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.
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).
So for the last set of articles (around the Rikti invasion), we had:
1) Prelude / Marking 3rd Year Anniversary – this edition came out late (more than a month after the 3rd Year Anniversary), but the opening served as a great foreshadowing teaser to what was coming around the corner.
Paragon City, the Birthplace of Tomorrow, has recently celebrated its third anniversary of the end of the Rikti Invasion. From the dark hours of literally fighting the Rikti on the steps of the Chiron Medical Centre in Atlas Park, the heroes and citizens of Paragon City have come far and overcome great challenges in the past three years.
It was a player-driven piece, suggested and written by a great guy, UnSub, and as such wasn’t part of the original schedule. Our web / marketing schedule is always jam-packed, so adding new things is sometimes harder than you’d expect. Regardless, it was a good lead in…
2) Teaser – The teaser discussed the Senate of the world of Paragon City questioning military expenditure. In short, the alien threat had long been dealt with, why continue to fund an archaic UN institution with US money? It’s said that audiences are smart these days, and it’s never more true than with hardcore fans on a game’s forums (if you read the forums regularly, if you post regularly, if you recognize forum posters, you’re a hardcore fan in my book). People would automatically know that Something Bad Was About to Happen, as soon as money is cut to the anti-alien taskforce.
The big problem with this piece was that it was published AFTER the closed beta had started. Thus a lot of the hardcore fans already knew what the big surprise was going to be (despite the fact that it wasn’t really a surprise, but you get my point). This highlights one of the key problems of Story with video games, but I’m getting off point, so I’ll leave that to another article.
3) The main event – the “Invasion” piece went up the day the in-game event began, which had alien destroyers bombing the city, swarms of invaders, lots of good stuff! I stole — er, was inspired by — articles on the attack on Pearl Harbor.
4) Wrap-up piece – the fourth piece was almost entirely player written (with a few words taken from the lead developer, Matt “Positron” Miller), and was a nice summary from the player POV of the events.
Once I figure out the subject and focus, I’d write up a draft of the article. As the convention is newspaper journalism, I try to echo the standard: Who, What, When, Where, Why and How questions.
(I’ll often add Easter Eggs in the form of references to other movies or comics, name-drop relevant actors or people I know — often from the industry or other City of… players — sometimes drop in names of player-characters when appropriate, etc. I’d say the forums catch about 90% of my references, normally missing only the really obscure ones.)
The draft would then be sent for review. When I first started on CoH, I would normally send it to CuppaJo (the community manager), and to a colleague, another web-writer. Once it passed that test, it would be sent to Cryptic’s lead content designer for notes. As I became more comfortable with the world – and deadlines got tighter – I started to send it only to the lead content designer for approval.
We’d discuss any notes I didn’t understand, then I’d revise the draft. Normally it would only take 2 drafts to nail it, but once in awhile a tricky piece would take a 3rd.
Once the text was approved and finalized, it would go to the graphics team (Creative Services) for help creating the Paragon Times template, any graphic production that was needed, etc. I’d also send them screenshots (which have their own approval process) to mock-up, muck around with, etc.
All the assets would be sent to the web team, one of the best and most jammed departments. (For the record, the graphics guys are also awesome and always jammed – this is the benefit/problem of having them service so many games).
And once the graphics team had created all the templates, often the web guys are able to do the production work themselves, helping me eliminate a step in the process.
Web does a mock-up of the final page on an internal server – we look at the link and try to catch any errors – and then we set it to publish…
When a new edition of the Times is ready, we announce it on the News, on the forums, and often on the Game Updater.
Then I try to figure out what the hell the next edition should be about…