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Eric: Jesus. He's away for a solid month, and his second post is on frigging City of Heroes. God damn rip off....

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Eleanor regained consciousness slowly, a feeling like a thousand ants crawling over her skin filling her senses as she regained some sense of herself. She had blacked out on her way to her Founders Falls apartment, and awakened just outside of Louis Forest. To her horror, she realized she was suspended six feet off the ground, held by an unseen force, while a baleful green fire surrounded her. Dimly, through the flames that seemed to burn her soul but not her flesh, she could see red robed cultists chanting, a blue robed wizard with burning green eyes leading them, and some kind of spectral horror floating above them.

"Stop!" she shouted. "Don't do this!"

"You have a destiny!" the mage cried out. "Your sacrifice will open the gateway to a new kind of darkness through the world as we know it!"

"Noooo!" Eleanor cried.

There was the sound of a whip-crack, as inky darkness seemed to swell all around the Circle of Thorns. A vapor-wreathed fist slammed out of the blackness, driving into the stomach of the mage. It was followed by a flurry of blows from phantom arms and a twisting assault. The green fires faded, and Eleanor dropped to the ground. To her shock and joy, a woman in a black and white camouflage jumpsuit was beating the cultists senseless. First one, and then another, and then with a titanic series of darkness-fueled blows, the spirit itself was driven from the plane.

"Why -- Umbral Lass! You saved me!" Eleanor said, leaping to her feet even as Umbral Lass crouched and searched the fallen cultists.

"Yeah, yeah," the heroine said, rifling the mage's pockets.

"I never thought I'd actually meet a hero," Eleanor said. "Especially one who just--"

"Oh shut up, you cow!" Umbral Lass snapped. "Six cultists taken out and not one of them was carrying Spell Ink? I have regenerative powers! I need to boost them with unholy superscience and that means SPELL INK! Get out of my sight! I have to go find more Thorns!"

"But--" But the darkness dynamo was gone, leaving Eleanor to make her way home, just one more speed bump on the heroine's quest to build healing inventions.

Crafting had come to Paragon City.

In the last month, after Weds had returned to Canada... I found myself... well, unmotivated. It was the kind of thing where you're recovering. It's like grief, I suppose. The apartment seemed empty, the days seemed routine. The chemicals didn't make things more than 'okay.'

In such a situation, I turn to City of Heroes. That's most of where I was during the month of not being here. Heck, I've got a character in the middle 40's now, and I'm in striking distance of the elusive 50th level.

For those of you who remember I've been playing since launch, having preordered the game more than three years ago, the fact that I'm just now getting close to 50th level should amuse you. To you I say "screw you. I have a life! Really! Stop laughing!" But regardless, this meant I was doing some heavy punching of Malta operatives and Carnival Psychics right about the time that Issue 9 hit City of Heroes, and with it brought a full fledged crafting system to the game.

Crafting, for those who don't know, is a staple of Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games. Games like Everquest and World of Warcraft used it to flesh out their worlds, giving the heroes something to do besides punch evil. It was addictive in its own right -- the first time you find yourself playing your Dwarf Hunter for sixteen hours at a time, all on one island, killing off six legged alligators you can skin and turn into pants... you realize you're in this for more than Orc punching.

City of Heroes didn't have crafting. It had been looking into ways of doing it for years, but in one sense the genre doesn't really fit it. Super heroes don't take fallen supervillains and skin them for jackets. (Though admittedly if they did crime rates would fall.) With the Ninth Issue of free content updating (well, eight of free content -- one of those issues was City of Villains), they finally rolled out the brand spanking new Invention system.

In the invention system, you get salvage from defeated enemies. You can also find (or buy) recipes to combine that salvage into inventions. Most of those inventions work the same as other Enhancements -- little add-ons that improve your powers, which fit into one to six slots on each power. For instance, a couple of damage enhancements and a couple of accuracy enhancements make your power more likely to hit and increases the damage the power does. Makes sense? Sure it does!

