Late to the Party

(City of Heroes update)

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Old news by now, but NCsoft’s buy-out of the City of Heroes IP from Cryptic is big news for the company, team, game and players (not necessarily in that order). Previous to this, NCsoft & Cryptic shared the property 50/50. Cryptic did the development work out in California, and NCsoft did a lot of Quality Assurance, Customer Service, PR, and Community* from Austin. There was a … let’s call it an embassy … of NCsoft Producers working out in Cali with the rest of the team, working on the project on a very high level.

So what does the purchase mean? Well, all of this is just my best guess of course (and full disclosure, I used to work for NCsoft on the CoH team, so consider my words shaded appropriately):

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Posted in CoH, Games, General on November 20, 2007 by Jesse
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Behind the Times, 3

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On Thursday my last Paragon Times articles went up on City of Heroes, to a wonderful reception. Between this week’s and last week’s piece, I’ve certainly ended on a high-note. The Outbreak Plague / Foiled Breakout piece got 398 comments in the official thread, while the President Marchand / Dastardly Duo piece has received 299 posts and spawned at least two other threads of note. Not too shabby.

I spent of chunk of Saturday browsing the comments – it’s always exciting to see what people think, good or bad (just not indifferent) – about a piece. The most common theories seem to be:

* Alternate Timeline
* Parallel Dimension
* Multiple Timelines (Crisis on Finite Servers!)
* Jesse screwing with people on his way-out-the-door (can’t catch me now, suckas!)
* or a typo. Which is probably my favorite answer. 🙂

These articles were a lot of fun to write, as I’m sure is obvious. There was a lot to draw from. There are a number of subtle clues within them, many of which have been brought up. There are also a handful of in-jokes, most (but not all) of which have been mentioned.

People have also asked if there are mistakes in either piece (there were some typos in the first that have since been corrected – whew!). The only typo that I’ll acknowledge in the newest piece is “Columbian” should be “Colombian.” A few people didn’t like my Spanglish quote of “Los United States,” but in my defense it’s a bit of dialect taken from Across the Wire by Luis Alberto Urrea (great book), where he uses the phrase “los Yunaites Estaites.” Now I realize one is Mexico and one is Colombia, so I may be flat out wrong here, but it was an educated guess as to how a regular joe in the Colobmian army might speak.

Oh, and I *think* people are making an association between President Marchand’s power-armor and Iron Man/Tony Stark, because the reporter’s name is James Stark. Except, I’m not. James Stark has been “my” reporter since my first times, and was always intended to be the alter-ego to Arctic Sun.

I’m really thrilled at how much people enjoyed these stories. A shame my third piece – a 17 minute youtube interpretative dance clip involving mimes playing Citadel, Numina, Mako, and Snaptooth – was deemed too costly.


Posted in CoH, Games, Writing on September 30, 2007 by Jesse
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Behind the Times, 2

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Today marks the first of two special edition Paragon Times features. (Paragon Times: Outbreak Plague / Guards Foil Breakout)

As I said last time, I wanted to discuss the process of crafting an issue of the Paragon Times.

The Subject

I always believed the Paragon Times should focus on something eventful happening in the game. Ideally an edition would coincide with the lead up to a new Issue (game update), an in-game event, or the wrap-up of an Issue or in-game event.

I’m not very big on “slice of life” or “human interest stories” except when done very well (in this case it would have to be something that spotlights a player-character or group, and tells it in an engaging way).

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Posted in CoH, Games, Writing on September 20, 2007 by Jesse
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Behind the Times

The Paragon Times – one of the more challenging projects I’ve dealt with on City of Heroes.

It’s on my mind as we have a special double-length edition coming out this week. (Check the official site, natch.)

A Paragon Times article (“Statesman’s Strike”) was one of my first projects after I joined the City of team in Austin. It was to promote the end of beta launch event for City of Villains, and like many of my newspaper-style writings took a lot of influence from the headlines of the time.

After that I did just a handful – one for the Winter event, one for the relaunch of Pocket D (the combined space for Heroes and Villains to do the Time Warp again), then a huge gap until the next Halloween…clearly the Times was being left behind.

