I've had some interesting (and sometimes spirited) reaction to my recent City of Heroes post. I stand by it, but in writing, I let enthusiasm and memory guide my writing, and said memory failed me in a couple of areas. Areas which should be acknowledged and corrected.

For those who are new around these parts, when I need to issue a correction -- and it does come up -- I leave the original essay up. It seems to me that the nature of discourse requires we have our errors stay in the record.

The errors, it's worth noting, were not in the thesis. The core theses -- that Issue 8 was a superior edition to City of Heroes which both introduced great innovation and highlighted other innovations that have come along to distinction, leading to a revitalized game that deserves to be played -- I stand by without comment. The errors were in supporting materials.

Probably the most egregious was in terms of the various holiday events that have happened. I had forgotten that last year's winter event had temporary powers (including a really cool Jingle Rocket Flight Thingy, and yes indeed, a costume part) aplenty, for example. And I ascribed the first co-op Hero and Villain mission to the Halloween event, instead of to the Valentine's Day event from significantly earlier. The halloween event didn't have a co-op mission -- but it did have the ability to add a permanent costume slot to a character, which was a really cool perk.\

The reason this is important is twofold, really. One, because it again highlights that the innovations listed predated Matt Miller's heading of the development team. We need to remember that Jack Emmert initiated many if not most of the innovations that have revitalized the game that he was one of the core visionaries behind.

The second reason this is important, however, is it really does highlight the stronger public relations position the game is in now. I remember very clearly, when City of Villains was scant weeks before release. I was in the beta, and like most folks in the beta I loved City of Villains. There was a groundswell of excitement both for the expansion/new game, and for what it implied for the future of City of Heroes itself. (Things like Elite Bosses/Archvillain scaling, the more mature mission design, contacts who gave cell phone numbers early instead of late in a contact tree, and... well, Masterminds, which remain the coolest archetype ever. I still wait for the last to be ported in some fashion into City of Heroes -- perhaps by creating a 'duplication' powerset). There was some real, hardcore excitement.

Which is when "Enhancement Diversification" was first announced. And it was announced on the beta forum for City of Villains, where anyone who broke the NDA to tell the regular community about it would be subject to losing their beta status and very likely from City of Heroes entirely.

Naturally, someone immediately broke NDA. And a huge maelstrom burst. Now, I don't actually think the Cryptic team was trying to deceive anyone. I think they had decided the Enhancement Diversification scheme was the best thing for the game, and they were actually going to their beta testing community with it because they actually meant to... well, beta test it. However, the way it all went down made a lot of people angry and upset.

And it made them angry and upset just a few weeks before the first sequel game and/or paid expansion of the game came out. Scant weeks before they wanted people dropping money in stores -- and recouping a lot of investment and development costs -- their most devoted fanbase was, to be blunt, losing their shit.

That was, to put it mildly, a public relations problem. It got people angry when they wanted them frothing with excitement. And it was hardly an isolated incident.

Matt Miller, on the other hand, has built significant momentum and enthusiasm, both by having several successful big changes and events in a row, by teasing future upgrades and new elements ("oh, gosh, we accidentally turned the Wentworth's contacts on on the test server! How could we have so foolishly let people see these potential future plans that we're doing -- woe! WOE!")

Now, there's been problems too. Maybe most significantly, there have been some persistent bugs in the game. One of the most serious I'll quote from the Known Issues page:

Gauntlet and other Inherent Taunt powers currently do not effect Lieutenant, Bosses or Underling rank critters.

What this means is one of the lynchpins of team-based City of Heroes, the Tanker, has trouble with his most important power. Tankers are designed to absorb massive amounts of damage, so they have the power to attract the attention of the enemy, so that the squishier heroes can avoid being smacked around. Take those abilities away, when it comes to the most dangerous enemies, and that's a major problem. Heck -- one of the things I love in Veteran Rewards is the team base teleport, and I've been dumped out of it back to the zone I just left more than once.

But despite persistent issues, the majority of players seem to be pretty darn happy and excited about the future. Not blasé, not pissed off, not accusing the devs of immorality... happy and excited for the future.

That's public relations. And they're doing it well. And that's a good thing for this game.

Had I gotten the details right the first time around, that would have been made clearer.