On the normal enhancements system, you can only use enhancements within three levels of your own. So, if you're thirtieth level, you can use anything from L27 to L33.With invention enhancements, you can still slot one in that's up to three levels higher than your own, but lower level ones never lose effectiveness. Among other things, this means that three L25 Invention enhancements slotted into a power will give you roughly as much of that benefit as any other levels, which means you never have to upgrade them again. (The reasons why get into Enhancement Diversification and diminishing returns and the nature of Single Origin Enhancements versus Invention origin enhancements and whatnot, but for all practical purposes three L25 Damage Invention Enhancements will top that power's damage out straight through to L50, for example). Of course, different enhancements require different salvage -- some of it rarer than others, so the hunt for Stuff is on!

There are also other, more specialized Inventions. You can Invent temporary powers -- say, the ability to become intangible five times. And you can Invent costume pieces which you can redeem at the taylor. Say, winged boots, or wings made out of bone, or fairy gossamer wings..

Finally, there are also Invention sets -- rarer invention enhancements designed to all work together inside a specific power. On their own, they give bonuses to one or more of your powers. But when you get more than once Invention Enhancement from a given set into a single power, you get "set bonuses" that can be significant -- like a 10% bonus to your regeneration, or greater maximum health, or having all your powers recover more quickly, or getting various defenses. A hero who doesn't normally get defenses against things like knockback, being put to sleep or immobilized or the like can use these set bonuses to great effect. My own Dark/Regen scrapper now has obscene regeneration rates, a lot of speed, recovery times for both endurance and recharging powers like no one's buisness, and psi defense. Anyone who's played a non-Dark Armor scrapper in this game knows the joy of Psi Defense.

To facilitate getting your grubby hands on rare invention recipes and the salvage needed to build them, the game has added Consignment Houses. These are places where you can put up your unneeded salvage, recipes, enhancements and the like for other people to bid on. Someone beats your bid? Someone gets your stuff. In a truly cool move, the Consigment Houses are cross server -- both American and European -- so if someone out in Estonia has bid four million influence on Hamidon Goo, and you put Hamidon Goo up in the consignment house with a 3.5 million influence minimum bid, you get some sweet Estonian influence and he gets the chance to build Ghost Widow's Embrace Invention Set Enhancements. Or roll around in mitochondrial jello. Whatever makes Estonian superheroes happy, I suppose.

The system, mechanically, works and works well. It's easy to do, easy to work with, and everyone starts spending time in consignment houses selling off crap and jockeying for bits and pieces of salvage to make their own Inventions. (Though I'm not sure "invention" is the right word -- you're not inventing the stuff, you're following 'recipes' you buy. I'm impressed by anyone who buys a DIY book on building a deck and builds it, but I don't generally credit him with inventing the deck.) Badges spice things up as well, and it's possible to ignore the system entirely if you don't want to do this stuff. (Though if you're a PvPer -- and you still play City of Heroes in the first place -- not going for Set bonuses while your opposition tunes around them is asking to lose a lot of fight. But honestly, how many people are playing City of Heroes for PvP and not using the Invention system?)

Conceptually, it's a little harder to justify. I mean, the system rests on the idea that after beating up criminals, you get to take their stuff. Including things like bars of gold, silver and platinum. Or high tech gear. Last time I knew, that's called 'mugging.' Even police officers don't get to rifle the pockets of downed drug dealers for paraphernalia they can use to build better nightsticks or sell on eBay. It just seems weird that the superheroic invention system rests entirely on petty theft, coercion and armed assault.

Of course, that makes it perfect for City of Villains. (In City of Villains, the consignment houses are called the Black Market, and they look like trucks that the stuff "fell off of.")