And it was. I was more focused on trying out different styles on the Backgrounders and pushing other elements of the web page. We added a few more Official Guides (and for awhile I was working on a number of others games as well as CoH, and just didn’t have the time). But a number of players would ask me, not often but regularly, “Hey, what happened to the Times?” I didn’t realize how important it was to them – because to them, it was another feature of the game, and one which helped convey the sense that Paragon City was evolving and organic, too.

And that’s one of the fascinating things about an MMO (or potentially any expanding game with a strong social network). People invest a lot into their characters and the world, and they (not all of them, of course, but many) want to see it expand and change and grow. We all know that developers never have enough time or resources to put in everything they want into a game, and we also know that players can’t be in the game 24/7 (again, most players), but tools like the Paragon Times are a way to serve both groups.

Web fiction can help developers expand their world-story in a relatively cheap and quick manner. One of the Cryptic Crew, Archon Voss (and I think also War Witch) has mentioned how they put in construction sites into the game for a time before they were ready to put in the arena buildings. The Paragon Times can be used the same way, and we did some of that for the most recent Rikti invasion event.

We actually had 4 newspaper articles to promote the event. During the lead-up we had a fan written “A City Remembers,” which was written without knowing the Invasion event was coming, but nicely reflected on the first Rikti invasion. Then we had the “Senate Questions Vanguard” piece, which suggested that some thought the paramilitary organization, Vanguard, was no longer needed – obviously foreshadowing that in fact it was definitely needed, and would be soon!

To coincide with the actual event itself, the Paragon Times exclaimed, “Invasion!” in the headlines. Then we wrapped it up with another player-written piece, “Vanguard Reports Success,” summarizing several players’ perspectives on the event.

Next entry, I’ll try to explain a bit more on the process of creating a Paragon Times article, and what I’ve learned in the process.


Posted in CoH, Writing on September 18, 2007 by Jesse
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Come Out And Play!

Sometimes writing is the hardest thing in the world.

“There’s nothing to writing. It’s dead easy. All you have to do is get a piece of paper and stare at it until your forehead bleeds.”
–From an unnamed American sportswriter, quoted by Douglas Adams

(Although the Interweb also attributes the quote to Gene Fowler, but I don’t have the energy tonight to figure out the truth. The Douglas Adams answer feels right).

I just updated the City of Heroes web site tonight with my write-up for The Warriors.

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(You can read the backgrounder, if you so choose).

This update has seemingly been months in the writing. That’s not entirely true, but I started it at a really bad time. I began the project right before we began the marketing push for Issue 10, the last big update to City of Heroes. I had to turn my attentions away from this and to the numerous fiction updates we used to promote I10. (The Invasion piece was my favorite)

And as soon as the I10 launch wrapped, I had to prepare for GenCon – which was a tremendous amount of fun as ever, but it killed 2-3 weeks of my focus. And immediately upon returning from GenCon, I’ve been involved in several High Level brainstorming sessions for Issue 11.

Furthermore, starting a piece is always the toughest part. I need an angle, or hook, to figure out how I’m going to tackle it. The Knives of Artemis were comparatively easy, as they have such a rich mystical tradition, and several well-established archetypes in comic lore.

Similarly the Sky Raiders were easy because I’ve done a lot of reading of paramilitary groups for other RPG projects, and have read a fair bit about groups like Executive Outcomes (now defunct) and Black Water. The Sky Raiders are scarey when put in the context of the real world, and that’s always a great hook for me.

One of the things that did help was going through the character testimonials and seeing how the players view this group. Looking at their toughness and resilience and grit, in the face of such amazing super powers, was a good starting point. While framing up the character testimonials, I was able to get into the proper headspace long enough to get through the rest of the update. Overall I’m happy with it, though it’s far from my favorite.

Now to figure out my next angle…


Posted in CoH, Writing on September 6, 2007 by Jesse
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Ninja Chycks

The Knives of Artemis villain background for City of Heroes is going up this week. This was a fun piece to do, although it was a case of a sparse documentation (some days I have the other problem, and have way too much world info to wade through). I kept having visions of red-clad femme fatales, but also wanted to make them stand out a bit on their own.

