Ship of Heroes’ Casey McGeever on Powersets, Scale, and Player Choice

I had the opportunity to speak with Ship of Heroes‘ Casey McGeever at PAX East and I have got to say, I could have easily spent an entire day talking about the game. Certainly, plenty of devs are keen to talk about their game, but Mr. McGeever seemed to be on a whole new level and was ready to discuss many things about his project that go beyond Unreal Engine upgrades and door mission tech.

Ship of Heroes' Casey McGeever

Of course, the upgrades to Unreal and the features brought with those upgrades are still at the forefront of the team, but now they’re closer than ever to putting those tools into play. For instance, while the combat alpha that ran recently was being run in an older version of the engine, the devs were behind the scenes having some time with their most recent update and all of the multiplayer-centric features they provide. One of those features, of course, is the PopcornFX special effects engine, which is giving rise to a new healing powerset that features the ability to control and apply healing nanites to friendly targets and some updated visuals to the Fire Devastator set.

With the upcoming changes to the game’s version of Unreal comes the opportunity to stuff as many as 100 characters on-screen. At maximum, the devs believe that 50 player characters and 50 enemies in one place would be more than sufficient, as the max number of people who did any one activity in City of Heroes was about 50 during a Hamidon raid. The team is preparing an “advanced login test” this May to see how their server handles the stress by inviting dozens of people to, essentially, stand in one very small space and see how much the game’s backend can handle things. Updates later on down the line include day and night cycle tests in April, another revised powerset and new powerset in May, and the first look at Controller powers, costume updates, and debuff powers in June.

On the subject of debuff powers, the team has been using a toolset that shows a number of variables that illustrate how effective debuffs are and how much damage your character is doing, and they would like to have these same tools available to players; sort of like a danger room or damage parser available for players to look at. I suggested to maybe offer this feature during character creation so players could try on a powerset combination in a sterile environment before they locked in their character decision. It’s an angle that hadn’t been considered and might end up becoming a thing. Maybe.

As for powersets, Mr. McGeever offered a lot of insight into how powersets are built by the team; a process that takes approximately three or four months. While it sounded like a long process, I was assured that this was the most updated iteration of their process and they’re always looking to refine things further if they need to, especially if they’re getting suggestions from the devs who have put live games out before.


Ultimately, Ship of Heroes is due to launch with four or five offensive sets for Tankers and Brawlers, four or five defensive sets for Tankers and Brawlers, four or five ranged powers, four or five buff sets, and at least one or two Controller powersets with some accompanying debuff powers for a total of 200+ powers or more. Powerset choices in the various stages of development include a sword and shield melee set; ice ranged powers; a ranged set that uses military weapons like mines, grenades, and traps.

Player choice isn’t being restricted to costume and powerset choices either. Of course, players are going to get to enhance their powers by giving them slots and filling those slots with enhancements. Additionally – and perhaps more excitingly for CoH vets – there will not be forced Enhancement Diversification. Through this system, players can choose to frontload their damage output, or perhaps focus down on their secondary abilities to make a melee character more defensive than offensive. Mr. McGeever shared my frustration with some of the City of Villains archetypes like Stalkers and wants to make sure people have some more options.

In addition to customization of powersets, players are going to get tools to modify their door missions, from ramping up the difficulty to prioritizing bosses over large mob sizes and back again. Players can even turn off XP gain entirely, getting more currency instead if they’re running low. A feature will also be added that lets players “save” their favorite missions to replay them as many times as they want with the same number of adjustment options. Essentially, players are being encouraged to save their own farming mission.

In the end, McGeever wants a game where there are so many missions to do that they’re not going to be able to do them on one character and will be encouraged to roll alts. Endgame isn’t necessarily going to be a thing so much as having more missions to do and more areas of the ship opened up. There will also be special events in the form of the FHS Justice making its way to explorable planetary surfaces.

What made City of Heroes great, and what should also make Ship of Heroes just as great, ultimately, is making a game for players to enjoy no matter what. That means personalized and human-handled monitoring of player behavior. Both I and Mr. McGeever agreed that the playerbase of City of Heroes was the defining part of the City of Heroes experience, so the team is going to do the very best it can to foster that with Ship of Heroes. Considering I easily spent an hour talking with McGeever about the game and easily felt like I could have talked longer, I have little doubt that the team is driven and ready to make that happen.

Ship of Heroes' Casey McGeever

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Why Aren’t Superhero MMOs Hugely Successful?