Would I make it any differently? Well, maybe. I've always felt City of Heroes needed a secret identity system, and it seems to me this would work for that -- have criminals 'drop' clues or secrets that someone with a detective Secret Identity can convert into influence or Arrest Warrants or manufacture into special missions... while someone with 'reporter' could turn them into stories which go for influence, or for Exposes, or manufacture into special missions... an 'occultist' could turn arcane secrets and clues into arcane powers or missions, techs could do the same to technical secrets and clues... and so on and so forth.

But, it's not for us to say what we would do differently. It is for us to assess what they have done. And in my estimation, the invention system works. It adds a new layer to the game -- one I find fun and engaging and useful. One that's helped distract me from the loneliness of the apartment.

I'll keep it up. Heck, it's six months at the least before my Canadian Fiancee magically is allowed by Immigration and Naturalization Services to become my Living-with-me-wife, and that's a lot of loneliness to defer into experience points. L50's around the corner, and various forms of almighty squid follow that....

In the meantime, excuse me. I have to go mug criminals for their spell ink. And would it kill people to sell off a few more Numina's Convalescence recipes?

Posted by Eric Burns-White at May 25, 2007 8:31 AM

Comments

Comment from: Nentuaby [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at May 25, 2007 10:27 AM

Inventions aren't bad, yes.

Enjoy your portal missions, though. They can be a blast if you get some good big teams going. :)

Comment from: Joshua Macy [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at May 25, 2007 10:29 AM

I like it because I can mostly ignore it, while getting a fair bit of influence on my low-level chars. I'll be interested to see what prices stabilize at in a couple of months...and I may even go through the invention tutorial on a character who just had a recipe and all its ingredients drop on her.

Comment from: aaronbourque [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at May 25, 2007 12:03 PM

It sounds like it just needs the right abtracted spin.

Obviously, secret identities exist, because they're a staple of the genre and blah blah blah . . . the game just assumes that "you" are the hero's secret ID, so the game must be assuming that after you beat the snot out of various villains, you do research and use your milk-money secret ID to scrounge up bits of equipment that you then craft into "inventions."

(Which are called inventions because mad science is also a staple of the genre, and Batman is called an inventor even though he's just an expert engineer who's good at taking stuff apart and putting things back together in better ways.)

And speaking of Batman, the first B:TAS ep with Mr. Freeze is the perfect application of this philosophy: Batman takes a guy Freeze froze back to the Batcave and uses his "unlimited" resources to figure out what Freeze did, how to fix it, and how to replicate it if he ever needs to (okay, that last part wasn't shown, but in the Teen Titans toon, Robin uses various energy-elemental bird-arangs, and you know he got them from Bats, and one of them freezes stuff, and you know Bats got it from Freeze).

Comment from: Joshua Macy [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at May 25, 2007 12:43 PM

Yeah, Supes and Bats in particular have whole trophy halls full of junk they've taken away from villains. The problem in CoH is more the prosaic nature of a lot of the items (gold, brass, carbon rods). It's harder to imagine that gold doesn't have a rightful owner than it is that computer virus or fusion weapon really ought to be taken out of circulation completely.

Comment from: Joshua Macy [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at May 25, 2007 12:47 PM

Oh, and any hero who's been through the first couple of missions knows that giving that stuff to M.A.G.I. or one of the other official organizations to lock in their vaults is tantamount to propping it up against a fence with a "FREE STUFF FOR VILLAINS" sign.

Comment from: GG [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at May 25, 2007 1:57 PM

Speaking of which, has anyone seen the Jewel of Hera lately?

Comment from: Montykins [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at May 25, 2007 5:24 PM

GG, thanks for mentioning the Jewel of Hera. When City of Heroes launched, I played with a group of six or so friends, and we all tried to level at the same time, mostly by doing missions. So we ended up rescuing the Jewel of Hera six times in a row. By the last one, we were completely conversant with that cave.

Comment from: McMartin [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at May 25, 2007 11:59 PM

If you're having that much trouble buying Spell Ink, it's probably going to be cheaper to just hold out for the 45-50 level IOs and buy the materials at auction. I literally haven't spent more than 100 influence on any given piece of high-level salvage since I dinged 42. Meanwhile, Spell Inks and Masterwork Weapons and Alchemical Silvers and Runes are still going for tens of thousands.