I did a little bit of web research, and decided to play up the Artemis/Goddess of the Hunt angle a bit. And while I was mulling things over, a player (Tropic) sent me a link to his story on the cohwritersguild about the Knives. His story is called…actually, I have no idea what it’s called because the formatting on the guild is…rough…to be kind, but I think it’s called Recurrence. Anyway, while I haven’t read the entire thing, the first part was great. It certainly gave me some cool ideas on the Knives (and I subtly added his idea of the Oracle into my piece, though in a very very minor way).

And because I was a bit worried about having enough for a full feature, and because there are some very talented writers among the players, I posted an open call for “in character testimonials.” Basically I wanted people to write little stories – 1st person in-character, or 3rd person narrators were both fine – about how their characters had encountered the Knives of Artemis. I got something like 70 replies, and there were some great ones that I was able to incorporate into the extended content section.

Meanwhile, I’ve been reading parts of Blackhawk Down, and I started thinking about the Delta boys. That led to some more net research, and I came across a great description of the training regimen used by some of the American Special Forces, and well, upped it a bit. It’s a comic book game, right? Full of larger than life actions!

I added it all together, and suddenly I had one of the longest pieces I’ve written for the CoH game features, and I’m quite thrilled by it. Of course, the real test is to see whether the players like it.

Knives of Artemis Villain Backgrounder.


Posted in CoH, Games, Writing on March 14, 2007 by Jesse
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Inventions!

The Closed Beta test of the upcoming City of Heroes Invention System is well underway. I can’t say much about it at this time, but I think it’s potentially a really exciting addition to City of Heroes and Villains.

As you may know, I’ve been working for NCsoft for well over a year now as “web content writer” – I write the stories and articles that show up on the web site, and help with event fiction for newsletters, review and edit player submitted stories and art pieces and publish the best to the Top Cow comic book, etc. I post under the name “Arctic Sun.”

I missed the first year and a half of CoH’s development, coming on board as City of Villains – the dark side expansion – launched, and I’ve been around for the subsequent free updates (Issue 7 and Issue 8). While both of those added a fair bit of content to the game, there were certainly rumbles from the community that not enough new content was being added, or that Issues felt “light.” I’m torn a little over this, in part because despite CoH being my first and still primary MMO, there’s still large parts of the game that I’ve barely seen, let alone explored fully. Still, I recognize that the heart of our vocal community is considerably more hardcore than I am, and they burn through content pretty damn quick. They always want more, and it’s the developers job to try and keep up with that appetite to the best they can.

So it will be interesting to see if Cryptic introduces a robust enough system in their crafting mechanism to make the game that much deeper than it currently is. Obviously, on one level CoH will always be what it is – a comic book fighting game, with an absolutely amazing character creator, which does a really good job of making me feel like I have super-powers. It has some brilliantly written stories (and some just OK ones), some really funny NPC dialog, and some great background characters/groups. But for some people – especially if you don’t have a regular group of friends (and it is far more slanted towards being a team game than a solo player game), it does eventually become repetitive. So the Invention system will let you take salvage that you randomly earn by beating up baddies and invent (or craft) nifty and different enhancements to your powers, OR create new costume parts, OR create new temporary powers, etc.

The big question is how many people will embrace this new, fairly intensive game system, and how many will simply want to ignore it and keep playing the way they always have? Will it really make the game feel like it has more options that just fighting, or will collecting salvage be a chore? (Like having to upgrade all your enhancements when you go up a level). From what I’ve seen, the system is flavorful and will give them further options down the line. It’s just very hard to predict how adding a new system like this on top on a well-established game will do.


Posted in CoH, Games on by Jesse
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Jesse Scoble

Jesse Scoble is a writer, story editor, and game designer in no particular order.

He has won awards, written a Western Horror script, worked on computer games & pen&paper games, contributed to more than 30 titles, and makes a mean mojito.

Currently he is a freelance writer in Montreal, QC.