Former Senior Animator and Visual FX Artist Christopher Bruce, better known as Back Alley Brawler held an impromptu AMA talking about life in Paragon Studios and development. The post started life as a simple homage to City of Heroes by a player but the former developer dropped by to answer some questions. Many of the questions from fans revolved around Paragon Studios and the development team. Here are some of the highlights:
Any mechanic you wish you could have added or done to the game?
I got to implement power customization and weapon customization. Those were big things for me.
I always wanted a way to make flight faster. It was gated as a travel power because of the soft limit on super-speed, and the need to balance super-speed’s 2D limitation against super-jumping and fully 3D freedom of flight. But man, it would have been great to reallytear across the skies of Paragon City.
And of course, one of the reasons I left Cryptic to join Paragon (apart from the weird contractual business of ‘no longer having a job’) was the promise of doing City of Heroes 2. Really sad the day that fell through. More sad when the other MMO we were working on didn’t pay out because that was–in my opinion–a better tonal fit for the modern audience.
I was so impressed with power customization when it launched. I remember the feature’s announcement on the forums (I think it was a post by Positron). People went wild about it because it had been requested for so long. I was glad you guys took the time to get it right. I literally played around with that feature almost everyday after it launched.
Was a huge endeavor. One of the biggest things I’ve ever tackled in my career. Were it not for Mike Chock’s help with Python scripting and on the implementation side, it would have never happened. Keetsie also put in a ton of work with me on converting something like 4,000 VFX scripts by hand to support it.
In retrospect, I kind of regret not pushing back harder at those wanting to limit the creative options. But some were really worried about having yellow ice controllers and whatnot. I let myself get convinced it was the right decision and a few players got locked out of making character concepts they had in their head because we didn’t want to have ‘Captain Yellow Snow’ running around in game.
I played on Virtue because the roleplaying community was so immersive and honestly a great group of people. However I noticed as time went on the “big name” roleplayers started mingling with the developing team regularly, or so they claimed, these people include Golden Girl and Captain Valor. Is there any truth to this? If this is true, did they have any influence on decisions for patches? Such as costumes or even gameplay?
I know the names, but I don’t know of anyone like that having a direct influence on decisions. Generally, they were things we wanted to do anyway, like costume change emotes, power customization, etc.
Arcana is a huge part of the titan network and was apparently involved with the developer team quite heavily. Her knowledge of the game and the coding seems to be larger than any other player I’m aware of. I suppose my question is that similar to the big name roleplayers, how much influence did she have (if any) on how the game conitinued its development? Did you personally ever interact with her?
We communicated a lot with Arcana. Really sharp player. I pinged her a lot for basic math help for all sorts of things.
I think we even contracted with her to design a whole procedural rewards system for…shit, what was it…architect missions maybe? That was kind of done hush hush. Dunno if it was ever made public knowledge. So as far as players having a direct influence on the game…yeah, she definitely did.
If you remember early on when Jack was running the game, what was he actually like?
I think overall people greatly overestimate how much direct influence Jack had in City of Heroes way after it initially launched. He was involved for some key discussions (I specifically remember his involvement during design meetings for inventions and the auction house), but was otherwise largely hands off up until NCSoft acquired the franchise and our team. I didn’t work directly with Jack all that much. At either time.
As for the game itself, can you ever remember a time when something was unpopular, but you knew in your heart that it was what had to be for the long-term health of the game?
Was there ever a time when you just had to dig in and refuse to change something
No. But I do have a story related to this. Shortly after I started at Cryptic, they decided to add cat ears as a costume accessory. [An artist] made some cat ears, for female models. We said cool, now we need to port them over for male costumes.
[An artist] planted his heels and refused. For him, cat ears on male characters was a bad idea. What ensued was a lengthy argument over email about this, with [the artist] posting pictures of effeminate men and crossdressers wearing cutesy cat ears. The debate started to heat up.
Then someone posted a number of examples of bad ass characters with ‘cat ears’, like Black Panther.
That ended the debate, and the ears got ported over. After that, [the artist] never argued against porting things over between genders.
Do YOU believe the chatter that there are STILL on-going negotiations from a group of folks willing to license/buy the CoH IP from NCSoft or do you think it’s just wishful thinking/unrealistic hype?
Honestly, I haven’t followed it that much. I’ve no idea what kind of negotiations any third party has had with NCSoft. I know that Matt Miller once confided that Paragon tried to acquire the franchise from NCSoft and go at it on their own, but the big hangup was the liability of active accounts and how all of that got transferred from one owner to another. Like acquiring CoH a year after it had shut down would have been more likely, but by then it would be too late to matter. Pretty sure Cryptic approached NCSoft about re-acquiring City of Heroes when they shuttered Paragon as well. I have no specifics about it, but clearly nothing came of that.
This was the second MMO I worked on that was shut down by NCSoft, and NetDevil did a similiar thing where they tried to assume all operational costs in order to keep Auto Assault live. At the time, NCSoft seemed to have this ‘go big, or go home’ attitude about their franchises. They would have rather completely shut down prematurely than let it linger on, even it if was profitable.
In my experience, every publisher will always talk as if they’re on the verge of signing a deal even if there’s zero chance of that ever happening. It costs them nothing to say that. But when it comes time to writing up contracts and signing paperwork, that’s where the process stalls out.
After all these years, what still sticks out to you as, “Man, those City of Heroes folks, they were really different because of that”?
I admired how hard they fought to keep the game alive and preserve it’s memory even today.
A big thank you to BaBs for answering these questions and giving us some more insight into things at Paragon Studios. It’s fantastic to still see so much love for City of Heroes after all these years. If you want to read the entire AMA head over to Reddit.
Source: RedditRelated: City of Heroes, Developer, Reddit