Comment from: Meagen Image [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at May 26, 2007 6:08 AM

For common IOs, just sell any salvage and recipes you find on the market, and buy crafted IOs from badge hunters like me. (18 down, 27 to go!)

Comment from: Ford Dent [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at May 26, 2007 6:31 AM

I don't have much to say about this topic, being one of the few who has never even given CoH a whirl, much less played it frequently--though I don't think it fits the hero side of things, personally.

No, I just wanted to say that the intro to this essay was awesome and I giggled.

Comment from: Merus [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at May 26, 2007 7:51 AM

I think I have an objection to sets.

It's perhaps not as bad in City of Heroes, but in World of Warcraft, the sets also define your character's look. As that game uses sets as a motivation for high-level content, what you get is a whole bunch of homogeneous max-level characters.

With City of Heroes, I guess part of the objection still stands - a set together is worth more than the sum of its parts, which when you have a limited number of parts makes it worth more to have a set than to not. Which means that out of all the possible customisations you can have, only a handful make sense.

I think the solution employed in another aspect of WoW is a good solution for this concern I have: in the expansion, some pieces of armour come with slots for what are essentially enhancements, in different colours. If you put the enhancements in the right coloured slots, you get the set bonus.

I much prefer the idea that you can have multiple items that will trigger the set bonus, because it allows you some latitude in tuning your character without forcing you into a handful of roles.

Comment from: Tom Lynch [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at May 26, 2007 8:42 AM

Bear in mind that you begin to get set bonuses the moment you have two items from the set.

I'm a Spines/Regen scrapper, but I'm benefitting from two slots filled with the Thunderstrike ranged damage set in my Impale ranged attack - it's given me even more Endurance recovery rate.

Add in Numina's Convalescence, Unbounded Leap, and a melee damage set, to say nothing of whichever Defence set I started on, and you can end up with a fairly wide variation.

Comment from: Robotech_Master [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at May 26, 2007 9:21 AM

Lower-level salvage is heaps more expensive than high-level stuff, because of the nature of the market. You can't easily get the low level stuff once you're a high-level character; you have to exemplar down for it. So the way the market forces operate is that the long-time level 50s with umpty-zillion Influence in their accounts and a burning desire to get all the crafting badges are driving the prices up for the low-level stuff, and lowbies who don't care about crafting are making out like bandits.

Comment from: Copper Hamster [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at May 26, 2007 11:50 AM

Robotech Master: Very bottom feeding. It's like new crafts in FFXI used to do... everyone wants to make sushi, so sushi fish become obscenely expensive for a month. (before they gouging trillions of gil out via banning gillsellers, buyers, and bots last year)
Not that this is a bad thing.
Eric: Your right, it's a ripoff. I demand a full and complete refund!

j/k

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at May 26, 2007 2:04 PM

Ripoff? Hey! My suddenly obscenely rich 5th level al finds nothing wrong with the system!

Eh. The market has already significantly settled down, and it will continue to do so. The system itself is darn fun.

Comment from: Tom Lynch [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at May 26, 2007 7:16 PM

FWIW, I've encountered no major price gouging, despite hunting set recipes and the ingredients for 'em.

Mind you, I'm on the smaller set of servers for the EU crowd.

Comment from: miyaa [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at May 26, 2007 10:34 PM

Reminded me of an interesting way Eve Online handles skills and in a certain sense, crafting.

Skills, you just click on the item you wish to upgrade, and you start to upgrade. The countdown is in real-time, so when a skill is said to improve in three months time, it means, three months from today. I've seen skill upgrades that takes a year or more to improve on. Yikes.

Crafting, if you wanted to make an item, you either lute rogue/pirate craft or go asteroid field mining, then take the items to a space station. For the right combination of items and cash, it just makes the item for you with little chance of failure. Which is why I didn't play Eve much longer. Who'd want to wait a year to improve your elite piloting skill?

