Earlier this week, we had an opportunity to try out the upcoming "architect" content in also-upcoming "Issue 14" update for City of Heroes, the original superhero massively multiplayer game. For those who haven't kept track, the game was originally developed by California studio Cryptic and published by Texas-based publisher NCSoft, supplemented with City of Villains to let you also play a bad guy, then bought out entirely by NCSoft, and will now shipping all together in a single box, with both original games, and the new architect content, in a new boxed product called City of Heroes: Architect edition, shipping out in April.
Quick summary of the original game you're not familiar: You use the game's character customization tools to make the superhero or supervillain of your dreams, choose an "archetype" (the game's version of character classes, which determines how you fight in battle and what kind of powers you'll get), then go out into a huge, Metropolis-like city to pound on thugs, zombies, aliens, and rival superheroes/supervillains that you find either wandering the streets, or in the game's missions (the game's version of quests), which mostly occur in closed-off "instanced" areas.
The "architect" part of "Architect Edition" refers to a new user-generated content system that will basically let you make your own City of Heroes missions by setting your objectives (killing a boss monster at the end of the instance, defeating all enemies, recovering a treasure item, and so on), choosing a layout and appearance for your mission from a list of dozens of different types (for instance, there are some two dozen layouts in a cave environment, another couple dozen warehouse layouts, another couple dozen office building layouts, and so on), and customize whatever enemies and other characters appear in the game. We watched a brief demo mission that required us to rescue a small group of characters (who then joined us as nonplayable allies to beat up thugs) and beat a boss monster to recover a "clue" item, then dived into making our own mission, which was way worse than the one that the NCSoft guys made, but still pretty OK, since we had a chance to use our superhero character (pre-built for the event) to punch a bunch of bad guys in the face.
Interestingly, aside from giving a unique souvenir for finishing a mission, you can also earn "tickets," which NCSoft's Matt Miller compares to "skeeball tickets"; basically prize tickets you win playing carnival games that you can later trade in for prizes. In this case, you can trade a fistful of tickets for all the game's existing goodies, such as specific "enhancements" (which strengthen your character's powers) and "inspirations" (which act as temporary boosts that get used up, kind of like potions) that you can purchase from a merchant. Building a really good mission that a bunch of people play frequently will also generate a bunch of tickets in your back pocket.
For now, it sounds like you'll be able to make missions starting from level 1 with no barrier to entry, and players will be able to gain normal experience points and rewards by playing the same missions over and over if they care to. Obviously, NCSoft is planning to implement as many failsafes as possible to avoid abuse; it sounds like mission browser, which you can sort by rating, date, and author, will even be tied to a customer-service queue, so clever trolls (is that a contradiction?) who sneak in copyrighted materials or offensive content can be hustled out of the system ASAP. And the tools seem like they're purposely being designed to make sure players can't get too crazy with what they put in missions, but then...players can be really creative in very unexpected ways, so we'll see how this turns out.