Posts by Tag / GAME: City of Heroes (6)

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Suited for Friendship

So, I definitely miss the customization options in City of Heroes due to the fun of coming up with and designing hero concepts, but it recently occurred to me that they also served a useful social purpose.

I’ve joined a “Free Company” (read: guild) in Final Fantasy XIV and it seems like a group of good folks but it’s hard to break the ice and get conversations started and get to know people. Some of this is how bizarrely difficult it is to play together, but some of it is also that our names and character themes all feel… generic.

In City of Heroes, everyone who put effort into their character ended up with an expressive and distinctive concept, look, name, and battlecry - and there was a place you could write in a little bio or backstory for your character too, which other players could freely read. It was a great way for individual players to be more memorable and it presented plenty of conversation starters.

I still remember, for example, the player I teamed up with once in a pick-up group named Your Pal Phil, whose battlecry was “I’ll loan you the five bucks!”

I can’t tell you the name of anyone in my Free Company in FFXIV.

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City of Friends

Given how important the social aspect is to MMORPGs, I’m always confused by design choices that get in the way of making friends and playing together. I wrote about how City of Heroes let teammates target through the tank, which makes teamwork smoother than in later games like World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV. This is just one of several such mechanics present in CoH that I’ve been shocked to find missing from later MMORPGs.

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Target Through the Tank

In MMORPGs that use the “holy trinity” of tank/DPS/heals, it’s generally really important that other party members target the enemy the tank is currently targeting. Both because it’s beneficial to burn down individual enemies quickly to remove them as threats and also because attacking enemies that aren’t the tank’s focus risks pulling them off the tank, which can easily lead to party wipes in tough battles.

There are often in-game aides to make this easier. In Final Fantasy XIV (and as I recall, World of Warcraft, and probably most similar MMOs) the party leader can ‘mark’ enemies with icons visible to other party members to indicate a planned targeting order. And it’s generally possible to see what your current target is targeting, so you can always click your tank in the party roster to target them, and then click to their target to target that.

But the marks won’t help if the plan goes to hell, and having to constantly target back to the tank to see what they’re targeting adds a lot of finicky steps and opportunity for error - what if they switch targets immediately after you switch to their target? It’s really easy for a situation that goes wrong to quickly go more wrong as DPSers accidentally pull aggro off the tank and the healer can’t keep up. These tools are not enough - and in fact, some quick internet searching on the topic turns up discussions for several MMOs including both FFXIV and WoW on how to set up macros or add-ons to make it easier to consistently target what the tank is targeting. It’s clear that this is a persistent need in basically every MMO of this kind that has yet to be solved in-game.

…except that it was fully, simply, and intuitively solved before any of these games came out.

City of Heroes came out in April 2004, several months before WoW and several years before FFXIV. And in CoH, if you use an attack ability while targeting a party member, instead of failing with an “invalid target” message, the attack will trigger against the party member’s target. All you have to do to keep targeting the enemy the tank is targeting, no matter how often they switch, is to just keep the tank as your target. That’s it.

I don’t know if City of Heroes was the first to do this, but it definitely should not have been the last. I don’t know why every MMO since hasn’t stolen this.

I suppose one could argue that doing so would “dumb down” the game, as target management is an actual skill and part of the challenge of tough encounters. To which I’d respond that what’s hard about a game should also be what’s interesting about it. The interesting part of target management is primarily a tactical challenge, not an action one, and is mostly the tank’s responsibility. Once the tank has decided which enemy should be the group’s current target, it is not an interesting challenge to have the other party members scramble through several clicks to change over to that target. Furthermore, it’s not something players can practice on their own in a safe space - it only really comes up in high-pressure group situations, where one person messing up can create a frustrating experience for several players. Given how heavily these games tend to incentivize teaming up, even with strangers, it’s incoherent design to then not smooth over these kinds of coordination problems as much as possible.

Letting players target through the tank, as CoH did, keeps the actual tactics of combat just as interesting but streamlines away a fiddly source of uninteresting challenge in a way that makes it less frustrating to play with strangers. It’s an obvious win. Every MMORPG should do this.

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Healer games?

A while back I wrote that I wanted a single-player game where you play as a healer.

Some of the most fun I’ve ever had in a game was playing as a healer in City of Heroes. (Oh, how I miss that game.) Running around in hectic fights, dropping AoE and targeted heals and juggling my cooldowns for maximum efficiency, avoiding aggro and damage myself, popping the Absorb Pain panic button when necessary, keeping my allies standing and reviving them when they fell. It was a game of frantic and reactive resource allocation with clear stakes and feedback. I loved it. I was also good at it - many players told me I was the best healer they’d ever teamed with.

But there are some problems with MMOs and I stopped playing them. After which I was never able to find a game that recreated that experience I’d so enjoyed.

There are games that are about healers on the story level, but this doesn’t generally show up in the mechanics. Dr. Mario is fundamentally a match-3 puzzler. Princess Remedy is a shoot ‘em up. Trauma Center is a surgical sim. About the closest I’ve seen is A Healer Only Lives Twice, but that’s an unwinnable roguelike without a lot of depth or polish.

And of course there are restoration games where the experience and mechanics are actually about healing, though you’re generally healing objects or landscapes rather than people and there’s none of the hectic resource management.

These games are all worthwhile, but none of them provide the experience I was looking for - reading a constantly-changing situation to see where I am needed most and rushing there to avert disaster and enable my team to succeed. In a sense, the games I’ve found that come closest to providing this are actually Musou games like Dynasty Warriors and their spinoffs!

Several years ago, I made a proof of concept of a healer game which I called Triage. It’s extremely rough, unwinnable, and not fun for more than a minute or so, but it did prove to me that there is a fun core here and I would in theory like to return to it and flesh it out some time.

Meanwhile, please let me know if you know of any good healer games.

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The very first version of the Doctor Professor...

The very first version of the Doctor Professor persona was also my first character in City of Heroes (I really miss that game). This was his bio:

With the combined powers of a doctor and a professor, there is no stopping: Doctor Professor! Armed with a prescription for justice and a grad student in liberty, he uses his vast array of personal gadgetry to fight crime, disease, and ignorance, up close and personal. The Doctor… is in. Evil, take your seats.

He’s a rather different character now, but I’ll always be fond of how he first started.

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I just reinstalled #cityofheroes since it’s free to play now. My level-cap main has been offline for sixteen hundred days.