Double Buffered

A Programmer’s View of Game Design, Development, and Culture

GDC09: Post Mortem: Mission Architect for City of Heroes

Posted by Ben Zeigler on March 30, 2009

Here are my notes from the GDC session “Post Mortem: Mission Architect for City of Heroes” by Joe Morrissey from NCSoft. This talk had particular interest to me, because it’s based on some technology that I was tangentially involved with while Cryptic was still working on City of Heroes. The structure of the talk was to give an overview of the design of the new Mission Architect (user-generated content) feature for City of Heroes, as well as show some early feedback from open beta.

The Design of Mission Architect

  • Each player can publish 3 “stories” of 5 missions each, with up to 25 objectives per mission. This can be done at any point, from level 1 on.
  • The content is constructed from 7000 pre-made interior maps (no level customization), a hundred dialog states, and 10 large mission goals.
  • On top of that, players get to customize all text in the mission, pick what the players fight, and add NPC helpers.
  • The original design came out of a tool for developers to quickly make simple missions (via a tool that exported to excel that exported to text that exported to game. I always disliked the CoH mission pipeline)
  • The original design for the architect UI was to build it on the character creation UI, because it’s one that the players already understand. They put a lot of effort into showing errors, having tooltips, and having in-game tutorial text

Playing Architect Content

  • For finding existing content, you can filter on played count, rating, or morality (hero, villain). You can sort on rating, date, or length. It automatically gives you a page with some default filters, but there are also “developer’s choice” and “hall of fame” pages. Finally, you can do a keyword or ID search if you want something specific. Joe mentioned players were advertising their missions via ID number, which actually strikes me as a fairly bad idea.
  • Playing the created missions gives you equal XP to playing normal missions. However you get redeemable “tickets” instead of normal item drops for killing things. (This sounds good to me, because default minion drops in CoH were often lackluster)
  • To “Control the content”, they reward extra story slots for successful authors, allow private player comments creators, and use an automatic language filter for IP and profanity. (I find it interesting that Joe explicitly said the goal was to control content instead of nurture/encourage it)
  • Content flagging works by automatically banning content when it receives a certain number of flags. At that point creators can make changes and re-upload. On a second automatic ban, CSR manually checks the content and either perma-bans the content (so the creator has to start from scratch), or marks the current version as “unbannable” so it stays up until creator edits it. They mentioned they would track “grief voting”, but it didn’t sound more concrete then just making the identity of flaggers known to CSR so they can check for problems. (I’m very curious how this works out)

Feedback on the System

  • When they originally announced the feature, they had some PR/community relations issues. Players didn’t understand the scope of the feature, and they had to go back and put more effort into specifically explaining the limits and capabilities of the system.
  • The hard part of implementing the feature wasn’t writing it from scratch, it was dealing with making a 6 year old game deal with an entirely new concept.
  • To deal with potential exploits, they reduce XP if a mission has NPC helpers. End of mission rewards are based on what you actually did in the mission instead of being flat per mission. The examples made it sound like this was just an extra multiplier on kill xp you gained, but it was unclear.
  • One ongoing discussion during development was between “Fun to Play” vs “Fun to Create”. Should they focus on features for the missions, or the UI/process for creating it? This was an ongoing debate, and end result was better due to both sides being represented.
  • They have gotten more content then they expected, and know they need to add “multiple layers” of filtering. That’s being actively worked on.
  • One conceptual difference they didn’t anticipate was that players are not developers. The pipeline was originally designed around working on things and then “shipping” them in final, uneditable form. This has now changed, but took some rethinking.
  • They’ve noticed the existence of a new role for players, a “critic” who looks at existing content and attempts to aggregate it in forms useful to the average player. There is nothing formal built in to the system to encourage/support this, but they’re thinking about it now.

This was a interesting talk from the perspective of seeing how teams can go about adding UGC to an existing product. From the presentation I feel like they’ve done a good job of working through the core features of what is needed for a successful UGC system, but I didn’t see much evidence of learning from the experiences of other teams that have tried previous forms of UGC. This definitely seems like a solid feature for CoH, but I hope it gets the ongoing support it needs to be successful, and doesn’t end up like other highly touted features in the history of CoH development.


2 Responses to “GDC09: Post Mortem: Mission Architect for City of Heroes”

  1. […] 4:30PM: Post Mortem: Mission Architect for City of Heroes: Definitely curious how an exciting feature that builds on stuff I personally worked on turned out. (posted my notes) […]

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