Steve sits down with Joe Morrissey, a Senior Designer at Paragon Studios to discuss the inspiration behind, and current implementation of the Architect user-generated content system in City of Heroes.
Topics include preventing exploiters, how high-quality material can stand out from the crowd, and even whether the system allows a player to create art through a video game.
Read on for the transcript.
The MMO Gamer: First of all, for those among our readers who may be unfamiliar, could you please introduce yourself and tell us a little about what it is you do at Paragon Studios.
Joe Morrissey: I am Joe Morrissey, and I am a Senior Designer at Paragon Studios.
My primary responsibility up to the past year was Mission Architect, bringing user-generated content to the massively-multiplayer space.
That was a lot of fun to bring to life, and now to see what players are making of it. My primary responsibilities now are shifting to maintaining Mission Architect, while also beginning to work on the Going Rogue expansion.
The MMO Gamer: So, day one, you’re sitting in a meeting room and someone says, “I’ve got a great idea—let’s let players make their own missions!”
Joe Morrissey: That was me. [laughs] It started with a cry for better tools among the development team for missions.
I was the only mission designer on the project at the time, and we had thousands and thousands of players, tens of thousands of players to support. The tools we had were really good, but I was hoping to get some upgrades for them.
At the time we were still a part of Cryptic, and we just didn’t have the manpower, or the money, or the resources to really do that.
So, it was kind of this joke that I would go to the engineering department and be like, “Hey, can I get some tool support…” And they’d say, “Joe, we love you, but we have to support all these players, too. So, it’s either we support these players, or we give you support and take the same amount of time.”
So I was like, “What you’re saying is that if I make what I do so something that the players can do it, then you’ll support me?” And they’re like, “That’s not what we’re saying at all, no.” [laughs]
The MMO Gamer: And then you said, “No take-backs!”
Joe Morrissey: That was what started it. But it went onto the backburner because we were a small team, and there was no way we were going to pull that off.
Then, once NCsoft acquired us, they pretty much asked, “What do you guys want to do?” and we said, “Three things: Power customization, Mission Architect, and a boxed expansion.” And they’re like, “Okay.”
The MMO Gamer: So the idea originally wasn’t so much to let players design their own content, as it was to kill two birds with one stone?
Joe Morrissey: Really for me, wanting tools so the rest of the team could actually come up with content was the idea. Because we have a lot of guys on the team that are hardcore players, they play the game all the time.
Then they come to me like, “I’ve got this idea for this story, we should really do this arc with this guy!” And I’m like, “That’s great. I haven’t got time to do it. I’ve got plenty of other story arcs to work on.”
But, if we made the tools easy enough, then they could actually come up with the arcs, and we can put them out.
Then somewhere along that road it dawned on me: Why stop with the rest of the team?
It was a scary venture, because we were getting momentum from it, and the studio leads at what is now Paragon but at the time was NC NorCal, they wanted to differentiate us from other games out there.
Architect just kind of kept coming back up like, “How are we got to do that? That’s really scary to do,” and I’m like, “That’s why we are going to do it. We are not going to do it because it is easy.”
We definitely have learned that you have to take risks, even when your game’s been up for five years, especially if your game’s been out for five years, you have to keep reinventing yourself and keep yourself fresh.
And that is what we have seen now that Architect is out, and we have fifty thousand arcs that players have made with it.
The MMO Gamer: How do you make that transition, from a group of professionals working on something that they are getting paid to do, to fans who are paying you to play the game?
How did you ensure that everyone wasn’t just out there making five second missions, giving them fifty bazillion dollars and the Flaming Girdle of Swank Iron?
Joe Morrissey: The good thing is that all of our rewards are exactly the same in Architect as outside of Architect.
It is an equivalent system, so if there is any exploitiveness in it, it is in our regular game, as well. We’ve had five years to kind of dial that back. We don’t give them access to directly say like, “This guy is going to give me two million experience, or I am going to get this, or this.”
Your rewards are based off of kills. So, the way players would exploit the system is that they create villains that are easy to kill for them. And with that, we actually scale the rewards according to how easy the guy is to kill.
If you make a guy that is just a minion and doesn’t really have good powers, you aren’t going to get that many rewards because the risk isn’t really there.
That’s primarily what we’ve been doing. But it’s a good system, since it is based on the kills we can monitor what you are killing and control the amount of rewards based on that. You are still getting the equivalent that you get outside, because you go through those guys that are easy to kill much faster than you would with somebody else.
At the end of the day when you do the math the numbers come out pretty much equal.
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