A few days ago a friend of mine on Facebook asked a question. It just so happens that this is something I’ve considered before and have been meaning to write for some time. Why is it that while superheroes are dominating television, movies, and comics that they seem to have such a hard time when it comes to games? Of course, when it comes to single player games, they’re actually doing really well. You’ve got the Batman Arkham series which have been one great game after another. The problem is with making them larger scale, making them MMOs.

Please keep in mind that everything stated below is purely based on my personal opinion and does not represent the views of MMOGames as a whole. In fact, I’m pretty sure there are a few people who would disagree with me entirely. I encourage anyone who disagrees to step into the comments. Fight me, bro.

City of Heroes Screenshots fight - Why Aren't Superhero MMOs Hugely Successful
I think one of the reasons is that all player characters in all games are heroes in their world. They don’t go around in spandex but they are doing superheroic things, and this goes for MMOs and non-MMOs. Link in Zelda games, he’s a superhero. Your characters in WoW, superheroes. Your characters in Guild Wars 2…actually a bad example. I’m pretty convinced we’re the villains of that story. Anyway, the setting is what changes the game from a fantasy game to a superhero game and ultimately, the modern world isn’t as fun to play in.

If you want to look just at online gaming… MMORPGs are a dying genre. They made the genre all about making the next WoW and when it didn’t work they moved on. They’re expensive to make and a massive gamble. So studios are leaning more towards games that are less of a risk.

Looking at the Superhero MMOs we’ve had and currently have:

City of Heroes: Financially speaking they were making money when they shut down. It wasn’t a massive amount, but it kept the lights on, kept families fed, and made NCSoft money. The truth of why it shut down will almost certainly never come out but I doubt very much that it was just one thing. It also shut down right at the start of the massive rise in superhero popularity. It makes you wonder how the game would have done in the current climate.

Champions Online: Still alive and kicking. I’ve always had the impression that Perfect World wasn’t interested in Champions and in fact, Cryptic made it because it was a pet project to show off what their engine could do (just my personal theory). They’ve gone on to use the same engine in Star Trek Online and Neverwinter, which are games they give a whole lot more attention to in terms of development and advertisement. Despite this, Champions does have a core dedicated audience who have stuck with the game.

Champions Online

DC Universe Online: I feel like this one gets forgotten a lot and I think the reason for that is that it is most successful as a console game, so traditional MMO players who would be on PC may not always consider it. Outside of MMO specific sites, the game doesn’t get any attention and the game is never advertised. One way they could improve this is working out a way to tie the game into what’s currently happening in the movie/tv/comic worlds, like what Marvel Heroes did.

Marvel Heroes: Shut down late last year very suddenly. Again, this wasn’t about money. They had just launched on consoles and were doing very well, the problem was that Disney pulled their license. Why did this happen? It may have had something to do with the sexual misconduct charges in the studio, but again this is one of those things where the world may never know for sure. Marvel Heroes was a great game for a certain type of gamer and it feels to me like people who would traditionally play MMORPGs weren’t that type.

The Superhero is ascendant right now but they’re all the big name ones. When was the last /new/ superhero trialed on screens? Have there been any?

DC Universe Online Why Aren't Superhero MMOs Hugely Successful

So while we have superheroes coming out of our ears, the question is if people want to play in those worlds or as those people.

“As those people” becomes hard, and is better off left to the single player genre… but get-it-out-the-door licensed superhero games are usually a travesty. The Arkham games for Batman are held up as fantastic, but they weren’t trying to support a show or movie. Most people will greenlight a project when a show or movie is there to get the tie-in dollars.

“In those worlds” is a little easier and three out four of the games mentioned above had/have you in superheroic worlds but not as the popular characters.

Why Aren't Superhero MMOs Hugely Successful - Marvel Heroes

Both DC and Marvel had an “MMO” out and neither were exactly setting the world on fire. Creating unique worlds like City of Heroes and Champions is a gamble and City of Heroes got in there just before/around WoW, instead of chasing the WoW mantle. Champions drew mostly from CoH fans. There’s no guarantee of success but plenty of opportunities for failure.

To be perfectly honest, I’m surprised no one has taken SMITE and redone it for Marvel or DC. Did the MOBA bubble burst too quickly for this to happen? Despite the MOBA bubble bursting, I think it could have done really well and maybe it isn’t too late for the idea. Of course, in the dream version of this game, you would have Marvel vs DC because…why wouldn’t you want to see that?

I guess, ultimately the reason superheroes aren’t thriving in gaming the way it seems like they should be is a complicated mix of things. I do think that if City of Heroes was still around it could have gone into a golden age with a new player base as more and more people are drawn into the superhero genre. This ultimately could have taken the game to all new heights. Who knows, we may have even had a City of Heroes movie at some point. Ah, the things that could have been.

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