(I also had a couple people point out I described the Event co-op missions as 'task forces,' which mean something quite different in the game, and I called the old Faultline a Hazard Zone instead of a Trial Zone. I regret those errors too,)


You also forbore to mention that one of the big changes was cancelling the planned second paid expansion and instead rolling its features into the next few unpaid expansions. That was an extremely good move in terms of generating good will, as a lot of MMO players had gotten frustrated and cynical about MMOs like Everquest that would roll out payment-required expansions every few months over and above the monthly fees. Granted, they did put out the Good vs. Evil add-on pack for more money, but that wasn't something that would make people less able to play the game for not having—and it was pretty cheap, too.

On an unrelated topic -- something happened to the text immediately following your blockquote. It got shifted left all the way to the edge of the browser...

Chris: That happens to any paragraph in the current Websnark HTML scheme/theme that isn't fronted by a p tag.

See, I did it on purpose here. Look in the archives; there are plenty of comments (and one or two posts) whose first paragraphs, or first paragraphs after a blockquote, look like that.

Yeah, I quit over the Enhancement Diversification update, which also included severe nerfs that rebalanced the game so that each hero was equal to about three disposable minions. One of the things I used to love about CoH was leaping into a horde of villains and emerging triumphant (and this was with defenders, not tanks or blasters, so don't accuse me of exploiting once-broken archetypes!) When my heroes no longer felt super, I left.

It's the only MMO that I was sad to have its conception CoH was one of the best games I have ever played.

What exactly was this Enhancement Diversification?

They have these enhancements that you add to your powers. Make them longer ranged, do more damage, use less energy, things like that. Problem was with, say, attack powers, you would use 1 slot maybe for something interesting, and all other slots you would put damage adds. Because Damage Adds were greater than All Else when dealing with attack powers. (terminology probably isn't right, I've been away a while... but you should get the idea.)

The diversification changed that. I don't remember how, but it was effectivly a nerf. (I think I do but I shall allow someone more familier with The Way Things Are to explain it.)

Remus, you can still jump into large spawns, it just requires a little more thought before hand, and a few inspirations. I noticed little actual change from Enhancement Diversification (ED), personally.

Dragonmuncher, to answer your question: In CoX you can add "sockets" to your various powers. Each socket lets you put in an enhancment that modifies the power in some way (+damage, + accuracy, etc). Before ED, people would do things like 6 slot a power for damage. (Each top tier damage enhancment would give +33% damage for a total of powers that do 300% damage). Being able to do so much more damage made fighting rather trivial. In just a few shots one could mow down an entire spawn of critters. Using the DnD analogy, imagine what would happen if all lvl 1 warriors were equiped with a +5 Keen Broadsword.

Enhancment Diversification (or actually the lack thereof) put artifical limits (kind of like diminishing returns, but not quite) on how much of a bonus you could get from top tier enhancments. So using the damage enhancmeents, the first and second ones you put into a power will give you the normal 33% bonus. The third gives you a 28% bonus or so, and the 4th, 5th, and 6th damages would give you 5% each. The overall effect is that the bonus you get from the last 3 enhancments is so small that you are better off putting the slots elsewhere or using a different type of enhancment. I.E. put in 3 damage for a 94% bonus, and 3 recharges (94% recharge) so you can use the power twice is often.

The global trend is that power performance is more level accross the board (fewer spikes from 6 of the same type of enhancment). Of course this had the perceived effect of making all heroes "half as strong/tough" as before. This view is, of course, incorrect. Mathmatically, you would be only 33% less strong/tough, and that completely disregards synergy bonuses, which would remain almost entirely unaffected. Additionally, mob difficulty has been tweaked, bringing the enemies more in line with the heroes, and paving the way for (somewhat) ballanced PvP and better content, like Mayhem Missions and storyarcs that involve fighting 3 Elite Bosses at once (new faultline content), things which would have been impractical given the disparity between what different heroes could accomplish before ED.

So in my opinion, while I was against the change, after having played with the changes for a while, I believe the devs made the correct, if unpopular, choice. Additionaly since ED, there have been very few power nerfs, and even a few buffs to different powersets.

Since I've quit playing CoH, I can't post this to the official boards, but the basic reason that I quit is that the developers are apparently incompetent regarding the power structure of the game.

