Who was there: Paragon Studios employees Melissa Bianco (lead game designer), Matt Miller (lead systems designer), David Nakayama (art lead), Nate Birkholz (development producer), and Andy Belford (community manager).
What they talked about: Last month, NCsoft and Paragon Studios announced that their superhero massively multiplayer online role-playing game City of Heroes was going free-to-play under the new name City of Heroes: Freedom.
Thus, it's no surprise where the panel started off, with the developers talking about the move and the major content update, Issue 21, that will arrive alongside it. First, Miller walked the audience through what is offered with each subscription rate, going over the same material found in the change's announcement.
Additionally, Miller talked about the Paragon Market, the in-game virtual store by which the studio will monetize the game for the free-to-play crowd. Various in-game items will be sold via this marketplace for all character types. Additionally, it will be updated weekly with new wares.
Once players are actually in the game they will be greeted by a new tutorial for Freedom, which takes place in an updated Galaxy City. A voice-over will guide players through the tutorial. According to Paragon, this was done because the developer wanted to make the experience "like a ride in an amusement park: quick and fun."
Additionally, newcomers in Freedom will not choose to be a hero or a villain right away; instead, they will begin their career in a neutral state. Inside the tutorial level players make a moral decision, and then gameplay changes to suit that choice.
Another game region, Atlas Park, has also been made over. According to Paragon, the footprint is the same, but missions have been overhauled. All buildings have been remade to look reflective and "beautiful." Paragon said it didn't originally have the technology to pull it off, but now it does.
Furthering Freedom's tilt toward accessibility, Paragon said that the game will sport "ongoing training missions" for hero and villain characters that are levels 5-19. These missions are completely optional and are a way for players to learn about the game in a fun and interesting way, according to Paragon. The developer stressed that so much was added in Issue 21 that it wanted to make sure players knew what the new systems were without cramming it all into the short tutorial.
Paragon also spoke further about the upcoming Issue 21 update and what it will contain. The update boasts a new zone for levels 20-25, new villain groups, a Seed of Hamidon world event, and fresh costumes and weapons.
Issue 21 also includes new assistance for questing in the world. When the update launches, quest-giving NPCs will have icons over their heads, designating that they have a new task to give players. Additionally, there will be a new "Find Contact Button" that will let gamers teleport directly to the contact.
Finally, Paragon talked about one of the biggest parts of Issue 21: signature stories. These are "key storylines" in the City of Heroes universe that are updated once a month. The first signature story is called "Who Will Die?" and will take seven months to complete, culminating in the death of a major character.
During the ensuing Q&A session, Borden fielded a question about the relative size of City of Heroes compared to other superhero massively multiplayer online games. Borden said City of Heroes is "significantly larger than any other superhero MMO," which he later clarified as also including DC Universe Online.
The next question asked how the online attack against Sony affected Paragon and its development of City of Heroes.
"It was impossible to ignore," Borden said. "Fraud is a big deal."
He noted that Paragon is "aggressively trying to make sure we don't get hit by it" and also said the developer is working with other publishers to "fight fraud in a unified way." He did not name who the other publishers were.
Quote: "Friggin' amazing."--Nakayama, describing the overhauled log-in and character creation interface.
Takeaway: City of Heroes has been around for seven years, making it one of the older MMORPGs around. The studio believes it can succeed with its new free-to-play business model, and it should be interesting to see how it all plays out.