In most MMO games, the player is offered very few ways to create content. The most ubiquitous is through character creation, though some games have a far simpler character customization system (Warhammer Online) than others (World of Warcraft) which in turn are considered lame in comparison to those that do it well (City of Heroes). In some games, players have the option to customize their characters further, form guilds, or create unique housing for their guilds/characters. Otherwise, players have always been on the receiving end of content, never able to really affect the game in any meaningful way.
With the release of City of Heroes’ Mission Architect system, which went live on Wednesday, players now have a tangible way of creating and sharing their own personally created content. When Syp at Bio Break first mentioned the mission architect system, suggesting that it might be the wave of the future for MMOs, I was skeptical. I can’t say why, really, I was just pessimistic about it. I figured it would be impossible for a game to implement such a system and for it to be fun and immersive. Boy, was I ever wrong!
I played with the mission architect system for well over 5 hours today — Ysharros from Stylish Corpse wasn’t kidding when she said it took her between 6-8 hours to create her first mission — and so far am really enjoying it. There are a lot of problems, some of which Ysharros and others have mentioned, most notably that mobs are mostly randomly placed, that there is no map editor/creator, and that the system is not as intuitive as it thinks it is.
I think one of the biggest problems is that, once the mission is created, it’s difficult for a player to test it by herself. Since missions in CoX scale with the size of the group participating, players who solo test missions will see less monsters. However, there are lots of options available to make the monsters extremely hard, meaning that a solo player will have a rough time trying to gauge the difficulty of the encounter. It’s possible that, where a pure healer with very few damage abilities cannot even put a scratch on a boss, a full, well-rounded team could defeat the same boss with ease.
Fortunately, once a mission has been published — saved and given to the rest of the community to play — it can still be edited, so any errors or bugs that players find later can be fixed without having to recreate the mission. This is especially helpful considering that some of the options for mission creation are a bit confusing. The maps the player can choose from, for instance, have certain restrictions on them that limit the amount of encounters that can be placed on the map. This happened to me with my mission. I wanted lots of groups for players to kill through, but had to use the largest map available to do so. When I tested the mission, I discovered that the map was so large I got lost and couldn’t find many of the groups I had generated!
Players can play published missions and, once finished, can rate them and leave feedback. When playing a mission, players earn special tickets that can be exchanged to a vendor for goodies. It looks like mission creators earn tickets whenever players try their missions as well, which means you can still earn a decent amount of tickets as a full-time architect without having to grind missions to catch up with other players. Some of the things tickets can be exchanged for include enhancements to increase the effectiveness of a player’s powers and special unlockable content to enhance created missions.
So far I have only created my mission and tested it, but from what I have seen the new mission architect system, it really is an amazing addition to the game. Players are constantly complaining about the monotony of dungeon crawls in MMOs, the lack of creativity, and the overly simplistic encounters. Now those players have the opportunity to show the world what’s possible, and perhaps even put traditional game designers to shame. I would love to see more user-generated content in other MMOs, but perhaps the reason it isn’t so prevalent is that designers of huge game franchises fear what would happen if they gave players that freedom. Would players out-design the designers? I think it’s possible, but I’m not sure that’s a valid reason. Once the rest of the MMO world sees the success of Mission Architect, I think they’ll forget any reluctance and rush to create a similar system. At this point it’s a feature that will be high on my list of priorities for future games, and I’m sure other players will feel the same.