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.
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.
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