The developers don't seem to have any real idea of where they want to balance things, or how to achieve that balance. As a consequence, there are wild disparities in player power level with AT, powerset, and time as the developers keep dishing out buffs and nerfs without any apparent overarching plan. Really, to understand how bad the power level in the game really is; for the vast bulk of the game, the most problematic thing that the enemies can do as far as the PCs are concerned is to flee, and, in fact the developers deliberately limited the number of enemies that will attack a player character at once *to protect the NPCs*. Moreover, one of the original developer actions was to scale damage in a fashion that guarantees that increasing the enemy level relative to the player rapidly produces negative returns.

Moreover the developers have displayed a range of naivety with respect to how the the game is played. Really, there is a whole slew of examples, like the ubiquitous use of stamina and hasten, the easy optimization of slotting that led to ED, pet stacking, monster farming, or the infamous 'scrapper demo.'

As far as I am concerned, these fundemental problems with CoH: player power level is out of whack, the hold/stun/sleep mechanic is poorly executed, and content is very repetitive.

It's worth noting that hasten hasn't been ubiquitous in a while. Indeed, I can't remember the last time I saw its telltale glow...

"The developers don't seem to have any real idea of where they want to balance things, or how to achieve that balance."

Man... I could be using this for a column on my own patch of theoretical real estate. I might yet.

But I can say this - I'm fairly certain they know exactly where they want to balance this. Specifically, they want to balance it at the point where they can encourage as many people as possible to play and keep renewing their monthly fees.

One problem with that, of course, is that said target is dependent on the whims of the players, and it's an extraordinarily fast-moving target. They can try to keep consistent to deliver what has worked before - and then some will scorch them that they're just resting on their laurels and not offering anything new. They can then offer new things, but that will upset some for changing what they loved, and others for not going far enough.

It's a fairly delicate balance, and someone is going to complain no matter what. For NCSoft, the question is whether more complain or more praise.

Plus, there's the problem of even finding the elements that are unbalancing. It can take quite a while, and coming up with a fix that doesn't worsen the situation can take even longer.

I actually just got an instructive example of the former last night, as a friend of mine and I talked about Final Fantasy III for the DS. I found one class in that game to very quickly lag to the point that I completely abandoned it... but my friend found the tweak needed to make it a powerhouse. On the flip side, there is one element to the improvement system, involving melee attacks, that he thought was completely worthless. However, I quickly found it and figured out how to abuse it. And after this, we both realized we're probably missing a couple other things that would allow us to cruise through the game.

Long before there was operating systems that geeks could tear apart to find loopholes in, there were games. Eventually, everything will be abused, and it's not always easy to fix the problems once you find them. And it really gets difficult if the ultimate goal you're trying to reach keeps changing.


Having been working my way through FFIII over the past few weeks, you have me really curious as to what you're talking about. :)

Well, the nutshell version...

My friend figured out how to get the maximum effectiveness from Red Mages, while I spun my wheels (you need to make them much more offense-oriented than I tried to make them). On the flip side, I figured out how to get the most out of the melee proficiency in the game - the more you use weapons, the more damage you'll do with each hit of a melee attack. If you use classes that have high agility and thus deliver more hits, you build up strength with melee attacks faster, and more hits means more times the bonuses stack up. I have thus used Thieves to frightening proficiency in the game.

I think it's not so much that the devs don't know what they're aiming for and so make arbitrary changes as the devs chiefly find out something 'feels wrong' with a build when they're playing said build, and what level any given dev has with any given powerset and AT appears, when hidden behind a screen, somewhat arbitrary.

Speaking of errors, Websnark's XML feed appears to be broken:

I get an XML parsing error, and the LJ feed hasn't registered an entry since your first one after the move, with the same error:
Syndication Status: Last checked: 2007-01-08 17:34:04 (Parse error)
Error Message: RSS parser error: not well-formed (invalid token) at line 81, column 125, byte 9186
Next check: 2007-01-08 20:37:04

Ah. I think I came across that without realizing it. I've got a White Mage with near-decent attack power dual-wielding staffs after spending some time as a thief dualing knives. Plus, I tend to be physical-attack oriented in the first place.

I'm also getting XML errors on the feed right now. I ran it through, and it does seem to be choking on a malformed character of paragraph 9 in this post. "And it made them angry and upset..." I'd hope that's the only thing holding the feed up, alas I'm not terribly proficient in that area.

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