minimally time-consuming as those in City of Heroes could be?

That's right, that's a villainous pirate. Or is that redundant?

JE: We've added new mission types into City of Villains as well as upgrades to existing City of Heroes missions. For instance, some missions now have security cameras that villains will need to sneak past, or risk detection and capture. We're also focusing much more on mission customization at launch so that a number of stories will stand out for their unique gameplay and/or art.

Most importantly, we're keeping to our original intent: A player should be able to log on, play for an hour, log out, and feel like he or she accomplished something. We're not trying to create quests that last for hours and hours and require mind-numbing expanses to travel; we want City of Villains to let you be the bad guy as quickly as possible!

Raiders of the Lost Items of Power

GS: We understand that the team intends to make the new base-building system as enjoyable and accessible as City of Heroes' much-praised character creation system. How will building bases be as addictive and varied as creating new characters?

The new city of Port Oaks sure does have some nifty architecture.

JE: The best way to make base-building as fun as making a character is to allow the player to customize as much as possible: textures, color, lighting, the placement of rooms, the placement of objects, and the layout of rooms. Allow the player to be the architect and builder all at once. But we also want every member of a group to feel like he or she is contributing to the whole. Players can use their bases however they want. Some will choose to engage in player-versus-player base raids, and I am sure others will customize their bases to their likings and just use them to gather and hang out.

GS: What can you tell us about the power crystals that players can use to enhance their bases? Where are they found, and how can they be captured?

JE: We call these "items of power." They are objects so strong that they control the fabric of reality. At launch, players will gain these by stealing them from Rularuu the Ravager, an interdimensional conqueror. Afterwards, players can invade another group's base to seize their item of power. And Rularuu, naturally displeased at all of this, will occasionally reclaim his lost property.

GS: We understand that one of the goals behind City of Villains is to encourage all players, even casual fans who don't necessarily play the game for hours every day, to engage in player-versus-player battles. How will the new game ease players into competitive play without requiring them to follow complicated rules or suffer huge penalties when defeated?

JE: There are no penalties for PVP defeat (except for the inconvenience of going to a hospital or needing to be resurrected). So that should encourage some people to at least try PVP.

We've created PVP to be a means, rather than an end unto itself. In base invasions, the object isn't simply to eliminate opponents, but rather to steal an item of power. In the PVP zones, players are contesting in special minigames. In other words, players are fighting each other while seeking to do something else.

GS: Any idea on how the team will balance out the all-new superpowers of villains against the awesome powers of superheroes? We can imagine that the ongoing battle to balance out player-versus-player battles in the City of Heroes arenas must have been and continues to be a tall order. What will happen once villain powers are added to the game?

Why is it that villains always get such cool-looking uniforms?

JE: Sure, we've worked out things on paper, but we need to see villains and heroes in action. We're anxious to start beta testing; the closed beta will probably start in late July or August.

GS: Finally, is there anything else you'd like to add about City of Villains?

JE: We will be sharing a lot more information about the game over the coming months. Stay tuned!

GS: Thank you, Jack.

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