There just doesn't seem to be any right way to develop solid crafting abilities in an mmorpg. But a lot of wrong ways.

Comment from: Alexandra Erin [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at May 26, 2007 11:38 PM

If I ever find the time to devote to playing the game again, I'm sure I'll have an opinion on all of this.

Usually by the time I'm caught up on my writing, though, I try to find something less superheroic to do. :P

Comment from: Copper Hamster [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at May 27, 2007 8:48 PM

Eric: Was refering to your article title.

Comment from: Eric the .5b [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at May 28, 2007 3:41 AM

I don't know about secret identities in CoH. After all, wouldn't the locals (and the criminals) assume that any Joe Shmoe who'd moved to Paragon in the last few years probably was a superhero in disguise?

Comment from: Tom Lynch [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at May 28, 2007 6:43 AM

A lot of 'em weren't superheroes until they got there, though.

Take my current main, Tiger Cub. She's a postgrad biochem student who fell asleep in the University labs one night and was injected with a cocktail of cat and hedgehog DNA. She really, really wants to find whoever did it and make them explain why they picked such a bizarre mix.

Comment from: Alexandra Erin [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at May 28, 2007 11:07 AM

Tom: My guess is, when she catches up with the guy, he won't have any better explanation than the relatively limited selection of power types. :P

Comment from: Tom Lynch [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at May 28, 2007 2:42 PM

It's depressingly possible.

Strange, really; I made her to have a comedy character to goof around with while I figured out what was going on, and she just kinda... stuck.

(She fights crime to avoid working on her projects.)

Comment from: miyaa [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at May 28, 2007 6:00 PM

Eric, I would love to know what you think about the current mmorpg de jour, Second Life.

Tom: You really need to stop watching, Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!

Comment from: Tom Lynch [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at May 28, 2007 6:51 PM

Never watched it in my life, actually - or more than twenty minutes of any Russ Meyer film.

I have no real explanation for Amy Rose's background.

Comment from: McMartin [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at May 29, 2007 4:22 AM

... having just beaten Sonic Adventure, I totally misread that last comment. Is Amy Rose some other character, or is Tiger Cub totally not Sonic's Creepy Stalker Fangirl the way Tera Man Q totally isn't Dr. Light's final creation?

Comment from: Tom Lynch [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at May 29, 2007 11:32 AM

Tiger Cub's real name is Amy Rose. I haven't followed Sonic in years, and last I checked I either was too young to spot the creepy overtones (a la the typical kid's reaction to Miss Piggy) or they weren't there as badly.

Comment from: Sean Duggan [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at June 5, 2007 8:18 PM

We actually had a discussion like this for a game of Mutants and Masterminds. One of the premises of the game is that magical and technological items are bought out of your character's points, just like energy blasts. Which, of course, could lead to balance issues if you let people loot corpses. We had one guy who wanted to carry a huge duffle bag so as to gather up spare weapons. It took our GM taking him aside and telling him that a) he couldn't trade in the weapons for points b) the game doesn't have a wealth system (generally, at least) which means he can't sell them anywhere and c) they're so low-power as to mean practically nothing. Last I spoke with the GM, he's figuring on any high-powered item being "genetically coded" or the like.

But, back to my point, it's just not heroic for the superheros to loot the bad guys like that. Trophies one understands. Things too dangerous to have loose makes sense. Grabbing items to research them is cool. Looting them for raw materials or, worse, for gold... just not superheroic. ^_^ Although, if I get my GM to employ more of the history of the character I ripped my character off of, we may yet wind up facing Night Fist (I hit things with my fist!), unbalanced vigilante who beats up drug dealers so that he can take their product and get his fix.

Comment from: CaseyG [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at June 20, 2007 10:50 AM

Wow, I hope we have a post this month too, that would be cool! ;)

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